- History being rewritten to suit political ends
- Nehru was a political thinker respected by Russel
- Man of peace averted world wars
- He was the architect of modern India
- Sangh Parivar trying to co-opt icons from freedom struggle
Obviously there aren’t national heroes worth their while after the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Ambedkar. Decades after they have lived and strived for the country, political parties in India continue to live on their legacy. By refusing to clarify the non-existent familial relation between Gandhi and Indira, the Congress party, for a long time, let the masses believe that the Gandhi/Nehru family are the descendants of the Mahatma, who had his ardent follower in Nehru. And later, Congress projected Indira Gandhi (they continue to do so, even as Nehru re-featured on their banners in a big way lately) as the ablest leader and used her popularity to get into the hearts of people.
Ambedkar on the other hand has always been messiah of the depressed and the oppressed. Never mind Gandhi’s policy of equality and campaign against caste discrimination and untouchability; his birth as a Gujarati bania alienated him, atleast in principle, as the icon of the marginalised. The differences between both the leaders, who share the common belief and have equally championed the cause of backward classes, goes back to their times. And their followers, along the decades, have been even more critical about each other. And it is this conflict that led to the controversy over the foreword by Arundhati Roy for the latest edition of Ambedkar’s book ‘Annihilation of Caste’. She says, “Notwithstanding the name-calling, the fact is that neither Ambedkar nor Gandhi allows us to pin easy labels on them that say “pro-imperialist” or “anti-imperialist.” Their conflict complicates and perhaps enriches our understanding of imperialism as well as the struggle against it.” Today, Ambedkar who has been a nationalist first and staunchly opposed orthodoxy and caste annihilation is restricted to a certain section of Indians. And, the so called followers of Dadasaheb Ambedkar – Bahujan Samaj Party, went on an installing spree by setting up statues of their idol across UP.
Coming back to Nehru; who is forever blamed for every mistake that has happened in independent India – the Congress too was not overtly enthusiastic about correcting or countering the process of maligning him that has only grown in proportions over the years. Today, not many acknowledge the fact that he was one of the greatest political scientists of his time and is given the credit of refuting major international conflicts by effectively curtailing the Korea war (1950), Suez Canal dispute (1956) and the civil war in Congo and Bertrand Russel is believed to have said that on several occasions he had prevented major conflicts from gaining proportions of a world war. His non-alignment policy was majorly responsible for a peaceful India and had proved its effectiveness across the world. Under his captainship India emerged as the only successful democracy when compared to its neighbours.
It is only now, after 125 years, under the aegis of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party is making some noise over the issue. This outburst may also be attributed to Modi-led BJP openly criticising the first prime minister of India. And, saying Patel would have made a better prime minister. And in a veiled and at times not so hidden agenda, BJP is building up a parallel image of Patel. Until now the party and RSS lacked an icon from the national movement, which they wish to change by making Patel their hero. And one of the initiatives taken to this effect is the proposed 240 metres tall statue of Sardar Patel in Gujarat. Sardar Patel who had openly denounced RSS and had even banned the organisation until it promised to restrict itself to cultural activities – “All their (RSS) leaders’ speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result of the poison…an atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi’s assassination) became possible…RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.” – Excerpts from Sardar Patel’s letters to M.S. Golwalkar (Outlook) – is being portrayed as the BJP icon – ironical indeed.
It is quite a mockery of the life-long alliance between both the iconic leaders – Sardar Patel and Nehru – who had their differences – but together went ahead in building an independent India, a sub-continent that was taking its baby steps and were dealing with various issues – from backwardness and poverty to illiteracy and unemployment and the larger problems like the partition and the aftermath, wars etc.,
It is like the tug of war between Congress and BJP, and in their enthusiastic competition to outdo each other, are trying to recreate history (in their favour) by bringing the national leaders into the contemporary context.
In the mindless game of politics, history bears the brunt. Sagarika Ghose in one of her columns says, “History is now competitive politics. So harnessed is history to party politics that any complex understanding of the past is attacked as vociferously as a political opponent.” James Laine’s book on Shivaji is not seen as book of history but as an anti-NCP-Shiv Sena document; Romila Thapar is not a doyenne of history, she becomes a political ‘enemy’ of the Hindu rashtra; A K Ramanujan’s essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ cannot be studied in Delhi University because it conflicts with ABVP’s notion of the Ramayana. In the process, future citizens are not allowed to access varied readings of the past because the history class is turning them into political activists.
Hero worship is not wrong. But the agenda is. The worship of the national heroes has never translated into study of history and national leaders. Even as there are many books on Nehru, several others like Ambedkar need to be studied and their lives and philosophies understood. Instead, what we get are more statues, more schemes named after the national heroes and name calling each other’s self-proclaimed heroes – an ominous trend that may further disintegrate the country already ridden with caste and religious politics.