|Leaders the parivar would have liked to call its own
Would have entered the
RSS-BJP’s pantheon of
nationalist icons had the cloud
of Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s
assassin, not hung over the
Hindutva parivar’s head. Godse had links with the RSS.
That didn’t deter the saffron
fraternity from trying to
co-opt Gandhi. Atal
Bihari Vajpayee advocated
“Gandhian socialism”, L.K.
Advani and Narendra Modi
invoke him frequently.
In his autobiography,
My Country, My Life, Advani
claimed the RSS only had “minor differences” with the
A 1961 quote from Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, one
of the Jan Sangh founders
and a BJP ideologue, was
revealing. Upadhyaya said: “With all respect for Gandhiji,
let us cease to call him
‘Father of the Nation’.”
Nehru to try
Patel its own.
It gave the
go-by to facts
that Patel and
to sour their
relations till the end.
Advani extolled him as a “Loh Purush”
(Iron Man) and held him up as a role
model. Modi’s focus on Patel may
have prompted the UPA government to
release ads on Patel for the first time
on his birth anniversary on October 31
The RSS accorded him
the place of a “youth ideal”
and demanded he be
conferred a Bharat Ratna.
A distant relative of Singh recently invited Modi to
release the latest edition
of the revolutionary’s Jail Diary but the idea was shot down by the rest of his kin
New Delhi, Oct. 31: When Varun Gandhi joined the BJP in February 2004, the late Pramod Mahajan had explained what his “real import” was to a few journalists.
“From now on, we can also proudly claim we have a great-grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and a great-great-grandson of Motilal Nehru in our ranks. A vacuum is getting filled,” Mahajan said.
That “vacuum” arose from a fundamental inadequacy the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP admitted to in private conversations but had never publicly acknowledged until today: the lack of a historical corpus that anchors the birth and life of a political entity, of a shortfall of historical icons in its pantheon.
As with Patel, Netaji’s
documented differences with Gandhi and Nehru were
periodically exploited by the Sangh to claim him as their own. In April 2002, Advani told INA veterans that Bose should be elevated to such a height that no leader could match it
for 55 years. The parivar’s
ideal pantheon would consist
of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Bose, Veer Savarkar and Bhagat Singh
The Sangh woke up to his legacy after the success of
the Bahujan Samaj Party. Notwithstanding Ambedkar’s scathing attacks on
Hinduism, the BJP tried
to pull off a coup when it made Mayawati Uttar Pradesh’s first Dalit chief
minister. It thought the
Dalits would abandon
Kanshi Ram and Mayawati and become loyal to it. The plan was unsuccessful
The RSS-BJP spearheaded
the 150th-year celebrations of
the monk in 2012, with Modi
starting a yatra to mobilise votes
in his name before the Gujarat
Vivekananda’s central conviction
of religious universalism and of
Hinduism being an “ideal” vehicle of the universalism was antithetical to the RSS belief in the supremacy of its version of Hinduism or Hindutva. To Vivekananda, all religions were universal — equal and true
The author of the “total
aimed at unseating Indira Gandhi in the seventies,
was in part mentored by
the RSS. It provided JP
its organisational heft and propaganda machinery
that eventually wiped
out the Congress in the
1977 election. The socialists succeeded in enshrining
JP in their list of heroes
more than the parivar.
The quest for the appropriation of Vallabhbhai Patel, who remained a staunch Congressman till the last despite his documented differences with Jawaharlal Nehru, is part of an RSS-BJP project to seek a place in India’s pre-Independence movements by co-opting or adopting the symbols and spearheads from an assemblage that belonged to the Congress or another outfit not even remotely linked to the Sangh.
Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, B.R. Ambedkar and Swami Vivekananda were the other leaders and thinkers from that era the RSS-BJP has tried to own but with mixed results.
“For a party that calls itself a nationalist party, indeed it must be embarrassing to not own a small slice of pre-independent India’s history. The Left was not in the Congress but it launched anti-imperialist struggles on its own. Bose fought on his own. But the two organisations that parented the BJP, namely the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, were never associated with the freedom movement. They say Veer Savarkar (the president of the Mahasabha) was sent to the Cellular jail (in the Andamans) but that was before he embraced Hindutva,” said Mridula Mukherjee, a professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the co-author of India’s Struggle for Independence.
Savarkar had worked for a proscribed insurrectionist outfit in England and was nabbed by British police.
Narendra Modi has tried to usurp the slice Mukherjee spoke of by raising Patel’s statue in the Narmada and hammering home the point that until he put Patel on the national map, the Congress had never even taken note of his birth anniversary.
Other BJP leaders used different means. Atal Bihari Vajpayee advocated “Gandhian socialism” as a panacea for economic problems in the 1980s. Modi, too, periodically infuses a dose of Gandhian rural self-reliance in his speeches.
But the shadow of Nathuram Godse looms large over the “parivar’s” Gandhi outreaches. Nathuram, Gandhi’s assassin, was linked to the RSS although L.K. Advani claimed he had sundered his connections in 1933.
Nathuram’s brother, Gopal, who was also an accused in the trial for conspiracy to murder, had revealed in an interview to Frontline magazine (January 28, 1994) that all the four brothers “grew up in the RSS rather than in our home”.
Gopal was critical of the RSS for “disowning” Nathuram and called it “cowardice”, although he did admit: “You can say that the RSS did not pass a resolution, saying, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi’.”
K.N. Govindacharya, a former BJP general secretary who presides over the Save Democracy Front, placed the RSS-Gandhi issue in a nuanced frame. “There were two issues over which the Sangh differed with Gandhiji. One was the pursuit of non-violence in the public domain which it thought was impractical. The other was he failed to read the collective psychology of Muslims. He thought all of them were like the gentle, erudite Bohra lawyers he had engaged with in South Africa. Otherwise, the Sangh and Gandhiji converged on matters like swadeshi, cow protection and village self-reliance.”
That there is no easy resolution to the complexities straining the RSS-BJP and Gandhi equation was revealed in a 1961 statement from the Jan Sangh-BJP ideologue, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who is as revered as the Sangh’s first sarsanghchalak, K.B. Hedgewar, and M.S. Golwalkar, his successor. He said: “With all respect for Gandhiji, let us cease to call him ‘Father of the Nation’. If we understand the old basis of nationalism, then it will be clear that it is nothing but Hinduism.”
The RSS-BJP’s pro-Ambedkar overtures were predicated on what Dalit writers claimed was a “misinterpretation” of his views on Islam.
Ambedkar barely figured in the parivar’s consciousness until the rise of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and the prospect that it would take away the Dalit votes wholesale. That’s when the RSS propagated the theory that although Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism, he was pro-Hindu.
An excerpt from volume 1 of Ambedkar’s work, Annihilation of Caste, revealed his political clarity on who the real enemy was. “The Hindus criticise the Mohammedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the Inquisition. But really speaking who is better and more worthy of our respect — the Mohammedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation or the Hindu who…would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready...to make it a part of their own make-up? I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mohammedan has been cruel the Hindu has been mean and meanness is worse than cruelty,” Ambedkar stated.
Co-option and history’s reclamation has not been easy for the RSS-BJP. But S. Gurumurthy, a friend and adviser of the RSS, said: “The communists have been placing Swami Vivekananda in their literature. If we look hard enough, there may be areas on which Golwalkar and Nehru converged. Nobody is appropriating anybody’s legacy. We are looking for convergences and not contradictions.”