Why Hindutva loves Nehru

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Watching Narendra Modi’s recent marathon performance in Parliament had been a surreal experience. Angry, bitter and vengeful, he did not speak like the confident leader of a party that has enjoyed four years of absolute power. It was more like the cynical harangue of a frustrated politician who has spent long years out of power and in ignominy.

Modi spoke for nearly 2 ½ hours and much of it was devoted to the Congress, a party that has barely 48 members in Parliament against the staggering 300-plus strength of the ruling BJP+NDA.

Modi’s party does not just rule from Delhi, it is in power in 19 states in the length and breadth of the country whereas the grand old party of Gandhi and Nehru’s pedigree has been reduced to a couple of states like Punjab and Karnataka. It’s perhaps the lowest the Congress has fallen in its long history.

Yet the PM and his Parivar remain obsessed with the opposition party now headed by Rahul Gandhi.

In his long and gruelling speech in the two houses of Parliament, Modi made at least a dozen direct attacks on the Gandhis, including those who aren’t around.

It has been 70 years since India’s Independence and more than half a century since Nehru’s departure in 1964. Of which, the BJP has been in power for the past 4 years, not to forget its earlier stint under Vajpayee. Yet all Modi talks about is a down and out Congress from every possible platform, including during foreign sojourns.

During the 2014 Elections, he gave the call for a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ over the past four years, he and other BJP bigwigs have made the same pitch ad nauseam, without raising the hackles of Election Commission. Even the Congress seems to have taken it in its stride, without ever protesting the open calls for its decimation.

In any other country, this would have sparked spontaneous protests. Imagine the Republicans calling for a ‘Democrat-free America’! This would be unthinkable even under Trump.

Modi spoke like a combative prosecutor in a packed courtroom, recounting each and every crime of those in the dock, once again blaming the Congress for all of the nation’s woes.

While the late mother-son duo of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi incurred his wrath for the Emergency and 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom respectively, he tore into Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh for corruption and mishandling of issues like Telangana. However, his choicest attacks had been reserved for Jawaharlal Nehru, the charismatic first prime minister and the architect of modern, democratic India.

For far too long the Parivar has blamed Nehru for a series of ‘historic blunders’ — from the Partition of India to the ‘mishandling’ of Kashmir, and from the ‘abject surrender’ to China to deliberate ‘humiliation’ of Sardar Patel.

Since it came to power, the BJP has been pursuing a clever strategy of hijacking national icons such as Gandhi, Patel and even the Dalit icon Dr. Ambedkar, the father of Indian constitution who despised Hinduism and its caste hierarchy.

On the other hand, it has been relentlessly attacking Nehru and chipping away at his awesome legacy. The architect of modern India and easily its tallest leader after Gandhi is being portrayed as a weak, indecisive man with feet of clay and ‘corrupt morals’.

They have sought to pit Patel with his anti-Muslim image against Nehru projecting him as a bigger and abler leader who should have, in their view, succeeded Gandhi as the leader of independent India.

Modi who has sought to fashion himself in the mould of the ‘iron man’ has repeatedly bemoaned the fact that Patel could not lead India after Independence.

Hindutva shares a sense of ideological kinship with Patel. Patel, a religious conservative at heart and perhaps the first practitioner of ‘soft Hindutva’ admired the RSS as a “socio-cultural” organisation and its members as “patriots who love their country.”

Three weeks before Gandhi’s assassination, Patel even invited RSS workers to join the Congress. However, things dramatically changed after the Mahatma’s assassination by Godse, a Hindu Mahasabha-RSS veteran.

Of course, RSS quickly disowned Godse. And the fact that its ideology of hate and propaganda demonising Gandhi and accusing him of being “soft” on Muslims led to his killing was not sufficiently proved in the court. But it was hardly a secret who inspired and directly or indirectly was responsible for the assassination of the Mahatma.

Patel was forced to ban the RSS. In a letter to Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Patel wrote: “As a result of the activities of these two bodies (the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha), particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. No doubt the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasbha was involved in this conspiracy.”

Surprisingly, Patel withdrew the RSS ban only a year and half later with a warning that the RSS would not take part in politics. Within a year, the RSS floated the Jan Sangh which would later be replaced by the BJP under the leadership of Vajpayee and Advani.

No wonder the Parivar feels so indebted to Patel. However, there is more to it than merely the love of the man who after the Partition bluntly told India’s Muslims to “behave” or go to Pakistan.

Behind the BJP’s hatred for Nehru and appropriation of icons like Gandhi, Patel and Ambedkar lies the stratagem to paper over its own role, or lack of it, in India’s freedom struggle on the one hand and reimagine the national narrative from a Hindutva perspective as against Nehru’s pluralist approach on the other.

Nehru’s formidable legacy towers over and stands against everything that Hindutva represents. The Parivar knows very well that without demolishing Nehru’s legacy, it cannot succeed in reshaping the idea of India. For the India as we know it was built on the vision of the first prime minister.

If India, bucking the trend in the region, grew into a secular and tolerant, multicultural democracy with a benevolent state pursuing balanced growth and looking out for its poor and dispossessed, the credit largely goes to Nehru.

Leading the young nation in its formative years, Nehru defined India’s identity, charted its trajectory of growth, informed its world view and shaped its national character. Urbane, liberal and staunchly secular, Nehru fashioned the young, emerging nation in his own image.

It was under Nehru that India took long and decisive strides on the path of development and growth. He built a progressive nation that took pride in its diversity and pluralist traditions.

He still stands tall today, towering above everyone else thanks to the indelible imprint he has left on the country. More important, Nehru and his powerful legacy, seen in India’s strong democratic institutions, remain the stumbling block in the way of Parivar’s ambitions to paint India saffron. If Hindu Rashtra is to take shape, Nehru’s idea of an inclusive India must die. But in trying to obliterate Nehru’s legacy, Hindutva may end up unmaking India.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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