Manufacturing/Undermining National Icons


- Ram Puniyani


Many social and political processes related to projection of some icons and undermining of the others have intensified during last few years. Even during the last regime of NDA led BJP rule from 1998, Savakar’s portrait was unveiled in the Parliament. At one level the game of undermining some icons and projecting icons is a part of various political streams and RSS seems to be the past master in the same. One recalls its machinery has been putting forward some names, bypassing others and undermining some others. Since the time Modi has come to power as Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse is being upheld by many from RSS combine. One BJP MP called him a patriot and other BJP MP said that Godse chose the wrong target, instead of Gandhi; he should have chosen Nehru as his target. There are demands from various quarters to allot land for raising his statues in different places.

Times and over again Sardar Patel is projected vis a vis Nehru. In one of the speeches Modi said Patel should have been the first Prime minister of India instead of Nehru. Various ‘word of mouth’ propaganda to denigrate Nehru has been the consistent activity of many. Again to undermine Nehru Modi said something which was not true. He said that Nehru did not attend the funeral of Sardar Patel. This again is a blatant lie. As far as Mahatma Gandhi is concerned this present ruling dispensation has projected him but only for the values of cleanliness. One knows that the stature of Mahatma is such that even those who do not believe in his inclusive nationalism have also to pay obeisance to him at home as well as abroad. To circumvent this problem while the core essence of Gandhi’s struggle for Hindu Muslim unity is sidelined, the teachings of the Mahatma for National Integration are give a go bye and he is projected for only for swachhta abhiyan (cleanliness drive).

Currently major concerted efforts are being made to highlight Ambedkar. There are statements that Ambedkar and Hedgewars’ (The founder and first supreme leader of RSS) values were similar, both were against untouchability for example. RSS mouthpiece Organiser (English) and Panchjanya (Hindi) have come out with the special supplements on the life of Ambedkar, presenting his teachings in a distorted manner to create the illusion that there was similarity between the teachings of RSS ideology of HIndutva and Ambedkars values. Ambedkar had contributed in various ways for social justice and democratic values and struggle for annihilation of caste was the foremost amongst the movements launched by him. Incidentally one need to recall that in contrast to Ambedkars Annihilation of caste, RSS has floated and organization called ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum) which works for bringing harmony between castes without challenging the very existence of caste, which was the prime motive of Ambedkar.


One can see two trends in the exercise being done by the RSS combine. On one hand since RSS never participated in the freedom struggle as an organization, it has no icon to present as a freedom fighter. This is why they have to stretch their myth making to project Savarkar as being a freedom fighter. The case of Savarkar is peculiar. He was initially working against the British rule but after he was jailed in Andaman’s, he buckled under pressure and turned from anti British revolutionary to the one who apologized to British and later never participated in any anti British agitation. That’s all RSS combine has to show for their participation in freedom struggle. Even Savarkar was not the part of RSS, but ideologically Savarkar and RSS both held Hindutva, Hindu nation as their goals.

As many in the RSS combine revere Godse, he always slips in as the major icon for them. Godse was initially trained in RSS Shakhas and later he went onto become the Secretary of Pune Branch of Hindu Mahasabha. Since many BJP leaders have background in RSS shakhas, and are on same page as Godse as far as Hindu Nationalism is concerned, they do come out to praise Godse. These two, Savarkar and Godse are projected to show their allegiance to the ideology of Hindu nationalism in contrast to Indian nationalism, which is the core part of Indian Constitution. This is necessary for them as they are projecting themselves as biggest nationalists unmindful of the fact that their nationalism is Hindu Nationalism and not Indian Nationalism. They want to derive legitimacy from Savarkars’ initial anti British role. The later part of Savarkar where he kept aloof from freedom movements is the exact way in which RSS also kept aloof from freedom movement.


At another level they want to contrast Patel with Nehru. It is meant to undermine Nehru. Patel and Nehru, both were close allies on most of the issues related to freedom movement, both were the major followers of Gandhi, who was their mentor and they were collaborating with each other in the national movement and later as part of the first Cabinet of Independent India. RSS combine cannot swallow the uncompromising stand taken by Nehru during his long years of Prime Minister-ship on the issues of secularism and his long association with these principles in a forthright way so they want to contrast him with Patel, who was also a deeply secular person.


At another level there are some in-house icons which are propped up or are undermined. RSS second Sarsanghchalak Golwalkar has been a great influence on generations of RSS workers. His book, ‘We or Nationhood defined’, shaped the thought process of many of them. He went to the extent of upholding Hitler’s method and type of nationalism expounded by him. His book used to be available in RSS shops for long time. One of his quotes sums up the RSS ideology very well, writes Golwalkar “German national pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of semitic races-The Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how neigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by. (We or Our nationhood Defined P. 27, Nagpur 1938). From more than a decade ago RSS started feeling embarrassed about this due to electoral-political compulsions and started making arguments that this book was not written by Golwalkar. It was withdrawn from market. Here electoral expediency shaped their decision.

