History, Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering sneered at the Nuremberg war trials after Germany lost World War II, is written by the victor. That is an excessively cynical view but not without a kernel of truth. Every society and nation likes to see itself in the best possible light and tries to arrange, through word and thought, a continuously running sub-text of all its virtues as a sort of theme music. Many Britons still sing the glories of empire despite abundant evidence of the degradations and depredations it visited upon the conquered peoples. Brexit will perhaps be the last expression of this hubris.

A country like India, by contrast, does not have much choice. As the jewel in the Raj’s crown, its history of the last two centuries is a tale of subjugation. No one denies it. Indeed no one can deny it because our modern history is all about the titanic effort to break those chains. Try as they might, even the most expert fabulists can’t make this inconvenient fact vanish. What about a more distant past, though, when there was a charismatic local figure to balance the imperial ruler?

Maybe that explains Maharashtra’s decision to write the Mughals out of its history, making Shivaji the focus of the medieval period. The state government says in its defence that it looks at history from a “Maharashtra-centric point of view”. But the problem with this sort of rationale is many-fold. First, do you start the medieval period with Shivaji? What about the earlier centuries; will the dynasties be elasticated, stretched out longer than the records say, the kings rule for longer periods, or names inserted that are not in the original lists? Will the textbooks simply ignore earlier times and focus on the granular details of Shivaji’s many conquests over his imaginary enemies? There is the question, if he didn’t defeat the Mughal governors in the Maratha country, whom did Shivaji beat? After all, he had to have an adversary as a foil for his inspiring deeds.

This is how he begins his famous letter to the (fictional?) emperor Aurangzeb against the jaziya: “This firm and constant well-wisher Shivaji, after rendering thanks for the grace of God and the favours of the Emperor begs to inform Your Majesty that… he is ever ready to perform everything that duty as a servant and gratitude demand of him.” In a later passage he registers his protest against the imposition of jaziya and says, “In Your Majesty’s reign, many of the forts and provinces have gone out of your possession, and the rest will soon do so, too, because there will be no slackness on my part in ruining and devastating them.” By his own words he seems to recognise the emperor Alamgir as his sovereign. His war on the Mughals started as rebellion and only later turned into personal conquest. The official response should be interesting.

Further north, there is another startling discovery, this one about the victor of Haldighati. Rajasthan’s school textbooks say it was not the Mughal army but Maharana Pratap Singh of Mewar. So, all the bards and balladeers who wrote the heart-rending accounts of the great Rana’s travails after the battle were either misled or imperial agents. Instead of suffering in exile he was lounging around his principality in state while the Mughal allies licked their wounds. What about the persistent legend that the Bhils of the Aravali kept the Rana a step ahead of his imperial pursuers? Official explanations might say that the Bhils took him on a hunt and that became a fable of defeat and flight concocted by his enemies, of whom, it must be admitted, there were many.

The biggest problem with these clumsy lies is that it is that the mass of contemporary literature tells a completely different story in each case. The BJP’s case falls apart even upon a cursory glance at the evidence. But one lie has to be buttressed by another and they pile up. Eventually everything unravels, as foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is discovering with her evasions on the fate of 39 Indian labourers in Mosul after the ISIS takeover in 2014. Her initial statements dismissiing reports of their execution are beginning to hang around her neck like a millstone.

The patriot pathology of the ultra-national irrationalist is, of course, impossible to wish away but official encouragement of these delusions is downright dangerous. It is one long step on the slippery slope to a world where “rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies”. After this the truth, far from setting you free, is like a hangover.

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