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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 39, New Delhi, September 19, 2015

Saffronising the Institutions

Sunday 20 September 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Understandably, there is a sense of horror over the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s decision to ‘modernise’ the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum at Teen Murti in New Delhi. The BJP spokesman has explained that the present museum tells only the Nehru side of national struggle for independence, not the entire story.

Ironically, the persons to put forward the demand are those who did not contribute even a bit to the national movement. Their role, if any, helped the British rulers.

What the BJP has in mind is to saffronise the institution. The party made a similar attempt when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was at the helm of affairs. But he firmly resisted every move to reinterpret the history. He recognised the role Nehru had played to win freedom and gave full credit to him. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a different kettle of fish. He openly seeks guidance from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which runs down the national struggle because it was never a part of it.

Re-doing the Nehru Museum under the Modi rule means the induction of outdated ideas into history. Nehru moulded the nation after indepen-dence and gave it a scientific temperament. Nehru’s biggest contribution was the concept of secularism. At the time of partition when Pakistan chose to be an Islamic state, he kept India secular. Probably this is what the BJP does not like and wants to change the very character of the museum. Why does not the BJP have a separate museum where it can present the history in the way it wants to do?

Not long ago, I was at Pune and found to my dismay that the Agha Khan Palace, where the British rulers would detain the icons of our freedom struggle, like Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, has been converted into an environment park. I have no grudge against parks. But the places, consecrated by the nation’s blood, should have been preserved in their original shape so that the coming generations would see them as they were. Decoration, however honest in intent, extinguishes the original spirit.

In contrast, the Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar has been preserved as it was. It retains the air of martyrdom and still maintains the centrality of the well. When one sees it, one can imagine how the people must have jumped into it to escape the relentless firing by the British-led soldiers. Why they were punished was because of the ‘humiliation’ of one British woman who, she said, had heard the hissing sound while passing through a bazaar. Protesters at the Jallianwala Bagh were only parading against the British rule. Theirs was a struggle for independence. Sadly, after killing hundreds of people, the remark made by one British soldier was that they wished they had more ammunition.

Indeed, places like the Jallianwala Bagh are the real temples. They remind us the pain and pangs of our national struggle and of those who sacrificed all in the fight against the British. These places are in no way less important than the scriptures which we revere and cherish.

Unfortunately, the places of worship—temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras—are becoming more in number and vulgar in decoration. Followers mistakenly have come to believe that the use of marble or gold makes the place more endearing to worshipers.

Regrettably the buildings which did not contribute even a bit to the freedom struggle, have come to occupy positions of importance. Still worse are the efforts to substitute the ethos of pluralism with the ideology of parochialism. It is unthinkable how any party or person can demand a memorial for Nathuram Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an outfit to spread the Hindutva feelings, should understand and appreciate the emotion which was misguiding the Muslims, at that time. Even if it is assumed that the Muslims knowingly marshalled behind the demand for Pakistan, why should the Indian Muslims be blamed for what happened 70 years ago?

When we are not blaming the generation which was supporting the British, why should we pick on the Muslims whose forefathers helped create Pakistan? An average Hindu has not forgiven the Muslims for the vivisection of India. At the time of tension with Pakistan, many Hindus still suspect the Muslims.

Even otherwise, the Hindus maintain a distance from the Muslims. Social contacts between the two communities are more or less absent. And both live in the world of their own. It was different in my generation. We visited one another’s house and ate together without feeling that we were doing anything extraordinary.

Today things have changed. A Muslim woman professor told me that one day a few Hindu girls stood up in the classroom and asked her why she was in India when she should have gone to Pakistan. None in the classroom objected to the girls’ remarks. I cannot blame the educational system, but I do blame the teachers who had created such an atmosphere where the girls could ask such questions.

True, the partition on the basis of religion has told upon India’s ethos of secularism and lessened the importance of Muslims in the affairs of India. But this feeling goes against the letter and spirit of our Constitution. We are not a Hindu Rashtra but a secular, democratic republic as the Preamble of our Constitution says.

The BJP does not seem to realise that it does not have any Muslim icon in its ranks. I hope that things would change for the better. But how can they when the party wants to establish a Hindu Rashtra and keeps the Muslim community at a distance? Sadly, the party is trying to change the very ethos of our country. Even in the midst of our national struggle, we were conscious that the Pakistan sought to be constituted would be an Islamic state. Still, we declared that India, after the British left, would be a secular state and we adhered to that undertaking.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com