Controlling historical memory yields useful dividends in politics. Destroying historical evidence is a time-tested strategy of autocrats, claimed academics and other assorted protesters here on Tuesday after Indian prime minister got hundreds of thousands of “historically relevant” files destroyed.
Times of India said on Mr Modi’s directive the Indian home ministry has gone on ‘a cleanliness drive’ and, in less than a month, destroyed nearly 1,500,000 files that had gathered dust for years.
While going through the almirahs of North Block, where the ministry is located, officials also found some interesting files which gave an insight to some historic moments, the paper said.
One of these files was about the presidential sanction given to pay India’s first governor general Lord Mountbatten a princely sum of Rs64,000 as TA/DA allowance for moving back to his country.
In today’s terms, the amount will be equivalent to several crores of rupees, a ministry official said.
Another snippet that came out was that after India’s first president Rajendra Prasad refused to take any pension, it was eventually sent to the government’s calamity fund.
Even the salary of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was sent to the calamity fund after he refused it, the files showed.
Crucially, another file has details about the cabinet meeting that was called before the death of Mahatma Gandhi was announced, an official said.
Asked if these files of historic value were saved or junked, an official expressed ignorance, the report said.
Academics suspected the government’s motive in ordering the destruction of priceless historical sources.
“In the absence of any assurance that files of historical value will be preserved or even vetted before being destroyed, all those who respect knowledge and historical research have cause to be gravely alarmed at this news,” wrote historian Dilip Simeon.
“The files destined for the shredders may be of the highest historical value and it is unacceptable that the prime minister and home minister should destroy them without a transparent vetting process by respected scholars… India’s historical archive is not the private property of the RSS and Mr Modi,” Mr Simeon said.