Rabindranath Tagore once famously argued that “oppression for the sake of the country is oppression of the country”. Over the past few days, an extremely regressive and parochial definition of nationalism has been leveraged to validate both the NDA government’s crackdown on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the unwarranted attacks on students, teachers and the media. Apart from the fact that the idea of nationalism is not defined either as a legal or a political concept, what’s shocking is that the BJP and the sangh parivar are claiming to be its custodians.
It is a historical fact that for the first 22 years of its existence (1925-1947), the Sangh not only conspicuously kept away from India’s struggle for independence but routinely joined forces with the colonial administration to stifle the freedom movement led by the Congress Party. Just two examples will suffice to illustrate this point. Firstly, while Congress-led governments were resigning in 1939 to protest the British forcing Indians to be participants in a war India could not afford, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee (the Sangh’s chief mentor) scrambled to grab power in Sindh, the North West Frontier Provinces and Bengal (surprisingly, with Jinnah’s Muslim League).
Furthermore, while the country was preparing to launch the “Quit India movement”, VD Savarkar (a key RSS ideologue) personally wrote a memorandum (titled “Stick to your Post”) to every member of the Hindu Mahasabha directing them to-
“hold… any post or position of vantage in the Government services” and to “stick to them… to perform their regular duties”.
Not only that, Dr. Mookerjee in promising full support to the Governor of Bengal wrote (on the 26th July, 1942), that-
“…any widespread movement launched by the Congress…(will) stir up mass feeling, resulting (in) internal disturbances or insecurity, (and) must be resisted by any Government…”
Even when independence was well in our grasp, and while the Congress was forging the idea of India, Savarkar and the RSS were sowing the seeds of partition. Savarkar wrote-
“I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations”.
Similarly, MS Golwalkar (another key RSS ideologue) argued –
“Hindus, don’t waste your energy fighting the British; save your energy to fight our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians and Communists”.
The Sangh has actively fostered communal disharmony in the country before and after independence (consider how the BJP still continues to organise riots for petty political gain), which have seriously threatened the integrity of India. It is therefore extremely ironic that the BJP has not only installed statues and portraits of these people, who at critical moments actively worked towards scuttling the freedom struggle, but also celebrated them as torchbearers of nationalism (Savarkar for instance is hailed by the Sangh as swatantra-veer)!
But the RSS’ dastardly attempts to tear apart the fabric of India were not limited to the freedom struggle. MS Golwalkar (another key Sangh ideologue, who is incidentally PM Modi’s role model), contemptuously dismissed the Constitution of India when he argued-
“Is there a single word…in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is?”
Moreover, in a pamphlet titled “Why Hindu Rashtra?”, he shockingly posited-
“Unfortunately…our Constitution has…given equal rights to everybody, just as a person without understanding may give equal rights to his children and to the thieves in his house and distribute the property among all”.
The RSS’ opposition was not just limited to the Constitution. Through its mouthpiece (the Organiser) Savarkar, in vehemently opposing the Indian tricolour argued that-
“It can never be recognised as the national flag… the authoritative flag of Hindusthan… can be no other than the bhagava (saffron flag)…and we (Sangh) can loyally salute no other flag”.
It is therefore no surprise that none of the Sangh affiliates flew the national flag (even on Republic and Independence Day) for 52 years after India’s independence! Finally, no matter how hard the Sangh tries, their ties to Nathuram Godse cannot be whitewashed. Sardar Patel, writing about Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, left no doubts regarding this when in a letter to Pt. Nehru he concluded-
“It was…the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that (hatched) the conspiracy and saw it through”.
It is a historical fact that a majority of the Sangh’s ideological leaders have been at the centre of a number of anti-national schemes that India has borne (something which the BJP has not, and will not condemn). It is therefore paradoxical that India is being forced to conform to their perverted ideas of nationalism and patriotism (that they righteously assert they have a monopoly on). Apart from consistently engineering communal and caste atrocities in the 20 months since they’ve assumed office, they have now descended to pandering to the worst instincts in all of us. Like what the Nazis did in Germany, the Sangh harasses and assaults anyone different or with a contrarian opinion, and in our blood lust we cheer them on (read Arthur Rosenberg’s “Fascism as a Mass Movement” to understand just how glaring the similarities are). We’ve been witness to NGOs, the media and students being suppressed for raising uncomfortable questions, and bans being imposed on dietary choices, clothes and the mobility of women. We’ve also seen scholars like MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and N Dabholkar (as well as RTI activists and whistleblowers) being murdered without fear of reprisal, and people being lynched simply for being minorities (Dadri, Mainpuri, Dankaur, among others).
If the BJP were genuinely in love with the idea of India, as millions of Indians are, they would protect and uphold the constitutional idea of India, which defines who we are as a people. It guarantees socio-economic equality for all (“Right to Equality & Right against Exploitation”), religious tolerance and secularism (“Right to Freedom of Religion”) and equally importantly, the “Right to Live with Human Dignity”, which vouchsafes legal protections for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” regardless of a person’s caste, religion, gender or ideological inclination. If anything, this should define our nationalism, and it is our sacred duty to protect it. To do that, we must be vigilant in the face of ignorance and hatred. It is only this which will allow us to continue being a beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world.