Presentism, while being stuck in the past
Presentism is the tendency to evaluate the people and events of the past by the values and realities of the present. It manifests in a variety of ways. In the US it has energized demands for memorialization revisions, such as a demand to take down monuments dedicated to Christopher Columbus. In universities it has led to calls for dropping Shakespeare from all syllabi because he was sexist. India, with its rich history of kings and conquests as well as vivid group memories of these that are deeply at odds with each other, combined with a politics that thrives on polarization, is febrile territory for a presentism of heft.
In 2015 Siddaramaiah‘s Congress government had initiated Tipu Jayanti celebrations amid protests by BJP and violent protests in Coorg, where the account of Tipu as “the first freedom fighter” does not prevail but he is instead remembered as a brutal invader/plunderer. Even though the word secularism did not even exist in Tipu’s time, over the past few years a debate has raged about whether Tipu was a secular hero to be memorialized or a Muslim tyrant to be reviled. Historians crying themselves hoarse over crimes of anachronism are like water off a duck’s back. Anyway, given the way in which Congress and BJP have kept their horns loudly locked on this one, it is hardly any surprise that after excruciatingly grabbing back the reins of power Yediyurappa has rushed to scrap the state-sponsored celebrations of Tipu Jayanti.
Here the dear fellow of presentism is tokenism. One government and then the next claims to do the right thing, while doing nothing much at all, except raise discord in society to higher decibels. And for these presentist-tokenist adventurers, moving forward the stalling engine of India is not the focus, unfortunately.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.