Plans to change Lutyen’s Delhi into Modian Delhi struck most Indians as ludicrously boastful. The plans have not been given up. Leaders who want to be seen as historically important figures never give up plans to project themselves.
Which explains why the Government of India is promoting “a holistic study of the origin and evolution of Indian culture over the past 12,000 years.”
A Committee was set up in 2016 by a minister called Mahesh Sharma, notorious for dim-witted remarks like “late president APJ Abdul Kalam was a great nationalist despite being a Muslim.” This committee, of course, did nothing except drawing its stipends and allowances.
The new committee is also guaranteed to do nothing. This is not a pre-judgment based on prejudice. It is a logical conclusion arising from the very composition of the Committee.
It has 16 members, all drawn from one economic class (upper middle), one region (northern India) and one linguistic identity (Hindi, of course).
With no one from the south, no woman, no Dalit and no minority representative, the committee is eminently incompetent to talk about Indian culture or even imagine 12,000 years of it.
What prompted our ruling patriots to pick 12,000 years as the desirable period? That was the starting period of civilisation as we know it.
Homo sapiens settled in the subcontinent 12,000 years ago as the Ice Age ended and climate began to get relatively warm. By covering that entire period of time, the Committee wanted to ensure that no gaps were left for unpatriotic ideas to squeeze in.
But, the Committee failed to make an impression. In fact, the Committee was considered incompetent by a great many people. Ranking Carnatic musician T M Krishna, who is also an articulate intellectual, said the Committee’s composition was “proof of the bigoted, casteist, patriarchal approach of the Government of India.”
Such common-sense voices were not likely to have much impact when power-wielders promote reactionary and communal sentiments in the guise of nationalism. Typical of their approach was the suggestion put forward by Manmohan Vaidya, an RSS deputy general secretary. According to him, “the true colour of Indian history is saffron and to bring about cultural changes we must rewrite history.”
Yogi Adityanath wanted to rewrite history but circumstances forced him to give up the idea. Under duress, he has agreed to suffer the continued presence of Mughal creations like the Taj Mahal, but he re-named the Mughal museum near the Taj after Shivaji.
Why Shivaji whose mother tongue was Marathi and whose only connection with Agra was that he was held prisoner there by Aurangzeb? (He escaped from captivity either by bribing the guards or, as some accounts put it, by smuggling himself out in large baskets said to contain sweets.)
Not surprisingly, Home Minister Amit Shah has been supporting the idea of re-writing history. “It is our responsibility to write our history,” he said.
That is a sound principle, but “write our history” usually means “write our version of history”. Imagine Amit Shah writing the history of Gujarat and the Godhra train burning of 2002. Imagine the Modi Government writing the textbooks on Indian history for school syllabus across the country.
If that happens, it will not be something new in history. The wholesale genocide of Jews in Nazi Europe is sanitised in modern history books in Germany.
Japanese cruelties during the Second World War created a separate chapter of its own in history. That was a horror story with Japanese historian Tanaka finding evidence of Japanese cannibalism on Indians and other Allied prisoners. These are not mentioned in Japanese textbooks.
Actually what Indian culture needs is to be saved from the clutches of zealots. Long before Adityanath and Amit Shah arrived with a narrow-minded Hindutva agenda, Indian Culture had established a dynamic concept of life along the Indus river and the farming communities of Southern India.
A highly developed civilisation was in full bloom in India by the end of the fourth millennium BCE. It is this civilisation that was maligned and misused by latter-day partisans who wanted to spread a communal agenda for political gains.
India is the birthplace of multiple cultures. These are referred to as Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism and so on. To begin with, they were philosophical interpretations of life.
Latter-day politicians turned them into religious platforms for the purpose of acquiring power. They seem to have won the day. But the loss to India’s treasured value systems will be, in all likelihood, permanent.