Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Independence – Why Gandhi-Nehru brothers RSS-BJP?

                                     Mahatma Gandhi Nehru

Our current ruling dispensation led by BJP-RSS is working overtime to make India Congress-free and opposition-free and to change the basic tenets of the country’s constitution to make the country a Hindu Rashtra. And as a part of that strategy, founders of our nation Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are being ignored while celebrating the 75th Anniversary of our Independence. At the same time, Savarkar is being projected as an icon and leader of India’s freedom movement. Are these completely coincidental? Nobody believes it. There is a far-reaching strategy to impose the ideology and politics of right-wing communal forces on Indian soil and, in other words, in the public mind.

It is often alleged that the RSS did not take part in our freedom struggle, rather worked hand in glove with the British imperialist rulers to subvert it. This Hindu right organization does not have the evidence and information to disprove such allegations. Neither have they had any freedom fighter in their fold who is respected by the people. That is why Savarkar has to be made a symbol of the freedom movement, while the two most important leaders of this movement, Gandhiji and Nehru, have to be trivialized and eventually discredited.

True, Savarkar was arrested for terrorist activities during the British rule, more specifically, for the 1909 murder of Maharashtra’s Nashik District Collector ATM Jackson. The British-ruled Indian government brought him to the Andaman Cellular Jail on July 4, 1911. But what did he do then? He repeatedly appealed to the jail authority for clemency. In his second petition he urged: “…may I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition of clemency that I had sent in 1911, and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian Government? The latest development of the Indian politics and the conciliating policy of the Government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now no man having the good of India and Humanity at heart will blindly step up on the thorny paths which, in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-07, beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore, if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost condition of that progress.” (AG Noorani, The RSS, pp. 93-94) He further urged in the same petition: “I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like… Where else the prodigal sons return but to the parental doors of the Government?” (ibid, p 94)

If Savarkar had said that he was against the killings of the ruling English royals as a political strategy that would have been an honest policy position. One may agree or disagree with that policy. He didn’t do that. Instead, he submitted to the authorities that he would not take part in the freedom struggle and fully cooperate with the colonial Government. And following his release, he became a champion of anti-Islamic radical Hindutva ideology. He even complained to the Cellular Jail authorities that Barin Ghosh  (brother of Bengali revolutionary turned spiritual leader Arvind Ghosh) and his associates were conspiring against the British Government while in the Cellular Jail!

It is alleged that the massive Hindu-Muslim riots that broke out across the country on the eve of independence were spearheaded both by the RSS-Hindu Mahasabha activists and the hardliners of the Muslim League. The Hindu-right used to provoke the Hindus by alleging that the Muslims would seize power and that the Congress was appeasing the Muslims, while the Muslim-right, over-jealous to come out of the Hindu domination instigated the Muslims.

The RSS started complaining even before the country became independent that the Congress as well as the Communists had adopted the strategy of infiltration of their cadres into the administration to camouflage their ulterior motives. It cannot be said that such allegation is baseless. Why did the nationalists take such a strategy? Historians like Bipan Chandra believe that one “objective of the Congress strategy was to undermine the hold of the colonial state on the members of its own apparatuses — members of the civil services, the police and the armed forces — and win them over to  the nationalist cause or at least to weaken their loyalty and obedience to the colonial regime. The nationalist movement was, in fact, quite successful in this task.” (Bipan Chandra et al, India’s Struggle for Independence, p. 508)

And the 18th February 1946 strike by the ratings of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) in Bombay, which enjoyed the support of the Congress, the Communists and the Muslim League, was an important event. The Communist call for a general strike in support of the RIN revolt brought lakhs of workers out of their factories into the streets. In the RIN revolt, Karachi (now in Pakistan) was a major centre second only to Bombay. Sympathetic token strikes took place in the military establishments in Calcutta, Madras, Visakhapatnam, Delhi, Cochin, Jamnagar, the Andamans, and abroad in Bahrain and Aden. Seventy eight ships and 20 shore establishments, involving 20,000 ratings, were affected. The Royal Indian Airforce men went on sympathetic strikes in Marine Drive, Andheri and Sion areas of Bombay and in Poona, Calcutta, Jessore (now in Bangladesh) and Ambala units. Sepoys at Jabalpur went on strike while the Colaba cantonment showed ominous restlessness.

Even though the RSS made such accusations, they were not sitting idle. They took initiatives to increase the influence of RSS in the state machinery and make it anti-Muslim. Praloy Kanungo, in his book RSS’s Tryst with Politics‘ (p. 53) writes: RSS leader “Golwalkar adopted the method of infiltration of the RSS cadres in all the key services, both civil and military. The RSS not only enrolled reliable government servants, teachers and clerks, it also set up new branches in the Gun Carriage Factory, Jubbulpore and the Ordnance Factory, Khamaria to attract military personnel.”

Partha Sarathi Gupta, in his book Towards Freedom (as quoted by Noorani in The RSS, p. 85), writes: Golwalkar’s outward compliance with government orders was “no more than a smoke-screen behind which to carry on secretly or in a modified form the very activities that he has renounced”. The government of Central Provinces at Nagpur (the place which houses the RSS Headquarters) printed a confidential pamphlet containing detailed information regarding the strength, organization and activities of the RSS from all the districts of the province. A summary of the District Reports concluded: “Their policy is to wait until they themselves are better prepared and the state of the country offers better opportunities for intervention… the Sangh, though not now dangerous, might become a menace in times of serious communal disturbances, etc.” Hence, let the people now judge whether the current government’s Agniveer program is just a half-hearted attempt or something more than that.

