History / 15.07.2014

By Kabir Altaf In 1026, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni raided the Hindu temple of Somnath (located in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat).  In retrospect, this event has had tremendous repercussions for contemporary South Asian history and is traditionally regarded as marking Hindu-Muslim animosity in the region from the outset. To this day, perceptions of Mahmud continue to be polarizing. While many Indians regard him as an iconoclastic invader bent upon loot and plunder, their counterparts in Pakistan view him as a conqueror who “established the standard of Islam on heathen land.” The Pakistani attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the country’s military has named the Ghaznavi missile in honor of Mahmud.  However, despite this conventional understanding, modern historians are attempting to question the received wisdom surrounding Somnath. One of the modern scholars attempting to arrive at a new understanding of Somnath is Romila...

History / 29.09.2009

The past is political, which makes interpreting it very tricky. In this post we try and illustrate some of the pitfalls involved in thinking about the past. One common tendency is to look at the past from a position that is anchored in the present. If the anchor is political it nearly always leads to finding an interpretation of the past that helps to justify or strengthen the stance in the present. In The Idea of India, Sunil Khilnani puts it very plainly: “In India, as elsewhere, present politics are shaped by conceptions of the past. Broadly, there have been two different descriptions of Indian history…” We need not be concerned here with the details of the two descriptions. We only need to note that more than one interpretation of the same facts is possible and that the choice depends upon which political position in the present is being supported.