PAVAN K. VARMA : When art masks politics - Sardar Patel, Modi and the RSS

Pavan K. Varma in The Times of India, September 28, 2013

When art masks politics

Narendra Modi is a good orator, and his first public speech, after being declared BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, at Rewari in Haryana on September, 15, provided ample evidence of this.  I was intrigued though by his fulsome tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.  Modi announced that he is building in Gujarat a statue of Patel, made from iron pieces contributed by every village in India, which would be the tallest in the world, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. 

I was intrigued because Sardar Patel was the man who banned the RSS, the institution which Modi joined at the tender age of fifteen, and which, on his own admission, has played an exceptionally valuable role in moulding his life and thought processes.  Patel was the Home Minister of India when, on February 2, 1948, the Government banned the RSS, in pursuance to its ‘determination to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the Nation and darken her fair name’.   In a letter dated September 11, 1948, to Guru Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the then Sarsangchalak of the RSS, the Sardar was forthright in his denunciation of RSS leaders: ‘All their speeches were full of communal poison.  It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organize for their protection.  As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji’. 

Significantly, the Sardar was never in doubt about the role of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha in the murder of the Mahatma.   In a letter dated February 27, 1948 to Pandit Nehru he states this clearly: ‘It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through...Of course, his assassination was welcomed by those of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha who were strongly opposed to his way of thinking and to his policy’.   

He reiterates this position in a letter dated July 18, 1948 to Shyama Prasad Mookherjee: ‘As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha...Our reports do confirm that, as a result of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country  in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible’.   Incidentally, although Nathuram Godse denied any direct link with the RSS at the time of his trial, many years later, in an interview to the  magazine Frontline in January 1994, his brother, Gopal, was quite candid about the truth: 

‘All the brothers were in the RSS, Nathuram, Dattareya, myself and Govind.  You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home.  It was like a family to us.  Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS.  He said it but he never left it’. 

Sardar Patel was a staunch follower of Gandhiji and his inclusive vision.  His emphatic opposition to the RSS, the institution which mentored Modi and shaped his world view, is documented fact.  What is then Modi trying to convey by co-opting Patel, and building the world’s tallest statue as a tribute to him?

One view could be that Modi agrees with the Sardar about the RSS.  After all, there cannot be such a violent difference of opinion, on such a vital matter, between an ardent admirer and his new found hero.  If this is the case, Modi must say so.  If not, he should accept that he is lionizing Patel through a conscious process of selective amnesia and cynical manipulation, harping on what Patel did to unite India, but deliberately ignoring his strong views on those who wanted to divide her through the politics of communal incitement and violence.   

Available evidence is definitive that the RSS played a key role in the political choice of Modi to lead the BJP.  The evidence is also categorical that Modi is deeply influenced by the philosophy of the RSS. Modi was a Pracharak in the RSS when Golwalkar, the longest serving and most ‘successful’ RSS chief was the Sarsangchalak (1940-73).  Modi reportedly wrote a book in his praise. Does he agree with Golwalkars explicitly stated views that India is an exclusively Hindu nation, with no place for people of other faiths, not even the rights of a citizen?  Does he support Golwalkar’s praise of Nazi Germany, for having manifested a nation’s highest pride in exterminating the Jews?  Does he believe, like Golwalkar, that the Manusmriti, that consigns Shudras to perpetual service of Brahmans and advocates servitude of women, is the only valid law for India?   The BJP, I think, made a valiant attempt under Vajpayee to downplay this regressive thinking and broad base its political appeal.  But with the rise of Modi, the core philosophy of the RSS is back as the driving ideology of the BJP.  

Sardar Patel, if he is at all watching these developments, must be both a deeply anguished and a very angry man.   Angry, because of his clever appropriation by those whom he steadfastly opposed.  Anguished, because the vision of India being offered by his new devotees is so different to the one for which he dedicated his entire life.

Also see: 

Hitler's annihilation of the Romanis“I as a German prefer much more to see India under British Government than under any other...I must not connect the fate of the German people with these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ who are clearly of racial inferiority (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, German edition, p. 747)

More signs of artistry:
In the year 2000 the Gujarat government of Keshubhai Patel, with the support of the Vajpayee government, lifted the ban on RSS recruitment among civil servants. In the ensuing controversy Patel said the RSS was not political (the usual story). This was stoutly resisted and the BJP was forced to withdraw. Read more:

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