From symbols, history book revisions to cow minister: BJP-led Rajasthan goes saffron
School textbooks have been rewritten. Akbar is no longer great because Maharana Pratap defeated him at Haldighati. Students perform ‘surya namaskar’ (sun salutation) during morning prayers at government schools. From July, the colour of their uniforms will be same as that of RSS trousers. There is a minister for cows and university is setting up a cow research centre.
As the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine colour the country saffron with BJP’s victories in state elections, the party is imposing the right-wing ideology in Rajasthan through various symbols.
People opposed to this “use of Hinduism as a political agenda to institutionalise aggressive nationalism”, say there is a sinister design, but those at the helm say it is a cultural reform.
Experts say by ignoring a parochial caste group which vandalised a film shoot to uphold Rajput pride, and the attacks on Christians in tribal Rajasthan, the BJP is trying to create a psychopathology that mauls “the other” viewpoint under the garb of political power. “The values of composite culture and secularism are under attack as the BJP uses an aggressive nationalism to expand Hinduism as a political agenda,” says Professor Rajeev Gupta, a member of Janwadi Lekhak Sangh. The symbolism of ‘surya namaskar’ in schools and saffron bicycles for schoolgirls is not lost on observers. They see a design when the government sends senior citizens on pilgrimages to famous Hindu shrines, when the colour brown is chosen for the new school uniform, same as the one RSS chose for its trouser, while replacing its old khakhi shorts.
In the three years of BJP rule in the state, statues of Vivekananda have come up on university campuses. It all began with revision of school textbooks.
The State Institute of Educational Research and Training in Udaipur took up what education minister Vasudev Devnani called “curriculum restructuring” in 2015. The new textbooks reached schools in the 2016-17 academic session. History had been rewritten. Mughal emperor Akbar was no longer great, and the battle of Haldighati had a victor in Mewar warrior Maharana Pratap.
Jawaharlal Nehru was erased and a chapter on Emergency, a dark period in Indian democracy in 1975, added.
There was silence on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse, and works of John Keats, William Blake and TS Eliot were out of English textbooks. The Brave Lady of Rajasthan replaced the chapter on European history, and Sanskrit textbooks glorified cows. New heroes, such as Veer Savarkar, Deendayal Upadhyay and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, found place in the revised textbooks. Devnani, an electrical engineer associated with the RSS since college, called the process a cultural reform. “We rewrote history because it was distorted,” he said. “We want our students to be proud of Indian culture and become an ideal citizen.”
But Komal Srivasatav, who headed a panel of educationists who reviewed the new textbooks, says the curriculum change provides momentum to saffronisation by using aggressive language against the minorities and the marginalised classes, and attacks the cultural ethos of this country.
For Prof Gupta, it was an attempt to belittle Akbar, whose contribution to all areas of social lives made him a distinctive figure in medieval India.
“Without ignoring Pratap’s bravery as a warrior, we can say that Akbar symbolised multi-religious composite culture. Similarly, values such as gender, equality, liberty, democracy and socialism are products of the freedom struggle and Nehru, to a large extent, symbolised these. So, both of them are villains for the Hindu outfits,” he says.
“This government doesn’t want our future generations to study about the medieval India because, for it, the
medieval history is a dark phase of history in which it doesn’t find any Hindu icons,” he notes.
In Akbar and Pratap, they see a Muslim and a Hindu and therefore, the Mughal ruler is a villain for the BJP-RSS combine even outside textbooks.
In October 2015, a monument in Ajmer, Devnani’s constituency, became Ajmer Fort even though it is recorded in history as “Akbar’s Fort or Magazine or Daulat Khana”. The plaque carrying the Mughal emperor’s name was replaced with one carrying the new name.
Universities under siege
The university lodged an FIR against Vohra and Chouhdary and the vice-chancellor decreed that for any lecture to be organised on the campus, a written script needs to be submitted for scrutiny by a committee. The university is now setting up a centre for cow research.
In June 2016, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, asked students of Master of Arts in Rajasthani Language, Literature and Culture to write an essay on the BJP ideology in the final year paper.
Jai Narain Vyas University in Jodhpur suspended a teacher Rajshree Ranawat after the JNU professor, Nivedita Menon, she invited to a seminar, allegedly made controversial remarks on Kashmir and the army. The suspension came after protests by the ABVP. The Rajasthan high court stayed the suspension but criminal complaints against her and Menon are in Jodhpur police stations.
Apoorvanand, a literary and cultural critic who teaches Hindi at Delhi University, says the RSS variety of nationalism, which has a Hindu overhang, defines political correctness at universities.
Prof Gupta says the rightist forces don’t want education to become a catalyst of change. They are turning India into a surveillance society where they deploy communal consciousness based on religion and culture, he wrote in an article.
“The BJP and its associates are throttling academic freedom with the simple motive of creating a culture of fear,” says Kavita Srivastav, president of Public Union for Civil Liberties, which took up Choudhary and Ranawat’s cause.
Attack on Christians
PUCL sent a fact-finding team to tribal areas of south Rajasthan, in villages of Udaipur and Banswara, and found that the minority was under Hindu attack.
On January 26 this year, during a Republic Day function at a government school in Kotda, Udaipur, BJP leaders spewed venom against Christians who were present there. “They roughed up a pastor and said they will pour kerosene on him and set him afire,” says Samson Baghora, general secretary of the society.
In most cases, police act as an extension of the Hindu outfits, he adds. “There’s action against the perpetrators only when we organise large-scale agitations or write to higher officials,” Baghora says. There have been some attacks on Christians in north Rajasthan as well. In November and December, 2016, Hindu groups disrupted Christian functions in Sriganganagar district.