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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015

Manufacturing and Undermining National Icons, RSS Style

Saturday 6 June 2015

by Ram Puniyani

Many a social and political processes related to projection of some icons and undermining of the others have intensified during the last few years. Even during the last regime of the NDA- led BJP rule from 1998, Savakar’s portrait was unveiled in Parliament. At one level the game of undermining some icons and projecting other icons is a part of various political streams and the RSS seems to be the past master in the same. One recalls its machinery has been putting forward some names, bypassing others and undermining some others. Since the time Modi has come to power as the Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, is being upheld by many from the RSS combine. One BJP MP called him a patriot and another BJP MP said that Godse chose the wrong target; instead of Gandhi, he should have chosen Nehru as his target. There are demands from various quarters to allot land for raising his statues in different places.

 Time and again Sardar Patel is projected vis- a-vis Nehru. In one of the speeches Modi said Patel should have been the first Prime Minister of India instead of Nehru. Various ‘word-of- mouth’ propaganda to denigrate Nehru has been the consistent activity of many. Again, to undermine Nehru Modi said something which was not true. He said that Nehru did not attend the funeral of Sardar Patel. This again is a blatant lie. As far as Mahatma Gandhi is concerned, this present ruling dispensation has projected him but only for the values of cleanliness. One knows that the stature of Mahatma is such that even those who do not believe in his inclusive nationalism have also to pay obeisance to him at home as well as abroad. To circumvent this problem while the core essence of Gandhi’s struggle for Hindu-Muslim unity is sidelined, the teachings of the Mahatma for national integration are given a go-bye and he is projected only for the swachhta abhiyan (cleanliness drive).

 Currently concerted efforts are being made to highlight Ambedkar. There are statements that Ambedkar and Hedgewar’s (the founder and first supreme leader of the RSS) values were similar, both were against untouchability, for example. The RSS mouthpieces, Organiser (English) and Panchjanya (Hindi), have come out with the special supplements on the life of Ambedkar, presenting his teachings in a distorted manner to create the illusion that there was similarity between the teachings of the RSS ideology of Hindutva and Ambedkar’s values. Ambedkar had contributed in various ways for social justice and democratic values and the struggle for the annihilation of caste was the foremost amongst the movements launched by him. Incidentally, one need to recall that in contrast to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, the RSS has floated an organisation called ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum) which works for bringing harmony between castes without challenging the very existence of caste, which was the prime motive of Ambedkar.

One can see two trends in the exercise being done by the RSS combine. On the one hand since the RSS never participated in the freedom struggle as an organisation, it has no icon to present as a freedom fighter. This is why they have to stretch their myth-making to project Savarkar as being a freedom fighter. The case of Savarkar is peculiar. He was initially working against the British rule but after he was jailed in the Andaman’s, he buckled under pressure and turned from an anti-British revolutionary to one who apologised to the British and later never participated in any anti-British agitation. That’s all the RSS combine has to show for their participation in the freedom struggle. Even Savarkar was not a part of the RSS, but ideologically Savarkar and the RSS both held Hindutva, Hindu nation as their goals.

As many in the RSS combine revere Godse, he always slips in as the major icon for them. Godse was initially trained in the RSS shakhas and later he went on to become the Secretary of the Pune branch of the Hindu Mahasabha. Since many BJP leaders have a background in the RSS shakhas, and are on the same page as Godse as far as Hindu nationalism is concerned, they do come out to praise Godse. These two, Savarkar and Godse, are projected to show their allegiance to the ideology of Hindu nationalism in contrast to Indian nationalism, which is the core part of the Indian Constitution. This is necessary for them as they are projecting themselves as the biggest nationalists unmindful of the fact that their nationalism is Hindu nationalism and not Indian nationalism. They want to derive legitimacy from Savarkar’s initial anti-British role. The later part of Savarkar, where he kept aloof from the freedom movement, is the exact way in which the RSS also kept aloof from the freedom movement.

At another level they want to contrast Patel with Nehru. It is meant to undermine Nehru. Patel and Nehru both were close allies on most of the issues related to the freedom movement, both were ardent followers of Gandhi, who was their mentor and they were collaborating with each other in the national movement and later as part of the first Cabinet of Independent India. The RSS combine cannot swallow the uncompromising stand taken by Nehru during his long years of Prime Ministership on the issue of secularism and his long association with this principle in a forthright way; so they want to contrast him with Patel who was also a deeply secular person.

At another level there are some in-house icons which are propped up or undermined. The RSS’ second Sarsanghchalak Golwalkar has been a great influence on generations of RSS workers. His book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, shaped the thought process of many of them. He went to the extent of upholding Hitler’s method and the type of nationalism expounded by him. His book used to be available in the RSS shops for a long time. One of his quotes sums up the RSS ideology very well. Writes Golwalkar: “German national pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of semitic races—the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how neigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” (We or Our Nationhood Defined, p. 27, Nagpur, 1938) More than a decade ago the RSS started feeling embarrassed about this due to electoral-political compulsions and began arguing that this book was not written by Golwalkar. It was then withdrawn from the market. Here electoral expediency shaped their decision.

 At another level they have been projecting Deendayal Upadhayay as the major figure. Deendayal Upadhdyay is the ideologue who had coined “integral humanism” as the concept; this essentially talks about upholding the status quo of social relations of caste in particular. This is done to give a subtle message of deeper agenda of the RSS politics. The play with the icons goes with the long-term programme of cultural and social manipulation for building a society with the hegemony of Hindutva politics, a politics which derives its name from a religion but at its core is the political agenda of the elite of the Hindu society, irrespective of the fact that some from the lower strata of society are also co-opted for this political agenda. It’s due to this that the RSS focuses a lot on propagating the culture of a variety which is sectarian and backward-looking, the agenda of Hindu nationalism.

The author, a former Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, is active in the All-India Secular Forum and associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism, Mumbai.