How history changes every five years in Rajasthan: A textbook case


Over the last seven years, students in schools affiliated to the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education (RBSE) have studied different versions of history, each starkly contradicting the other.

As a result of some of these changes, Mughal emperor Akbar lost his tag of ‘great’ while historical figures with a contentious legacy such as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar came full circle – from being hailed as a hero to losing the honorific ‘Veer’.

Much like the tradition of the incumbent government in Rajasthan changing every five years, changes and revisions made in textbooks by successive governments have been a constant in the state, triggering angry outbursts by the party at the receiving end.

Until the 2020-21 academic session, schools affiliated to the state Board followed textbooks published by the Rajasthan State Textbook Board; they now follow NCERT syllabus in books published by the state textbook board.

The latest flashpoint is the controversy surrounding six questions related to the Congress that featured in the question paper of the recently-held Class 12 Board examination. While the BJP slammed the Congress, accusing the party of ‘politicising’ the education system, the state government has dismissed the allegations. The Central Ministry of Education has also sought comments from the state on the question paper.

“Unable to attract people to join the party, the Congress is now trying to promote its ideology among the younger generation by asking questions about their party in examinations. Ever since it came to power, the Congress has been consistently making changes to textbooks. They don’t care about freedom fighters such as Veer Savarkar. Even people like former PM P V Narsimha Rao or Atal Bihari Vajpayee don’t have enough space in school textbooks while now there are entire pages on Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi,” says BJP MLA Vasudev Devnani, who was education minister in the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government between 2013 and 2018.

Senior Congress leader and Education Minister B D Kalla denied Devnani’s allegations and insisted that the examination is conducted by the RBSE, an autonomous body, in line with the NCERT syllabus.

Devnani’s allegations are reminiscent of similar accusations levelled at him by the Congress, when it was in the opposition in the state.

The previous BJP government made changes in the Class 10 history textbook, declaring Maharana Pratap as the winner of the 16th Century battle of Haldighati and Akbar as the one he defeated. The Mughal emperor also lost his prefix ‘Great’ in the textbook.

The Class 8 textbook had removed Jawaharlal Nehru while other textbooks gave substantial space to Savarkar, eclipsing even Gandhi.

Subsequently, days after the Congress government came to power in December 2018, Govind Singh Dotasra, who held the education portfolio from 2019-21, asserted that the education department under the BJP had become the “laboratory of the RSS”.

In February 2019, the Congress government formed textbook review committees and, later that year, new textbooks were printed based on the recommendations of the committees.

One of the major changes was about the battle of Haldighati. While the textbook printed in the BJP regime said Maharana Pratap won the battle, in the new Class 10 social science books, the portion on the Haldighati battle ends with Pratap leaving the battlefield and his horse Chetak dying. It also mentions that the clash between Maharana Pratap and Akbar was not a religious war, but a clash for superiority between two political forces. Silent on the result of the battle, the chapter goes on to describe Pratap’s guerrilla warfare against Akbar in subsequent years.

The new Class 12 history textbook dropped the ‘Veer’ prefix for Savarkar and referred to him as ‘Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’. The new textbook talks of Savarkar’s “mercy petitions to the British” and how, following his release from captivity, Savarkar worked towards establishing India as a “Hindu nation”.

The changes made by the Congress had resulted in angry outbursts from the BJP, which accused organisations such as the Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle (RGSC), which has Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot as its chairperson, of furthering the Congress’s ideology.

Office bearers of the RGSC, however, denied the BJP’s charge, in turn alleging that the tradition of changing textbooks began during the earlier BJP regime. “The BJP first meddled in matters related to education in 1993 when the party changed textbook syllabi in Rajasthan, inserting elements of the RSS ideology. Subsequent Congress governments have only rectified these distortions and made the syllabus in tune with the NCERT. The Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle creates awareness about the Constitution, the ideals of Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar,” says Bane Singh, state coordinator, RGSC.

With over a year left for the next Assembly election, the BJP says it is committed to making changes to textbooks if it comes to power. “After we come to power, we will set up a committee to review the distortions made in the Congress regime and we will undo the changes in textbooks made by the Congress government,” says Devnani.

The final chapter on textbook revisions is yet to be written.