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Monday May 23, 2022

Modi’s dystopia

January 29, 2022

Fiction, it is said, is a figment of imagination. However, if decades or centuries later, characters and events from a work of fiction attain reality, one can only marvel at the writers’ power of foresight. Way back in 1726, Jonathan Swift’s famous ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ mentioned the red planet with two moons – Mars; around two centuries later, it would prove to be true.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 classic, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was a best-selling novel of that century. Many people view it as the predictor of the abolishment of slavery. In 1865, Jules Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ foretold the number of men aboard a spacecraft and the weightlessness that they would experience in space.

Mark Twain’s short story ‘From the London Times of 1904’ had the Telectroscope. A long-distance telephone, it created a global network of information available to all; our present-day internet and cell phones rolled into one. In his novel ‘1984’, George Orwell presented Oceania, the seat of a dystopia. He foretold the machinations of those who would use hate-induced nationalism to indoctrinate the people.

In a revealing dialogue, O’Brien asks Winston who works at the (sic) Ministry of Truth, “There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past; repeat it”. Winston intones, “Who controls the past controls the future and who controls the present controls the past”. O’Brien asks, “Is there somewhere a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening”. Hesitantly, Winston replies, “In records and in human memories”. O’Brien retorts triumphantly: “We, the Party, control all records and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not”?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dystopia, the India of today, has him fervently trying to erase the past and replace it with fabrications based on Hindutva ideology. Shortly after his rise 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, 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 Hindutvanise the education system; between 2014 and 2018, 1334 changes were made in 182 textbooks.

In this manipulated version, just one example has Vinayak Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva, placed prominently in history books as a “patriot and great revolutionary whose contribution to the cause of independence cannot be described in words”. In 1909, Savarkar was found guilty of accessory to murder and sent to the cellular jail on the Andaman Islands.

The reality is that this ‘patriot’ then made frantic mercy pleas, vowing his “staunchest loyalty and promising to be the foremost advocate of the British Raj”. Sensing his utility, the wily colonizers freed him. When Subhas Chandra Bose was raising his Indian National Army to confront the British, Savarkar proved his subservience by helping the latter recruit thousands of Indian soldiers.

He also worked against the Quit India Movement and instructed members of his Hindu Mahasabah party who were members of municipalities, local bodies, legislature, or those serving in the army to stick to their posts. He also professed his Hindutva ideology and created communal fissures at a crucial time when a united front against the British was needed. Post-independence, Savarkar was implicated in Gandhi’s murder.

In September 2020, a 16-member committee with an annual budget of $400 million was formed. Its unintelligible mandate was: ‘holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian cultures since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world’. The committee’s creator Mahesh Sharma is the Modi government’s culture minister. His Lok Sabha web page unabashedly describes him as “a staunch follower of RSS since childhood”.

The RSS contends that the ancestors of all Indians, including India’s 209 million Muslims, were Hindu. It also asserts that they should accept this common ancestry as part of Bharat Mata and revert to Hinduism, which the BJP and the RSS are brutally enforcing as ‘ghar wapsi’.

Balmukund Pandey, the RSS’s head of historical research extols, “the time is now to restore India’s past glory by inducting the conclusions of the committee into school textbooks and academic research”. No wonder, the Modi sarkar’s Ministry of Education and Literacy Program is headed by Prakash Javadekar – another staunch RSS adherent.

A prisoner of history, Modi wants to assert that the pre-Islamic period of Indian history was the golden age, and those of the Muslims an era of marauders. This has led to baffling claims as was abundantly clear from the Indian Science Congress annual meeting of January 2019 which turned out to be more of a joke than anything remotely connected 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, too, made such baffling claims.

History is a teacher and keeper of records; its pages are meant to teach us how to face the present and approach the future without repeating past mistakes. Its manipulation for political gain is odious. For the Modi sarkar, it is the convoluted realisation of the rabid RSS ideology. As Neelanjan Sircar of Ashoka University puts it, “The murkier the data, the easier it is for him (Modi) to control the narrative”. Historical realities are being scrapped to be replaced by myths and fallacies to create an RSS-envisioned Hindutva land.

Modi’s Dystopia is a land where history is being viewed through the prism of hate, lies and myths. This implosive primacy has taken over human, moral and academic realities. Shortly after Orwell’s novel was published, he said: “The moral to be drawn from this nightmarish situation is a simple one. Don’t let it happen, it depends on you”. The world and the many saner minds within India ought to heed the warning before it is too late.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at miradnanaziz@gmail.com

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