In 2017, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from distorting history, as it has done many times in the past, to fabricating history in order to advance its divisive ideology of Hindu nationalism.
Ignoring the pleas and protests against manufacturing history, the BJP government in Rajasthan changed fact to fiction in the Social Science textbook for Class 10, this year. The revised textbook says that Akbar lost the Battle of Haldighati to Maharana Pratap, even though historians have established that it was the Mughal emperor who defeated the Rajput king in 1576.
With the BJP shamelessly turning history on its head, its objections about historical inaccuracies in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movie Padmavati reek of a level of hypocrisy that truly insults a person's intelligence. The ruling party has presented itself as the poster child of double standards, out to promote its Hindutva agenda at the cost of everything else.
The BJP's opposition to the movie about the Rajput queen, which started out with a few lawmakers writing letters, has amplified in the run up to the Gujarat state election. The Hindu nationalist party now appears to be on the same page as the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, the fringe group that has been leading a violent agitation against the multi-crore movie.
Detractors, including royal families from Rajasthan and Rajput women, are angry that the 13-14th century queen's character is seen dancing in the film. They also believe that Bhansali's film has a romantic dream sequence between the Rajput queen and the Muslim sultan Alauddin Khilji.
Even though Bhansali has said that there is no romantic dream sequence in the film, Karni Sena leaders have threatened to behead Bhansali and maim the movie's lead actor Deepika Padukone by chopping off her nose.
BJP leaders have compared distorting history to "treason."
In a letter to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh, Arjun Gupta, wrote, "He (Bhansali) needs to be severely punished by being tried for treason for his attempt to distort history," he said. In a letter to Bhansali, Haryana minister Vipul Goel wrote, "Nobody is allowed to distort history and wrongly present facts."
Gold standard of double standards
Now, let's look at the BJP's treatment of history and facts.
In just the past year, BJP governments in at least two states have distorted history in school textbooks read by millions of students, with more states likely to follow.
The Rajasthan government, for instance, has not only flipped the outcome of the Haldighati battle, it has also portrayed VD Savarkar as a champion of the independence movement, sidelining Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. In reality, Savarkar had a limited role in the freedom struggle and he ended up begging the British to release him from prison.
It is tragic and true that classrooms have always been a battlefield for political parties to promote their ideologies, whether the Congress, the BJP or the Left. Textbooks in Gujarat, a BJP bastion for two decades, have been riddled with falsehoods for a long time. In the recent past, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews were presented as "foreigners" and Hitler, who murdered millions of Jews, was described as someone who lent "dignity and prestige to the German government."
Over the past three years, however, BJP's presence at the Centre and in an unprecedented number of states has bolstered the party's plan to roll back what Hindu nationalists believe to be the domination of the Left and the "secular" thinkers in academics. They have openly declared their plan to "saffronise" history across the country.
On the one hand, BJP is protesting over a rumored dream sequence involving a Rajput queen, who may or may not have even existed. On the other hand, the BJP is not just manufacturing history, but also erasing the history that challenges its linear narrative of the barbaric Muslim invaders who persecuted Hindus and destroyed their temples.
The Maharashtra government, for instance, has removed from the history of the Mughal emperors and the Delhi Sultanate from the Class 8 textbook, with no mention of the monuments they built.
Students in Maharashtra will no longer learn about Muslims rulers like Razia Sultana, the first woman to rule Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who circulated coins of copper and brass as token currency, and Sher Shah Suri, who introduced the first "Rupia" and made the highway that would eventually become the Grand Trunk Road.
The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh is also planning to write out Mughal emperors from state textbooks. In September, Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma said the state's syllabus would reflect that "Mughal rulers were not our ancestors but looters."
'Don't tell me that words don't matter'
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama explained why things like "words", "ideals and inspirations" and "hope" mattered in politics. "Don't tell me words don't matter. 'I have a dream' — just words? 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal' — just words? 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' — just words? Just speeches?" he said
The importance of "words" is seemingly lost on Indian politicians. The BJP leaders don't even need a multi-crore film to distort history. They do it routinely in remarks and statements made to the press and at public functions, without any compunction or accountability.
Unlike Bhansali, who has no choice but to respond to the agitation against his film, politicians are seemingly answerable to no one, neither the state nor the public, let alone fringe groups like the Shri Rajput Karni Sena.
There is nothing stopping Vinay Katiyar, a BJP lawmaker in the Rajya Sabha, from claiming that Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan destroyed a Shiva temple to build the Taj Mahal, and calling for the world famous monument to be renamed "Tejo Mahal. The BJP leader continued to fib even after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had debunked the temple theory in a court of law.
Before Katiyar, BJP lawmaker from UP, Sangeet Som, said that the Taj Mahal was made by a man who imprisoned his own father. On the contrary, Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb.
BJP leaders have not only misrepresented the country's political, religious and cultural history, they have distorted scientific history.
In 2015, for instance, Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan said that Algebra and the Pythagoras Theorem originated in India. "Ancient Indian scientists have graciously allowed scientists from other countries to take credit for their findings," he said. While the origins of Algebra are traced back to the Islamic world, the Pythagoras Theorem is named after the Greek mathematician Pythagoras.
Earlier this year, the junior education minister of India, Satya Pal Singh, said that an Indian scholar Shivkar Bapuji Talpade invented the airplane, not the Wright Brothers in 1903. "This person invented the plane eight years before the Wright brothers," he said.
Hindu nationalists have always portrayed ancient India, before the coming of Christianity and Islam, as the golden age of prosperity and learning. They routinely claim that breakthroughs made in modern medicine, science and technology in the last 100 years were known to people living in ancient India.
In 2014, Narendra Modi became the first prime minister to publicly back the Vedic age theory of the Hindu right.
While speaking at a function in Mumbai, Modi said that ancient Indians knew about genetic science and plastic surgery, citing examples of the warrior Karna from the epic Mahabharata and Ganesha, the Hindu god who has the head of an elephant.
"We worship Ganeshji, there must have been a plastic surgeon in that era who put an elephant's head on a human body, plastic surgery must have started then," he said.
Modi has spoken of Ganesha's head and other imagined achievements of ancient India when he was chief minister of Gujarat. In fact, in the run up to the general election in 2014, Modi habitually distorted history, claiming that Biharis defeated Alexander the Great and that Takshashila was in Bihar (it is in Pakistan).
Last week, Yogi Adityanath said, "Distorting history is no lesser crime than sedition."
Is the UP chief minister accusing his colleagues and his boss of sedition?
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