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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 51, December 7, 2013

An Idiot for PM?: (Non-)Sense of History in NaMo

Saturday 7 December 2013, by Subhash Gatade

‘Though this be madness yet there is method in it’ —Hamlet, Shakespeare

The 2014 elections aren’t merely about changing the government. The rhetoric ahead of the polls makes one believe that it’s an attempt at once to change historical narratives handed down to successive generation of Indians. And the man in the forefront of it all is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

(http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/separated-at-birth/2013/11/11/debating-history-berating-history/)

I

Wordsmiths of the world need to put in their heads or pull up their socks (you may say) to coin a new word which can rather resonate with what goes on in this part of South Asia in the name of political speeches. Should one call it ‘polifiction’ or ‘politainment’ or some similar word?

Perhaps a word exists and this poor pen-pusher is ignorant about it.

Anyway, the matter has become a bit urgent with the feverish preparations which are going on here for the battle royale which would take place in the year 2014 and the not-so-silent emergence of NaMo on the national scene and the daily dose of half-truths, fiction and complete distortion which goes under the name of oratory.

His recent speech in Gujarat which he deli-vered while inaugurating a hospital could be considered the pinnacle of his ‘polifiction’. In the said speech he claimed that Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, was a ‘great son of Gujarat and had built the India House in London’ He also claimed that this ‘great son of Gujarat was in regular dialogue with Vivekananda and Dayanand Saraswati’ and in his usual penchant for taking credits ‘it was his good fortune to be able to bring back the ashthi (ashes) of Mukherjee from Geneva in 2003’.

Any layperson who has brief acquaintance with history or has not spent her/his formative years in one of those Parivar-run schools, would share that Mukherjee ‘was born in 1902 in the then undivided Bengal, worked with Hindu Mahasabha for quite some time, was part of Nehru’s first Cabinet, helped found Jana Sangha —a mass politival platform for the RSS—and died in the 50s’. Perhaps anyone can marvel at the ability of a one-year-old Mookherjee to be in dialogue with Swami Vivekananda—who died in 1903 and would also be keen to know the method adopted by him to have a dialogue with Dayanand Saraswati who had died more than 25 years before his birth.

The fact of the matter is that it was not Mukherjee but Shyamji Krishna Varma from Kutchh Mandvi (born October 4, 1857), Gujarat, an Indian revolutionary, lawyer, journalist, who had gone to London, developed the India House (1902) which later became the living space for many Indian freedom fighters, started an English monthly, The Indian Sociologist, an organ of political, social and religious reform. History books tell us that Shyamji had died in Geneva in 1930.

Supporters of NaMo can claim that the said speech—which showed his complete ignorance about the important milestone in the trajectory of his own organisation, the formation of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, the first mass political platform launched by RSS itself,—was just a slip of tongue and not much should be read into it. If that is the case, then how should one interpret his utterly false claim that Nehru did not even attend Patel’s funeral—despite proof to the contrary—or what is the explanation for his ‘pearls of wisdom’ at Patna rally wherein he is reported to have said that Alexander had come to Bihar and was defeated by Biharis—despite the obvious fact that Alexander never crossed the Ganges—or placing Taxila in Bihar although it is in Pakistan or saying that Chandragupta Maurya, the legendary King, belonged to the Gupta dynasty?

What one is concerned here is not just a slip of tongue here and there—which can happen with anyone but the fact that it is a new genre of speech which is on the one hand (according to observers) ‘entertaining’ and ‘captivating’ but if one digs further one finds it is built on sheer fiction, to say the least. And there is no spontaneity involved here leading to ‘slip of tongue’, everything is deliberate, presented before the masses in a packaged form for wider consumption to serve the larger agenda based on exclusion and hate.

It would not be off the mark if one says that NaMo has slowly metamorphosed into ‘P.N. Oak’ of Indian politics. It need be mentioned here that P.N. Oak was a very popular ‘historian’ in Hindutva circles who claimed that ‘that Christianity and Islam are both derivatives of Hinduism, or that the Catholic Vatican, Kaaba and the Taj Mahal were once Hindu temples to Shiva’.

II

Three months before his death Sardar Patel said: “Our leader is Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Bapu appointed him his heir and successor during his lifetime and even declared it. It is the duty of the soldiers of Bapu that they abide by his orders. One who does not accept this order by heart would prove a sinner before god. I am not a disloyal soldier. For me it is unimportant what my place is. I only know that I am that very place where Bapu asked me to stand.’’

(Translated from original hindi, Purnahuti, Chaturth Khand, Page 465, Pyarelal, Navjeevan Prakashan, Ahmedabad) This he stated at Indore on October 2, 1950.

