By Mr. Aijaz Zaka Syed
Who would have thought that five decades of Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, the architect of modern India would not only find himself in the dock and abused on a daily basis in the country’s Parliament, he would be blamed for every problem under the sun!
In tune with the ideological flavour of the times that we live in, even the Congress Party seems to have abandoned the man who led it for many years in very challenging circumstances.
As for the government of the day, it has gone to elaborate lengths to belittle the man who firmly stands against everything that the BJP and its Parivar represent and believe in.
Since it came to power, the BJP and its extended clan have been pursuing a clever strategy of hijacking national icons like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel and even the Dalit icon Dr Ambedkar, the author of Indian constitution who detested Hinduism and its caste hierarchy, effortlessly canonising them as part of their own pantheon of ‘national leadership’.
On the other hand, they have 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) and blaming him for all of modern India’s woes and warts.
They have pitted Patel with his hardline, 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 the Congress and independent India.
In the run-up to the 2014 General Elections, Modi who has consciously fashioned himself in the mould of the ‘Iron man’ and fellow Gujarati chose to trash Nehru in the presence of the then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, bemoaning the fact that Patel could not lead India after Independence. It is profoundly ironic that, in the words of historian Ramachandra Guha, the BJP and Sangh idolise someone who had been a lifelong Congress man.
It is nonetheless true that the Right shares a sense of ideological kinship and affinity with Patel. In 1966, M S Golwalkar, the RSS supremo wrote in his book, Bunch of Thoughts: “We were fortunate that we had in Sardar Patel a person with an iron will to face the reality in those days.”
For his part Patel, a religious conservative at heart and perhaps the first practitioner of ‘soft Hindutva’ clearly admired the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh 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 ruling Congress Party: “In the Congress, those who are in power feel that by the virtue of authority they will be able to crush the RSS. You cannot crush an organization by using the danda (stick). The danda is meant for thieves and dacoits. They are patriots who love their country. Only their trend of thought is diverted. They are to be won over by Congressmen, by love.”
Things dramatically changed after the assassination of Gandhi, carried out by Nathuram Godse, a veteran of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. Of course, RSS quickly disowned Godse. And the fact that its ideology of hate and propaganda demonising Gandhi, holding him responsible for Partition and being ‘soft’ on Muslims led to his killing was not sufficiently proved in the court. However, it was hardly a secret as to who inspired and directly or indirectly was responsible for the assassination of the Mahatma.
No wonder Patel was forced to ban the RSS. In a letter to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, later the founder of the Jan Sangh, the forbear of the BJP, 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. There is no doubt in my mind the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state.”
However, 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 though, the RSS floated the Jan Sangh which would later be replaced by the BJP under the leadership of Vajpayee and Advani.
No wonder the BJP and the rest of the Parivar feel 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 and presided over the ‘police action’ in 1948 against the State of Hyderabad, the last bastion of Muslim glory in India, resulting in thousands of killings and rapes.
Behind the deification of Patel and shameless appropriation of national icons lies the Hindutva 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 purely a Hindu perspective as against Nehru’s pluralist approach, on the other.
The Parivar knows full well that without demolishing Nehru’s legacy, it cannot succeed in reshaping the idea of India. For the country we know as India today was built on the vision and ideals 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 entirely goes to Nehru.
John K Galbraith, the eminent US economist who served as his country’s ambassador to India during those defining years, offers an interesting assessment of Nehru: “With Gandhi, Nehru was, indeed, India: Gandhi was its history; Nehru, after independence, its reality.”
Leading the young nation in its formative and crucial years, Nehru was indeed India. He defined its identity, charted its trajectory of growth, informed its world view and shaped its political and national character. Urbane, liberal, humanist, left-of-centre and yes above all, staunchly secular – the most abused trait and belief in Modi’s India – Nehru fashioned the young, emerging nation in his own image.
Even people of my generation, born after Nehru’s death, grew up perpetually feeling his brooding presence and influence everywhere.
It was under Nehru that India took long and decisive strides on the path of development and growth. The country gifted itself a fine constitution, established parliament, held successful elections, built industries, factories, dams and roads, set up the bureaucracy, and founded world-class universities and R&D laboratories. It carved itself a distinct identity of its own. Above all, Nehru built a progressive nation that took pride in its diversity and pluralist traditions.
Today, 53 years after his death, he still stands tall, towering above everyone else, including the inflated pygmies of Hindutva, thanks to his immense contribution and the indelible imprint he has left on the country and its institutions. More important, Nehru and his powerful legacy, seen in the strong political and democratic institutions of the country, remain a challenge and stumbling block in the way of the Parivar’s ambitions to paint India saffron.
If the Parivar’s idea of Hindu Rashtra is to take shape, Nehru’s idea of an inclusive, tolerant India must die. As Dilip Cherian notes in Tehelka, in pulling Nehru down, without understanding his achievements, his detractors reveal their own smallness. In trying to obliterate Nehru’s legacy, the Hindutva clan could end up destroying India.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist and former editor. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AijazZaka