'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015
SIDHARTH BHATIA - The Sangh Can Stamp Out Nehru’s Name. Destroying His Legacy Won’t Be So Easy
What is it about the Nehru parivar that so
bothers the Sangh parivar? Why do Sanghis – from the grandees of the BJP and
its mentor the RSS, to the neo-supporters who have emerged from the woodwork
after years of keeping quiet, to the troll sena that robotically hits out at
anyone who is seen as the enemy – break out into a rash at the very mention of
Nehru and his progeny? Why don’t the ministers get on with the job of
governance instead of constantly plotting different ways to undermine or
even wipe out any mention of Nehru in the public domain?
Last week, the government let it be known that the Nehru
Memorial Museum and Library would not remain confined to the works of India’s
first Prime Minister but also study the great and glorious achievements of
others, and especially the current regime. Given that the NMML – under the now
ousted Mahesh Rangarajan – was already devoting the majority of its time and
resources to personalities and themes that go well beyond Nehru, BJP leaders
either don’t know what they are talking about or are using the logic of a
broader agenda to undermine the institution in some way. How soon before the
name itself is changed?
Even while this controversy was playing out, the Philately
Advisory Committee suggested that the ‘definitive’ stamps bearing the images of
Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi should be discontinued. Communications Minister
Ravi Shankar Prasad has accepted this suggestion with alacrity and declared,
with disarming honesty, that there was no reason why one familyshould monopolise
The two definitive stamps are part of the series “Builders of Modern
India”, which has included famous men and women, including Nehru, E V Ramasami
Naicker, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Homi Bhabha, J R D Tata, Satyajit Ray, Mother Teresa
and C V Raman. To this, Prasad wants to add Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deen Dayal
Upadhyay, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Shivaji,
Maulana Azad, Vivekananda and Maharana Pratap, among others. That is this
government’s prerogative, even if it wants to evoke not just India the modern
state but India the ancient nation. But why talk about the removal
of just these two names? (And while on the subject, does the younger generation
even use stamps?)
There is, of course, a political agenda – because it is
the BJP’s mission to make India Congress-mukt and ensure that there
is no other national political party on the scene. But the Sangh’s exertions in
that direction seem overwrought, considering that the Congress itself is doing
a fine job of making itself politically irrelevant. No, the BJP doesn’t want to
just fight the Congress at the hustings; it wants to obliterate the
Nehru-Gandhi family’s place not just in contemporary India but also in history.
Nehru’s secularism the target: It has long been part of Sanghi lore that Nehru was a
villain. In the RSS worldview, Nehru was guilty of several things – to begin
with, he was an English-speaking, westernised patrician, totally at odds with
the essential soul of Bharat. He was schooled in the West and thus not as
“Indian” as say Vallabhai Patel, the Sangh’s favourite Congressman, who was all
toughness in contrast to the effete Nehru. These are not caricaturish
representations of Sanghi thinking; they were repeatedly aired for generations
till they became gospel.
The problem is, all this is untrue. Nehru understood India
far better than any Sanghi will ever do. One has only to read Discovery of
India to know how deeply he loved this country and how much he had
studied it. Which work from the RSS archive even comes close to Nehru’s works?
Secondly, Nehru, for all his aristocratic background, threw
himself into the freedom struggle and went to jail for a total of 10 years. He
was chained and paraded on the streets in one particular incident. He used the
time in jail to think and write books. As for all the attempts to drive a wedge
between Nehru and Sardar Patel and now Subhas Bose, the evidence just doesn’t
hold up. Patel banned the RSS and Bose was no promoter of Hindutva, far from
it. Nor were they Nehru’s enemies either. But who needs proof when you have
The real reason why Nehru is such a hate figure for the
Sangh is his commitment to secularism – not just as a mantra or a platitude
that is trotted out in speeches, but as a way of life. His determination ensured that the government passed four
Hindu code bills that unified Hindu personal law. Not just radical Hindu groups
but also extremist members of the Congress resisted these moves, but Nehru, who
had made a promise to the people, pushed them through.
In word and deed, Nehru
made fighting communalism a mission of his life. This is what he said in a Lok
Sabha speech in 1955: “If I may venture to lay down a rule, it is the primary
responsibility of the majority to satisfy the minority in every matter. The
majority, by virtue of it’s being a majority, has the strength to have its way:
it requires no protection.” There is much more in this vein. Is it then
surprising that the votaries of Hindutva are rabidly against him?
That he was a Kashmiri Brahmin makes it difficult for them
to rubbish him on communal grounds; it is hardly surprising, therefore, that
anonymous mailers falsely claim he was a Muslim – because that somehow explains
his “anti-Hindu” policies. (There is a lot out there on the Internet about his
love life too, somehow implicating him as a ‘playboy’, and thus presumably, a
sinner.) They see Nehru as a modernist and a liberal, both of which are
antithetical to the Sanghi way of thinking. Someone from a government office
recently used the official network to edit Nehru’s Wikipedia entry to make
these sorts of suggestions. Who the person was the government will not reveal, citing ‘security implications.’
Tilting at windmills: With Indira Gandhi, the situation is a bit more complicated.
The Sangh has long admired her for being tough and breaking Pakistan; Atal
Bihari Vajpayee had called her Durga after the war of 1971. They may even
secretly respect her for declaring the Emergency, because it fits in with their
long cherished notion that India needs “discipline”. The recent revelations
that RSS Chief Balasaheb Deoras had reached out to Indira Gandhi to support the
Emergency (which she rejected) have to be seen in this context.
The BJP occasionally trots out the dynasty card to criticise
the Nehru- Gandhis, but in a political environment where every politician is
promoting his or her own progeny – parivarvaad is rampant
among BJP allies such as the Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, Lok Jana Shakti Party and
within the BJP too – that accusation has little traction anymore.
The BJP and the Sangh at large therefore have set out not
just to attack the Congress as it is today but also to systematically demolish
the Nehru legacy, because that is the only way they will be able to complete
their objective of completely altering Bharat that is India. As long as the
Nehru name exists, they fear, his legacy will exist too. That is why all
that he stood for – and eventually his name too – must disappear not just from
public discourse but also from any prime position it occupies in the history
books and even stamps.
Yet, all their attempts will ultimately fail because the
Sangh is approaching this the wrong way. It thinks that Nehru, with his fancy
westernised notions, imposed ‘alien’ concepts like secularism, communal harmony
and minority rights on a traditional nation. But it was actually the other way
round: It was India’s own deeply held values of tolerance and diversity that
created a Nehru. He marveled at the Indian genius for living with great
tolerance in a land with a multitude of languages, dialects and religions and
drew upon it to create a modern, liberal, secular state. He didn’t give rise to
the ‘idea of India’ which the RSS now mocks but it was India that created him.
Which is why, removing his name from a museum here or a monument there can
easily be done but removing the values he represented is impossible.
You can take the Nehru out of India. But how do you take the India out of itself?