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HomeOpinionThe ICHR poster is Hindutva institutionalising pettiness. Trying to erase Nehru is...

The ICHR poster is Hindutva institutionalising pettiness. Trying to erase Nehru is futile

The Narendra Modi dispensation has taken this hatred to a pathological level because of the deep personal inferiority complex vis-a-vis Nehru.

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The Indian Council of Historical Research’s ‘Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ poster to celebrate India’s 75th year of independence is a telling pictorial representation of the short-sighted and divisive agenda of Hindutva politics. The pathological hatred and fear of Jawaharlal Nehru are integral to Hindutva politics. Nehru represented the best of Indian wisdom earned over the millennia. This wisdom prizes, above all, a balanced view of life, earned through keen inquisitiveness and respectful dialogue. It is not for nothing that in The Discovery of India, Nehru quotes the full text of Rigveda’s Nasadiya Sukta with pride. He was fascinated by this Sukta as it poignantly warns against any hubris claiming the monopoly of truth and finality of knowledge. One is not sure how many of those trolling Nehru day-in and day-out have even heard of it.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been hating Nehru since day one for the simple reason that he understood and explained best the mortal danger that their and the Hindu Mahasabha’s ideology posed. It threatened not only the inclusive and democratic idea of India but also the Hindu religion and tradition itself. The Narendra Modi dispensation has taken this hatred to a pathological level because of the deep personal inferiority complex vis-a-vis Nehru. This hatred, in its obsession with denigrating and erasing Nehru, does not hesitate to go down to the lowest pettiness. The poster is just another example. The leader, who spent nine years of his life in British prisons and was the first to insist on ‘purna swaraj’ (in 1929) instead of dominion status, going against even Gandhi, is sought to be erased from the history of the freedom movement.

Nehru was the visionary who (along with Subhas Chandra Bose) drafted the Congress’ Karachi resolution in 1931, outlining the democratic and welfare-oriented character of the State in independent India, and worked wisely to make Independent India a progressive and self-reliant nation, daring to think of nuclear energy enabled country in the late 1940s.

One wonders if the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) would consider replacing the word ‘research’ with ‘erasure’ in its nomenclature.

Also Read: Hindutva founders did little for azadi. Hijacking history in ICHR poster is what BJP can do

Other erasures in the ICHR poster

The petty mindset is consciously active in Nehru’s erasure, but it is reflected in other inclusions and exclusions as well. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is included as a prominent freedom fighter, despite his mercy petitions, assurances to work for the British government, and actively opposing the Quit India Movement.

But, to his credit, Savarkar was the first person to describe the 1857 uprising as ‘first Indian war of independence’ in his book The Indian War of Independence of 1857. This poster, designed by his followers, has no place even for Rani Lakshmibai and Nana Saheb, let alone Begum Hazrat Mahal and Azimullah Khan, who were, in any case, destined to be excluded from ‘incredible, new’ India. Despite Savarkar’s testimonial, the warriors of 1857 do not have any place in the ICHR narrative of Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.

None of this seems to be a genuine mistake. To put it bluntly, there is a method to the madness, coupled with the deliberate institutionalisation of pettiness. What else can explain the absence of personalities like Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan from this poster? Does it not fit the method of attempted erasure of everything Islamic from the cultural memory of our nation and deliberate vilification of almost all historical figures that happen to be Muslim?

It is again in tune with the idea of ‘new’ India in which you would look in vain for any figure from the south and northeast, while someone like C. Rajagopalachari is considered important enough to join the roll of honour. Similarly, in vain one would look for any woman here — no Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asaf Ali, or even Annie Besant.

Also Read: Nehru present in future ‘Azadi Mahotsav’ posters, says ICHR after Congress slams ‘omission’

The Tilak-RSS mismatch

The most telling exclusion, apart from Nehru, is that of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a ‘giant among men’ as Gandhiji described him in Young India journal on 4 August 1920. He was, of course, a conservative on social matters but also a fierce nationalist. It was he who first described ‘swaraj’ (self-rule) as his ‘birthright’ as an Indian and worked in that direction in his own way. While undergoing a prison term in Mandalay (Myanmar), Tilak composed Shrimadh Bhagvad Gita Rahasya, a scholarly and thought-provoking commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Due to his social conservatism and insistence on Hindu symbols, coupled with indifference regarding violence and non-violence, Tilak has been a major figure in the Hindutva pantheon. So far, that is. The new Hindutva pantheon, obsessed as it is with Modi and Yogi Adityanath, has no place even for a Tilak.

Perhaps, this is another indication of the unfolding idea of ‘new’ India. Tilak, with all his conservatism, was a serious scholar. He propounded the theory of the Arctic as the original home of the Aryans, which put M. S. Golwalkar in a quandary — how to reconcile this view of the Hindutva icon with the RSS’ idea of the Aryans being the ‘original’ inhabitants of India? The answer lay in Golwalkar’s ