History is just a matter of rounding up the usual suspects
I am beginning to realise that I am a very reactive person, indeed. The
latest specimen to get my contentious goat is the president of Paschim
Banga Itihas Samsad, a Mr Gautam Chattopadhyay, who has condemned the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for, guess what, honouring Netaji Subhash
Chandra Bose. Apparently, by dedicating an issue of its weekly magazine
to Netaji and singing paeans to him at rallies, the RSS 'has tried to
appropriate Subhash Chandra Bose as their own standard bearer.' Like,
Bhosle writes Hindu; Bhosle worships Salman Rushdie (I do); ergo,
Bhosle implies that Rushdie is Hindutvawadi.
Mr Chattopadhyay expounds: 'Even Gandhiji, who was diametrically
opposed to the concept of armed liberation struggle, was full of praise
for Subhash Chandra and (thought of) the INA speech in Delhi in
December 1947 as the most splendid example of Communal harmony. It is
therefore the height of impertinence for the RSS to try to taint the
noble ideas of Subhash Chandra with their nefarious Hindutva ideology.'
Like, Bhosle better not adore The Moor's Last Sigh (I do), for that
will pollute Rushdie's anti-Hindutva angst.
Now the truth is, there's no love lost between the RSS and I. Any
organisation which passes a resolution to wage a 'second war of
independence' against multinationals, I view with alarm, and no amount
of nationalist-speak can make me reconsider. For, to me, the first step
towards a strong nation lies in fostering a competitiveness that only
an open economy can enforce. Besides, since the socialistic, swadeshi
prototype left us eons behind countries that fit into India's armpit,
even an insanely liberal economy is worth a shot.
But, no matter what Mr Chattopadhyay's target may have been, I would
have had to defend it against his diatribe. For I'm convinced that the
'protection' of Netaji's noble image is the last thing on that
intellectual's borderline intellect.
How so? Well, let me first quote The Pioneer of January 24: 'Chief
Minister Jyoti Basu publicly admitted that the Communists had made a
''wrong assessment'' of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and called him a
''traitor''. Addressing a huge rally on the occasion of the freedom
fighter's birth centenary, Mr Basu said: ''We have corrected ourselves
and given him the recognition he deserves.'' Mr Basu stammered twice
before saying ''Netaji'' and added that there was an urgent need to
''re-evaluate'' the leader's role ''given the political morality of the
day''.' Please note that this event occurred in Mr Chattopadhyay's
Now, considering the huge turnout for the occasion, and the
never-in-doubt veneration of Netaji among the bulk of Indians and
especially Bengalis, has Netaji been 'rehabilitated' by the Communists
– or vice versa? And on what basis are these 'traitor'-callers worthy
of absolution, pray? Our Bangabandhu, Mr Chattopadhyay, doesn't say.
But look at it this way: Since Netaji joined hands with Fascist
Germany, which group has more right to appropriate him – the so-called
'neo-Nazi' RSS, or the self-calling 'democratic' CPI-M? To give you an
inkling of the CPI-M's brand of patriotism, here's a snippet from The
Indian Express of February 28: 'On three occasions, in the Aap ki
Adalat programme telecast by ZeeTV, (Comrade Sitaram) Yechuri was
asked: Who was the aggressor in the 1962 Sino-Indian war? Each time
Yechuri skirted the issue arguing that it is ''not in the national
interest' to address the question, and more so since the answer is
likely to have 'international ramifications''… ' Makes one wonder how
this sort of nationalism enhances Netaji's noble ideas.
Or what if we look at it this way: How can any secular and democratic
party (including the Congress) hallow as a national icon the man who
aligned himself with Adolf Hitler? By yielding to the "political
morality of the day", is Basubabu admitting that fascism was one of the
correct recourses? In which case, why blame the RSS for its militancy?
Let's take the Indian National Congress: In 1939, didn't its vanguard
squeeze out the fiery president on the issue of re-election? And didn't
Netaji then, hoping to take advantage of the War to free India of
British rule, have to flee to Germany in 1941? He led his Indian
National Army against the British and fought on the Burma front, but
all his efforts were to be in vain – thanks to lack of resources and
non-co-operation of the Congress. But, hey, all's forgiven…
Which brings me to Mahatma Gandhi's being 'diametrically opposed', etc.
