SHOPPING FOR ICONS
THE BJP MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO HAIL ITS OWN HEROES, WARTS AND ALL, INSTEAD OF GOING ON A BUYING SPREE. PHOTOSHOPPING THEM FROM THE PRESENT WILL NOT ERASE THEM FROM HISTORY.
If the BJP is complaining about Rahul Gandhi’s attack on RSS for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, they have only themselves to blame. As children would say in a playground, they started it first, by quoting from history to bolster their pantheon. They did that because they had no choice. Look at their icons. None of them can be mentioned in polite company. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who lived for 19 years in independent India, was discredited for his alleged role in the assassination of Gandhi—though he was finally cleared of it by the Justice Kapur Commission. Among his charming beliefs was that Adolf Hitler was preferable to a democratic government and that India must be a Hindu land, reserved for Hindus. While the whole of India was rising in revolt against the British in 1942, as president of the Hindu Mahasabha, he was occupied in calling on Hindu youth to join the military with the call, ‘Militarise the Hindus, Hinduise the Nation.’
His close associate, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was memorable not only for his baiting of Jawaharlal Nehru on the matter of Kashmir’s accession, but also for his basic belief, uttered best during his hour-long presidential address in 1951: “Any talk of composite culture is both illogical and dangerous.” Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, who was imprisoned when RSS was banned after Gandhi’s assassination, said such tranquil things as Muslims have gobbled up a part of our body (speech in 1954) and that Muslims (and Christians) are neither traitors nor servants of the enemy—they are simply the enemy. Deendayal Upadhyaya, who took over the Jana Sangh when Mookerjee died in what many right wingers have dubbed a Nehruvian conspiracy, believed Partition was a historic blunder and that India and Pakistan would be reunited one day.
The RSS has for long tried to appropriate Swami Vivekananda, but he doesn’t quite get votes. Plus he was too liberal for their taste, advocating three Bs for the salvation of India—beef, biceps and the Bhagavad Gita. Not surprising then that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel seems the most appropriate icon, especially since he appeared to be so inimical to Nehru. But the BJP made a cardinal error, assuming that an occasional difference of opinion with Nehru in what was then a democratic organisation meant he was not a loyal Congressman. Nothing could be further from the truth. Patel was absolutely opposed to the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, and had no doubt in his mind that they were responsible for creating an atmosphere, as he wrote in a letter to Mookerjee after Gandhi’s assassination, in which “such a ghastly tragedy became possible”.
Which brings me to the point—how can BJP vow allegiance to both RSS and to Patel in the same breath? It is an alliance of convenience based on what they believe is a mutual hatred for the Nehru-Gandhi family, shared equally by RSS and Patel. But it is misguided. The BJP must have the courage to hail its own heroes, warts and all, instead of going on a buying spree. Photoshopping them from the present will not erase them from history. Indeed, elections, as historian Stanley Wolpert points out, tend to ressurect many long-forgotten facts and issues, on both sides of the political spectrum. His weak grasp of recent history having been exposed in the infamous TV interview, Rahul Gandhi has now started comparing Narendra Modi to Hitler. Soon he will start comparing him to Aurangzeb, as he does in private conversations. He should know that Hitler ruled Germany for 12 years and Aurangzeb ruled northern India for 48 years. We presume he doesn’t want that.