At another level they have been projecting Deendayal Upadhayay as the major figure. Deendayal Upadhdyay is the ideologue who had coined “integral humanism’ as the concept, this essentially talks about upholding status quo of social relations of caste in particular. This is done to give a subtle message of deeper agenda of the RSS politics. The play with the icons goes with the long term program of the cultural and social manipulation for building a society with the hegemony of Hindutva politics, a politics which derives its name from a religion but at core is the political agenda of elite of the Hindu society, irrespective of the fact that some from the lower strata of society are also co-opted for this political agenda. It’s due to this that RSS focuses a lot on propagating the culture of a variety which is sectarian and backward looking, the agenda of Hindu Nationalism.


Modi’s non-rule

Information Minister Arun Jaitley is inviting editors from different parts of India to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to underline the achievements of his of first-year rule. This public relations exercise is nothing new because all his predecessors have done so.


India’s icon, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not have to do so. Still, when India was licked at the hands of China in 1962, Nehru met editors to explain the debacle. Lal Bahadur Shastri had so much goodwill that he did not have to placate them in any way. However, after the 1965 war with Pakistan—both countries claimed victory—Shastri took editors into confidence before going to Tashkent. His humility stood him in good stead because before leaving he told them that his fate was in their hands and whatever they wrote would guide public opinion.


Mrs Indira Gandhi was riding a high horse until the crops failed and had to import wheat from America, which gave it against rupee payment. She too informally talked to editors and gave an insight on India’s deteriorating economic conditions.

Her son Rajiv Gandhi, who was hit hard because of Bofors scandal, never threw his weight around. One, he was conscious that the dynastic ties had parachuted him from being a pilot to the  gaddi of prime ministership and, two, he was aware of his limitations in the political field. He suffered from the complex that his brother, Sanjay Gandhi, was more suitable for the job which something his mother had instilled in him. He too went out of the way to cultivate editors. His successors, lesser in stature, expanded the PMO to have information advisers.  


Modi is his own PRO. He has not appointed anyone as information adviser. Maybe, he has felt the necessity and that explains Jaitley’s invitation to editors to meet the Prime Minister. But will this exercise help? Modi may not be guilty of any misrule, yet his regime is that of non-rule. There is nothing spectacular that stands out in his first year’s rule.


Take for instance, his visit to China. It was neither productive nor unmitigated disaster. However, it was not successful is not the criterion to judge its merit. He undertook the trip and reportedly conveyed India’s unhappiness over China’s occupation of Indian Territory is good enough. Authentic reports, now available, indicate that he took up even the matter of China’s stapling of a visa on the passport if the person is from Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese claim is part of their territory.


I personally think that Modi should have cancelled the visit when one day before his arrival at Beijing, the ruling Communist Party paper ran a vituperative piece against India and carried a map without showing Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir as part of the country.


Why New Delhi was keen on the visit is beyond my comprehension. On a lesser provocation, New Delhi cancelled its foreign secretary’s meeting with his counterpart in Islamabad. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi had met the Hurriyat leaders before the foreign secretaries’ meeting. There is apparently no such yardstick for relations with China. Instead, India is offering it access to the country’s large market.


Granted India cannot take on China this does not mean that New Delhi has to be overawed by Beijing. To give a befitting reply, New Delhi should have introduced the stapled visa system to the people visiting from Tibet.


We would be fooling ourselves if we believe that the border issue is spoiling our relations with China. Nehru put it correctly when he said that the clash was that of two giants preaching different ideologies. Only posterity will judge whether or not democracy wins the race against the totalitarian communism.


As of now, totalitarianism has won. Most South Asian countries are under the influence of Beijing, although they follow their own way of governance. Nehru had expected that a democratic polity would have preference. But he had not reckoned with the might of communist ideology. Ballot box has a moral appeal which demands reason, not rustic force.


Modi’s worst performance is in the economic sector. Many were taken in by his promise of  achche din aagaye (good days have come). The reality is entirely different. The common man has never suffered so much before as he is today.


Nevertheless, Modi’s regime has been democratic of sorts. Knowing his credentials, I expected him to train his guns of parochialism from day one. But he did not do so is a reprieve. Yet, there is no mistaking of his policies. He has left the dirty work of dividing the society on religious lines to his party’s mavericks, the members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.


Modi and his home minister Rajnath Singh’s public assurances that they want all communities, including the Muslims, to enjoy equal rights are positive. But they have hardly helped keep the atmosphere free from the pollution of parochialism. Yet, it looks odd that the exponents of Hindu rashtriya make provocative speeches that do not incite the people to indulge in communal riots. This is a big relief. It would, however, be better if they were not to pollute the atmosphere. Probably, they are conscious of the harm it would do to the society, which is 80 percent Hindu.


It seems that Modi has drawn a red line which the RSS and its ilk do not cross. This has helped create a healthy secular ambiance, however tenuous. One expects communal amity to prevail in the remaining four years of Modi’s regime. Maybe, he and his party seem to have realized that communalism is neither conducive to peace nor to the democratic ethos we cherish. He and his party must ensure that mistrust between Hindus and Muslims does not appear in any shape.


There are complaints that Muslim youths are picked up and detained without trials. And it is harrowing to know that hundreds of them are languishing in jails for years without trial. That it happened even during the Congress regime does not make the crime less felonious.



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