Biplab Deb, the chief minister of India’s north-eastern state of Tripura, created quite a stir online when he asserted that Indians invented the internet and that the technology had existed in the country since the events described in the Mahabharata, the ancient mythological text that Hindus regard as sacred.
During a speech on “computerization and reforms” in the north-eastern city of Agartala, the chief minister, who belongs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed that during the Battle of Kurukshetra described in the Mahabharata, the mythological King Dhritarashtra must have used the internet and satellite technology to communicate.
“It means internet was there, the satellites and that technology was there in this country at that time,” claimed the 46-year-old chief minister, according to Newsweek.
Looking beyond all the jovial rebuttals and incendiary remarks on social media ridiculing the chief minister, one sobering fact remains: he is not the only senior BJP politician who has made bizarre assertions mixing science with mythology in order to arouse religious and nationalistic fervor among hardline supporters.
For example, Modi’s assertion in 2014, as reported by The Guardian, that Ganesha, the Hindu deity that is half elephant and half human, was, in fact, the first known recipient of plastic surgery in history.
“There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery,” asserted Modi.
Needless to say, such peculiar assertions from India’s top leadership belies the fact that immigrant Indian engineers, IT professionals, and scientists are now found in every corner of the world, including in America’s Silicon Valley, where luminaries like Sunder Pichai, the CEO of Microsoft, with his all-Indian schooling serves as the poster child for India’s advancements in science and technology.
Dodgy science meets mythology
Besides propagating political rhetoric blending dodgy science with mythology, the BJP has embarked on another project where the party directed a group of handpicked scholars to conduct research conforming to the party’s new political narrative that India has continuously been inhabited by Hindu Indians, without any influx of migrants, particularly Muslims, going back to antiquity. Such an assertion is indeed a late and rather peculiar challenge to the vast body of existing demographic, anthropological, sociological, and genealogical research available on India and its populace.
Inspired by the upper echelon of India’s leadership, the scholars have already started to look for archaeological and DNA evidence supporting the assertion that India’s current Hindu population is directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants going back many thousands of years – never being diluted by migration or religious conversion.
The new narrative that the BJP is trying to establish goes against India’s well-documented multi-ethnic history, and it demotes the country’s non-Hindu minorities to second-class citizenship
The new narrative that the BJP is trying to establish goes against India’s well-documented multi-ethnic history, and it demotes the country’s non-Hindu minorities – 240 million Muslims and several million Christians, Sikhs, and even some native Jews – to second-class citizenship.
The BJP’s handpicked researchers are trying to establish that ancient Hindu scriptures are indeed facts – not myths. This scholastic inspiration apparently comes from the notion that if the Bible and the Quran can claim archaeological relevance, why can’t the Mahabharata?
Absurd narrative poses threat to minorities
As the Hindu nationalists rewrite and reconfigure India’s well-documented past to serve their political agenda, the toxic societal and political fall-out resulting from such posturing may leave the country’s numerous minorities vulnerable.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of a minority Muslim party, told Reuters that Muslims had “never felt so marginalized in the independent history of India.”
Over the last two years alone, there have been several reports of Muslims being killed by lynch mobs for eating beef. There have also been reports of minority cattle traders being killed over their alleged involvement in the cross-border sale of cattle, an animal revered in Hindu culture.
It must be noted that such killings have occurred despite the fact that India is the world’s largest exporter of beef and cowhide due to the country’s surplus production of cattle.
On the demographic front, inter-mixing and inter-marriage alliances between the minority communities and the majority Hindu society have become an increasingly contentious issue over the last few years, often resulting in deadly violence.
Take for example the case of a Hindu man who killed and burnt a minority day laborer in India’s western state of Rajasthan whom he had accused of inter-mixing. Shockingly, the man posted a video recording of the grisly murder on the internet asking for donations from like-minded fanatics, who happily donated about $4,665 via the internet, according to Reuters.
A marvel and a mystery
India has been both a marvel and a mystery in the eyes of the world for millennia. It is a country with a population standing close to one-fifth of humanity that has often grappled with deadly racial riots, an entrenched caste system, and deep-rooted communal animus, but has nevertheless managed to flourish as the largest functional democracy in the world for over 70 years.
In addition to nurturing an uninterrupted democracy since the country’s birth, India has managed to flourish as a science, technology and industrial hub on its way to becoming the third-largest economy in the world by 2028.
These are achievements unparalleled in human history, particularly given the demographic, ethnic, and geographical challenges that India faced along the way. Absurd mythological assertions blended with shoddy science intended to serve the political agenda of India’s current political leadership makes an unnecessary dent in the inspiring story that India had built over the last seven decades. Such rhetoric certainly damages India’s global image as an aspiring geopolitical powerhouse.