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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 9 New Delhi February 16, 2019

Appropriating an Icon: RSS Celebrates Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Birthday

Sunday 17 February 2019

by Ram Puniyani

On this January 23, the BJP-RSS organised various programmes to honour Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In one of these programmes, a clash took place leading to a curfew in Kendrapada, Odisha. In different meetings organised by the BJP-RSS an attempt was made to draw parallels between Bose and Savarkar, Bose and the RSS. A propaganda is on to show that it was on Savarkar’s suggestion that Bose undertook to tie-up with the Axis powers (Germany and Japan). Parallels are being drawn between the RSS and INA (Azad Hind Fauz). Now all attempts are on to show that Bose’s nationalism was close to that of Savarkar-RSS.

The RSS combine is trying to praise Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as the one who gave legitimacy to the struggle for independence against the British. When did this combine realise the contributions of this great freedom fighter? Or for that matter the question comes up: did the RSS combine ever want to struggle against British rule? It is in the last few years that these attempts to identify with national icons are going on. In the case of Sardar Patel the propaganda is that had he been the first Prime Minster of India, we would not have had the Kashmir problem, we would have pro-gressed more. The truth in this matter is that Patel and Nehru were two solid pillars of the Indian Cabinet who laid the foundation of the Indian republic. The differences among them were of minor nature and Patel was the most trusted Cabinet colleague of Nehru.

As far as Subhash Chandra Bose, Netaji, is concerned, we know that he is one of the major freedom fighters of India. He was part of the Indian National Congress most of his life and was its President at its Tripuri session in 1939. Within the Congress he was a part of the Socialist group. He and Nehru had matching ideas on issues of socialism, secularism among others. He did fall out from the Congress on the issue of the method of getting freedom. While the Gandhi-led Congress wanted to adopt the path of non-violence, Netaji did not see eye to eye on this issue. For getting freedom for India, the Congress launched the ‘Quit India’ movement to build up the anti-British pressure and this gave boost to the freedom struggle. During the Second World War Netaji’s approach was to launch an armed military action against the British by collaborating with the Axis powers (Japan and Germany); that’s why he set up the INA. He also formed free India’s Provisional Government in Singapore on October 21, 1943. He had been a charismatic leader who was thoroughly anti- British.

Undoubtedly the Congress was firm on the path of non-violence. It launched the ‘Quit India’ movement which was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Bose did develop some differences on the matter of how to fight the British. He resorted to tying up with Fascist Germany and its ally, Japan. But what were the RSS and Hindu nationalists doing at this point of time? Hindutva ideologue Savarkar, the progenitor of the Hindutva and Hindu nation ideology, propagated at that time that Hindu nationalists should help the British in their war efforts against Japan and Germany. RSS Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar also went on to instruct all its branches not to do anything which would annoy the British and kept aloof from the anti-British struggles. So while the Congress was putting up pressure on the British through its ‘Quit India’ movement and Netaji was fighting the British through the INA, Savarkar was proactively helping the British by assisting them in the recruitment for the armed forces. In a way the RSS did nothing which went against British rule. So here with a forked tongue the Hindu nationalists on the one hand were supporting the British in their war efforts (Savarkar) or keeping aloof (Golwalkar-RSS); on the other hand now they are eulogising Netaji for his anti-British INA!

While Netaji was a Socialist, close to the ideas held by Nehru, Golwalkar went on to write that Communists are the internal threat to the Hindu nation. While the BJP at the time of its formation used the word ‘Gandhian Socialism’, it was a mere electoral jumla (gimmick). The ideology and actions of Netaji and Hindu nationalists-RSS were poles apart. So why are they projecting him today? Why are they trying to show similarities which are not there? Essen-tially as the RSS did not participate in the freedom movement, it does not have any national icon. The RSS’ Atal Behari Vajpayee at that time was a young college student who during the ‘Quit India’ movement was jailed by mistake; he apologised and got himself released. Savarkar, since he was anti-British before being imprisoned in the Andman jail, has been glorified as the brave warrior by prefixing Veer (Brave) to his name. He also had apologised to the British and got released from the jail. Mostly the communal nationalists, Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha-RSS never took any anti-British stance. This should be the defining point for Indian nationalism. The Congress and Bose were anti-British to the core, so their nationalism in a way had a similar wavelength despite some differences.

When the INA of Bose was being tried by the British for their anti-War actions against British, and it was the likes of Nehru who defended the INA, none from the Hindu nationalist camp came forward to defend Bose and his colleagues during the trial by the British. It is only for electoral reasons that now the RSS-BJP need to identify with the likes of Patel and Bose. They are actively trying to dig up some points here and there to get a ride on the back of legends like Patel and Bose. So far Sardar Patel has been projected and now it’s Netaji’s turn! Their central opposition is to Indian nationalism. They vilify Jawaharlal Nehru who stood rock solid in defence of secularism and democracy. Since the RSS wants to oppose the Nehru legacy and Congress on the electoral ground, the RSS keeps propping up icons like these. While these icons had some differences with Nehru, they essentially were on similar wavelength as far as secular demo-cratic values are concerned. These projections of Patel and Netaji are mere electoral ploys to garner more power!

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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