Last week, BJP spokesmen frothed with rage as they denounced Shashi Tharoor for saying that if Narendra Modi became prime minister again in 2019, India would become a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. When Tharoor refused to withdraw his comments, he was reviled for ‘demeaning’ and ‘defaming’ Hindus. The odd thing is that every time some ‘secular’ Congress leader uses the word Hindu these days a reaction of this kind comes from the BJP. Could it be because there is realisation that under a powerful BJP prime minister not even baby steps have been taken towards bringing about a real Hindu renaissance?
The BJP now rules in nearly all of India’s major states and yet there are no signs of the reforms in education that would have counted as baby steps. Indian children continue to be taught almost nothing about India, so the real achievements of the ancient Hindus remain a mystery. A friend who runs an engineering college recently invited Amish Tripathi as chief guest to the college’s graduation ceremony. The celebrated author began his speech by asking how many students in the audience had studied mathematics. These were engineering students, so every hand went up. He then asked how many had heard of Bhaskaracharya and only one hand went up. If Indian students of mathematics have never been taught about one of our greatest mathematicians, there is a serious problem with our education system. A problem that should have been addressed in these Hindutva times.
It is not as if BJP leaders have not noticed the gaps. They have, but they have mostly done silly things like promoting some formerly ignored political leaders and erasing others who they thought had too much attention. And, long is the list of the mythical achievements of ancient India. Senior BJP leaders have said things that come as a sad reminder that not much has changed since Aldous Huxley wrote these words while travelling in India nearly a hundred years ago.
‘I have met several intelligent and cultured men (one of them was even a scholar of some eminence) who have solemnly assured me that Zeppelins were in common use among the ancient Hindus, and that the Lord Krishna was in the habit of flying by airship to America and back.’ Huxley believed that this exaltation of myths about past glory was because of an inferiority complex caused by colonisation.
Sadly, when we won freedom from our colonial masters, we continued with the public education system they left behind. So a form of colonisation has endured and deepened. Today it is hard to find a village in India that does not have a private ‘English’ school. With the Internet spreading rapidly through smartphones, there is now instant access to Western literature, culture and technological achievements. This is no bad thing if it goes along with Indian children also learning about their own civilisation and culture.
This may have begun to happen if there had been a new education policy by now that encouraged Indian studies. Yes, there was surgery in ancient India and the method Sushrut used to reconstruct noses is virtually the same that surgeons use today. It is sad that this is something that foreign medical students are more likely to learn about than Indian medical students. Why has there been no renewal evident in Indian education in the past four years?
For real renewal you need real scholars. In their absence, the RSS has stepped in to ‘Indianise’ education. The RSS likes to boast about being a ‘cultural’ organisation but appears to attract people with too limited a knowledge of history, literature or scholarship to use the word culture. So instead of a Hindu renaissance we have seen the spread of the ideology that now goes by the name of Hindutva.
This ideology has no grand vision of Indian glory. It is a stunted, fanatical thing that has served entirely to spread horrible violence against Muslims and Dalits. There have been attacks on these communities in secular times as well but because they happened in a time before smartphones and before social media, the horror of the violence remained unseen. Today every unspeakable act of barbarism is proudly videotaped and uploaded by the killers themselves.
It does not help that participants in a lynch mob and rioters in jail have been honoured by senior ministers in the government of India. This is not as bad as the party of a jihadi terrorist like Hafiz Saeed being allowed to contest this month’s general election in Pakistan, but it does diminish India. Luckily, our democratic institutions are much too strong for India to ever become a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. But, if the BJP does manage to win a second term, the Prime Minister would do well to ask himself why we have violent Hindutva instead of a Hindu renaissance that could make Indians truly proud.