Congress leader Rahul Gandhi speaking about Vinayak Savarkar has raised the political fever in Maharashtra, and those who hoped that the issue would create a rift between the Congress and the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray are disappointed.
The presumption was that it was naive of Mr Gandhi to make such a statement, and he has been faulted for diverting the focus of the Bharat Jodo Yatra which has received an unprecedented response from the public. Mr. Gandhi and Congress have claimed that the yatra is non-political.
In this context, according to some people, the Savarkar issue crosses a boundary that he himself drew. But is it really a mistake? Or is it part of the narrative which Mr Gandhi wants to create through the yatra?
The yatra should be seen as a counter to the divisive politics and hate-mongering in the country by the ruling establishment to polarise votes and create a Hindu rashtra. This narrative is impossible to weave without the references to Savarkar who is considered to be the original exponent of Hindutva. It was Savarkar who wrote a booklet called ‘Hindutva’, which not only defines Hindutva philosophy but also declares Muslims and Christians to be the ‘other’ and alien to Indian civilisation because their holy lands are not in India but outside.
It is this idea that finds a resounding echo in RSS ideology. The Sangh’s second chief, MS Golwalkar, writes that Muslims and Christians are not trustworthy, their civil and constitutional rights should be seized and they should be treated as second-grade citizens
.It is no coincidence that in the last few years Muslims have been targeted and the entire community demonised by Hindutvavadis with the active support of the Government and their ideological brothers and sisters. It has created deep fissures in society, which can have disastrous consequences. There is no doubt that Savarkar is not the only one who believed in the two-nation theory.
There were enough leaders in both communities — Hindus and Muslims — who propagated that both cannot live together as they are two different nations.It is this thought process that ultimately led to the Partition of the country and the death of millions, leaving a permanent scar on the country’s collective consciousness.
A large section from both communities looks at the other with suspicion which has also resulted in many gruesome riots in post-independent India. Gandhi and Nehru were aware of the dangers of this volatile thought process. Gandhi always talked about Hindu-Muslim unity and had to pay the price for his moral audacity. Nehru virtually had a referendum during the first Parliamentary election when he viscerally attacked communalism and condemned the followers of Hindutva.
Against the wishes of senior leaders in his party, he not only discouraged the public use of religion in politics but also articulated that the development of scientific temper should be the sole purpose of the Government if it wanted India to evolve into a modern society. Today this scientific temper has been replaced by bigotry and sectarianism.
No doubt, Savarkar was not a practicing Hindu, but he used religion as an instrument of politics to unite Hindus vis-a-vis Muslims. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was doing the same. He used Islam for his political goal of creating Pakistan.
People must be reminded that the country has paid a very heavy price in the past and can ill afford to take the same route. The RSS and the BJP have been very patient in their ideological pursuit and have never been apologetic about their beliefs. They never minced words while criticising and condemning the dominant ideology of the Congress; secularism is its most paramount creed and Nehru has been its most prolific priest.
Lal Krishna Advani popularised the word pseudo-secularism. During Modi’s regime, secularism has become the most discredited word. It has lost its meaning and is used as a kind of abuse in the present lexicon. The establishment has attacked Nehru so much that even the Congress is scared to use his name in public discourse. Therefore, if Rahul Gandhi has to create a parallel narrative, which he is trying to build through his yatra, or rediscover secularism, he has to remind people about Savarkar and the disastrous consequences of his ideology.
As part of the ideological pursuit of the RSS and BJP, if Nehru is constantly being blamed for his blunders in Kashmir and on China, and is presented as a power-hungry leader who agreed to Partition to become the Prime Minister, who denied Sardar Patel’s legitimate right to be Prime Minister, and who erased the memory of other freedom fighters — then the Congress and Rahul Gandhi also have to remind people about the shortcomings of the RSS icons, their non-existent role in the freedom struggle, and their collaboration with the British.
It has to be vocalised why Savarkar was arrested, the RSS was banned and its leaders and followers were put in jail after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at a time when Sardar Patel was the Home Minister. So, if Mr Gandhi is saying that Savarkar apologised to the British when he was in the Cellular Jail, he is not doing anything wrong.
Unfortunately, the liberal intelligentsia have become such a prisoner of the establishment’s propaganda that they think the way the regime wants them to think. They don’t realise thatthe regime has successfully created a narrative about Mr Gandhi being a ‘Pappu’, a good-for-nothing fellow, and the Congress having no future and being responsible for every ill in the country today. The propaganda is so powerful that the party which led the freedom movement and broke Pakistan into two is today seen as anti-national, and is accused of hating India and collaborating with enemies.
The present generation does not know that Savarkar and his party, the Hindu Mahasabha, formed governments in Bengal and Sindh with Jinnah’s Muslim League in the 1940s, after the Muslim League had already adopted a resolution demanding the creation of Pakistan.
Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the then senior leader of the Mahasabha who later became founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, wrote a letter as Cabinet minister to the British Governor to crush the Quit India movement in Bengal. One must remember that Narendra Modi’s is no ordinary Government.It is not like the Janata Party Government of 1977, the Janata Dal Government of 1989 or the United Front Government of 1996. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s was the first BJP-led Government, but it did not have a majority and had to keep its ideological agenda on the back burner for the sake of its coalition partners.
The Modi Government has a majority in Parliament and is constitutionally entitled to impose its agenda. Since the BJP is an ideological party with a clearly identified utopia of Hindurashtra, India for the first time is witnessing the ‘march of an ideological state’.
An ideological state can only be confronted by an ideological alternative; it can be defeated only in an ideological battle; stray thoughts of the past won’t work now. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi must construct a robust ideological edifice with well-defined ideological elements. It’s a long haul and those who think the Modi Government can be dislodged easily are living in a fool’s paradise. It seems Rahul Gandhi is the only one in the Opposition who understands this and so he never minces his words. Others will learn it the hard way, but it might be too late.
The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B