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 list. 

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 prejudice?

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?

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