Over a year after it was formed in secret, Reuters reported Monday on the existence of a special team of scholars commissioned by the government of India to “prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.”
“Interviews with members of the 14-person committee and ministers in Modi’s government suggest the ambitions of Hindu nationalists extend beyond holding political power in this nation of 1.3 billion people – a kaleidoscope of religions. They want ultimately to shape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus,” Reuters said of the commission’s ultimate goal.
Both committee chairman K.N. Dikshit and the official who spearheaded the project, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, told Reuters their goal was to help the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “rewrite certain aspects of ancient history.”
As Reuters explains, Modi and Culture Minister Sharma belong to an organization called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as do several other top ministers. The RSS is a Hindu nationalist group that argues even the sizable Muslim minority of India is descended from a primordial civilization, vastly older than the 3,000 years or so of regional history covered by the current educational curriculum, that essentially became the Hindus.
The idea is to establish that the Hindus are the first people of India, with a historical and perhaps divine mandate to own the land. Part of this effort involves proving that Hindu scripture has a firm basis in archaeology and biology. In his conversation with Reuters, Culture Minister Sharma comes close to saying that if some of the scriptural details about geography and ancient peoples passing along their DNA to modern times check out, then religious epics about the gods and demons must be true as well.
Sharma compares this to Christians and Muslims looking for historical evidence that incidents chronicled in the Bible and Koran are true. The Modi government probably will not want to hear it, but the RSS movement also sounds quite a bit like the Sikh separatists who think they have a divine mandate as the ancestral rulers of Punjab. However, the Khalistani separatists, which have engaged in violent attacks against the government, do not have a culture ministry with a $400 million annual budget backing their beliefs.
The RSS group and like-minded Indians feel that the currently accepted narrative of proto-Indian settlers arriving from central Asia about 3,000 years ago was promulgated under British rule to dilute Indian nationalism and endorsed by the first leader of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the interests of fostering national unity and protecting minority rights.
Religious minorities in India, prominently including the Muslims, are worried that the full-strength version of Hindu nationalism will be unpleasant for them.
One Muslim politician told Reuters that Muslims have “never felt so marginalized in the independent history of India” and accused the Modi government of wanting to make them “second-class citizens.” Sikhs are probably not going to feel more welcome and less agitated in an India remodeled along Hindu nationalist lines, either.
For their part, the RSS is not above throwing out a little red meat to stir up trouble. Literal red meat, according to some allegations. Hindu nationalism has lately been seen to flare up higher and burn hotter than mainstream political culture anticipated.
Reuters clarifies that Modi himself did not order the creation of the committee, but he is the nominal head of a strongly nationalist party and has made public comments that seem sympathetic to the committee’s goals.