Icons and Ideology of Religious Nationalism

Written by Ram Puniyani | Published on: September 7, 2019

Indian nationalism, which was at the root of freedom movement and which is based on inclusive pluralism, is currently under severe strain, with the ascendance of the politics of the RSS combine. All the wings of RSS are actively infiltrating and dominating most of the fields of our social and political life. Running parallel to this is their attempt to create a narrative, which shows the continuum of Hindu nationalism from times immemorial. In constructing this ideology, the biggest hurdle they faces is their pro-British role during the freedom movement. In this respect,they are generating a description of events to show as if they were a part of the freedom movement. Their ideologues are burning midnight oil to construct a picture which is far from the truth of their betrayal of the freedom movement. At the same time,they also wants to appropriate those icons, who had either some tactical differences with Gandhi-Nehru or chose another path for their fight against the British Empire.


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The first major attempt in this direction was to show their fondness for the lifelong Congressman, a strong disciple of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi andclose associate of Jawaharlal Nehru, SardarVallabh Bhai Patel. Digging out some small issues, they assert that had Sardar been the first Prime Minister of India, problems like Kashmir would not have been there. Taking the matters further, now they are going all out to propagate that Bhagat Singh, who was given the death sentence by the British; was not saved by Gandhi. This propaganda ignores the fact that Gandhi did his utmost to save the lives of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru but the British Government was determined not to pardon them. They also ignore the fact that Bhagat Singh himself had rejected any suggestionof seeking pardon from the British Government. His was a clear and principled stand, to inspire the whole nation through his transparent actions.

All this comes to one’s mind yet again, when the busts of Bhagat Singh, NetajiSubhash Chandra Bose andSavarkar, (being called Trimurti or triumvirate) were placed on the same stand and put up in the Delhi University campus. (Late August 2019) To put Savarkarin the same league as Bhagat Singh and NetajiSubhash Bose is part of a multi-pronged agenda. This is an attempt to propagate that Savarkar was an anti-British revolutionary like the other two. One knows that Savarkar was anti-British only in the first phase of his life, till he was imprisoned on the Andaman Islands. During his imprisonment, he underwent a transformation and sent five mercy petitions for securinghis own release. For the RSS and the Hindu nationalists, Savarkar is the biggest ideologue, as he defined Hindutva, the ideology of Hindu nationalism, despite himself being agnostic/atheist. His ideas are the foundation of Hindu nationalist politics. In his book on 1857 uprising, he demonstrated Hindu-Muslim unity in the struggle against the British. Later,after his transformation into the founder of the Hindu nationalist ideology, he made anti-Muslim rhetoric as the binding glue for uniting Hindus along communal lines.

In contrast; the icons whom RSS combine wants to link with Savarkar, i.e. Bhagat Singh and Netaji, were anti British to the core. Bhagat Singh was a communist and Netaji a Socialist. Bhagat Singh saw the centrality of Gandhi’s inclusive movement as the fulcrum of Indian nationalist movement. Netaji, despite differences in approach, could see that Gandhi is the ‘father of the nation’. Their difference was not on the concepts of Nationalism; it was more around the methods. Gandhi firmly stood for non-violence. During the Second World War, Gandhi launched the ‘Quit India’ movement for weakening of the British hold and for strengthening the bonding of the Indian nation. Here, Bose was for an alliance with Germany –Japan Axis.

In that sense,Bhagat Singh, Bose, Gandhi and his followers stand in one category, that of Indian nationalism. While, on the other hand Jinnah, after joining the Muslim League and Savarkar, the guiding light of Hindu Mahsabha, are in another group. They harped on religion as the basis of nationalism. Incidentally, this ideology emerged from the classes of Kings and Landlords, in particular. While the major supporters of Indian nationalism came from different sections of the society, industrialists, businessmen, workers and the educated middle classes, among others. The latter aspired for the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, cutting across religions, while the former took inspiration from the feudal values of birth-based hierarchies.

So what happened in Delhi University is an initial indication of what the rising religious nationalism wants to construct. Historical narrative and icons are crucial ideological pillars of nationalism. So far, we have seen one aspect of the RSS combine, where history has been constructed to glorify Hindu Kings as also to uphold the teachings of Hindu scriptures of the Manu Smriti variety. The DU incident seems to be a part of the second aspect of the ideological necessity of Hindu nationalism. In this aspect, those icons are being selected who had some differences with Gandhi (Bose and Bhagat Singh) and Nehru (Patel). These ‘in house differences’, which were within the fold of India nationalism, are being twisted and an attempt is being made to make these icons appear as being in alliance with Savakar, the one who betrayed the freedom movement. While the DU incident may sound like a minor one, it hides a bigger ideological propaganda, where the RSS - combine are trying to artificially bring together those whose differences are irreconcilable, i.e. difference between Indian Nationalism and Religious (Hindu or Muslim) Nationalism, on the same pedestal.

Such attempts by Hindu nationalists are working towards obfuscating the core ideological divides. The need is to understand the diverse ideologies of these icons and to show their basic differences. It is not just a question of a bust being installed; the question is which type of India we envisage, the one which isbuilt on the dreams of Bhagat Singh, Bose, Gandhi and Ambedkar, or the one being shrewdly instilled currently by those who uphold the likes of Savarkar, with glorification of the past, where inequality was the norm of social life.
 
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