Historical facts are manufactured by most modern Historians. E.H. Carr, [1] an influential quasi-Marxist, says: “The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.” [2] Thus, there are no “objective” historical facts in this view.

There may be many facts. But they become historical facts only when the historian calls on them. As Carr puts it: “The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.” [3] Though the historian does depend upon empirical events, they become historical facts only when they are chosen by the historian who is reconstructing the past. [4] The historian “makes” history by his narrative, selection and interpretation of empirical events.

How exactly are historical facts manufactured?

Consider the following: “In 1850, a vendor of gingerbread … was hacked to death by an angry mob.” Carr cites this and adds:

“A year ago, Dr. Kitson Clark cited it in his Ford lectures. … Does it make it an historical fact? Not, I think, yet. Its present status, I suggest, is that it has been proposed for membership of the select club of historical facts. It now awaits a seconder and sponsors.

It may be that in the course of few years we will see this fact appearing first in footnotes, then in the text, of articles and books about 19th century England… and that in twenty or thirty years’ time it will be a well-established historical fact. Alternatively, nobody may take it up, in which case it will relapse into the limbo of unhistorical facts about the past from which… Clark has gallantly attempted to rescue it.” [5]

So the steps that go into the making of a historical fact are: 1) recording or observation of an empirical event 2) selection in a narrative by a historian 3) approval by other historians 4) citation in footnotes, texts and then articles over a period of time, leading to 5) well-established historical fact. Thus the process of manufacturing historical facts is a social activity, with many historians participating. Manufacturing history is a social industry.

So long as different historians with different mindsets participate in the manufacture of the social artefact called history, the problem of bias can get averaged out from this process. History in that case remains a social artefact, manufactured by a number of independent minds. There is here, a cooperation and collision of minds, but not collusion.

The problem of collusion arises when ideology enters this industry. When historians subscribe to an ideology, the narrative, selection and interpretation becomes systematic. Empirical events are systematically excluded from the narrative. Or, if included, are interpreted systematically to reflect one’s ideological position. The adherents of the ideology stick together, and the manufacture of “historical facts” becomes collusive, and systematically biased.

Sometimes these collusive ventures are dignified by the name of “school of thought”. A “school of thought” defines one approach and interpretation of history as valid. It develops its own puzzles, and determines whether findings will be cited or not. This is called the paradigm approach to social sciences, in which a school of thought has its own narrative, puzzles and riddles. Often methodologies or approaches are also prescribed.

The members of a school of thought decide whether to admit “facts” and “findings” or not, whether to allow research on a particular matter or not. If the “school of thought” controls journals, admissions into courses, research programs, it will also control recruitment into teaching and research positions. No alien thought will enter the school; no alien thinker will enter the departments.

Thus a controlled “history will verily unfold to fit the ideology”. As Orwell says, “He who controls the present controls the past.” (1984)

Let us lighten the discussion with some Indian examples.

Manufacturing Mahmud Ghazny

Indian oral tradition recalls the raids of Mahmud Ghazny, his large scale destruction of temples, especially the destruction of Somnath. This tradition does not suit a certain ideology, which may be called “pseudo-secularism” for convenience. As a result, Nehru made the first attempt at manufacturing the history of Mahmud Ghazny. In his Discovery of India, He said:

“Mahmud was far more a warrior than a man of faith and like many other conquerors he used and exploited the name of religion for his conquests. India was to him just a place from which he could carry off treasure and material to his homeland.”

This interpretation ran up against medieval Muslim accounts of Mahmud. If treasure was his sole object, why would he refuse annual tribute, fifty elephants and jewels in order to spare the idol of Thaneshwar? Also, it is reported that while rejecting the offer, Mahmud said “in proportion as the tenets of the Prophet are diffused, and his followers exert themselves in the subversion of idolatry, so shall be their reward in heaven;’ that therefore, it behoved him, with the assistance of God, to root out the worship of idols from the face of India. How, then, should he spare Thanesar?”

He is said to have repeated similar sentiments in Somnath, proclaiming: “… I desire that on the day of resurrection I should be summoned with the words ‘Where is that Mahmud who broke the greatest of heathen idols?’ rather than by these: ‘Where is that Mahmud who sold the greatest of the idols to the infidels for gold?'”

