By Amulya Ganguli
Ramnath Kovind’s failure to mention Jawaharlal Nehru’s name in his first speech as the President in which he referred to other stalwarts like Deen Dayal Upadhyay was not inadvertent.
The saffron brotherhood’s dislike for India’s first prime minister is as deep-rooted as its reverence for Vallabhbhai Patel, the country’s first deputy prime minister. So much so that Narendra Modi once wondered aloud how wonderfully different India would have been if Patel, and not Nehru, had become the PM in 1947.
Arguably, one of the BJP’s objectives ever since securing a majority in the Lok Sabha is to undo Mahatma Gandhi’s “mistake” of choosing Nehru over Patel as his successor and enact in real life the Sangh Parivar’s dream of what India would have been if Patel had been at the helm.
Perhaps as a step in this direction, the present-day rulers are trying to replicate what the Soviet communists did in their heyday by erasing the memories of their ideological adversaries in an exercise in inducing forgetfulness by turning a person into an “unperson”, to quote George Orwell.
Ramnath Kovind’s silence on Nehru was the first sign of what was a foot. Now, we have the telltale spectacle of an exhibition on books being held in Jawaharal Nehru University in New Delhi without a book by or on Nehru although the volumes of others like – you guessed right: Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the Parivar’s latest mascot on whom another BJP prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, never said a word – are prominently displayed.
Why is the BJP intent on airbrushing Nehru out of the national portrait gallery? The reasons are not far to seek. At their root is the fact that Nehru is the exact opposite of what the BJP stands for. For one, he was indisputably modern with the vision of promoting an industrially developed nation – “dams are the temples of modern India”, he said – while the BJP is obsessed with the medieval ages: Babur in the 1990s and now Allauddin Khilji. It speaks more of temples than of dams.
For another, at the core of Nehru’s worldview was secularism. That the concept is anathema to the Hindutva lobby could be seen from the way it has been mocked from LK Advani’s coinage of the term, pseudo-secular, to the invention of the word, sickular, by the Internet Hindus.
Secularism to Nehruvians is related to the idea of a composite culture, which is the socio-religious outcome of the interactions between different communities, notably Hindus and Muslims, over centuries. These relations were marked by conflict and consensus, belligerence and brotherhood as in any other case of two or more groups living side by side.
As Nehru said at the time of partition, “the history of India has been one of assimilation and synthesis of the various elements that have come in … It is perhaps because we tried to go against the trend of the country’s history that we are faced with this (communal riots)”.
Rabindranath Tagore, too, underlined the same point of integration and amalgamation when he wrote about how the Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Mughals had become one in the sea of India’s humanity.
According to Salman Rushdie, India’s “self-hood is so capacious, so elastic that it manages to accommodate one billion kinds of difference … It works because the individual sees his own nature writ large in the nature of the state.
“This is why individual Indians feel so comfortable about thestrength of the national idea, why it’s so easy to ‘belong’ to it inspite of all the turbulence … “
Such an interpretation of togetherness is unacceptable to the saffronites, to whom it is a fantasy of bleeding heart liberals. For the RSS and the BJP, virtually endless strife characterized the Hindu-Muslim relations in the past.
Not only that; it is continuing to this day since the perfidious Babur ki aulad (children of Babur) are suspected of conspiring to carve out another Pakistan via a relentless increase in their population with their four wives – hum panch, hamare pachis (we five, our 25), as Modi once said with his trademark eloquence.
What undoubtedly also riles the Hindutva lobby is Nehru’s cosmopolitan outlook with its pro-English orientation which made him assure the Tamilians protesting against the “imposition” of Hindi in the 1960s that English would continue as one of the official languages as long as the non-Hindi speakers wanted it.
In contrast, the insular Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan saffron brigade describes the English-speaking urbane sophisticates as Macaulay’s children (like Babur’s aulad) who are out of touch with Indian culture whose essence is Hinduism with its close links with the regional languages.
It is patent enough that there is a vast difference between Nehru’s broadminded weltanschhuung which encompasses the entire nation and the RSS-BJP’s blinkered, north Indian nativism which would regard as foreign even the southern and northeastern parts of the country.
It is India’s good fortune that Nehru was at the helm during the traumatic period of the country’s vivisection and to guide it for more than a decade afterwards to enable democracy and pluralism acquire firm roots. It is this stable base which will save India even if Nehru is ignored. (IPA Service)