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Commentary/Varsha Bhosle

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 Paschim Banga.

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 'Communal harmony'.

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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