Here's some trivia: The Readers Digest Book Of Facts notes that
Sergeant-Major Gandhi was awarded Queen Victoria's coveted war medal
for 'valour under fire' in South Africa's Kaffir Wars (yes, he fought,
and heroically). In his autobiography, Gandhiji states that if Indians
wanted to claim rights as subjects of the Empire, they would have had
to perform duties, and hence he had volunteered to form Indian corps to
serve the British… in not one, but three wars.
Erik H Erikson's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins
of Militant Nonviolence mentions Gandhiji convincing the British that
he would be the best recruiter of Indians for World War I. Then,
Gandhiji, newly seized with Ahimsa, returns to India and questions the
validity of the lot, from Rana Pratap to Shivaji Maharaj to Guru Govind
Singh to Subhash Chandra Bose, for their armed labours in defense of
their own country – and not at all troubled by the "political morality
of the day".
Today, the travesties against Subhas Chandra Bose by Congressmen and
Communists have quickly been swept under the PC-carpet. However, the
RSS can't even pay homage to a national and nationalistic hero. You
see, the crux is that both, the INC and the CPI, were and are free of
that monstrous evil existent in the RSS, ie, the conviction to oppose
the perpetual, irrational capitulation to Muslim demands in the name of
Most of Mr Chattopadhyay's piece dwells on 'the
totally secular character of the INA', how Netaji strove for 'the unity
of all Indians irrespective of religion', and how he abhorred 'the
cancer of communalism.' Which is all very nice, but, who's to say if
Netaji had the Gandhian/Nehruvian brand of secularism in mind…?
But here's yet another way to look at it (this is turning out to be
quite Rashomon-esque): On September 14, 1947, Gandhiji, while
addressing a rally of RSS workers in Bhangi Colony, described himself
as a 'Sanatani Hindu', applauded the discipline and idealism of the
RSS, and said that an organisation which was rooted in high ideals and
public service was bound to grow from strength to strength (it has).
What now? By rejecting the RSS, aren't Mr Chattopadhyay and
secularist-company, in effect, calling GandhiI a liar or a fool? The
thing is, nobody really gives a damn about the ideals of either
Gandhiji or Netaji: It's SNAFU-time, as usual.
Mr Chattopadhyay goes on to ask: 'In which mass political struggle for
India's freedom did the RSS participate after its birth in 1925 – the
Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930, the Quit India struggle of 1942 or
the Post-War upsurge of 1945? Historical records clearly reveal that
the RSS did not participate in any of these struggles.' Frankly, I had
no clue. So I searched the RSS site and sifted through its rhetoric:
'As a part of the selective intervention process, the RSS went ahead to
support the Congress and Gandhian programmes ever since the Congress
pledged for complete independence in December 1929. During the Civil
Disobedience Movement in 1932, almost all prominent activists including
Hedgewar participated in the movement and went to prison for more than
a year. Since then, the RSS volunteers had made contributions to the
struggle for freedom under the Congress banner while maintaining its
tradition, i e, on an individual basis.'
Horrors! The RSS was not even the untouchable it is today: In 1947,
Guru Golwalkar visited Gandhiji in Birla House at the latter's request;
when Gandhiji went on a fast to promote the donation of Rs 55 crores to
Pakistan, Lala Hansraj Gupta, on behalf of the RSS, signed the
fast-retraction appeal; Acharya Vinoba Bhave had declared himself 'an
honorary member of the Sangha'; and in November 1949, Dr Zakir Hussain
told a Milad Mehfil in Monghyr: 'The allegations against RSS of
violence and hatred against the Muslims are wholly false. Muslims
should learn the lesson of mutual love, cooperation and organisation
from RSS.' Very 'nefarious', all this.
Considering that Itihas seems be Mr Chattopadhyay's profession, I'm
amazed by his peculiar lack of sensitivity to historical facts.
Lokmanya Tilak wrote, 'Even if we read the whole of Banbhatta's
Harshacharita, we cannot discern when this famous king ruled or what
the extent of his kingdom was. Had it not been for the Chinese
traveller Hsuen Tsang, we would never have known the history of
Harsha.' This, in a nutshell, is an epithet for Indian chroniclers even
today. That historians should doubt the validity of current beliefs;
reject the traditional or establishmentarian line of thinking when it
becomes evident that it could be based on false assumptions or flimsy
foundations; analyze the evidence critically; and establish facts based
on common sense and logic, is beyond the scope of their ethics. Even
history is just a matter of rounding up the usual suspects.
Varsha Bhosle is based in Bombay
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