The News International

by Praful Bidwai

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Whatever its other sins and there are many one charge can never be made against the Sangh Parivar: that of having produced a halfway tall intellectual. No star in its firmament, from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s founders, to the present leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Sangh’s 30-odd other affiliates, remotely approaches the description ‘intellectual’.

The work of Parivar ‘thinkers’, if they can be called that, shows very little acquaintance with history, philosophy, political theory, culture, economics or social movements. It has an extremely narrow, parochial worldview centred on Hindu-supremacism. It doesn’t even comprehend the richness and diversity of the Hindu cultural tradition, which it glorifies.

The training swayamsevaks undergo is highly regimented, based on half-baked business-oriented economics, authoritarian politics and the Hindu Rashtra concept which privileges one religious community and delegitimises all others. It denies that India has for centuries been a multicultural, multi-religious society, where Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and agnosticism or atheism, coexisted with Hinduism, itself composed of many strands, sects and belief systems.

Rather, it glorifies one, puritanical, upper-caste strand as humanity’s greatest accomplishment, and embodies it in the Bharat Mata symbol. Alas, Bharat Mata was enslaved by hostile ‘outsiders’. It’s time to liberate her and create a proud and powerful Hindu Rashtra, before whom the world must tremble. That’s the true goal of the Parivar. Electoral democracy is only a means to it.

So when the Parivar strays into history with these warped ideas to demonstrate the unique greatness of Indian civilisation, celebrate Hindu heroes, condemn Muslim and Christian ‘conquerors’, and denigrate liberal-secular or left-wing ideas, it makes a laughing stock of itself.

The Parivar must distort the truth. Take Narendra Modi’s recent incursion into ancient history pertaining to Bihar. He tried to earn cheap popularity by claiming that Biharis defeated Alexander the Great on the banks of the Ganga that Chandragupta Maurya founded the Gupta dynasty, Ancient India’s ‘Golden Age’, and that Takshshila, the great seat of Buddhist learning, was in Bihar.

In reality, Alexander was halted on the banks of the Beas in today’s Himachal Pradesh. Chandragupta founded the Mauryan, not the Gupta, empire. And Takshshila (Taxila) is in Pakistan. In his ‘fake encounter with facts’, Modi confuses it with Nalanda.

The Sangh Parivar is now dishonestly laying claim to the legacy of Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister, in contrast to Jawaharlal Nehru. It presents Nehru, a western-educated Fabian-socialist liberal, as a villain, and glorifies Patel as a pro-Hindutva leader rooted in the native soil – like Modi, who is building a 182-metre-tall Patel statue.

One shouldn’t be squeamish about admitting that Nehru and Patel differed in their political approach and ideological orientation. Patel wanted to join a Hindu-revivalist campaign for rebuilding the Somnath temple in Gujarat. Nehru opposed this. Patel was a hawk who used strong-arm methods against dissidents. Nehru was generally moderate and respected democratic norms. Patel was all for private industry, Nehru favoured regulating it.

Nehru would probably have preferred a negotiated approach to integrating the 550 princely states into the Indian Union, rather than Patel’s coercive strategy. Eventually, Nehru acquiesced in Patel’s approach.

Matters are more complex than that. The Congress line was that the principle of paramountcy (of British rule over the princes) no longer held once India became independent. The choice to accede either to India or Pakistan couldn’t be left to the feudal princes: the people must decide. However, the Congress didn’t oppose the departing British rulers when they offered the princes that very choice.

Instead, the Congress government adopted double standards. First, it secured Jammu and Kashmir’s accession by using coercive and possibly fraudulent means, as many historians (including Perry Anderson in The Indian Ideology) have documented. Maharaja Hari Singh, faced with a ‘tribal invasion’ from Pakistan, acceded to India.

New Delhi gleefully cited his concurrence. But it proceeded to integrate Hyderabad and Junagadh into India against the wishes of their rulers. The “police action” in Hyderabad was in reality an Army operation, which led to the killing of 27,000-40,000 Muslims in Hindu-led pogroms, according to the Sunderlal commission appointed by the Congress. Its report was long suppressed, but is now public.

These are far from glorious chapters in Independent India’s early history. Patel played a major role in crafting these, but Nehru too went along. Patel represented the Congress’s right wing. Nehru was certainly in the party’s left wing, although he had greatly diluted his radical stance of the mid-1930s.

These positions reflected differences and debates within the freedom movement, themselves comprising many diverse currents. The Sangh Parivar, then consisting of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, was not part of the movement, but collaborated with the British against it. The RSS exhorted its members to join the British Indian Army to get arms training. Even its khaki-shorts uniform was modelled on the attire of the colonial police.

It is thus sickeningly hypocritical of the Parivar to claim Patel’s mantle. It was Patel who banned the RSS after Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse who was closely connected with the RSS. The Mahasabha collected funds for Godse’s defence. This infuriated Patel, who wrote: “If the official organisation of the Hindu Mahasabha is being utilised for this purpose, there can be only one inference, namely, that the HM is in it” (complicit in Gandhi’s assassination).

As Patel’s biographer and Gandhiji’s grandson Rajmohan says, the Sardar “would have been very disappointed, very pained and saddened” at the butchery of Muslims under Modi’s watch in 2002.

The Mahasabha toadied up to the British. But some of its members were admirers of European fascism too. HM leader BS Moonje even paid a visit to Mussolini in 1931. Moonje helped mould the RSS along fascist lines as part of its plan to “militarise the Hindus” and create a Hindu Rashtra.

Patel lifted the ban on the RSS in 1949, but only on the condition that it adopt a constitution that keeps it away from politics. The Sangh has comprehensively betrayed that pledge. It became the progenitor, ideological mentor, political master and organisational gatekeeper of the Jana Sangh, and then of the BJP, formed in 1980.

The RSS has adopted an overtly political posture and profile in recent years – first by appointing all of the BJP’s organisational secretaries, and then by expelling LK Advani from all party positions after his speech praising Jinnah. More recently, it nominated Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. The RSS has thus become defiant about assuming an explicitly political role. An ideologue writes in its mouthpiece Organiser, “no power in the country can stop an individual or group from entering politics.”

Equally, the BJP has proved incapable of cutting its umbilical cord with the RSS and adopting moderation. Its dependence on the RSS is likely to grow as it runs an aggressive election campaign running up to 2014. It will rely on the RSS for intensive door-to-door canvassing – and for communally polarising the situation, as it recently did in Muzaffarnagar.

That’s the importance of the 14-party October 30 convention against communalism in Delhi. Its call to “secular and democratic forces” to mobilise people to rebuff communalists and “defend our composite culture and strengthen the unity of the people” must be heeded.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and rights activist based in Delhi.