NEW DELHI – The Indian government’s call to rewrite the country’s history, ostensibly from a nationalist standpoint, is drawing flak from historians who believe the right-wing ruling party is trying to glorify and legitimize the politics of Hindu majoritarianism and its champions to dominate minorities.
Professor Apoorvanand, who teaches at the Delhi University, said the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi “wants us to believe that India is a land of Hindus and all other influences were later additions and mostly pollutants.”
“They want India to be purged off those influences to make it ‘pure’ and to take it back to its ‘original glory,’” Apoorvanand told EFE.
The professor was referring to some BJP leaders’ unambiguous assertions about the pet project of the Hindu right-wingers to recast the nation’s history.
Home Minister Amit Shah, who is the de facto No. 2 in Modi’s cabinet and also heads the BJP, became the first top government official seeking to replace what he perceives as distorted versions of Indian history to propagate the idea of Hindutva or the Hindu nationalist ideology.
“It is my request to all that there is a need to rewrite history from India’s point of view without blaming anyone,” Shah said at a seminar in October held in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, in India’s north.
At the heart of Shah’s speech during a function of the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh, India’s powerful, male-only Hindu nationalist outfit and ideological mentor of the BJP, was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an early-20th-century Hindu radical leader and a staunch Hindutva advocate.
The home minister was pitching for a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, for Savarkar, who was accused and arrested as a co-conspirator in the 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was later let off for want of evidence.
Projecting Savarkar – who is said to have petitioned the British rulers to seek clemency and early release from jail – as the main champion of India’s struggle for freedom, Shah said he was the first to describe the 1857 mutiny as India’s first war of independence.
“The Hindu rulers and dynasties have not been represented enough in our textbooks,” said Sudesh Verma, a national BJP spokesperson.
“There is a need to rewrite the history to inculcate a spirit of nationalism. We need to create a sense of being Indian and belongingness to the country, economically, culturally and spiritually,” Verma told EFE.
Apoorvanand said the BJP’s attempts at finding a Hindu link to everything that is non-Hindu extends to India’s historical monuments, mostly built during the Muslim rule of Mughals who governed most of north India from the early 16th to the mid-18th century.
The project of radical Hindus to get rid of all symbols of Muslim rulers stretches back to many decades. A mob of Hindu fanatics in 1992 demolished a 17th-century mosque built by Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty – an incident that triggered widespread communal riots, leaving thousands, mostly Muslims, dead.
Hindus claimed that the Babri Masjid was built on an ancient temple, the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama.
The dispute was finally settled last month by the Supreme Court, which upheld the Hindu belief and ordered the construction of a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity on a piece of land on which the Mughal monument once stood.
Apoorvanand said there was a trend in claims made by Hindutva leaders, who have also asserted that the Taj Mahal and other structures of the Muslim era in Hindu holy cities of Varanasi and Mathura were built after demolishing ancient Hindu structures.
Najaf Haider, a professor of history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said all this was an attack by the BJP on the “idea of India which stands on liberalism, socialism, and inclusion.”
“They want to inculcate religious nationalism,” Haider told EFE, adding that lawmakers of the ruling party have even made their scorn known for India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – an Indian National Congress leader who advocated a secular India.
“Nehruvian ideology is a threat to them (BJP) because it transcends religious boundaries and it is soft towards minorities,” Haider said.
Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of the kingdom of Mysore (in southern India), is also on the radar of the BJP’s mission.
A BJP lawmaker from the southern state of Karnataka has urged the government to remove all references to Tipu Sultan from school textbooks.
But Shadakshari Settar, a historian and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, told EFE: “It is impossible to remove from history (the figures) that you don’t like.”
“You can’t remove a particular person from the textbooks unless you remove the entire episode which has shaped the century,” Settar said.