PRESENT IMPERFECT, FUTURE TENSE – AND TO HELL WITH THE PAST.

Oceania, that dystopian country in Orwell’s 1984 (to which India has started bearing a disturbing resemblance), has a Ministry Of Truth whose job is to function as a Ministry of Lies. Its function is to rewrite history so as to delete/revise any record inconvenient to the ruling regime of Big Brother, to edit/censor news to ensure it conforms to what the government wants, to make doubly sure that the public  gets to know only what the powerful junta decides it should know. It is perhaps the most important of all the Ministries, because it controls that human faculty which all dictators dread- the human mind. The rulers of Oceania have learnt well that axiomatic lesson: he who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future.

This dictum lies at the heart of the BJP’s vision for its thousand year Reich (currently truncated to the year 2047). Except that the BJP has gone one better than Orwell- the task of erasing facts and validating untruths has not been centralised in just one Ministry but has been farmed out to multiple institutions, from Municipal Corporations to Parliament. The insidious operation is being conducted in the party’s usual thorough manner, in incremental steps, after creating fertile ground (through a prostituted media and a terrified bureaucracy) in which to sow the seeds of fiction and falsity. For the party has a healthy distaste for history, and quite rightly too, considering that for most of its existence from the pre-Independence days to 1990 it has been just a footnote in the pages of India’s history. That little omission rankles, and therefore the desperate efforts to rectify it in true Orwellian fashion.

The first steps were intended to erase the 300 odd years of Mughal heritage of the country-to begin with, by renaming roads and cities, then by demolishing Mughal architecture under the guise of removing “encroachments” (like the masjid in Delhi, stated to be an encroachment in a reserved forest, which was built 400 years before the forest was declared to be reserved!), and now with the full fledged assault on the Places of Worship Act under the benign watch of a nonchalant judiciary. And it’s not just masjids and madrasas – both the Qutab Minar and the Taj Mahal are also alleged to be sitting atop temples. The next step will be the Uniform Civil Code.

Leading the charge on another front are our education regulators, ensuring that future generations do not learn anything that may threaten the ruling regime and its absurd narratives. And so under NEP (New Education policy) the syllabi removes all references to secularism, federalism and citizenship from the text books; the NCERT, not to be outdone, has deleted (from Class 12 texts) all references to demolition of the Ram Mandir, Advani’s rath yatra and the 2002 Gujarat riots. The astounding explanation given by the NCERT chief on this vandalisation of history is that “we want to create positive citizens, not violent and depressed individuals.” By that logic 3/4ths of all human history shall have to be expunged, in the interest of producing ignorant, uninformed morons as foot soldiers of a particular ideology, which probably is the intention in any case.

The new Parliament building is only the external evidence of how even our Parliamentary history is being recast and revised with the intention of making it an extension of the right wing architecture, shorn of its glorious past and traditions: the real, extirpative changes are taking place within its walls. All past heritage and conventions are being eroded one by one- consultations with the Opposition, consensus on election of presiding officers, full and free discussions on important legislations, unrestricted coverage of proceedings by the press and media, acceptance of urgent adjournment motions, reply by the Prime Minister to questions, nomination of Opposition party members to important Committees, reference of Bills to Consultative Committees, and so on. Instead, new traditions are being introduced unilaterally, such as suspending more than a hundred members at one go, disqualifying members with unholy haste and without a fair hearing, expunging speeches with gay abandon (as in the 14 expunctions recently to Rahul Gandhi’s speech on the President’s Address. The Prime Minister’s unparliamentary language and vilification, of course, were allowed to stand).

This Prime Minister is desperate to change the character and nature of everything of historical note and to leave his own half-baked imprimatur on them instead, marking territory, as it were. And so the tragic and solemn Jalianwala Bagh has to be Disneyfied into a garish tourist attraction, Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram has to be forcefully renovated and redesigned over the  protests of its care-takers and residents, the magnificent Rajpath and its environs have to be expropriated at a cost of Rs. 20000 crores just to show who is the Bossman, the ancient ambience and unique aura of Ayodhya and Kashi have to be “modernised” by demolishing hundreds of houses, shops and smaller temples so that the Great Builder can engrave his non-biological insignia there for all posterity to marvel at.

Work is going on on other fronts too- renaming of old welfare programmes to remove any historical connection with previous governments (19 of 23 UPA schemes have been renamed), redacting inconvenient official records (like the part of the CAG report that dealt with the financials of the Rafale deal), using sealed covers in courts to hide the truth from the public, ignoring earlier Prime Ministers in the documentation of ceremonial functions (like the ICHR omitting Nehru’s name from the posters commemorating India’s 75th year of independence). The BJP however has a problem with Nehru who has to be pulled down if the Supreme Leader has to occupy his place on the pedestal. But the problem is that Nehru also has to be kept in the public mind constantly so that he can be blamed  for all of this govt’s failures, the list of which keeps growing! Love him or hate him, but the BJP can’t ignore him.

There are three types of people: those who make history, those who learn from history, and those who are afraid of history and want to erase it. This last type are tormented by insecurity and fear, and can never achieve greatness. One is reminded of this little anecdote about Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I. It was said that perhaps there was something more than just the sovereign-subject equation in their relationship. The former had to be very careful and circumspect, however, in expressing or conveying his feelings about this in the age of sudden decapitations by the Virgin Queen. The two used to take regular evening walks in the royal arbor. One day the Queen found written on a wall of the arbor the following words:

“Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall.”

The Queen wrote below it:

“If you fear to fall, then do not climb at all.”

Indeed, fear and self-doubt are not the right stimulants for creating history.

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