The Early Bloomers

Narendra Modi’s ‘history of gaffes’ no doubt reveals his own ignorance but also stems from the hoary RSS tradition of manufacturing facts to suit their ideology
The Early Bloomers
Reuters (From Outlook 25 November 2013)

Motormouth Mythology

A short compendium of Modi’s loose interpretation of facts

“India has been a slave to others for 1,000-1,200 years.”

“Dalits were like mentally retarded children”—while releasing the book Samajik Samrasta

“Valmiki community involved in manual scavenging for a spiritual experience.” 

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“Sohrabuddin Sheikh got what he deserved”—asks crowd what should have been done to a man who dealt with illegal arms. “Kill him”, they shouted. This was after the Gujarat govt filed an affidavit in the SC admitting Sheikh was killed in fake encounter.

“I ensured the laying of a 700-km pipeline to reach Narmada water to the Indo-Pak border because of my love and respect for armymen.” Kutch got Narmada water on May 18, 2003, and Modi had thanked Rajiv Gandhi for initiating the Kutch drinking water project in 1985.

Said he had information that Sir Creek was being handed over to Pakistan on Dec 15, 2012. Claimed India had referred Sir Creek to India-Pakistan Western Border Tribunal—neither country has referred it to the tribunal.

Accused Muslims of breeding more and said, ‘Ame panch, Amara pachees’ in 2002. Muslim population in Gujarat was 8.4 per cent in 1961, went up to 9.1 per cent in 2011.

“Rupee was worth a US dollar at Independence.” Wrong. It was worth 30 cents.

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Claimed he and Nitish Kumar shared the same table at a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister in 2012. The Bihar chief minister described the claim as imaginary and said the referred lunch never took place.

Claimed that public funds worth Rs 1,800 crore were spent on Sonia Gandhi’s travel and treatment abroad, quoting an RTI activist from Haryana as source. The activist denied receiving any figure; the govt responded by saying only a few lakhs had been spent by her personally on her treatment abroad.

***

In what was perhaps the first systematic statement of the Sangh ideology—M.S. Golwalkar’s 1939 book, We or Our Nationhood Defined—the second sarsanghchalak (supreme chief) of the RSS traced the origins of the Aryan race to India. However, many years earlier—at the end of 1898—Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a revered figure among the Sangh faithful even if he was from the Congress, had said that the Aryans came from the North Pole. Asked if someone of the stature of Tilak could have been wrong, Golwalkar, with his flowing beard and saintly air, is said to have pondered for a while, and then replied that no, Tilak would not have been wrong, as the North Pole was once in India, somewhere bet­ween Bihar and Orissa. Over several centuries, it apparently zig-zagged its way to the north!

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In one stroke, the great RSS ideologue murdered both history and geography. As a product of the Sangh schools and shakhas, Narendra Modi’s stunted knowledge of matters historical is actually in his own history! If the great Guru Gol­wal­kar could bring the North Pole to Bharat, why can’t Modi say Jan Sangh founder Shyama Pra­sad Mookerjee was born in Guja­rat, mixing him up with Kutch revolutionary Shyamji Krishna Verma? Or that Alexander conquered the whole world but was defeated in Patna or that Taxila, “learning  hub of ancient times,” is in Bihar when it is actually in Pakistan? Or even that Jawaharlal Nehru did not attend the funeral of Sardar Patel?


Our icon, their icon God knows where he got it from but Modi claims Nehru missed Patel’s funeral

Others might see these as bloomers, but the plain fact is that facts have never come in the way of the fiction the Sangh parivar is so adept at spinning. Aditya Mukherjee, professor of history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, and one of the co-authors of RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi, says the issue is not just about these “stupid mistakes” that some people might pass off Modi’s gaffes as. “They are used to manufacturing facts and airbrushing history,” he says. “That is the underpinning of the Hindu communal project.”

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There are a few themes that the entire parivar is particularly obsessed with establishing, primary among them that there was once a great and uniform Hindu Vedic civilisation and that Muslims were terrible marauders. Professor of ancient Indian history D.N. Jha says that “myth is important to them, they make use of it for their ideology, which involves the denial of the diversity of Indian culture. At one time, they positioned Ram as the pan-Indian God, glossing over the fact that there are 33 million gods and goddesses traditionally worshipped in India.” Jha was one of the four historians who submitted a report to the Narasimha Rao government just months before the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 establishing that there was no evidence of a grand Ram temple at the disputed site. But to date, the parivar insists on having “historical evidence” of this. They do display the stamina to repeat a myth till it is passed off as fact.


Spiritual experience? Modi feels it’s spirituality that drives Valmiks to continue manual scavenging

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“If it’s a question of promoting Gujarati identity, why not Gandhi, why Sardar? The project’s a joke.”
D.N. Jha, Historian

They are equally keen to play down their own non-involvement in the national movement and their link to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Historian Dilip Simeon points to the first NDA government’s (1998) brazen attempt to ‘revise’ Gandhi’s Collected Works. Well-known scholars and Gandhians in India and around the world noticed hundreds of whimsical deletions and changes and demanded an end to such atte­mpts to play with historical documents. It was only after the defeat of the NDA government that this “revised” edition of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi was withdrawn, in 2005. Wri­ting on his blog, Simeon says, “The fascist style of political speech may be summarised in three words: affirmation, repetition and contagion. They spread lies and practise deceit as a matter of habit. Truth is whatever is convenient for serving their interests. More than anything else, it is the onslaught on the human mind that is the most dangerous feature of totalitarian politics—of any variety. The RSS in power will abolish truth completely. Modi’s lies are a foretaste.”