Evidently, Mahmud was not interested in booty alone. He razed the temple to the ground and broke the idol into four pieces. Firishta writes “two pieces of the idol were to be broken off and sent to Ghazni so that one might be thrown at the threshold of the public mosque and the other at the court door of his own palace. …. Two more fragments were reserved to be sent to Mecca and Medina.” [6]

So what is historical fact here? George Orwell said that he, who controls the present, controls the past. “Pseudo-secularism” ensures that a majority of scholars will side with Nehru. Hence, a XI class history book reportedly says:”some historians hold that Mahmud wanted to propagate Islam in India, whereas, most of the scholars assert the chief aim of Mahmud was to rob.” He robbed India after every war and carried away fabulous wealth to Ghazni.  It emphasizes “so it is true that he invaded India to satisfy his lust for money.” [7]

Nehru however, was not a trained historian. Let us see with a hypothetical example, how a trained historian would approach this problem of Manufacturing History.

Idol Breaking and Temple Destruction by the Sultans

Some of the Delhi Sultans were temple breakers and iconoclasts, in popular belief and old history. Suppose that I was a trained “secular” historian, and I was given the task of writing 14 pages about the Sultans touching on their iconoclasm at various points. How would I put it?

1) I would say: “Some of the Delhi Sultans gained notoriety as temple breakers and idol-smashers.” So were they idol smashers or not? Or did they only “gain notoriety” for this? Why commit? Leave it in doubt.

2) What about the Muslim chroniclers? I would say: “Chroniclers wrote at length about these things “presumably to prove the devotion of their patrons to Islam”. Does this mean that they were idol smashers or not? Does it mean that the patrons were not devoted to Islam? Leave it to your imagination. The chroniclers were motivated, that is all.

3) I may add: “There may have been more than piety involved”. So does this mean that piety did lead to idol smashing? Fudge. I will not give you a quote that says that piety of some Sultans led to idol smashing. Instead, I will jump one step ahead, and admit that “more than piety” may have been involved.

4) I will add “Chroniclers had to show that the Sultan was making life difficult for the infidels …” Does this mean that the Sultan was not destroying idols, and that chroniclers were making it up? Why should I say? Just suggest and leave it at that.

5) In one case, Muslim chroniclers reported that the Puri temple was destroyed, while it may not have been. So I will refer to this, and suggest by implication that all other reports of temple destruction and idol breaking were also false. Let us say, I will put it in a footnote under item 4) above.

6) Why not generalise the issue, make it political and secularise it? So I advance the following generalisation: “… nevertheless iconoclasm served the purpose of impressing the superiority of the foreign rulers on the indigenous population.” For instance…? This is getting tricky. So let me try a footnote: “Sikandar Lodhi wished to destroy mosques of Jaunpur”, this proves”that impressing authority of one state on another was involved.”

I will not say that this reasoning assumes:

  1. That one swallow makes the summer: i.e., All Delhi Sultans thought like one Sikandar Lodhi (an Afghan)
  2. That if the Indian Sultans had happened to invade Arabia, they would have treated the mosques there like they did the temples of India, and razed many of them to the ground.

7) Now comes my trump card. Why did the Sultans break idols, which I am not saying that they did? I would argue that what really riled the Muslims about the Hindu temples were not only their false gods and religion, but the merry making and social activity that went on within it from which they were excluded.

So I will say: “The temple was the bank, the landowner, the employer of innumerable artisans and servants, the school, the discussion centre, the administrative centre for the village, and the place for major entertainments in the form of festivals. The ruling (Muslim) elite was excluded from all this, and the sight of a temple served to remind them of this exclusion.”

What am I suggesting? I am suggesting that if only the Hindus of those days had read my history, they would have opened the temple doors to the ruling (Muslim) elite, and in would the (Muslim) elite come and join the celebrations and festivities and worship Rama and Sita! Please note that I have put Muslim in parenthesis only, because that parenthesis would allow them to enter temples and enjoy the experience of idol worship.

An Aside

The patient reader will be unfair to me if he suspects me of mockery, parody, fevered imagination or hallucination. This section is entirely inspired by the “A History of India 1” by Romilla Thapar, [8] and all quotations cited here are taken from it.

