Last week, a weird story popped to national prominence in India. The new chief minister of Tripura, a small state that borders Bangladesh, said that the internet existed during the ancient times, back when the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata was written.
“Communication was possible because our technology was sophisticated and developed during those times. We had internet and a satellite communication system. It is not like internet or media wasn’t available in the age of Mahabharata,” said the new chief minister, Biplab Kumar Deb, according to The Hindu.
I happened to be in South India on a reporting trip when this came out, and it was one of those strange stories you see when traveling that seem nutty and hard to understand. I saw it first in a paper, then caught it again on television while I was running. Deb claimed that his evidence was based in the Mahabharata itself, which describes how a king was able to get battle updates in real time. That, Deb maintained, happened through an ancient internet.
Europeans and Americans claim that they invented these systems, Deb said, but “we had all these technologies in ancient times.”
Some context: Deb is a member of the rising right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led to massive electoral success in India since 2014. In Tripura, Deb and his party displaced a Communist chief minister who had been in power for 20 years. The BJP has ridden to prominence with an explicitly Hindu nationalist model and a kind of Make India Great Again braggadocio.