Everyone knows the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh hates Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister and the founder of much of all that makes it a modern nation.
It is easy to understand why: He hated the RSS with a vengeance. He understood what it stood for, the mien of its founders and leaders, they were his contemporaries, and above all, the poison it nurtured for the composite cultures that was the glue to hold the new India that had been born in the blood and gore of Partition, despite decades of a peaceful freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi.
But why did the Sangh so love Vallabhbhai Patel, called the Sardar? Had not the Sardar banned the RSS when investigations revealed its connect with Savarkar and with Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on 30th January 1949?
The ban was withdrawn long thereafter. But this apparently was a love apparent long before Mr Narendra Modi, also from Gujarat much like Mahatma Gandhi and Patel, burst on the national scene. Today, with general elections due in 2019, or perhaps in late 2018, if economic developments are not on lines anticipated by the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, the electoral wing of the RSS.
Eminent jurist and highly respected researcher and author, A G Noorani, in typical painstaking forensic analysis of the documentation of 1948, wrote in Frontline decades ago, [Mr Noorani’s research itself is now an important treasure trove for those working on the history of that period, and is therefore quoted extensively and with gratitude in this article], “It is interesting to note that in his letter of November 12 to Nehru, Golwalkar claimed that the RSS was “aloof from politics”. Golwalkar’s letter of August 11, however, elicited an altogether different response from Patel. His attitude must be analysed carefully. Not long before the ban, Patel had said, on January 7, 1948: “You cannot crush an organisation by using the danda. The danda is meant for thieves and dacoits. After all the RSS men are not thieves and dacoits. They are patriots who love their country.”
Says Noorani “Even after the ban, Patel was keen to absorb the RSS within the Congress. Yet, he was not too forthcoming when his Hindu Mahasabhaite colleague in the Cabinet, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, began pestering him to be soft on the RSS and the Mahasabha. Patel wrote to Mookerjee on July 18 that the activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state.”
Patel in his reply to Golwalkar less than two months later, on September 11, called him “Brother Golwalkar” and recalled that in his speech at Jaipur in December 1947 he had spoken very gently of the RSS (“patriots who love their country”). He regretted that this had no effect on the Sangh: “There can be no doubt that the RSS did service to the Hindu Society.... But the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Musalmans. Organising the Hindus and helping them is one thing, but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing.” He added: “All their speeches were full of communal poison.” Patel reminded Golwalkar that RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. He squarely charged that “as a final result of the poison the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji”.
Noorani continues, “But the Sardar, nonetheless, made a strange proposal for reasons of his own: “I am thoroughly convinced that the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavour only by joining the Congress and not by keeping separate or opposing.” He had the restriction lifted and Golwalkar came to Delhi. But his talks did not succeed, and on November 2, 1948, Golwalkar announced the failure in public statements outlining his stand.
“Three days later he replied to Sardar Patel’s proposal in terms which are very significant. They were the basis on which he later supported the creation of the Jan Sangh, the ancestor of the BJP: “I tried my utmost to see that between the Congress, which is capable of delivering goods in the political field and is at present the ruling party, and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in the cultural field, which has achieved success in creating a matchless spirit of patriotism, brotherhood and selflessness among the people, there be no bad blood, there be only everlasting mutual love, one supplementing and complementing the other, both meeting in a sacred confluence.”
“He wanted partnership. The Sardar wanted a merger, no doubt, to buttress his own position in the Congress. The talks having failed, Golwalkar was ordered to go back to Nagpur.
Noorani concludes: “Patel exacted the price for his support to the ban earlier. While Nehru was abroad, on October 7, 1949, he was able to get the Congress Working Committee to open Congress membership to RSS men. Nehru had the decision rescinded on November 7, 1949. RSS men could join the Congress only if they quit the RSS.”
Patel’s decision needs to be seen in the developments much later when he, Nehru and Golwalkar were all dead. This was in 1978-79 when the Janata party government was in power after the party had trounced Indira Gandhi in the elections called ending the State of Emergency in 1975-77. The incarceration of almost the entire national Opposition had seen RSS members, Jan Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, and even the Marxists forge a strange unity. While the Marxists supported it from outside, the Socialists, Jaya Prakash Narain’s acolytes among the Lohiaites and many others came together to forge the Janata party. The RSS cadres, among them Atal Behari Vajpayee, the External Affairs Minister, and Lal Krishna Advani, the Information and Broadcasting Minister, sought to drive the Janata government on their own sub agenda.
The fiery George Fernandes, also a Cabinet minister, called their bluff. He challenged the dual membership of the cadres in their parent RSS and in the fledgling Janata party. The government fell, the party broke, and the Vajpayee-Advani duo revived the Jana Sangh as the Bharatiya Janata party, retaining a part of the continuity of the first ever taste they had of government in a green patch on their party flag together with much of the name.
Nehru could foresee what George Fernandes saw so much later of the damage the Sangh could do to any political structure from the inside.
Dual Membership will remain an issue in any formulation – party or coalition – in which the RSS-BJP are a part. It remains the only political organisation, or politico-cultural group as it wants to call itself, which does not accept the plurality of the republic Constitution of the Indian democracy, and remains committed to the Ideals of the Hindu Rashtra as spelled out so vividly and forcefully by both V D Savarkar in his “We, Or our Nationhood Defined”, and “Guru” Sadashiv Golwalkar in “A Bunch of Thoughts”.
