Netas must stop using history as a weapon
It undoubtedly provides politicians with an opportunity to engage in combative behaviour
What was Rahul Gandhi trying to prove by sparking a “Savarkar controversy” in the midst of the Bharat Jodo Yatra? Was it a conscious decision to build an ideological foundation for the party and for his image?
In Maharashtra, where he made this statement, a sizeable portion of the population holds Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in high regard. Sanjay Raut, a close associate of Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, objected to Rahul’s statement. Since then, the state unit of the Congress has had to take several precautions to save the Maha Vikas Aghadi. Gandhi’s supporters can argue that his comment has bolstered the Congress’ image. It may connect well with the rest of India because Savarkar has no significant political influence outside Maharashtra. But what benefit is there to the debates around his name?
It undoubtedly provides politicians with an opportunity to engage in combative behaviour. For instance, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the chief minister of Assam, compared Gandhi to Saddam Hussain, prompting Alka Lamba of the Congress to recall “dogs” in response. Jairam Ramesh, the national media in-charge for the Congress, later attempted to downplay this controversy, but to no avail.
Gandhi could have avoided this situation had he wanted. During his yatra, which is approaching the 100th day, Gandhi has been perceived as optimistic and restrained. His measured remarks during the Morbi incident are an example of this. “I don’t want to politicise this incident,” he said. “People have lost lives, and it would be disrespectful to them to do it. I don’t want to do politics on it.” How did Gandhi’s patience suddenly wear thin at this point? Instead of flipping the pages of history, he could have spoken about the current urgent issues. There are several such issues.
He has a treasure trove of new experiences. He has traversed a huge portion of south, west, and central India. During this time, he has communicated with thousands of people from hundreds of villages. He could see their problems up close, something he had previously only heard or read about. Why not share his roadmap to deal with these problems with his followers? People will gain from a clear statement of his beliefs, and his party will benefit, too.
I don’t want to limit myself to Gandhi or the Congress. For the last few years, our political class has developed the tendency to use the pages of history as its weapons. This game of “half reality, half fiction” has shaken India’s political discourse. Instead of sliding into the black abyss of history, why don’t Indian leaders try to take some inspiration from the mornings of August 14 and 15, 1947?
They forget that just a few days after its creation, Pakistan became a victim of communalism, sectarianism, and hate. India, on the other hand, has always maintained its unity on crucial subjects despite its contradictions. Although BR Ambedkar, a member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Cabinet, was opposed to him, their fundamental differences about the uplift of Dalits and the exploited were far more limited than their political ties. Although Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Nehru are viewed differently today, there are historical instances that demonstrate how complementary they were to each other. Nehru never ignored Patel’s arguments, and reasoning, and Patel used to refer to Nehru as his leader. Both held the same opinions on the integrity and unity of the nation.
The fact that democracy has endured to this day in India while Pakistan is in a disarray is testament to the foresight of our greater founders. The whole social, economic, and political system in Pakistan is ruled by the army. Pakistan now poses a threat to the world due to its nuclear capability.
The attitude of the army there has also been impacted. A lawsuit has been filed against General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s daughter-in-law and other family members for accumulating significant wealth while Bajwa was in office. General Bajwa served as Pakistan’s chief of army staff till recently. What can you expect from a nation where the prime minister until a few years ago was a convicted fugitive and the top soldier is corrupt?
India has been spared this situation thus far because our politicians have refrained from acting inappropriately and desisted from breaking decorum. Hopefully, political party leaders from all sides will take note of this fact.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
The views expressed are personal.