The RSS is back in (cultural) business

The appointment of Y Sudershan Rao to the ICHR is only the first of more
appointments to follow.
….ICSSR, NIAS, UGC, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), National
Book Trust, NCERT, Films Development Corporation, Censor Board, Sangeet
Natak Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi…

Happy days are here again when we can (again) get a masters degree in Jyotir Vigyan Jyotirvigyan or astrology (response to Shah Alam: thanks for the tip, our Sanskrit gyan is bilkul shunya, root word is jyoti, jyotish, jyotishi, jyotirvigyan are all formed by conjoining words…re-written jyotirvigyan as one word). Especially happy are the people who will be dusting off their decade old research proposals in deciphering mythology- the events and the people.

Our favorite query: did India have airplanes as recounted in Ramayana (which Lord Rama used to fly from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya) and atomic weapons as described in the Mahabharata (the Brahma-Shir-Astra that Ashwatthama and Arjuna launched at each other and which threatened to wipe out the world).

We have admittedly mixed feelings about this. Ramayana and Mahabharata are unparalleled as stories which have been retold in million different ways (all possible art forms included) from India to Indonesia. These are no simple tales of good prevailing over evil – Ravana is the greatest of kings (and devotees). It was his blind arrogance that led to his downfall (he was not bothered enough to take insurance against men and monkeys). Rama, the ideal man (maryada purushottam) is cursed with hundred and one flaws – which are recognized as flaws – starting with his treatment of his own wife.

But the jump from mythology to history and science is not acceptable. The RSS is playing the same lousy game that the left has played for such a long time- denigrate and deny the parts of Indian culture that does not meet the purity test. It is stupid and pointless.

Take the example of Kabir and Shirdi Sai Baba. These saints have been fully accepted into the pantheon of Hinduism. If you are convinced that donating money to a shrine/deity will help you score a business deal, the Sai Baba shrine is as good as any (indeed it is one of the richest). The puja ceremony that takes place is identical to the ones that take place in Siddhi Vinayak, the foremost Ganapati temple in Maharashtra.

Thing is, if RSS really wanted to play smart they can use the Baba worship culture as a wedge issue. The reasoning is simple – the muslim communities (primarily Sunnis) have become increasingly disenchanted with the Baba-shrine culture. This is following the Saudi money and Wahabi logic which insists that all such activity is un-islamic.

The fundamental question that RSS is always worried about (and the reason behind all these culture games) is – are you (the muslim) an Indian first or a muslim first? Or even more bluntly, are you (the muslim) with India or with Pakistan? The Baba culture is too deeply rooted in India, the roots are increasingly weak in Pakistan and may vanish at some point. At that time the wall between the Middle East (includes Pakistan) and South Asia (mainly India) will be complete. The sifting that RSS wants will thus happen automatically without lifting a finger.
The new chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research,
Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, has an interesting blog post from 2013,
about ‘Ayodhya and History’.

“All thinking men — religious activists, intellectuals,
politicians, professional historians and archaeologists- are divided
into at least three groups; a) those who stand for the Hindu cause, b)
those who stand for the Mosque and c) the majority of others who support
an amicable settlement of the controversy. In influencing the public
opinion in favour of Muslim community, the ‘secular’ historians and
‘progressive’ intelligentsia make concerted endeavor in support of the
Muslim cause. They further condemn all those who sympathize the Hindu
cause as Hindu fundamentalists and ‘saffron brigade’.”

Rao goes on to argue that modern history — which he claims has received
disproportionate attention and legitimacy — will be unable to provide
answers to the Ayodhya issue since “Ayodhya stood even before the modern
genre of history was born.”

A retired history professor, Rao has penned several articles arguing
that stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are truthful accounts
of history. According to his blog page, he has interests in Indian
mythology, Vedic literature, Sanatana Dharma, ‘Bharatiya Sanskriti’,
among other subjects. Rao reportedly told The Telegraph that
he hopes to push projects to rewrite ancient history to document the
“continuous Indian civilisation”, including the period of the two epics.

“The stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata cannot be termed
a-historical just because there is not enough archaeological hard
evidence,” Rao said, adding,“A lot of historical material has come
through cultural, anthropological, archaeological and ethnographic
studies in the last 60 years about the continuous Indian civilisation.
The findings can be compiled by researchers. I think the ICHR should
support historians interested in doing work on these aspects.”


Rao’s elevation is the first of the many NDA decisions that will
determine who will lead India’s top research, educational and cultural
institutions. Asked if he foresees a flood of RSS-sympathetic
appointments to these institutions, former ICHR chairperson and
historian S Settar retorts, “Do you doubt it? I don’t.”

Settar was ICHR chairman from 1996 to 1999, and was witness to a gradual
Hindutva takeover of socio-cultural research organisations in the late
1990s. After the UPA assumed office in 2004, Settar was also on a review
committee that examined NCERT books published by the BJP government.
The committee discussed the safronisation of the texts at length and
recommended replacing them.

Speaking to Firstpost, Settar says, “There are many rightist corners
hungry to get into the ICHR. But in any case, it is such an incompetent
organisation — the Leftists have used it as a platform for their
ideology and friends, and now the rightists will want to use it for
their ideology and friends.”

ICHR will hardly be the only institution to see top-level changes given
the BJP’s track record in power. In 1999, not long after the NDA
government was sworn in, a slew of appointments were made, including
some on the very first day after then HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi
assumed office.

The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) got a new chairman, Prof B R Grover who soon became notorious
for punishing any historical research project or institution perceived
as “hostile” to the ruling government or its saffron view of history.

The Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) head at the
time was M L Sondhi, a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP who would later,
ironically, be summarily replaced
after he complained repeatedly and publicly of pressure from an RSS
cabal within the ICSSR. Sondhi, considered close to then PM Atal Behari
Vajpayee, famously complained that the RSS faction in the institution,
led by Devendera Swaroop, a former editor of RSSmouthpiece Panchajanya,
was hindering a proposed Indo-Pak social scientists’ meet ahead of the
Vajpayee-Musharraf summit in Agra.

Also among MM Joshi’s early appointees was RSS sympathiser G C Pande, a
Sanskrit scholar and ancient India historian, who became head of the
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Shimla. The University
Grants Commission (UGC) top job was handed to Dr Hari Gautam, who soon
after introduced courses in Jyotir Vigyan or ‘Vedic astrology’ and Hindu
karmakand or rituals. …

The move raked up a debate on whether the UGC,
the institution that controls higher education institutes across the
country, was legitimising superstition.

And it is these institutions and their impending appointments that will
be closely tracked by activists and academicians who will be keeping a
close eye on the research projects they undertake, and changes they
institute in curriculum and historiography.

The appointment of Y Sudershan Rao to the ICHR is only the first of more
appointments to follow. Apart from the ICHR, ICSSR, the NIAS in Shimla,
the UGC, here are other institutions to watch closely in coming months:
The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), the National
Book Trust, NCERT, Films Development Corporation, Censor Board, Sangeet
Natak Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi, to name a few. Also to watch: Likely
expansion plans for the network of Shishu Mandir schools and Vidya
Bharati schools, and funding patterns for other schools including those
run by the VHP.

In his blog post about Ayodhya, Rao bemoans the politicisation of
history, writing “Revisiting the past with preconceived notions and
vested interests leads to misinterpretation of historical facts. Since
independence, volumes are written by the teams of scholars owing
allegiance to either side of the issue. In this milieu, the worst
sufferer could be history as a scientific discipline and historiography
as a technical craft.”

If history is any indication, these words may soon prove to be ironic, indeed.




Brown Pundits