“India, to the great surprise of the world, with all its multiple plurality, is today the world’s largest successful working democracy, because Indian people, infused with the spirit of equality, have had since the very Vedic times a loktantrik-parampara,” read a concept note released by the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) for observing November 26, India’s Constitution Day, as ‘Bharat: Loktantra ki Janani Day’ (India: Mother of Democracy). A month later, in December 2022, Union Minister of Education and Skill Development Dharmendra Pradhan declared, “Students across the country will be taught a corrected version of Indian history under the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) from January 26, on the occasion of Vasant Panchami”. With this statement, he initiated a correction of history by redefining January 26, India’s Republic day, as the day of Vasant Panchami (festival of Saraswati).
When the Modi government mandated that Constitution Day be observed as Bharat: Loktantra ki Janani Day, all government bodies were instructed to strictly follow the theme and the explanation provided by ICHR in its two-page concept note. The note stated that India’s democratic traditions are ancient and original when compared to other civilisations. It claimed that Indian democracy thrived during the times of the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) and that it was India that taught the world about democracy, hence making the country the mother of democracy. ICHR also brought out a book by the same title, with the ostensible objective of providing “a new dimension to our knowledge system, one that is neither Eurocentric, nor influenced by Mughal history,” as described by the University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Jagadesh Kumar.
This ‘correction’ of history is portrayed as a civilisational project for decolonising the Indian mind. NEP 2020, which had 19 paragraphs on promoting Indian knowledge systems and providing rootedness to young India, had hinted that this Indianisation will be sourced primarily from Vedic and Brahminical literatures. However, it had also mentioned Buddha and Mahavira in passing. On the contrary, that it was in Buddhist Bhikshu Sangha where democracy was first practised is completely absent from the ICHR note. A Sangha is a monastic community of Buddhist monks and nuns who function on the principle of one monk, one nun, one vote. In a sangha , it is the community that holds power, and not a person. Instead, Khap panchayats (village assembly of community elders based on patriarchal and caste norms) and caste institutions are cited as examples of Loktantra. Mahajanapadas (parliament of tribal chiefs or oligarchy of Brahmin lords) is portrayed as the ancient Prajatantra (democracy). In a recent interview with The Hindu, Professor Kesavan Veluthat, General President of the 81st session of the Indian History Congress, said, “Republics were only about the chiefs, the landed magnates of that region, who among themselves, looked after the affairs. Oligarchy was confused as democracy.” About these practices, Ambedkar wrote, “What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism?”
Rejuvenating this casteist Loktantra is the grand democratic vision of the Hindu nation. This re-Brahmanisation is packaged as Bhartiyata, Bharatiya Jnana Parampara, or Bharatiya values, as against the systems introduced by the ‘invaders’ and colonisers. This is achieved by promoting only Brahminical literatures, traditions, personalities, and history as authentically Indian, and elevating Sanskrit to the level of Bharatiya sanskriti (Indian culture), hence projecting it as the only means towards rootedness.
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