'One big problem for the RSS is, while they spread their ideology of hard, Hindu-ised Indian nationalism, the absence of their own pantheon of modern nationalist giants. They missed out on the freedom movement quite comprehensively, in some ways comparable to the Muslim League and latter-day Communists. They have to find heroes elsewhere.'
'They borrow who they can from the Congress, like Madan Mohan Malviya and Sardar Patel, and then steal the entire lot of revolutionaries, from Bhagat Singh to Netaji, never mind that many of them were extreme leftists,' says Shekhar Gupta.
If you too are of a vintage that listed stamp-collection as a hobby in job applications, many of you, like this columnist, may have had licking of stamps as an important item among the KRAs in your first jobs.
Mine was to stick stamps on envelopes sending out 75-rupee payment cheques to writers for their contributions along with clippings of their articles. Stamps played an important part in our lives. As did typewriters, cyclostyle, gramophones, black & white Doordarshan, telegraph, money orders, steam engine, lightning and 'PP' (Particular Person) long-distance phone calls.
It would also mean that you are from a very, very old generation, particularly today, when I believe a fresh generation gap is marked every seven years. Because by now, all the once important things I mention here, including postage stamps, have gone out of people's lives. You tell a young person you may be hiring today for a first job that it will include licking and sticking stamps on envelopes, chances are you will be asked, 'Lick, lick what? And stamps, what are stamps?'
At least the two youngest generations of Indian voters (using that seven-year yardstick for generation change) would have little experience of using postage stamps, and the word philately would fox almost all, unless they've been preparing for SAT. In the era of email and courier, snail mail is mostly for 'sarkar.'
I bet very few Indians under the age of 30 -- and that's a lot of Indians -- would have ever gone to a post office to buy stamps, or excitedly blown moist breath at a letter from an NRI uncle to loosen and remove the stamps. I bet they were intrigued this week to see two unfamiliar images of stamps staring at them from their front pages.
There is still strong familiarity with Indira Gandhi, but Nehru's is a fading memory. I have many arguments with Nehru's ideas, from the economy to foreign policy and even -- I say this carefully -- his definition of what Mani Shankar Aiyar calls 'hard' secularism, which is another name for agnosticism. The RSS contempt for him is known. But they are wasting their time pretending to dismantle his ideological legacy now. It has already been smothered and given quiet burial.
The RSS/BJP attempt to hammer yet another nail in the coffin of long dead Nehruvianism by discontinuing an old series of postage stamps is a waste of political capital. It shows them up to be cussed and paranoid about ideological competition in a 'winner-takes-all' manner that is viciously medieval. It will only help the older, fading generation of Nehru-ites revive and bring his ideas back in the debate.
It may even rekindle some interest in the old hobby of philately -- so dead indeed that the landmark Stanley Gibbons stamp shop on London's Strand shut down and disappeared years ago. It's cute the RSS believes the cult of Nehru and his daughter is perpetuated by postage stamps.
The Nehru-Indira ideologies have faded from use as much as the postage stamps. Nehru died 51 years ago. Every government after his, notably his daughter Indira's over 16 years, has worked at dismantling his legacy.
Indira started cultivating tantriks, holding special pujas and havans, stole our liberties, re-scripted our Non-Alignment to reduce us to a Soviet lackey. She liberated Bangladesh in 1971, but paid for it by signing a security treaty with the Soviet Union. The positions India took in the seventies and eighties, particularly on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, would have shamed Nehru more than the renaming of any Lutyens' Delhi roads.
Further, Indira's economic policies were way to the left of Nehru's ideas of a mixed economy, and she the ruinously nationalised industries and companies, from banking to insurance to coal to petroleum, textiles -- even travel agencies -- that Nehru had allowed to prosper even as he built his own PSU disasters.
Next in the Nehru-Gandhi line of succession, Rajiv also continued the process. His intervention in the Shah Bano case, his opening of the locks at the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi and then the shilanyas there, and his waffling over the Mandal Commission would not have pleased Nehru.
Narasimha Rao did not even pay lip service to Indira or Nehru as he nuked the licence-quota raj, let the Babri be destroyed, upgraded India's ties with Israel. Further, Sonia Gandhi's Congress, in its 10 years in power, resurrected Indira's povertarianism but was greatly suspicious of Nehru's kind of development giganticism: Big dams, larger industrial estates, mega power and mining projects, even river inter-linking.
What are the RSS and BJP after now, since global change has made Nehru, and even more so Indira, as irrelevant as technology has made postage stamps?
One big problem for the RSS is, while they spread their ideology of hard, Hindu-ised Indian nationalism, the absence of their own pantheon of modern nationalist giants. They missed out on the freedom movement quite comprehensively, in some ways comparable to the Muslim League and latter-day Communists. They have to find heroes elsewhere.
They borrow who they can from the Congress, like Madan Mohan Malviya and Sardar Patel, and then steal the entire lot of revolutionaries, from Bhagat Singh to Netaji, never mind that many of them were extreme leftists. They have only the odd one of their own, notably Savarkar.
Nehru, with his failures in Kashmir and against the Chinese in 1962, has been easier to repudiate. Indira is a tough nut, given that she defeated Pakistan in war, tested a nuclear device and conformed to the RSS idea of a strong India. But if the election victory of 2014 has to be consummated ideologically, her legacy has to be destroyed as well. Popular adulation for her has not fully faded as yet.
You drive past 1, Safdarjung Road, where a memorial dedicated to her is located at her residence, and you can see hordes from our villages arrive by bus, particularly over the weekends. Her Emergency will now be used to destroy her. That is why as stamps featuring her and Nehru are withdrawn, new ones will feature her arch enemies, Lohia and JP -- never mind that they rejected the RSS' ideology and that their true legatees will be fighting the BJP in Bihar next month.
The RSS is going back five decades to brutally redefine Indian nationalism, and the enemy's enemy is the ideal ally. The stamps are mere collateral victims.
Postscript: Ideological cussedness is not confined to the RSS/BJP. On February 26, 2003, the day Savarkar's statue was to be unveiled in Parliament precincts, I heard early in the morning from an angry Jairam Ramesh. The Vajpayee government, he said, was committing a crime on India by bringing a bigot and a collaborator to share space with great national leaders, and asked why my newspaper wasn't going to war over it.