The tribute to Patel by the BJP government and by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, can be said to be therefore heartfelt. Mr Modi’s Gujarati roots would make it seek even more natural by way or chauvinistic loyalty. Gandhi too was Gujarati, and Mr Modi has hesitantly, even sheepishly, tried to bask in the Mahatma’s glory too. But this has been such a synthetic exercise, so awkward in its political grammar, that he has not been able to exploit it beyond a certain point. There has been no choice but to fall back on Patel to provide a sky ladder to the formation of an Independent India, if not really to the Freedom Struggle.
As they seek political legitimacy in forums, regions, states and election constituencies where they have no foothold, the BJP has to fall back on strengthening this link of friendship. The Patel statue is the most visible, and the most expensive component of this exercise, even if it is being fabricated in China in accordance with typical Gujarati frugality.
Every paisa counts. Initially the total cost of the project was estimated to be about ₹2,063 crores, but when Larsen & Toubro won the contract in October 2014, the winning bid was ₹2,989 crores. It is planned taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York, a frequent destination of Mr Modi. At 182 metres (597 feet) in height, it will loom over the Narmada on the river island Sadhu Bet near Vadodara.
The height of the statue is fixed. Building up the Sardar for electoral use therefore requires that everything else is reduced in size, Jawaharlal Nehru offers multiple reasons for becoming the target of Mr Modi, and of the Sangh. In diminishing him, they strengthen the lore of the Sardar. In presenting him not as the visionary, writer and world statesman that was, but nothing more than a scheming petty politician who aped the British, coddled up to the Mahatma and usurped the premier’s chair so deservedly meant for the Sardar, they seek to reduce him in the stature he has been held in the eyes of three generations of Indians.
Patel, and then Nehru, were obviously both dead before Indira Gandhi became prime minister. But Lal bahadur Shastri’s sudden death in Tashkent after the 1965 war, makes it easy in political rhetoric to link Indira’s election as Prime Minister as a dynastic succession in some palace conspiracy. Whence is born the war cry of “Dynastic politics”. It is a moot question why the argument seems to have been bought by a section of the voting public and even if the intelligentsia because every succeeding generation – Indira Gandhi, Rajeev Gandhi, both assassinated most cruelly – Sonia and Rahul Gandhi on the Congress side and Menaka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi in the BJP camp, have won democratic elections much as everyone else.
Each successive generation paid tribute to the last one. Indira Gandhi named most things after her father. Rajiv did so in memory of his mother. And Sonia Gandhi, though never prime minister, but as head of the ruling party, saw that Rajiv Gandhi has his share of airports and projects named after him. Patel was forgotten, together with about everyone else among Nehru’s colleagues and seniors. The dynasty does live on in street names, airport terminals, and educational institutions.
Once in a while, the party condescends to acknowledge that Nehru was indeed the first prime minister in his own right, and left his mark on the Constitution and the nation. Home Minister Rajnath Singh two years ago on Nehru’s birth anniversary recalled that he was among the “tallest world leaders of his time and under his bold leadership, the Non Aligned Movement was initiated. We have differences over his policies, but we can’t doubt his intention to work for the welfare of people and nation building,” he said on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru. Because of Nehru and his kind, India today has a vibrant Parliament, an efficient bureaucracy, independent judiciary and fearless press; India has become the largest democracy in the world, India is now celebrating the success of democracy. Under his stewardship the country had set up large industries in Bhilai, Rourkela, top institutions like IITs and IIM and nuclear plants.
This statement may be alright for a formal jubilee, but is not good in the heat and dust of an election. And Mr Modi seems to be on a perpetual election mode. The sand-blasting of Nehru is therefore the more visible, audible and persistent reality.
Editor Kumar Ketkar, a respected political commentator, says “There is a huge growing industry of revisionist history which wants to retrospectively prove that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru hated the Right wing of politics, and never let it flourish. This assessment is neither innocent nor historically correct. However, it is always made, without ever analysing facts or proper context. Therefore, the stories that Nehru sidelined Vallabhbhai Patel and C. Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, and even Chintamanrao Deshmukh, are popular among the politically half-educated middle-classes, whose only source of information is cosy drawing room gossip masquerading as intellectual discussion.” Ketkar goes on to note that almost every political group had political differences with Nehru in his time, and had used vile invective against him.
“Nehru always tried to accommodate the political Right and the political Left. His antagonism was only against the conservative Right. He had the greatest respect for Rajaji and Rajendra Prasad, just as he was fond of Krishna Menon. However, his contempt for the religious Right and the RSS has been effectively used as subtle propaganda to establish that he was anti-Right wing and attempted to finish or sideline it. In fact, he deliberated and worked with it, despite differences, with respect to the Five-Year Plans.”
These are subtleties beyond the Sangh. And beyond Mr Modi, who in failing in his promise of development, has focussed on targeting the perceived challenge of the latest of the dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, who he calls Shahzada [not Rajkumar, which does not have the same sting as the west Asian Muslim word for prince] while the Sangh focusses on its core competence of communalism and Hindu Rashtra by targeting Muslims and Christians in the salubrious ecosphere created by the Islamic state in distant Syria.
(Published on 06th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 45)