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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 19 New Delhi April 27, 2019

Why BJP Seeks to Discredit Nehru and Family

Monday 29 April 2019

by Mahendra Ved

Nehru is the BJP’s principal target because he not only ‘discovered’ India but also piloted what free India became for 16 long years

A cartoon doing media rounds amidst the Election 2019 campaign shows India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a mischievous smile on his face, decamping with all ‘achievements’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Arguably, this responds to Nehru’s sustained denigration by the Modi Government, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates. Subtle and defensive, it is unable to match the aggressive campaign to render India “Congress-free”.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, called ‘pappu’ (simpleton) and worse for long, claims he nurses no grudge against Modi. He even hugged him in Parliament. But his gesture, that critics panned, but some thought could be a game-changer, has drowned in hate-filled cacophony.

On the Rafale aircraft deal wherein the government has allegedly favoured a business house, Rahul says that Modi, who calls himself ‘chowkidar’ (watchdog), is actually a ‘thief’ — “chowkidar chor hai”. His using this jibe, unwisely attributing it to the Supreme Court has, however, landed him in trouble. Like ‘chai’ (tea) in 2014, ‘Chor’ has become this election’s buzzword.

[Belatedly, however, he expressed “regrets” for the remark saying his comments and references to the Supreme Court’s order got intermingled with the Apex Court’s instruction in the Rafale matter, conveying that ”my statement was made in the heat of political campaigning”.]

The Opposition parties have found no reply to the Modi-led campaign that focuses heavily, but selectively, on national security issues. The focus is solely on Pakistan (Muslims at home, beware!). With helpful sections of media, China (military standoff in Sikkim, alleged dumping of consumer goods and shielding of Pakistani militant Masood Azahar) is tactfully kept out.

The campaign of calumny is extended to all critics of the government. They are being dubbed “anti-national”, prompting even marginalised BJP patriarch L.K. Advani to protest.

Take note—beneath this mutual name-calling, some of it personal and derogatory, some targeting religious minorities and Dalits and unsparing of women, is a thinly concealed ideological war. Howsoever diluted and putrid, it makes this Lok Sabha election, although the 17th over seven decades, a watershed.

Socialist leader Rammanohar Lohia, among the last of India’s thinking politicians, classified the country’s political cultures into Congress, Communist/Socialist and “Hindu nationalist” Jana Sangh (BJP’s earlier avatar).

Of the three, the Communists, having scored several self-goals, are marginalised in the essentially Right-of-Centre discourse. Contra-dictions-prone Socialists, both anti-Congress and anti-communist, are divided into caste-oriented regional parties, further divided on support and opposition to Modi/BJP. They are among the numerous regional parties scattered across the country hoping to be king-makers, should a clear parliamentary majority elude Modi.

The fight for the national space, thus, is essentially between a weak but vying-to-surge Congress and the BJP, now the country’s dominant political force ruling at the Centre and in 20 States. This sharpens the conflict as never before with baiting Nehru and his family an important ingredient.

The campaign against Nehru is not new; nor against his daughter Indira and grandson Rajiv who later became the Premiers; nor against Italian-born Sonia who snatched power from the BJP in 2004.

It gained currency each time the Congress lost power. US-based writer Ved Mehta did a scathing study, and so did many others, including Nehru’s own one-time private secretary, M.O. Mathai. While Mehta is forgotten, Mathai’s scurrilous writings keep re-surfacing.

Atal Behari Vajpayee (1998-2004), a BJP Premier, but a liberal and a known Nehru admirer, had discouraged this. There was some grace in public discourse. Attacking Mahatma Gandhi and demonising the Nehru-Gandhi family were confined to those believing in undoing India’s 1947 partition. They gained little political currency.

It’s no holds barred now since the Congress performed abysmally in 2014 and the BJP consolidated it hold. The Mahatma’s assassin, too, has a temple.

Now, we gather, through books and social media, that the Nehrus were “Muslims-converted to Hinduism”; that Indira married Firoze Gandhi, a Muslim, not a Zoroastrian and that after Sonia married Rajiv and their daughter Priyanka married Robert Vadra, the family has become ‘Christian’.

