Fiction, it is said, is the fruit of the imagination. However, if decades or centuries later the characters and events of a work of fiction become reality, one can only marvel at the power of foresight of the writers. In 1726, Jonathan Swift’s famous “Gulliver’s Travels” mentioned the red planet with two moons – Mars; about two centuries later, this would prove to be true.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 classic, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was a bestselling novel of that century. Many people consider him the predictor of the abolition of slavery. In 1865, “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne predicted the number of men aboard a spaceship and the weightlessness they would experience in space.
Mark Twain’s short story “From the London Times of 1904” had the telescope. Long-distance telephone, it has created a global information network accessible to all; our current Internet and mobile phones are one. In his novel ‘1984’, George Orwell presents Oceania, the seat of a dystopia. He predicted the machinations of those who would use hateful nationalism to indoctrinate the people.
In revealing dialogue, O’Brien asks Winston, who works at the (sic) Ministry of Truth: “There’s a Party slogan about controlling the past; repeat”. Winston intones, “Who controls the past controls the future and who controls the present controls the past”. O’Brien asks, “Is there a world of solid objects somewhere, where the past is still unfolding Hesitantly, Winston replies, “In the archives and in human memories. O’Brien replies triumphantly, “We, the Party, control all the records and we control all the memories. it not?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dystopia India Today drives him to fervently try to erase the past and replace it with fabrications based on Hindutva ideology. Shortly after coming to power in 2014, Modi appointed Sudershan Rao to head the Indian Council of Historical Research; his task was to “establish” ancient Indian myths as reality.
Because he views Indian history and mythology as one and the same, Rao’s academic credibility has always been a question mark for the Indian intelligentsia. The RSS formed the Bharatiya Shiksha Niti Ayog, a committee to Hindutvanize the education system; between 2014 and 2018, 1334 changes were made to 182 textbooks.
In this manipulated version, a single instance has Vinayak Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva, placed prominently in the history books as “a patriot and great revolutionary whose contribution to the cause of independence cannot be described in words”. In 1909, Savarkar was convicted of being an accessory to murder and sent to the Andaman Islands Cellular Jail.
The reality is that this ‘patriot’ then issued frantic pleas for mercy, swearing his ‘most unwavering loyalty and promising to be the chief defender of the British Raj’. Sensing its usefulness, the cunning colonizers freed it. When Subhas Chandra Bose raised his Indian National Army to confront the British, Savarkar proved his submission by helping the latter recruit thousands of Indian soldiers.
He also worked against the Quit India movement and called on members of his Hindu Mahasabah party who were members of municipalities, local bodies, legislature or those serving in the military to stick to their posts. He also professed his Hindutva ideology and created community fissures at a crucial time when a united front against the British was needed. After independence, Savarkar was implicated in the murder of Gandhi.
In September 2020, a 16-member committee with an annual budget of $400 million was formed. Its incomprehensible mandate was: “the holistic study of the origin and evolution of Indian cultures from 12,000 years before the present and its interface with other cultures of the world”. The creator of the committee, Mahesh Sharma, is the Minister of Culture in the Modi government. His Lok Sabha webpage unashamedly describes him as “an avid follower of RSS since childhood”.
The RSS maintains that the ancestors of all Indians, including India’s 209 million Muslims, were Hindus. He also claims that they should accept this common ancestry as part of Bharat Mata and return to Hinduism, which the BJP and RSS brutally enforce as “ghar wapsi”.
Balmukund Pandey, head of historical research at the RSS, praises “now is the time to restore India to its past glory by incorporating the committee’s findings into textbooks and academic research”. No wonder Modi Sarkar’s Ministry of Education and Literacy program is headed by Prakash Javadekar, another staunch supporter of RSS.
A prisoner of history, Modi wants to assert that the pre-Islamic period of Indian history was the golden age, and that of the Muslims an era of marauders. This has led to some confusing claims, as the annual meeting of the Indian Scientific Congress in January 2019 made clear, which turned out to be more of a joke than anything remotely related to its mandate. Speakers talked about India’s proficiency in stem cell technology, plastic surgery, space and interplanetary travel, etc. thousands of years ago; Modi has also made such puzzling claims.
History is a teacher and a record keeper; its pages are meant to teach us to face the present and approach the future without repeating the mistakes of the past. Its manipulation for political purposes is odious. For Modi Sarkar, it is the convoluted realization of the rabid ideology of the RSS. As Neelanjan Sircar of Ashoka University puts it, “The more obscure the data, the easier it is for him (Modi) to control the narrative”. Historical realities are discarded to be replaced by myths and misconceptions to create a Hindutva land imagined by RSS.
Modi’s Dystopia is a land where history is seen through the lens of hate, lies and myths. This implosive primacy has taken hold of human, moral and academic realities. Shortly after the publication of Orwell’s novel, he said, “The moral to be drawn from this nightmarish situation is simple. Don’t let that happen, it’s up to you.” The world and the many sane minds in India should heed the warning before it is too late.
The author is an independent contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]