Chief Minister Biplab Deb of Tripura state in India closed out his first month in office with a speech at a computerization workshop on Monday in which he claimed India invented the Internet about 3,000 years ago.
Deb was not speaking metaphorically or claiming that some remarkably efficient system of primitive communication was the spiritual ancestor of modern telecommunications technology. He asserted that a character in the 10th century B.C. Hindu epic Mahabharata, who provided his king with a real-time account of a faraway battle, must have been using satellites and computer networking to compile his report.
“India has been using internet since ages. In Mahabharata, Sanjay was blind but he narrated what was happening in the battlefield to Dhritarashtra anyway. This was due to internet and technology. Satellite also existed during that period,” the chief minister said.
“The Europeans and the Americans may claim that it is their invention, but it is actually our technology. Internet and satellite system had existed during the lakhs of years ago,” he insisted. A lakh is a very large unit of measure in India; Deb was essentially saying “centuries ago.”
The bulk of Deb’s address to the workshop involved praising Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his tech-friendly policies and saluting Modi for inspiring Indians to engage with social media.
The good news for Deb is that his remarks made him a trending topic on Indian social media and attracted the attention of scholars around the world. The bad news is that his claims were met with skepticism. The BBC collected a few choice responses from Twitter:
This raises a few questions. Why didn't Abhimanyu ask Quora how to escape the Chakravyuha? Why did Sanjay narrate the Kurukshetra War when Siri could have done it? Also, Krishna really should have streamed the Bhagavad-Gita on Facebook Live. https://t.co/vrauX1UIpZ #Mahabharata
— Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) April 17, 2018
— Kshitij Nagar (@KshitijNagar) April 18, 2018
The blowback was not all fun and games, as the BBC described an unsettling trend of revisionist history and national chauvinism from top officials of the governing BJP party:
Mr Deb, in fact, joins a fairly long list of Indian ministers in the current Hindu nationalist BJP government—including Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who have claimed many modern-day scientific or technological achievements were invented many centuries ago.
In 2014 Mr Modi told a gathering of doctors and medical staff at a Mumbai hospital that cosmetic surgery existed in ancient India.
More recently, in September, junior education minister Satyapal Singh raised a few eyebrows when he claimed that the airplane was first mentioned in the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana.
Undaunted by the criticism, Deb stuck to his guns on Wednesday and denounced “narrow-minded people” who “want to belittle their own nation and think highly of other countries.”
Another political leader, Governor Tathagata Roy, leaped to Deb’s defense:
Tripura Chief Minister’s observations about the happenings of the Puranic period are topical. It is virtually impossible to conceive of devices like ‘Divya drishti’,Pushpaka Ratha’,etc without some kind of prototype and study thereon
— Tathagata Roy (@tathagata2) April 18, 2018
However, Deb himself seemed to concede that his story about India inventing the Internet thousands of years ago was more of a nationalist fairy tale than the literal truth of history—a fiction Indians have a patriotic duty to pretend they believe.
“Every Indian should have a common thinking that India is best and superior country all around the world,” he said on Wednesday. “My country had the technology years ago, which no country had. I am proud of that and I think every Indian should feel proud. I want to repeat that we should accept the truth and should not get confused.”