Why Manufacturing History has become a Collusive Industry

My reading of Marx is simplistic. I imagine that Marx actually thought that history by itself would produce revolutions, through an intensification of class struggles. I wonder whether he thought that it was necessary to manufacture history. Unfortunately, when Marxists tried to intensify class struggle, they must have found that a sense of history, of common belonging to nation, religion etc., would often span across class division and mobilisations. Sometimes these were fuelled by Imperialism, sometimes by the Church. This must have been frustrating.

Where was this sense of history coming from? This knowledge of the past stemmed from history in tradition and in formal accounts. This knowledge was controlled increasingly by formal institutions in the west, especially the academia that controlled the writing of history. If only, one could control the writing of history, one could control the direction of social change and revolution. To write History was the only way of making history. Hence: “He, who controls the past, controls the future”. [9]

How to control the past? In order to control the past, one would have to control the present. Was not history writing controlled by the ruling capitalist class? Someone might have noticed the difference between the ruling class and the intellectuals, more so in England. As Orwell noted later, “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” [10]
There was thus a divide between the ruling elite, between the mass of the people, and the intellectuals. It was therefore possible to target the intellectuals with an ideology, and capture the writing of history.

With an ideology, the social process of manufacturing history would become a collusive industry, taking direction from ideology and drawing strength from the collusion of its adherents. Manufacturing history could become a collusive industry, organisation and organised thought triumphing over the disorganised mass of scattered individual historians.

Thus does ideology seize the commanding heights in the battle for human consciousness?

The Collusive Manufacture of History and Bharat

Bharat is a unique civilisation. Will and Ariel Durant note that the Hindu mind respects holiness, like the Greeks did wisdom, the Italians art, and the Americans enterprise. [11] Around this reverence for holiness, an entire civilisation evolved aiming to secure the smooth passage of the soul through material unreality, into the world of the Spirit and beyond, weaving a vast diversity of traditions, beliefs and cultures into a national mosaic, building a nation based on the zeal for holiness, as Gandhiji pointed out unknown anywhere else in the world. [12] Religion, culture, civilisation and nationalism are inextricably intertwined in this nation called Bharat that has evolved over the millennia.

Does the ideology that holds the commanding heights in the collusive manufacture of History in India understand this national genius? Can it revive the national soul and foster it? Or will it destroy this ancient, but living entity and replace it with a western cosmopolitan likeness?


  1. P. 12, What is History, E.H. Carr, Penguin, 1962. EH Carr, a diplomat turned quasi Marxist, was on the pro-communist list of George Orwell, and went on to support Maoism after the split in the Communist movement.
  2. This was not the view of Traditional Historians. Traditionally, History is defined as (a) an account of what has happened in the life or development of a people, country, institution in detail (b) all recorded events of the past (Webster’s New Twentieth Century dictionary). The eminent Indian historian Dr. R.C. Majumdar wrote that history should express the truth, without fear, envy, malice, passion or prejudice and irrespective of all extraneous considerations.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “… the process of reconstitution governs the selection and interpretation of the facts: this indeed is what makes them historical facts.” P.22, E.H. Carr, ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Various medieval Islamic sources, including Utbi.
  7. Rewriting History and Mahmud Ghaznavi, Vinod Kumar
  8. Pp. 277-279, Pelican Original.
  9. George Orwell, 1984, in a different context.
  10. George Orwell (The Lion and the Unicorn, 1941).
  11. Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol 2, The Life of Greece. “Greece respected wisdom as India respected holiness, as. Renaissance Italy respected artistic genius, as young America naturally respects economic enterprise.”
  12. “I do not wish to suggest that because we were one nation we had no differences, but it is submitted that our leading men traveled throughout India either on foot or in bullock-carts. They learned one another’s languages and there was no aloofness between them. What do you think could have been the intention of those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setubandha (Rameshwar) in the South, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage? You Will admit they were no fools. They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganges in their own homes. But they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world. And we Indians are one as no two Englishmen are.” Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, M.K. Gandhi, 1910.
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Dr. Rahul Shastri

Rahul Shastri is Joint Director, National Akademi of Development; he has published research papers and articles in various journals and books including EPW, Asian Economic Review, The Indian Economy Review, on topics ranging from Economic Theory, Public Finance, Macroeconomics, Industrial Growth, Agriculture and Environment.

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