GS Mains History Q&A: 8

Q.8 Rediscovery of India’s past was a mixed blessing for the nationalist movement. Examine.


In the 19th century many Indians realized that social and religious reformation was an essential condition for the all round development of the country on modern line and for the growth of national unity and solidarity. Most of these reformation movements were based on the twin doctrines of Reason (Rationalism) and Humanism, though they also sometimes tended to appeal to faith and ancient authority to bolster their appeal. This tendency to look backward, appeal to past greatness and to reply on spiritual authority had many implications for the nationalist movement.

Positive aspects: 

  1. It gave a rising middle classes the much needed cultural roots to cling to, and served the purpose of reducing the sense of humiliation which the conquest by a foreign power had produced.
  2. Knowledge of past greatness of their religion inculcated a sense of self-respect and self-confidence in Indians. This helped in uprooting the notion of superiority of western culture from the mind of Indians which was a major reason for British imperialism.
  3. It helped in mobilising masses to whom relegion and past glory appealed the most. For example, Tilak mobilised people by celebrating Ganesh festivals and Shivaji Jayanti.

Negative aspects: 

  1. This tended to go against the positive teachings of the reform movements themselves. They undermined to some extent the supremacy of the human reason and scientific outlook. They encouraged mysticism in new garbs and fostered pseudo-scientific thinking.
  2. Appeal to past greatness created a sense of false pride and smugness, while the habit of finding a ‘Golden Age’ in the past acted as a check on the full acceptance of modern science and hampered the effort to improve the present.
  3. These tendencies had a divisive effect on the Indian society. Hindu reformers confined their praise of the Indian past to its ancient period and looked upon the medieval period of Indian history essentially as an era of decadence. This tended to create a notion of two separate people, on the one hand; on the other, an uncritical praise of the past was not acceptable to the low caste sections of the society which had suffered under religiously sanctioned exploitation precisely during the ancient period.
  4. These reformers looked upon the medieval period of Indian history as essentially an era of decadence. This was not only unhistorical but also socially and politically harmful. Many in the Muslim middle classes went to the extent of turning to the history of West Asia for their traditions and moments of pride. Due to this, the process of evolution of a composite culture which was evident throughout Indian history showed signs of being arrested with the rise of another form of consciousness – communal consciousness – along with national consciousness among the middle classes. This contributed to birth of communalism in India.

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