Appropriation of Political icon is not a new phenomenon. It has been in the political arena of India since long, but politics of appropriation and co-option got new height in last four year rule of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Over the last four years of BJP’s rule, they have been trying to co-opt those political icons whose legacy they could invoke to vindicate their purpose. Actually, BJP doesn’t want to discuss ideas and the thoughts of those political icons which they have attempted to appropriate. Appropriately, they just want to invoke the legacy of the political icons in order to get their long cherished dream of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ fulfilled.
The recent co-option of political icon is Sardar Vallabhai Patel whose statue was unveiled on his 143th birthday. BJP has tried to glamorize him while arguing that congress has neglected this political icon that had played significant role in the unification of modern India. But BJP at the same time distort this fact that same person has banned RSS and said “All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organize for their protection. As a final result of poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of the sympathy of the government, or of the people, no more remained for the RSS. In fact the opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the government to take action against the RSS” ( Savarkar: Myth & Facts). Actually, RSS and BJP is paying homage to him because they have always assumed that if Sardar Patel would have become the first Prime minister, India could never have become a secular state. This seems quite paradoxical the party which is power, believes in exclusive nationalism and monism has unveiled statute of an icon who was staunch believer of inclusive nationalism and pluralism.
Similarly, BJP and RSS attempted to own legacy of Dr. B.R Ambedkar. On March 29, 2018 government of Uttar Pradesh announced that Ambedkar will now be referred as ‘Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’ in all official document and records in the state. ‘Ramji’, was initial name of his father which is now spelt out in middle of his full name. Actually, BJP has diminished legacy of this great Dalit icon just for the event management programs. They never want to discuss his ideas about caste and inequality for whose elimination he sacrificed his whole life. Moreover, about the cherished dream of Hindutva forces that is‘Hindu Rashtra’ Dr.B.R.Ambedkar wrote in his book ‘Annihilation of Caste’ in 1937 “ If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is menace to liberty, equality and Fraternity. It is incompatible with the democracy. Hindu raj must be prevented at any cast.” BJP government has made several desperate attempts to legitimize the legacy of this Dalit Icon for this purpose they are being organized several events in his name.
The process of co-option is not restricted to aforementioned National icons but BJP even attempted to appropriate India’s great freedom fighter Jay Prakash Nayaran. He was the only leader who resisted against Indra Gandhi’s highly centralized rule during 1970s. In fact, he was strong critic of any kind of centralization in politics. He was ardent advocate of liberal and inclusive nationalism which is antithetical to RSS and BJP’s version of Nationalism.
Here, it is also pertinent to mention that even BJP has also been attempting to claim the legacy of Gandhiji. It seems quite ironical that Narendra Modi identifies himself as Hindu nationalist by invoking Gandhi’s legacy for political mileage. BJP time and again has used those selective ideas of Gandhi which they could invoke for political gain and distorted those which don’t fit to their purpose. RSS and BJP hated Gandhi by thought and action one who embraced Non-violence and Ahimsa as a way of life. Ahimsa, according to RSS, has made this country weak. The RSS, Chief M.S. Golwalkar writes in his book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ “Gandhi’s ahimsa as a ‘great betrayal’ perpetrated over the Indian.” They never want to discuss his ideas which are against exclusive and hyperbolic form of nationalism. Further, RSS calls Gandhi’s Ahimsa ‘Impotency’ and believe that Gandhi’s Non-violence is responsible for the invasion of “Foreign Invaders” in India and their rule over whole Sub-continent. Leaders of BJP have continuously been talking about Gandhi, but they never ever talked about his political experiment of Non-Violence and Ahimsa which he used as tools to get his country freed from the Britisher.
This is also interesting that BJP has owned Deen Dayal Upadhya co-founder of Bhartiya Jan Sanjh, forerunner of Bhartiya Janta Party. It is worth to recall that recently UP government renamed Mughalsarai railway station by Deen Dayal Upadhya’s name. He was the same person who opposed constitution of the country. He believed in the exclusive and cultural nationalism a nationalism which is rooted in the identity of Hindu alone. He repudiated Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patil and Gandhi’s idea of India which is more inclusive and plural. He even said that stop calling Mahatma Gandhi as ‘Father of Nation’. In fact, it was quite easy for BJP to co-opt his legacy because as I mentioned earlier he was antithetic to the constitution of India. So, still there are certain voices in the Bhartiya Janta Party who expressed discontent with the constitution as it stands today.
The most important question arises here why RSS and BJP are being tried to co-opt and appropriate these National political icons that have left inerasable imprints on the socio-political landscape of the country? Perhaps the most glaring answer to this question lies in the fact that BJP doesn’t have such a Political Icon who has played significant role in the Freedom struggle of India and whose legacy they could celebrate valiantly. This is also undeniable fact that popular mass politics is impossible without invoking the legacy of the popular political icons and this is what RSS and BJP have been doing since last four years.
In fact, RSS and its offshoot BJP’s idea of India is diametrically opposed to the idea of India which Political Icons like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Ambedkar had proposed. Thus, this is undeniable fact that BJP’s appropriation of these Political icons is the proof that they try to distort the reality beneath the veneer of universal acceptability.
Zulafqar Ahmed is Doctoral fellow in the department of political science at Aligarh Muslim University. Email- email@example.com