An important characteristics of these Modi-speaks is that in his hurry to belittle the Congress or stigmatise his adversaries, Modi has done a grave injustice to Patel’s persona and abused history to no end. In fact it would be better to put it this way that NaMo has carved out a Patel which suits his politics but is unrecognisable to anyone outside the Parivar. “Sardar Patel is no more a symbol of pride for the Gujaratis. Today, Modi has reduced him to a symbol of victimhood of Nehru dynasty and an unfulfilled desire.” (http://www.truthof-gujarat.com/vicitimisation-sardar-vallabhbhai-patel)

On the one hand he euologises Patel, claims that India’s future would have been different if he would have become the first PM of India, tries to create a false adversarial relation between him and Nehru and simultaneously in the same breath ‘abuses’ him. Perhaps if wiser sense would have prevailed he would not have held the Congress responsible for partition or for being instrumental in changing the history and geography of the subcontinent knowing fully well that Patel was part of the triumvirate apart from Gandhi and Nehru, which played a key role before and after partition.

Perhaps it would be opportune to read Sardar Patel himself in a book titled the Nehru Abhinandan Granth—A birthday book released in 1949 to mark the diamond jubilee birth celebrations of Pt Nehru, recognising Pt Nehru’s credentials as the idol of the nation, hero of the masses and leader of the people and also addressing Nehru as a person who is willing to seek and ready to take any advice, contrary to the impressions created by some interested persons.

“Jawaharlal and I have been fellow members of the Congress, soldiers in the struggle for freedom,..This familiarity, nearness, intimacy and brotherly affection make it difficult for me to sum up for public appreciation, but then, the idol of the masses, the leader of the people, the Prime Minister of the country and the hero of the masses, whose noble record and great achievements are an open book, hardly needs any commendation from me.”

“...As one older in years it has been my privilege to tender advice to him on the manifold problems which we have been faced in both administrative and organisational fields. I have found him willing to seek and ready to take it. Contrary to the impressions created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s point of view as the occasion demanded and valuing each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can.”

He further writes: “in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence, he should have been our leading light and that when India was faced with crisis after crisis, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has laboured for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence. I have seen him age quickly during that period on account of the worries of the high office that he holds and the tremendous reponsibilities that he wields.”

Of course, Modi cannot be held solely responsible for denigrating our ‘own’ heroes. For someone who has been a Swayamsevak since his teens, where you are fed with all sorts of P.N. Oakisms as part of the Baudhik training can you expect something better? In fact, anyone conversant with the Sangh history can vouch that there is nothing new as far as ‘abusing’ our own heroes is concerned if it helps present a sanitised image of the RSS. As an aside one can look at how the RSS had no qualms in denigrating Savarkar himself to ‘prove’ its innocence in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic and the alleged role played by the RSS in it is still debated. Few years back when some fresh facts emerged to buttress the case, a RSS had issued a press statement denying any culpability in this killing and in the process itself maligned Savarkar—a key ideologue of the project of Hindutva.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has today denied that it had anything to do with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and as a “proof” of its innocence circulated a copy of a letter written by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru just 28 days after the murder. However, it seems that the RSS overlooked the fact that the same letter blamed V.D. Savarkar for hatching the conspiracy and “seeing it through” while emphasising that “the assassi-nation was welcomed by those of the RSS and the [Hindu] Mahasabha”.

(RSS releases ‘proof’ of its innocence, by Neena Vyas, August 17, 2004, http://www.hindu.com/2004/08/18/stories/2004081805151100.htm)

III

That day Delhi had caught Punjab’s infection. “I will not tolerate Delhi becoming another Lahore,” Vallabhbhai declared in Nehru’s and Mount-batten’s presence. He publicly threatened partisan officials with punishment, and at his instructions orders to shoot rioters at sight were issued on September 7. Four Hindu rioters were shot dead at the railway station in Old Delhi.

(Patel: A Life, Rajmohan Gandhi, Navjeevan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, p. 428)

Whatever might be the claims of his cheerleaders—who felt happy when NaMo talked of ‘Hindus and Muslims uniting together to fight poverty’ or ‘Pahle Shauchalay aur Phir Devalay’ (Toilets first, Temples later)—the core of his ‘divisive, prejudice-deepening politics’ is not going to go away easily. It would be too much to expect that one fine morning NaMo would be able to undertake a Kafkasquean metamorphosis and do away with what his biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay calls ‘myopic view of history, an exaggerated notion in his abilities and disdain for the viewpoint of the ‘other’’.

For someone who is in a hurry to reach the topmost post in the country—any sort of ‘unlearning’ seems impossible

A beginning can only be made if he tenders an unconditional apology to the carnage in Gujarat in 2002 and opens himself to a legal scrutiny for his alleged acts of omission and commission during that tumultuous period.

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