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THE NEW PATRIOTS
- The BJP's Bangalore satyagraha set a new low

In early September, the Bharatiya Janata Party organized a week-long satyagraha in Bangalore. The provocation was the arrest of Uma Bharti and her detention in the north Karnataka town of Hubli.

There are, as we know, satyagrahas and satyagrahas. This Gandhian technique of protest has been greatly abused over the years. Where once it was intended to bring suffering on oneself so as to inspire a change of heart in one's opponent, it has degenerated into a form of blackmail. However, even by these by now much debased standards the BJP Bangalore 'satyagraha' set a new low.

The modus operandi of this tamasha was as follows. Each morning, a different 'national leader' would take a flight from Palam to the HAL airport in Bangalore. One day it was L.K. Advani, the next day Arun Jaitley, the third day Sushma Swaraj, the fourth, Maneka Gandhi. They would be driven from the airport to the centre of town in a cavalcade of party workers. At the Town Hall, a press conference would be called where the newsmen were fed soundbites and dosas. The cameramen would then be invited out on the street, to catch the Great Leader wave the National Flag and shout slogans against the Central and state governments. After ten or fifteen minutes of this the police would take the Leader aside, and place him or her 'under arrest'. He or she would be taken to the police station, offered tea and biscuits, and released after half-an-hour, in time to catch the evening flight back to Delhi.

One of the senior BJP leaders on display, the former finance and foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, saluted the Bangalore satyagraha as the 'third freedom struggle'. A fine struggle indeed. You sleep in your bed in Delhi one night, travel business class to Bangalore in the morning, meet a few friends and acolytes, shout a few slogans to get yourself 'arrested', spend a few minutes in amicable conversation with the police before travelling business class back to Delhi, thus to once more sleep securely in your own bed. Such is the stuff of which our Hindutva satyagrahis are made.

When this kind of drama (the Hindi word 'natak' works very well here) is compared to the original freedom struggle, one does not know whether to laugh or to cry. India won its independence because countless men and women spent decades in jail for their cause. They gave up everything ' family, education, career ' to follow Gandhi's call to offer satyagraha against the oppressive laws of the alien rulers. They did so quietly and without fuss, not looking nor asking for publicity. It helped that there was no television around, of course.

One can try and be charitable. Perhaps the BJP leaders can compare their own antics to those original satyagrahas because they know no better. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. And the ideological forebears of the Advanis and the Jaitleys stayed scrupulously clear of the freedom struggle. The leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were not especially keen to take part in the Salt Satyagraha or the Quit India movements. Therefore, in the shakhas of the RSS there is no first, or second, or third-hand experience of the original freedom struggle. That might be why men like Yashwant Sinha see it fit to compare their ten-minute long arrest in Bangalore to the sufferings of Gandhi and company.

'What did you do in the War, daddy' was a question often asked by British children of their parents in the Fifties and Sixties. I guess that some Indian kids growing up at the same time, fed in their schools tales of nationalist heroism, would have come home and asked their father: 'What did you do in the swatantrata sangram, pitaji' If appa was a Tamil brahmin or baba a Bengali bhadralok, chances were that he was compelled to answer: 'continued to be a loyal servant of the British raj, sonny'. But were he an RSS man, an honest RSS man, he would have had to make a more damaging admission still: 'Went to the shakha to learn how to butcher a few Muslims, sonny.'

The fact that they stayed so completely apart from the freedom movement is a matter of deep embarrassment to the sangh parivar. It explains why they seek now to appropriate men like Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and V.D. Savarkar, who did fight hard (and heroically) against the raj and spent their time in British jails. In appropriating these genuine freedom fighters they take advantage of the lack of basic historical knowledge among the Indian public. Both Bhagat Singh and Bose detested Hindu chauvinism; religious plurality and harmony were among the strongest of their political commitments. As for Savarkar, although there is some similarity between his and the RSS's points of view, while he lived he intensely disliked the sangh and kept his distance from it.

The men and women of the sangh parivar may now seek to wrap themselves around the National Flag. But between 1921 and 1947, indeed for several decades after that, they refused to salute the tiranga jhanda, preferring instead to salute their own sectarian flag, the so-called bhagwa dhwaj. Among the hundreds of thousands of men and women who were inspired by the national flag to fight for freedom, very few were from the RSS.

The 'second' freedom struggle referred to by Yashwant Sinha was the fight against the notorious Emergency of Indira Gandhi. In this struggle the sangh parivar did play a part, along with the socialists, the Gandhians and the left communists, all working under the leadership of that staunchly secular socialist Jayaprakash Narayan. Still, it is rich of Sinha to invoke that struggle, since he was a loyal IAS officer all through the time it lasted. (Why didn't he heed JP's call to stop serving an immoral regime') And, in the year 2004, it is rich of his party to invoke it as well, when so many of the villains of the Emergency ' Jagmohan, Maneka Gandhi and V.C. Shukla, for instance ' are senior leaders of the BJP.

The sangh parivar likes to speak of the 'pseudo-secularism' of the Congress and the left. There is some truth to that charge, since those professedly secular parties have done little to bring about a secular civil society or a truly secular frame of laws. By the same token, despite their frequent professions of patriotism, the men and women of the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are really only 'pseudo-patriots'. Of the three freedom struggles they speak of, they themselves stayed away from the first (and most significant). They did take part in the second, but have since admitted into their fold the very brutes they opposed. The third, ongoing, 'freedom struggle' is exclusively the preserve of the sangh parivar. But then only the parivar would want to claim it as its own.

But the BJP and its cohorts are pseudo-patriots in a deeper sense still. Although they ruled for six years at the Centre, and have often been in power in the states, one cannot think of a single initiative under any of their administrations that has actually helped ordinary Indians. Going into the 2004 elections, they claimed various achievements such as the infotech revolution and the nuclear bomb: but these, under closer scrutiny, turned out to be the handiwork of previous regimes. At the same time, the record of governments under other parties is very mixed. Thus there have been corrupt Congress regimes, but also some that have nurtured industrial growth (as under Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu) or rural development (as under Vasantrao Naik in Maharashtra). The Left Front in Bengal has destroyed enterprise and innovation in the cities; at the same time, it has brought about genuine reform and redistribution in the countryside. And in Kerala, both Congress and left regimes have worked to enhance the rights of the landless, to educate women, and to provide public healthcare of a quality that matches many a 'developed' country.

The record of other parties in power is black tinged with white; that of the BJP, unredeemingly black. It is because they have nothing positive to offer, that they fall back on 'satyagrahas' of the kind they recently put on in Bangalore.

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