Appropriating an icon
The BJP and RSS’s proposed ‘statue of unity’ in memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel will go against the very ideals that the Iron Man represented, writes Sitaram Yechury.Updated: Jul 01, 2013 23:23 IST
By now it is clear that the BJP, functioning as the political arm of the RSS, is back to its basics in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. The RSS’s project of establishing a rabidly intolerant fascist ‘Hindu Rashtra’ was defeated during the freedom struggle.
Independent India established itself as a modern secular democratic republic. This, however, has never prevented the RSS from continuing to pursue its efforts to metamorphose the modern Indian republic into its vision of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Its objective was defined by the RSS’s supreme guru, MS Golwalkar, who said, “The foreign races (read non-Hindus) must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, ie, of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country only subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights”.
The pursuit of this objective, amongst others like sharpening communal polarisation, requires a major rewriting of history.
Media reports (History books might change again: BJP, Hindustan Times, June 24) that a former BJP president spoke of changing textbook syllabi, when they come to power at the Centre: “We tried to do this earlier too and will try it again”.
The same day LK Advani said that “The country still awaits the day when Article 370 (with respect to Jammu & Kashmir) would be repealed”. Back to the basics.
Such rewriting of history is also necessary to appropriate some of the giants of our freedom struggle in their pursuit of the RSS’s project.
The Gujarat chief minister, the RSS/BJP’s current poster boy, Narendra Modi announced recently a nationwide campaign to collect iron from farmers for building a ‘statue of unity’ in memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
“To reinvigorate his memory as a fitting tribute to the Iron Man of India, we are building this statue which will be double the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York”, he said.
Further, this statue is being projected as “encapsulating the unity and integrity of India along with its rich culture and heritage”.
The mobilisation will be akin to the collection of bricks for the construction of the temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya that spread communal hatred and mayhem devouring many lives and catapulted the first ever BJP-led government to the Centre.
It is precisely this vision of Sardar Patel’s “unity and integrity of India” based on the commonality among the rich diversity that bonds us together that is sought to be undermined by the RSS’s project.
It is necessary to recollect that it was this very Sardar Patel who banned the RSS following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
A government communiqué dated February 4, 1948, drafted by Sardar Patel, announcing the ban on the RSS reads: “The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself”.
Mahatma’s private secretary, Pyarelal Nayyar, in his book Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase recollects: “A letter which Sardar Patel received after the assassination from a young man, who according to his own statement had been gulled into joining the RSS organisation but was later disillusioned, described how members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the ‘good news’. After the news, sweets were distributed in RSS circles at several places, including Delhi.” (page no 756)
Such a misappropriation of Sardar Patel is part of the overall objective of rewriting Indian history in order to straitjacket it into a monolithic record of the glorification of the ‘Hindu Nation’.
Such an effort is integral to advance the RSS project of the metamorphosis of the modern Indian secular democratic republic into their version of ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Sardar Patel was, indeed, the ‘Iron Man’ who, as India’s first home minister, succeeded in integrating the princely states into the Indian Republic, ably assisted by massive Communist-led peasant struggles across the country that united the people of a rich diversity into the modern republic.
The RSS/BJP, today, work to negate this very legacy.
Sardar Patel was, after all, a leader of the Indian freedom struggle and a Congressman. The condition of the Congress party today is, indeed, pitiable that it is unable to prevent or even resist this effort by the RSS/BJP to appropriate the Sardar.
However, in the interest of India’s future, it is imperative to consolidate the secular democratic foundations of modern India.
This requires that such efforts to rewrite history and to appropriate the symbols of our freedom struggle by the RSS/BJP must be resoundingly defeated.
The comparison of the ‘statue of unity’ with the Statue of Liberty brings to mind a joke that was popular some decades ago, during the US-led Vietnam War.
The Statue of Liberty was gifted by France to the US symbolising the French Revolution’s ideals of `Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’.
One amongst a group of French tourists upon visiting the statue, commented: “I did not know that the US also honoured its dead, like the French, by erecting statues!”
The proposed ‘statue of unity’ and the triumph of the RSS’s project of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ will only signal the death of the ideals for which Sardar Patel worked all his life — the unity and integrity of India, preserving and enriching its immensely rich socio-cultural-religious diversity.
This cannot be allowed for the sake of the further consolidation of the modern Indian republic.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.
The views expressed by the author are personal.