Ever since the “news broke” that all references to the Indian Union’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had been omitted in the Class VIII textbooks of the Rajasthan state board curriculum, there has been a huge hue and cry. Syllabus content, especially those of non-science subjects, has always been a bone of contention where various political forces have wanted to introduce changes based on their conception of what students ought to know more of, and more crucially, what students should know less of. Given the super-dose of Jawahar Lal Nehru worship that the citizens of the Indian Union have been fed for decades, the BJP has sought to downplay Congress’s greatest family mascot. Congressites as well as those who think that the Congressite stream of politics represented the most glorious faction of politics before the transfer of power from the British monarch to the Indian National Congress, naturally were not amused. The usual suspects perched in Delhi’s high-walled universities, who could care less about the state of school education in Rajasthan, protested this de-Nehrufication. Some called it ‘Saffronisation’ – which is a trickier charge to establish given the simultaneous deletion of references to Madan Mohan Malviya, one of the great Hindu nationalist leading lights of the Indian National Congress and also belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha. With Vallabhbhai Patel, Malviya has been a figure that the BJP has carefully sought to patronise. Hence, this round of saffronisation was haphazard at best. This is nothing compared to the NCERT syllabus tweaking of the Vajpayee years that had the Congress-patronised Delhi-based left-liberal academic cliques up in arms. The BJP has gone on the back-foot and has promised that this oversight would be corrected and Jawahar Lal Nehru would be rehabilitated in the minds of Rajasthani students of Class VIII.
‘Education’ aimed at ‘unity’ can be an effective tool of cultural genocide
In terms of setting the rules of the game, Congress has had the first movers’ advantage and built up an entire academic bureaucracy through frank nepotism, with the parliamentary communists happy to play second fiddle in that game of infecting hearts and minds of the young ones through their selective take on the past and more importantly, through their particular spin on issues that couldn’t be excluded. The BJP and the Sangh earlier were quite amateurish at this game. They are now slowly building up a counter-bureaucracy. It is in learning mode and hence some of their history-management moves appear rather undignified. It is still learning and it has all the intent to fill the brains of students with their own particular snake-oil that will make proud sons of Bharatmata out of unsuspecting Rajasthani pupils.
One thing, however, unites the Congress-Communist cliques and the BJP. Both want the state boards to be destroyed – which is evident from their support of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) in order to establish the dominance of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The other similarity is the stress on a make-believe ‘national’ centre and its politics over the various power-centres that were sequentially subdued or gobbled up by the British to manufacture India. Thus we have the ridiculous things like the NCERT and the CBSE, which provides syllabus and content for a whole subcontinent. Given only BJP and Congress have been in power with their imagination of a unitary India, they have created history books which claim to teach about the Subcontinent but predictably end up focusing on the political forces of the Hindustani-belt in general and the rulers of Delhi in particular. A student of West Bengal or Nagaland who studies in such central boards will learn much more about the rulers who sat in a place thousands of miles away than the rulers and the past politics and culture of their own ethno-linguistic homeland. It is hardly different from the coloniser’s history as in the USA – where students learn more about European and Greek history than the past of the people who were in charge before white men vanquished them physically through genocide and culturally through various methods – education being one of them. With the right inspiration and imbalance of power, ‘education’ aimed at ‘unity’ can be an effective tool of cultural genocide.
A focus away from Delhi’s rulers, to those who resisted them, evokes deep anxieties
The perverseness of the Delhi-centric ideology is that it silences the histories of most peoples and nationalities of the Indian Union. There is no uproar against this deletion since they were never included in the first place. That is how their deletion is normalised while one is also coerced to protest the deletion of Nehru. The difference between Congress and BJP histories is about their assessment of Aurangzeb. None would mention that this Delhi-based autocrat’s army, led by Hindu general Ram Singh, was resisted successfully by Hindu Ahom general Lachit Barphukan, aided ably by his military officer Bagh Hazorika Ismail Siddique. A focus away from the exploits of Delhi rulers to those who resisted Delhi’s rule or even worse, descriptions of great rulers who could care less about the existence of North India, evokes deep anxieties in the mind of the deep state and its academic time-servers.
Nehru ruled Rajasthan from Delhi. The usual suspects, who have never protested the erasure of the rulers of Manipur,Bengal or Tamil Nadu from the Indian syllabus, are protesting the erasure of Nehru from Rajasthan’s textbooks. At present, no Naga is taught about their homeland’s past but instead learn mostly about the past of Delhi. When Delhi will learn about Phizo, then only should Nagaland be expected to learn about Nehru. It’s rather simple. If there has to be a history that encompasses the Indian Union as a whole, Harshavardhans needs to be cut down to size and the Pulakesins and Shashankas need to rise. Along with glorious stories of successful hunters from Delhi, there have to be as many stories of those hunted by Delhi’s rulers, from whatsoever make-believe Indian antiquity up until 2016. Textbooks cannot simply be about Delhi-centric ideology. Let’s learn about the ground beneath our feet. Let’s remind ourselves of the words of American poet Wendell Berry: “What I stand for is what I stand on.” In the final analysis, that is what matters and connects man to his surroundings, to his soil, to his soul. And that is, in fact, the only thing that has ever mattered – here, there, everywhere.
Garga Chatterjee is a Kolkata-based commentator on South Asian politics and culture. He received his PhD from Harvard and is based at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. He blogs at hajarduari.wordpress.com