Children find history in textbooks, not in the playing field. But for Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, history has football-like properties, to be kicked into a goal whenever possible. The chief minister of Goa, Pramod Sawant, said recently that the state should now be freed of all signs of Portuguese rule. The foreign rulers had left in 1961; sixty years were long enough to start afresh. One method of doing so was rebuilding the numerous Hindu temples that the Portuguese destroyed, for which the state would need quite a few crores. This is not the place to ask whether those crores would be better spent in public works, in nutrition, health and education. Because the rebuilding of temples is part of the goal that will define what Goa will be in a hundred years from Independence, which is what the BJP is thinking of, according to the chief minister, from India’s 75th year of Independence.
Temple-building, or rebuilding when occasion demands it, is the BJP’s USP. It physically symbolises the erasure of history, facts, systems and practices as though an ideology can falsify the past. The distortion undermines learning, restructures or exacerbates attitudes and can sabotage relationships among the different groups of people which throng the country. The goal is to produce an unquestioning, single-minded majority population out of diversity. Trying to manufacture hostility towards minority religions by hindsight is therefore part of the project. But the project also has a larger dimension of sheer absurdity, although it may not lead to laughter. Mr Sawant wishes to wipe out all signs of Portuguese rule; is he thinking of demolishing houses and homes that are unique in their mixture of Portuguese, Islamic and ‘Indian’ styles?
The BJP’s history project, dependent on rhetorical and physical force, needs patron figures. The Ram Mandir obviously has Ram, Mr Sawant’s temple-building has Shivaji. Shivaji’s astonishing feats, his empire-building and his coronation — Mr Sawant spoke on its 350th anniversary — amid predominantly Islamic rule make him a Hindu hero. His rebuilding of a temple in Goa and his supposed prevention of further temple destruction by the Portuguese make him perfect for Mr Sawant’s purpose. That Shivaji had fairly good relationships with the Portuguese and different Muslim leaders at different times, depending on the expediencies of his empire-building, that he did not interfere with minority religious groups even after he ascended the throne and was perceived as having saved Hinduism, that the Portuguese did not spare churches of any denomination except their rulers’ and not just Hindu temples, are just a few small facts that the BJP can easily steamroll into oblivion.
Wiping out all signs of Portuguese rule and kicking the ball into the BJP goal is not meant to change the past but to change forcibly people’s memories, thus directing the BJP’s future. The people must decide whether or not they will accept the abolition of a region’s cultural identity.