Mukherjee cites the interesting instance of an NCERT textbook on modern Indian history prepared during NDA rule which had no mention of the assassination of Gandhi. Only after a furore were a few lines added, just barely noting the event. That is a chapter of history the right-wing would clearly like to gloss over. Similarly, the attempt to claim Sardar Patel comes from the total lack of national heroes of RSS stock in the independence movement. As Jha asks, “If it is a question of Modi promoting the Gujarati identity, why not Gandhi, why Sardar? This project is a joke. As for Modi, he must learn to Google search before mentioning a historical figure!”

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Mistaken ID Shyama Prasad Mookerjee or Shyamji Krishna Verma? Same difference. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)

Modi’s many historical gaffes certainly do reveal his own ignorance. But they also stem from the tradition he comes from where history is treated as flexible, facts are not treated as sacrosanct and myths are manufactured. Commenting on Veer Savarkar’s essay, How Those Working for Hindu Consoli­dation Ought to Write and Read the History of their Own Nation, historian Jyotirmaya Sharma had, in a piece titled History as Revenge and Retaliation, written, “Savarkar begins by arguing that for the existence of Hindu rashtra, the present ought to be made formidable and powerful. In doing so, the knowledge of the past was crucial. The history of the Hindus, however, was one of the weaving together of diversities into a sense of national unity.” Savarkar then deals with the issue of foreign aggression and, as Sharma writes, “there was to be a history of the Hindu nation and there was to be the encounter of the Hindu nation with Muslims.” History, in other words, was to be a tool for propaganda. This is no different from the approach of the Communist parties across the world which ran propaganda departments, and history was allowed to be seen only through the analytical lens of Marxism or the worldview of Mao Zedong.


Slayed by the Biharis? Alexander the Great might have ruled the world, but died in Patna, says Modi. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 25 November 2013)

“They are used to manufacturing facts, airbrushing history. It underpins the Hindu communal project.”
Aditya Mukherjee, History professor, JNU

But the right wing in India is hampered even in this process because of not having been in power over long stretches and working with a very crude and rudimentary ideology to begin with. They are also constrained in pushing a particular version of history by the lack of credible historians who can bolster their claims. Jha admits there were some excellent historians with conservative views at one point. But today there is no respectable historian of any stature with the right wing whose scholarship would have any acceptance. Devendra Swaroop, a historian and RSS ideologue, believes his version of history has been kept down by state patronage to the Left and liberal historians. “There is nothing wrong with our understanding of history,” he says. “People of the BJP and RSS know their history. I agree Modi’s tongue has slipped a few times. It’s important for all leaders to stay alert and choose their words carefully. But Congress-backed historians and politicians should look into their own blunders. I could find a thousand mistakes made by Nehru in public.”

But then for all of Swaroop’s fulminations, the fact is that when it comes to the RSS, it is their own pracaharaks and BJP leaders like L.K. Advani who take to writing history. Because they are short of historians to claim as their own, they also hark back to some medieval and British chroniclers as examples of fine scholarship—Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang, Colonel James Todd and his Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Sir William Jones, who founded the Asiatic society in the late 18th century. The heavyweight Indian name that enters the RSS list of respectable historians is the late R.C. Majumdar, who did some pioneer­ing work on ancient India and edited the Bhara­tiya Vidya Bhavan series on Indian history.


Reorganisation of states? Perhaps he meant Nalanda when he located Taxila in Bihar. (Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook 25 November 2013)

The intellectual expanse of the parivar can to some extent be revealed by what happened during the NDA reign when Murli Manohar Joshi was handpicked by the RSS to man the HRD ministry. A key advisor to Joshi was Dina Nath Batra, then general secretary of the RSS front, Vidya Bharti. In an interview to this correspondent in 2001, Batra openly bragged of suggesting several changes in the NCERT text books, some of which were carried out. One that he wanted reveals the nature of the man: “Jesus Christ was a najayaz (illegitimate) child of Mary but in Europe they don’t teach that. Instead they call her Mother Mary and say she is a virgin. Why should we do that?” There was also a proposal to promote “value education” that was nothing more than moral sciences taught in RSS schools, comprising tales from Hindu mythology and folklore with a moral lesson at the end. Unknown historians were promoted and told to look into “the Aryan invasion theory” and study the Saraswati civilisation. The idea was to claim that ancient Bharat was the cradle of all civilisation but since the Indus valley is now in Pakistan, we would have our own Saraswati civilisation.

In short, a lot of cherished speculation and outright bunkum came to be passed off as history. Modi comes from a flock of the faithful, where concocting history is key to the belief system, along with repeating myths and prejudices ad nauseam. Till now, he has just shot his mouth off. But were he ever to be in a position to change history books, it is possible that both the north and south poles could turn out to be in the land of Bharat. The world would revolve around us.

Next Story : A Wayward Rocket
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