New Delhi: The debate on ‘rewriting’ of Indian history began after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formed the government in the late 1990s.
The attempts to rewrite history textbooks led to an ideological battle that continues to rage even today and isn’t expected to die down soon.
However, very few would know that the key force behind kicking off this debate, which is now being carried forward, is a low-profile RSS-backed organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY).
An even lesser known fact is it was a nondescript pracharak of RSS, Thakur Ram Singh, who built this organisation painstakingly, thus resulting in a pan-India movement to challenge Leftist historians and the textbooks written by them.
The ABISY was able to take this ideological battle to its opponents’ backyard, courtesy a strong and focused organisation built under the leadership of Singh within a short span of time.
Singh, born on 16 February 1915, founded the outfit in May 1994 in Delhi. He started building this organisation as soon as it was set up aided by several other colleagues, which included senior RSS pracharak Moropant Pingle and noted historian Satish Chandra Mittal, among others.
A pan-India tour
Immediately, after setting up the organisation, Singh initiated a pan-India tour during which he visited several university campuses, met historians and academics from various fields associated directly or indirectly with history.
This was the beginning of an exercise that focused on building an extensive network of intellectuals who were dissatisfied with the popular discourse on India’s history. The common ground for coming together was that India’s history needed to be written from an Indian perspective and this hadn’t been done after independence.
When Singh took up this task, the Marxist interpretation of Indian history was dominating the academic discourse as well as textbooks in India. It was an uphill task to challenge it, but Singh used his organisational skills, which he had acquired while working with the RSS as a pracharak for more than five decades.
The first key debate kicked off by the ABISY was that India should not adhere to the western framework of ‘BC and AD’ when it comes to looking at chronology. India’s history dates back much older and it should devise its own time framework.
Taking up similar issues, over a period of time the ABISY set up around a dozen such projects challenging the Left and the western frameworks of Indian history.
Some of the projects were named as ‘History in Puranas’, ‘Debunking Aryan Invasion Theory’, ‘The science behind Hindu calendar and its global expanse’, ‘History of pilgrimage centres of Bharat’, ‘Evidence-based history of war of independence in 1857, ‘Vedic Saraswati River’, and ‘Documenting tribal history’, among others.
Singh continued to work actively as the president of ABISY till 2003. By that time, he had set up district units of the organisation across the country. He had also framed the key objectives of the organisation that continue to guide its efforts.
— Removing the distortions in Indian history.
— Reconstruct history by debunking the distortions on which Indian history is created.
— For this type of reconstruction, compilation of published and unpublished authentic material related to different disciplines of orientalism at district and village levels.
— Setting up a structure that facilitates writing history from the Indian point of view at the district level — from the Mahabharata period to the present. This should be done based on Hindu calendar.
— Establishing contacts with qualified individuals, institutions and organisations etc., and motivating them.
— To organise programmes to generate respect, affection and interest in the heart of the common man for the specific achievements of Indian culture, orientalism and ancestors.
— To organise seminars, discussions and special lectures etc., to encourage research related to Indian history, culture and archaeology.
In 2003, Singh stepped down from the post of president of ABISY due to his old age. But he continued to guide the outfit as a mentor.
During the last few years of his life, Singh built up a major research institute in Himachal Pradesh, called the Thakur Jagdev Chand Shodh Sansthan.
According to ABISY’s official website, Singh’s passion and commitment to the cause was such that at the age of 95, he had already planned to do more things for the next five years.
One of his most famous quotes often remembered by his colleagues and those who came in touch with him was: “We have to serve Bharat Mata — for first 50 years with black hair and then for next 50 years with white hair.”
Singh was born in 1915 in Jhandvi village of Bhonraj tehsil, Himachal Pradesh.
In 1942, he got an MA in history from Lahore University and became an RSS pracharak.
From 1949 to 1971, he worked in Assam expanding the organisational network. From 1971 to 1989, he worked as an RSS pracharak in Punjab.
In 1990, he was given the responsibility to run the Baba Saheb Apte Smarak Samiti, a predecessor of the ABISY.
Baba Saheb Apte was the first RSS pracharak. He was keenly interested to initiate the ‘rewriting of history’, but during his lifetime, an organisational structure for the same couldn’t be set up.
In 1973, Baba Saheb Apte Smarak Samiti was set up at Nagpur to do the early ground-work in this field.
Moropant Pingle also played a key role in taking forward the samiti’s work. Both Pingle and Singh worked closely to make the ABISY a key player in the cause of rewriting the Indian history from an Indian perspective.
Singh passed away on 6 September 2010.
(The writer is research director with a Delhi-based think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on RSS.)