Significantly, this has gained currency, especially among the urban educated who, otherwise, call themselves ‘modern’, but don’t pause to think why and how should religions matter.

Sadly, those who have failed to create history are now attempting to rewrite history wherein Nehru has a place that cannot be deleted. This has accompanied attempts to appropriate past leaders like Sardar Patel (with the world’s tallest statue) and Madan Mohan Malaviya (conferred Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award).

Nehru is their principal target because he not only ‘discovered’ India through his iconic book, but also piloted what free India became, good or otherwise, for 16 long years. Countering the fact that Chandigarh city and Bhakra-Nangal dams were built under Nehru’s watch and his role in establishing institutions of science and higher education is integral to the BJP’s search for a raison d’etre.

Congress’ own performance over the past six decades has greatly contributed to this process. It has shed much of the Mahatma-Nehru ethos. For the many good she did, Indira stands identified with the draconian Emergency. Rajiv’s ill-advised play of the Hindu-Muslim/mandir-masjid game to counter the BJP in the 1980s only helped in the latter’s consolidation.

Today, his son, Rahul, eschews any secular pretense, politically, and is declared a sacred thread-wearing Shaivite. Nehru’s agnostic approach and Indira Gandhi’s secularism are passé.

Like secularism, socialism, the ‘allies’ the Congress is fighting include the Communists. The historic collaborate-despite-conflict relationship is over when, ironically, the Congress’ Election Manifesto, a document of substance, qualifies it to be slotted as a progressive, Left-of-Centre force. In a double-irony, it also distinguishes it from the BJP, whose B team it is perceived to be playing.

Worse, the party’s democratic DNA has changed. It has become a family fiefdom. Its members at all levels can’t even conceive of a leader other than a Nehru-Gandhi at the top. This has been on for half-a-century now, since Indira split the party in 1969 and again in 1978, when party heads and State Chief Ministers began being appointed from New Delhi.

This ‘dynasty’ bit has refurbished with the entry of Priyanka. Congress’ most potent weapon, she could confront Modi in Varanasi. She has a striking public presence and reports are that she charms with her conversational style. Whether her resemblance to grandma Indira, who was assassinated 34 years ago, would appeal to people, particularly the 85 million young, remains to be seen.

Modi uses ‘dynasty’ as a dirty word at will, only against the Congress, despite the fact that the BJP has 18 such families of its own. The BJP’s own decision-making is over-centralised in just two—Modi himself and party chief Amit Shah.

He prides himself in being unattached and thus incorruptible. It’s not that one thing proves the other. But he is targeting, rightly or otherwise, other singles on graft charges. Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Navin Patnaik are single supremos, like what late Jayalalithaa was. And he is selective about family-run parties of M.K. Stalin, Chandrababu Naidu and his rival Jaganmohan Reddy, Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh/Akhilesh Yadav, the Abdullahs, besides Telengana’s Chandrashekhar Rao and Karnataka’s Kumaraswamy.

To return to the Congress, its prospects remain iffy despite its electoral victories in three States last December. Ironically, they have made it difficult for the party to negotiate alliances. Its young President who bears the brunt for “sixty years of Congress rule” is himself an untried man never having held office in a government. He cannot rally the Opposition behind him because the seniors out there are afraid that the party could re-emerge at their cost. Seen as weak or indecisive, his State satraps have also scuttled pre-poll alliance(s) that could have effectively challenged the BJP. The Opposition has a plethora of prime ministerial candidates. This is advantage BJP.

Besides what happens of Modi/BJP, the other key takeaway of the current elections will be the future of the Congress Party, India’s oldest. Of course, India is not, and cannot be a two-party state for a long time. These elections will determine the role they could play in shaping the course of the nation’s destiny. It will decide which way, and how. India’s polity and society will go in the near future.

Mahendra Ved is the President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (2016-2018) A senior journalist, he can be reached at mahendraved07[at]gmail.com

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