Rewriting history, the RSS way

Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, an RSS affiliate, wants to make history. In a rather literal sense

ByKshitij Malhotra
Rewriting history, the RSS way
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Less than a month after he replaced Smriti Irani as the Union Minister of Human Resource Development (HRD), Prakash Javadekar met with representatives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and several other affiliated organisations. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a new education policy and seek the Sangh’s inputs regarding the same. Among those present were representatives from the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY), a little known RSS-affiliate whose stated aim is to “write Bharatiya history from a national perspective”.

Balmukund Pandey, secretary of ABISY, was present at the meeting and he praised the National Democratic Alliance government for being “worried about the condition of Bharatiya education”, which he feels is defective in many ways. “Teachers have lost the respect they used to get in society,” Pandey told Newslaundry. “From being teachers for 24 hours, they are now doing it for two, three hours. Also at the primary level, government has burdened teachers with so much work that they can’t discharge their duties effectively. Students are simply weighed down by heavy school bags and unaware of what to do. Government schools have been weakened and on the other hand, private schools are doing quite well. All these things have to be fixed in order to improve education,” he said.

That the country’s education system is in desperate need for reform and Pandey’s observation about heavy school bags is on point. Surveys like Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by the non-governmental organisation Pratham show that at the school level, our basic educational standards are disappointingly low. While private schools offer better syllabi and facilities to students, public schools are in wretched conditions. In 2012, A Financial Times article said that India’s primary education standards were comparable to “war-torn Afghanistan and Yemen”. ASER’s recent findings show that little has improved in the past four years.

However, ABISY’s focus is not on improving the average Indian student’s reasoning skills or lightening backpacks. They’re on a mission to infuse a sense of pride and patriotism to the study of history.

Pandey explained that history as a subject is not just “documents and stories”, but serves a greater, social purpose. ”Itihas ka karya rashtra ka nirman hai (the role of history is nation building),” he said. According to Pandey, “the history that should be taught in schools must fill the youth of the country with pride”. However, he believes the history of India has been intentionally distorted – both before and after Independence – to marginalise “national heroes and their victories”, thus undermining its lofty purpose.

“When we read about Maharana Pratap and Akbar, we find a few lines on Maharana Pratap whereas we have a chapter dedicated to Akbar,” Pandey lamented. “Similarly, there is a chapter on Muhammad Ghori whereas there are about four lines on Prithviraj Chauhan,” he said. Precisely which textbooks exhibit this breakup, Pandey did not specify. He also alleged that the British, through the English Education Act, 1835, “distorted the roots, the sources and the writing of Indian history”.

Post-Independence, when India should have recovered its history, Pandey says the situation went from bad to worse. “After Independence, the problem that arose was that the responsibility of writing history was given to Communists,” he said. “The result was that the amount of distortion which occurred after 1950 was 20 times what happened prior to 1950.” As evidence of this conspiracy, Pandey pointed out that even today, “Bhagat Singh is being portrayed as a terrorist, Akbar is called ‘Great’ and medieval Indian history still comprises of Muslim dynasties”.

To correct these ‘distortions’, ABISY was constituted in 1994, with the prime objective of highlighting the “continuity of Indian history from the Vedic age to the present day”. According to Pandey, ABISY has 38 regional chapters all over the country, each of them involved in research projects of their own. Nikhiles Guha, president of the West Bengal chapter, explained how the regional bodies carry out their functions. “We follow a distinct national program,” Guha told Newslaundry. “However, each regional unit has its own independent line of work within these broad parameters.” Guha’s projects for West Bengal include a biography of Syama Prasad Mukherjee, barrister and founder of the nationalist Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which eventually became the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Pandey believes that ABISY has already made some significant progress towards their goal of rewriting history from a Hindu nationalist perspective. The organisation played a role in establishing the Saraswati Shodh Sansthan, Pandey claims, whose aim was to determine the location of the ‘mythical’ river Saraswati, which the Haryana government began revitalising recently. “Now even ISRO [Indian Space Research Organisation] is agreeing with us, as is the Government of India and Haryana,” Pandey said. However, news reports have contradicted the claim that ISRO has corroborated the Sansthan’s findings. Documents procured through the Right to Information Act (RTI) state that “no satellite imagery, no geological survey by national body was conducted”.

Regardless, ABISY has other accomplishments which Pandey is happy to enumerate. He believes that they have disproved the Aryan Invasion Theory “on the basis of the Rigveda”. They have successfully “proven the dating of the Mahabharata” and have helped to dispel the notion that the revolt of 1857 was a failure, “as the Independence of 1947 was a result of 1857”. On these subjects, Pandey said that “we have published more than a hundred books”. Up next on ABISY’s radar is the task of eradicating Western influences in historical research methodology and working on histories of the tribal population of India, with a focus on “their Vedic way of life”.

Incidentally, Guha and two other members of ABISY (Narayan Rao and Ishwar Sharan Vishwakarma) are on the panel of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the government body that funds historical research projects. The current chairperson of ICHR, Y Sudershan Rao, appointed in July, 2014, is a former member of ABISY. This, along with having the HRD minister’s ear on the matter of the new education policy, suggests that ABISY – obscure as it is – could have a big say in how history is researched, written and taught in India.

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