Until a few decades ago, Mahatma Gandhi was a ‘traitor’ to the ‘Hindu’ cause to many RSS cadres. Later, they tried to adopt his ‘Swadeshi’ concepts when it lost relevance and tried to brush under the carpet Nathuram Godse’s association with the RSS and Vinayak Savarkar.
But despite all attempts to overcome narrow viewpoints, the members of the RSS have found it difficult to forget their fundamental beliefs. There are moments when what is hidden in one’s heart comes out in the open.
The BJP did this in Uttar Pradesh by invoking Sardar Patel to woo Kurmi voters by emphasising on the caste to which Patel belonged to. Never had most secular people thought about Patel’s caste origins. He was seen as a freedom fighter and call him India’s Bismarck.
The BJP may want to build a giant statue for Patel and claim that he was ‘ignored’ by the Congress, but yet, he is first and foremost a Kurmi to its leaders because that is the very essence of being a RSS member. To be fair to the BJP, it may have been prompted to call Patel a Kurmi by Patidaar Anaamik Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel, who found a cross-country leader in Nitish Kumar to ally with, all because he was a Kurmi like the Patels of Gujarat.
Presumably because of the heat and dust of UP’s election campaign, BJP’s attempts to woo Kurmis by invoking Sardar Patel never got much attention. However, its party President Amit Shah’s remarks recently that Mahatma Gandhi was a “chatur bania” (wily trader) managed to win some attention in the media.
However, the debate was soon ‘overshadowed’ by another crude remark, made by Congress’ former MP Sandeep Dikshit. He said that General Bipin Rawat was behaving like a street rowdy (“sadak ka gunda”). Dikshit was referring to Rawat justifying the use of human shield by a Major in Jammu and Kashmir but exceeded limits of propriety and decency with his phraseology.
It is best to keep the Army out of politics, even if some men in uniform breach the gentleman’s code. The establishment has ways to deal with issues of discipline and ethics in the Army, even if a General V K Singh tries to politicise his possession of two dates of birth or General Rawat imagines himself to be Clint Eastwood trying to set things right in a jiffy. The average politician should learn from seniors like A K Antony who never uttered an incorrect sentence against Singh during the date of birth row or when The Indian Express alleged that Singh may have tried to scare the civilian government by moving troops.
However, Dikshit was quick to realise that he may have made an indecent comment and apologised within hours of his remarks. He was later ticked off by his party vice-president Rahul Gandhi too. But Sadak Ka Gunda became the main issue for the media, while Chatur Bania was no longer an issue.
This is where the servility of the news media towards BJP and its leaders were cleanly exposed. Dikshit is not even a functionary of the Congress. His objectionable remark meant that the Army chief should know to behave better in public and was made while he was praising the Indian Army and its traditions vis-à-vis the Pakistan Army. Dikshit did not stick to his remarks but apologised immediately. The Congress distanced itself from the remarks and his party boss rapped him. Yet, what we got to see in the media was days of BJP reactions to Sadak Ka Gunda and attempt to apportion the blame to the Congress for the momentary lapse of an individual.
In contrast, Amit Shah was explaining the freedom movement in the convoluted manner the BJP-RSS wants the world to see it. That is of course the only way they can describe it because they were never really involved in the movement. Shah was calculatedly insulting and degrading the man most of us call ‘The Father of the Nation’ because only then could he deride everything that the Mahatma stood for. Only then can one justify the things that the BJP, its predecessor and its ideological parents did during the freedom movement and thereon.
Shah is the highest functionary of the BJP and Mahatma Gandhi is to most of us inarguably the model icon India has produced in several centuries. BJP leaders tried thereafter to justify Shah, who has not apologised for his remarks. So, why Dikshit’s ‘Gunda’ is more important news to the media than Shah’s ‘Bania’ is an explanation the editors owe to the public in India.
The answer to the skewed treatment the media gives to news lies in quite a few things. For one, the Indian media is at the moment dominated mostly by mediocre editors who have not risen through the ranks because of professional abilities but the servility they have shown to politicians and the connections they have built with them.
Media barons in the past had skeletons in their cupboards but yet they believed in causes and stood up for them. Hagiographists may have only good things to say about the likes of C R Irani or Ramnath Goenka. But even their harshest critics will not deny the fact that these media barons were willing to take on the establishment during the Emergency and thereafter.
Today, everyone who has invested in the media has done it to just make money and remain on the right side of power. Mediocre editors suit media barons who lack scruples. The BJP is right when it claims that the situation in India is nowhere close to what it was during the Emergency. The media has voluntarily decided to crawl before the establishment. This is the reason why the Indian viewer (and reader) seldom gets to see the right balance and priority in news, analysis, features or noisy debates.
For those who may have false notions on the raison d'être of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the National President of the Bharatiya Janata Party provided a very clear answer. The RSS may have metamorphosed into several things depending on individual members’ perceptions, interests, ambitions or collective deceptions about nationhood and society but there is something that clearly defines its existence and strength.
RSS founding fathers saw a threat to ‘Hindu nationhood’ as Mahatma Gandhi’s social discourse threatened destruction of the caste system. The organisation was formed to preserve the caste system. It still exists for this. This is why more than any other party the BJP continues to attract those who believe in rigidity of the caste system more than anything else.
( firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 19th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 25)