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With Central Vista, Bose statue, Narendra Modi is decolonising Indian mind

Rakesh Sinha writes: PM Modi’s determination to remove the symbols and structures of colonial oppression will strengthen the civilisational idea of India.

Dr Rakesh Sinha writes: Modi’s determination to remove the symbols and structures of oppression has a unique similarity with the outlook of Frantz Fanon, an anti-colonial thinker.

The installation of the statue of Subhash Chandra Bose at the India Gate in New Delhi does more than just honour a hero of the freedom struggle. It is among the more significant outcomes of the protracted battle of ideas underway to define the nature of the anti-colonial struggle and India’s past. This debate is not confined to Indian elites — the common people too remain intrinsically engaged with it. The perception gap between the elites and common masses on vital cultural and social issues exists in almost all post-colonial societies. However, this gap is minimal in African countries due to the salience of cultural concerns in their struggles against colonialism. Intellectuals and the ruling elites in Africa understood the value of indigenousness. Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o became famous after his work, Petals of Blood, switched from English to a Kenyan language, Gikuyu, in 1977. This proved exemplary for African authors. Such an impulse was lacking in Indian intellectuals as well as ruling elites of the Nehruvian era. A critic of Hindi literature, Namvar Singh, succinctly articulated this as the missing “attitude of militant decolonisation”.

The moral mandate from the masses for Narendra Modi’s rigour vis a vis decolonisation is obvious from their support of his deconstruction of Eurocentrism. He uses resources from the Indian knowledge tradition and this, in turn, has had an indelible impact on new generations and discourses in campuses. He quotes, in a relevant way, the Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Mahabharata and the writings of great saints and poet-philosophers like Thiruvalluvar and Tulsidas. He is committed and consistent in his approach. This has encouraged research on Indian cultural themes and heralded a climate for India-centric discourses. The failure of the elites to realise their dissonance from this reality has earned them the ire of the masses. This has also made their opposition to the RSS and Modi increasingly feeble.

Ideological conversations in the West impacted our narratives about the freedom movement. The Indian National Army (INA) led by Subhas Chandra Bose remained unwelcome by the dominant elites of the Indian National Congress because it solicited support from Germany and Japan for India’s war against British imperialism. It was considered to be legitimising fascism and militarism — as if Britain was doing philanthropy in India. British brutalities had crossed all limits. There are several unrecorded incidences of their barbarism. We know of a few like Jallianwala Bagh, Ashti and Chimur through our history books. They killed innocent children, like 12-year-old Baji Rout in Odisha and Tileshwari Barooah in Assam. The seven school students who hoisted the tricolour at the Patna secretariat on August 11, 1942, were killed by the bullets of the colonial forces. It is they who called the INA and Bose as the “Fifth Column”.

Congress’s attitude towards Bose remained unchanged. In 1939 he was compelled to resign from the elected position of the Congress Presidentship by the Gandhians at the Tripuri session of the Congress. The Servant of India, published from Poona, reported that Bose who came to attend the session despite running a high fever was accused of placing onions in his armpits to increase his body’s temperature. None of the big leaders, including Nehru, came to his rescue.

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After Independence, the demand for installing Bose’s statue in the capital was rejected by Congress governments. On November 3, 1965, this demand was made in the Rajya Sabha – not the first such occasion. This was finally done by Modi in 2022. The state under Modi is not shy in expressing its ideological position just as the Nehruvian state was assertive about its social philosophy. This is what divides Independent India into two distinct eras represented by Nehru and Modi.

Nehru used ancient Indian history to support his arguments for liberalism and humanism. However, his European sense of modernity was a limitation in convincing those who considered colonialism as a rot that needed to be rooted out completely. In essence, the Nehruvian state was both a lazy and unwilling decoloniser. The government had no answer to the question raised by Dattopant Thengadi on November 3, 1965, in the Rajya Sabha about the continuing presence of the statues of King George, King Edward and Queen Victoria in New Delhi. The Nehruvian state and its philosophy had the support of the institutions and intellectuals, which were systematically cultivated over the decades.

Modi’s decolonisation project has a clear focus and target. The government has repealed several colonial laws that continued for decades after Independence. Cultural decolonisation was recognised as a concern in the early decades of the 20th century but it was systematically suppressed by the colonial forces and the western bias in the Indian leadership. Rabindranath Tagore in Gora (1910) and K C Bhattacharya (1931) in Swaraj in Idea argued for its necessity. Bhattacharya said: “Man’s domination over man is felt in the most tangible form in the political sphere. There is, however, a more subtle domination exercised in the sphere of ideas by one culture on another, a domination all the more serious in the consequence, because it is not ordinarily felt.” The Congress had shown complete apathy concerning this “slavery of the spirit”. It passed no less than 423 resolutions on the minority question during the freedom movement but could not do the same in defence of India’s culture and education.

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Modi’s determination to remove the symbols and structures of oppression has a unique similarity with the outlook of Frantz Fanon, an anti-colonial thinker. Fanon wrote that “imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our and but from our minds as well”. The Central Vista project declaims the colonial legacy. The RSS considers India’s past the foundational basis of the nation and it perceives history in its continuity. Unlike Nehruvians and Marxists, for the RSS, India is a civilisational nation. This distinguishes it from the West and gives ample opportunities to unfold its creative energy in the fields of art, culture, social sciences and philosophy. The Indian masses cherish the memory of the early 20th century when Indians demonstrated excellence in art, literature and social sciences. The era was led by people like Tagore, Lokmanya B G Tilak, B C Pal, Maharshi Aurobindo and others. This reclamation is a collective aspiration of the people and can be achieved through collective effort — beyond the limits of ideology and party. It carries the potential to resurrect India’s superior status via philosophy, art and culture. The idea of India cannot shine without it.

The writer is BJP Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha

First published on: 14-09-2022 at 12:36:58 pm
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