Modi’s speech marked the end of Nehru era
The RSS leaders were not included, but they didn’t figure in the Independence movement. The most immediate reason for the PM selecting this heterogeneous collection of men as bulwarks of nationalism is to demonstrate the end of the Nehru era
Last Sunday, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi took another step towards changing the country from a liberal democracy to a nationalist democracy, taking pride in its limited pre-Independence military successes.
There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, which successive governments intended to erect under the canopy at India Gate. The canopy was originally occupied by the British king. He was removed in the sixties but disputatious Indian politicians prevented Gandhi taking his place since then. On Sunday, the PM, flanked on his right by home minister Amit Shah and on his left by housing minister HS Puri, switched on a hologram statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, standing where Gandhi never stood, under that canopy. This will be replaced by a granite statue of Bose.
Bose founded the Indian National Army (INA), which fought alongside the Japanese in World War II. The PM quoted him as having told the British,”I will not take Independence as alms. I will achieve it.” Gandhi, urging India to adopt the way of peace to gain Independence, said: “If India can possibly gain her freedom by war, her state will be no better and will be probably much worse than that of France or England.”
I am not trying to suggest that the statue of Bose is intended to provoke violence. Both the PM and his right-hand man made the immediate intention behind the statue clear. Modi said, “The freedom struggle involved the penance of lakhs of people but there was an attempt to limit their history. But today after decades of Independence the country is correcting those mistakes with boldness.”
Shah said, “There has been an attempt to push into oblivion many such personalities [as Bose] who struggled for India’s freedom. But today, with the decision to install the Netaji statue here , the nation is feeling satisfied and enthusiastic.”
The PM installed Bose under the once royal canopy, looking along Rajpath, to symbolise an independent India without mentioning the Nehru family, whose members’ names still adorn so many streets, institutions, and buildings. Even now, 75 years after Independence, the family continues to dominate the Congress, which, although sorely wounded, is still the only potential alternative national party to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The PM did, however, praise others who fought for India’s Independence, including, of course, Bose. They were leaders whose views on nationalism would differ from Modi’s.
One leader Modi mentioned was Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, who was chairman of the committee which wrote the Constitution. In his collection of writings on Indian nationalism, historian S Irfan Habib, said for Ambedkar, “Nationalism was a means to an end, and not an end itself.” Of course, the Congress’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was mentioned by Modi but he was an opponent of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) because its leaders supported using violence to bring about their Hindu Rajya. And then there was Birsa Munda, the tribal guerrilla leader, who challenged the British inspired by a tribal religion, not Hinduism.
The leaders Modi chose to mention included a Dalit and a tribal, groups he wants to win over in the forthcoming elections. There was not a woman among them. Even Irfan Habib was only able to find one among the 20 writers he chose.
The RSS leaders were not included, but they didn’t figure in the Independence movement. The most immediate reason for the PM selecting this heterogeneous collection of men as bulwarks of nationalism is to demonstrate the end of the Nehru era. He must have realised that these leaders also demonstrated the diversity of Indian nationalism. That diversity includes many who want to see the battle between the secular and the Hindu end.
The views expressed are personal