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Manishankar Iyer
Manishankar Iyer


The vultures devouring our culture

Enforcing intolerance? Enforcing intolerance? The police outside the gates of FTII | PTI

IT WAS one of Hitler’s cultural gauleiters, Hans Johst, president of the Reich Theatre Chamber, who infamously remarked that when he heard the word ‘culture’, he wanted to reach for his gun. Modi’s minister of culture, Mahesh Sharma, is our contemporary version of Hans Johst. What we have been seeing these last few weeks confirms my worst fears: that it was when the BJP felt it had settled in that its real face would start showing.

For, ever since K.B. Hedgewar began fashioning the RSS, politics per se was ruled out, with attention being concentrated on what was deemed to be the “cultural rejuvenation” of the Hindus. Over the decades, the RSS has developed a number of theories and programmes for such cultural change aimed at imparting what it believes are “Hindu values”, “Hindu icons” and “Hindu ways”, designed principally to rid our culture and civilisation of all “cultural pollution”. This is what leads Mahesh Sharma to say that the great thing about former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is that “he was a nationalist despite being a Muslim”.

Instead of seeing India’s civilisation and culture as the gradual synthesising of all that is best, whatever its provenance, the RSS-driven agenda for governance focuses principally on three ministries: human resource development, information and broadcasting, and culture. In each, RSS stalwarts such as Sharma, Smriti Irani and Rajyavardhan Rathore have been installed—and instructed to do their worst. They have not disappointed.

The Indian Council of Historical Research was the first target. A panoply of world renowned Indian historians was dropped or sidelined to make way for a mythologist with no peer recognition as a historian to take over as chief.

Under the so-called New Education Policy, plans are being readied for the wholesale rewriting of history to conform to the bizarre priorities and prejudices of people like D.N. Batra.

Teachers’ training programmes are being overhauled to orient teachers into the Hindutva school of philosophy, to damage processes of rational thought among children. The proposed common cadre for university teachers would bring the entire teaching community under the sword of Damocles of arbitrary punishment transfers for any breach of Hindutva diktats. University administration is being centralised to bring it under the control of Smriti Irani and her nominees, undercutting university autonomy that, the world over and in our hundreds of diverse universities, has thus far promoted a pluralistic form of higher education.

Technical institutions like IITs and IIMs are being brought under the thumb of the Union government, prompting leading lights of these world renowned institutes to put in their resignations. It is all part of a pattern to convert India’s school education system into clones of the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs of the RSS and twist Indian history into a mix of myth and vicious anti-Muslim, anti-Christian bias.

Over at I&B ministry, the Central Board of Film Certification and, more notoriously, the Film and Television Institute of India have been subcontracted to persons of no known expertise, but whose record as clapper boys for the Modi regime is unforgivably well-known. Fortunately, the FTII students have risen in revolt and are refusing to take this blatant abuse of power lying down. They insist they will continue celebrating February 14 as Valentine’s Day even if the new FTII director wants to designate it as ‘Matru-Pitru Day’, following Modi’s decision to rename Christmas as ‘Good Governance Day’.

And the minister of culture has set himself up as the chowkidar to prevent the encroachment of western culture on India. It flies in the face of Gandhiji’s famed dictum: “I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any of them.”

The sacking of Mahesh Rangarajan as director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library is the culture ministry’s latest outrage. It is rumoured that an RSS extremist, Rakesh Sinha, who represents the antithesis of everything Nehru stood for, is being considered as Rangarajan’s replacement. The museum itself is to be converted into a monument to the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, which sat out the freedom movement because they were busy appeasing their colonial masters to position themselves for rich political pickings from the British when the war was over. O tempora! O mores!
A former Union minister, Aiyar is Congress MP and social commentator.

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