“We have contesting historical interpretations which have not allowed us to get to unified history writing in this country,” argued the new JNU VC Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit in an old speech that has resurfaced now. Pandit was talking at the 17th Asian Security Conference while batting for the position of India as a ‘norm-builder’ held in February 2015.
While making a case for rewriting our history to accommodate multiple narratives, Santishree Pandit made some glaring and unapologetic assertions in her speech. “Everybody begins (talking about) India at 1947. I think India is a Civilization. And as a civilizational state, are we saying that we had no norms earlier?” she asked. She contested the position that India hardly played any role in securing its strategic autonomy while arguing that it has been building norms for a large course of world history.
Throwing light on the history of India beyond its foreign invasions, she said we’ve had a history of rupture, denial and ignorance while identifying who we really are. “There’s a dichotomy among Indian scholars – some who believe that the Indian tradition communal and if it is touched, that would make India a sectarian state. But at the same time, we applaud China doing it on its Confucian tradition and bringing a lot of texts on strategic thought,” the JNU VC elaborated.
Pandit argued that when we talk about India as a norm builder, we have to go far behind. She said that because of the break we’ve done in recognizing south-east Asian countries as trading proto-states of our civilization, it has been turned into a China-centric organisation. “When Rajendra Chola completed 1000 years of his rule (in 2014), no one celebrated it. So we are a marginalised history of India.” she highlighted. While pointing out the need to make way for more Indic narratives in Indian history, she stated fiercely, “Indian history is not Mughal history and not and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. I think we should go beyond that.”
“We have been builders of norms when it comes to statecraft, individual freedom, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and (although) not soft power but sublime power and spiritual universalism,” Pandit further added.
The JNU VC also highlighted that the values of Indian democracy come from its civilisational history and are not entirely a gift of British colonialism. “The soil in which you transplant institutions has to be equally fertile and acceptive as the institutions themselves,” said Pandit while arguing that the Indian civilization has a long tradition of democracy and cultural pluralism.