Why is Modi so scared of history textbooks?

The PM’s party is editing textbooks to create a fantasy of India as a Hindu-only nation that has always been loving and just. Truth be damned.

Indian and foreign tourist watch and take selfies of Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, Sunday, March 24, 2019. Clear skies and warm weather bring out crowds of people to visit the marble mausoleum on the bank of the Yamuna river. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
The most popular site to visit in India is the Taj Mahal, in Agra. It is one of many Indian architectural landmarks built by the Mughals [File: Manish Swarup/AP

After nine years in power, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has finally defeated the long departed Mughal Empire and other Muslim rulers.

It has quietly pushed them to the margins in school textbooks, where they had occupied significant territory for the past seven decades, recent revelations show.

Several pages on the Mughal rulers and Delhi Sultanate have been deleted from the textbooks of different classes. The Mughals have not disappeared entirely, but students will no longer learn of the milestones and achievements of some of India’s most important rulers even though their legacy lives on in the architecture and cultural landscape of India.

It’s shocking – how will students make sense of present-day India without understanding the role and contribution of Mughal and Muslim rulers?

Yet these edits aren’t surprising. They are in keeping with the ideological agenda of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which seeks to portray India as a historically Hindu-only land. Any other presence, especially of Muslims, is to be seen as an intrusion and pollution – a distortion of the ideal original past that the BJP wants to persuade Indians was the reality.

School textbooks have made Indian Muslims an inalienable part of the national memory with their history long predating an invasion and their immense contributions an inescapable reality, so this legacy must be deleted. Mughals and Muslim rulers must be referenced only as cruel invaders.

This approach is in sync with the renaming of Muslim-sounding towns and roads. The historic city of Allahabad is now Prayagraj. Aurangabad is Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, and Osmanabad is Dharashiv. The demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 in Ayodhya was part of this great anti-Muslim cultural purge. The Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Mosque in Mathura have been identified as next in line.

The marginalisation of Mughals and Muslims in textbooks mirrors what Muslims in Modi’s India are facing in real life. The recent textbook edits are part of a cultural genocide.

But this war against history has many more enemies. It isn’t enough that the past and the present be uniquely Hindu. They must also be harmoniously Hindu. Anything that shows conflict or tension in society must be eliminated. That’s why, in addition to Muslim history, the truth about caste and its legacy of untouchability and exclusion are also being whitewashed by the textbook revisionists, who want future generations to believe in the fantasy of an India that was – and is – free of conflict.

More recent history also makes the BJP uncomfortable, such as the Hindu extremist background of Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Godse was part of a Hindu supremacist network led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organisation, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP. He killed Gandhi because of Gandhi’s insistence on a secular India. The parts of history books that detailed these links have been deleted too, and Godse comes across as a lone wolf.

Sections in textbooks on the 2002 mass killings of Muslims in the state of Gujarat – which happened under Modi’s watch as chief minister at the time – have been removed.

Similarly, examples of gender-related discrimination have also been deleted. It is as if India has been a society that has never seen any discrimination against any social group on any basis. Meanwhile, a more contemporary section on how water theme parks for the wealthy co-exist with drought-hit farmlands in the central region of Vidharbha has also been removed from social science books.

The BJP wants the world to believe that Indian society is Hindu and Hindu society has always been just, loving and absolutely non-discriminatory in its essence. But the obscene reality is just the opposite. Children reading these fantastic tales about India live in conflict-ridden situations.

This approach is not only about controlling the past or painting it in Hindu colours. It is also about the future, a dark, undemocratic future into which the BJP is dragging India.

A strong state and obedient masses are central to the idea of an India that Modi’s BJP wants to build. It already portrays itself as synonymous with the Indian state. In keeping with this thinking, references to social and political protest movements defending democratic rights have been removed from textbooks. Instead of citizens holding the state accountable, the BJP wants the people to be accountable to the state.

Officially, the textbooks were edited to reduce the learning load for students. But even a cursory look at the removed parts shows a clear pattern.

The changes are driven by the idea of portraying India’s past as essentially Hindu and as a nation without discrimination and violence. To create a Hindu India out of a secular nation, the BJP needs to build a fake history of a fantasy land. Rewriting the past is about giving the Hindu supremacist ideology legitimacy for the future while sending truth to its grave.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.