The successful Communist-led movement against the Nizamshahi in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana’s accession to India, the success of the farmers’ Tevaga movement in Bengal led by them, the formation of the Communist government in Kerala in the second general election after a few years, alarmed the RSS and the Hindu-right. They tried to terrorize people inside and outside the Congress and the state machinery, pointing to the growing “communist threat”. And it cannot be said that they have completely failed in this attempt.

A contrast needs to be noted in this context. The current Prime Minister is being questioned is unheard of these days. He regularly propagates his mann ki baat using government and other media, but does not listen to others. He does not hesitate to brand any criticism of him or his government as treason and arrest and detain the critics without trial. But there are many instances when Prime Minister Nehru was questioned by the bureaucrats and he, too, encouraged and accepted fair criticism. Nehru also did not hesitate to argue and express his views sharply. For example, the then Foreign Secretary Yezdi Gundevia wrote in his book Outside the Archives (Sangram Books, 1984, pp. 209-10): There was a meeting with Prime Minister Nehru every Friday with the Under Secretary and higher bureaucrats. In one such meeting, Gundevia asked Nehru: “Well, sir, what happens if tomorrow, shall we say, the communists come into power? We have had a communist government in Kerala. But what happens to the services if the communists are elected to power, tomorrow, at the Centre, here in New Delhi?” Nehru asked, “Why are all of you so obsessed with communists and communism? What is it that communists can do that we cannot do and have not done for the country. Why do you imagine the communists will ever be voted into power at the Centre!” There was a long pause after this and then he said, spelling it out slowly and very deliberately, “The danger to India, mark you, is not communism. It is Hindu right-wing communalism.”

Many may complain that it was Nehru who brought down the first communist government in Kerala. Apparently the allegation is true. But there is something beyond the documents in history. So, what really happened would have been known if any of the participants of Nehru-CPI meet ever written a book like the above mentioned one: Outside the Archives.

Although Nehru had many criticisms of the implementation of communist ideals, the fact is that he was not opposed to communism and saw it as a positive process in world development and that the Russian Revolution deeply influenced him can be understood from reading his Glimpses of the World History and other writings.

Once India won her independence, Nehru took the initiative to turn our agricultural country into an industrialized one through setting up of state-owned industries. The homework, however, started earlier, before independence. At Nehru’s initiative, the Congress under the leadership of Subhash Chandra Bose started developing a program for the industrialization of the country. At the same time, in 1942, Indian capitalists formed the ‘Committee for Post-War Economic Development’. The draft of the ‘Bombay Plan’ was prepared with the cooperation of both the committees. The plan emphasized rapid economic development and equitable distribution, arguing for partial nationalization, state-owned sectors, land reforms and labor welfare measures.

However, as was the case under colonial rule, Britain and the entire capitalist world wanted to keep independent India as a supplier of raw materials and a market for manufactured goods of industrialized countries. The RSS and the rightists within the Congress stood up for the colonialist strategy, arguing that agriculture was being neglected in Nehru’s policy. Together they used Gandhiji’s anti-big-capitalist arguments. And in the 1960s, they had a great opportunity to blame Nehru’s policies when the country faced a serious food crisis.

Even the staunchest critics of Gandhiji cannot deny that his emergence in Indian politics was a landmark event. He was the first to take the initiative to involve the people, especially the workers, farmers, women and youth in the freedom movement of the country. When he returned to India from South Africa in January 1915, the then Congress leaders urged him to join the Congress. But on the advice of Gopalkrishna Gokhal, Gandhiji did not join but went on for the Bharat Parikrama to understand the real problems faced by the Indians. He tried to understand the causes of the miseries of common Indians. He understood that the masses cannot be drawn into the freedom movement unless the freedom movement struggle for the rights of the exploited and the poor. From 1917 to early 1918 he fought three significant battles — farmers’ struggles at Champaran in Bihar and at Kheda in Gujarat and the industrial workers’ strike in Ahmedabad.

Historian Mridula Mukherjee writes: “It was the reservoir of goodwill, and of experience that encouraged Gandhiji, in February 1919, to call for a nation-wide protest against the legislation that the British were threatening to introduce.” (India’s Struggle for Independence, p. 181) The two bills, known as Rowlatt Bills, were aimed at severely curtailing the civil liberties of Indians in the name of curbing revolutionary violence.

According to Bipan Chandra, “The strategic practice of the Indian national movement, especially during its leadership by Gandhiji, has certain significance in world history comparable to the British, French, Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions. India’s is the only actual historical example of a semi-democratic or democratic type of state structure being replaced or transformed, of the broadly Gramscian theoretical perspective of a war of position being successfully practiced.” (ibid, pp. 516-17) Gramsci was an Italian Marxist theorist.

Despite adhering to the caste system, Gandhiji was a staunch proponent of eradication of untouchability. This is in contrast with the Brahminical ideology of sage Manu, and of the BJP-RSS. Despite being a devout Hindu, Gandhiji’s faith in Hindu-Muslim harmony is an eyesore of the present rulers. The words Ishwar Allah Tero Naam in Ramdhun which he loved to here and sing are poisonous in their ideology. The ideas and ideologies of Gandhiji and Nehru are very much in contrast with the Hindutva ideologies of Savarkar. The RSS and the BJP want to make Indians accept Savarkar as an idol and leader of our freedom movement. So Gandhiji and Nehru have to be trivialized and eventually discredited while celebrating the 75th anniversary of our independence. And our present rulers are systematically and persistently doing just that. Will countless Indians, who very much cherish freedom, accept it? Will they not take the initiative to prevent such attempts?

(The author is a retired journalist and writer)


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