On October 5, something extraordinary happened in the auditorium of the National Museum in New Delhi. An organisation called the Akhil Bharatiya Itihaas Sankalan Yojana held a symposium there on “Maharaja Hemchandra Vikramaditya”, alias Hemu. The ABISY claims that Hemu established a “Hindu raj” in north India before the second battle of Panipat, albeit for 29 days, until the Mughals ousted him. Reputed historians regard this as Hindutva-inspired mythmaking. No rewards for guessing that the ABISY is sponsored by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It even functions out of the Sangh’s office at Jhandewalan in Delhi.

Among the scheduled speakers were ABISY office-bearers, the Bharatiya Janata Party’ Subramanian Swamy, and the-then Minister for Culture Shripad Naik, who had to suddenly leave for Goa. Swamy was the star of the show. He shockingly demanded, to deafening applause, that books written by Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and other “Nehruvian” historians must be “burnt”.

How did the auditorium, normally reserved for erudite talks and academic debates, become the venue of this hysterical celebration of Hindutva? Under the rules, said a museum official, it can be rented to “cultural” or “academic” non-governmental organisations. Like the RSS, ABISY too claims to be one. Under the guidelines, issued in May 1999, the NGO must get “prior approval of the Department of Culture”. The ABISY must have got it: after all, the minister was to be a speaker.

Next in the Sangh Parivar’s target sights could be the original “cultural” organisations.

Distributing favours

The culture ministry also presides over the Sahitya, Lalit Kala and Sangeet Natak Akademis and their branches, the national libraries and archives, the Archaeological and Anthropological Surveys of India, the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and various heritage sites and subject-specific missions.

These are rich sources of patronage and favours, for which the Akademis, for instance, are notorious. They are now liable to be used to further explicitly ideological-political and divisive agendas, the way the ASI was used by National Democratic Alliance’s governments from 1998 to 2004. In that time, it conducted excavations around the Ayodhya mosque to “establish” the prior existence of a temple – although that is not a legitimate function of archaeology.

Some key positions in these institutions are already held by Hindutva sympathisers. As more fall vacant, they are likely to be assigned to RSS loyalists, more brazenly than earlier. The Bharatiya Janata Party, during its previous stints in power, did not dominate NDA nearly as comprehensively as it does now, and will therefore have less compunction in being partisan.

Strange as this might seem, the Modi government is even resisting conservationists’ efforts, underway for five years, to get Delhi declared India’s first heritage city by Unesco – a status like Rome’s or Cairo’s that is coveted the world over. Delhi’s claim is primarily founded on the old city of Shahajanabad and New Delhi’s Lutyens Bungalow Zone. Some pro-Hindutva officials reject this as “India’s heritage”, saying both sites represent “alien” conquerors’ cultures.

Spreading sectarian agenda

The culture and urban development ministries are not the only ones singing the Parivar’s tune. The foreign ministry under the “declare-the-Gita-India’s-National-Book” Sushma Swaraj has appointed Lokesh Chandra to head the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Chandra’s past accomplishments as a linguist and historian are undeniable. But he is 87, and raves about Modi being a greater leader than Gandhi: totally attached to Indian “values”, fiercely dedicated to the poor, “above all political affiliations” – “an incarnation of God”, no less.

The ICCR is the most ramified of India’s education-research-cultural councils, with 10 centres and 100-plus university chairs abroad, besides 20 regional offices. It offers over 3,000 scholarships and organises scores of cultural performances and festivals – an enormous source of patronage and prestige, which the Modi government will no doubt use to sectarian ends.

Why, it is even putting pressure on universities to create chairs in cultural studies to be named after Vivekananda – a figure the RSS has successfully milked through the Vivekananda International Foundation and the rock memorial at Kanyakumari – and, even more controversially, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, whose contribution to culture remains unknown. It is also planning to award National Research Fellowships to three Sangh sympathisers (SL Bhyrappa, Ashok Modak and Suryakant Bali), only one of whom (Bhyrappa) has a distinguished record despite his “fevered hatred of Indian Muslims,” as Sudheendra Kulkarni describes it. These fellowships were earlier held by people like CV Raman, Satyendranath Bose, Mahasweta Devi and Andre Beteille.

Rewriting the past

The government has also launched a project called Unnat Bharat Abhiyan by roping in all 16 Indian Institutes of Technology and two other institutes. The project means to bring about “transformational change in rural development processes by leveraging knowledge institutions to help build the architecture of an Inclusive India” – whatever that might mean beyond experimenting with top-down technologies on “adopted” villages. The budget, reportedly in the Rs 100-Rs 200-crore range, will give the Human Resource Development Ministry great leverage. Except in a couple of cases, NDA-1 did not mess with the IITs. The Modi government could.

Parivar affiliates have held or plan to hold over the next three years numerous conclaves in Delhi, Ujjain, Nagpur, Bhopal and Goa on education and rewriting history to sanitise and glorify “Hindu India’s” past. Their agenda, supported by powerful functionaries in state-run institutions, is not limited to the social sciences and humanities. It is much broader.

A juggernaut

It will not be easy to stop this juggernaut. The next onslaught will come soon, when eight of the 19 academic members of the Indian Council of Historical Research complete their first term and the rest retire. By convention, the eight should get another term, but this seems unlikely. ICHR will be a test case. It will followed by numerous other appointments, including of a majority of vice-chancellors of the 14 Central universities, besides the 40% faculty vacancies in Central institutions. The government can nominate their occupants or influence their selection decisively, especially if it is procedurally unscrupulous.

Only the Indian Council of Social Science Research, with 27 affiliate institutes, has tried to create a (partial) firewall by taking away the power of direct nomination from the government. It has amended its memorandum of association to limit the selection of council members from among those nominated by a collegium of ex-officio members like heads of eminent institutions (roughly 300). From these a three-member committee would choose 50% more candidates than needed, and leave the final selection to the human resource development ministry.

Unless public pressure is generated to create similar firewalls, our educational and cultural institutions will be totally saffronised and irreparably damaged.

This is the second part of a two-part series on the Sangh's plans to re-engineer cultural and educational institutions. You can read the first part here.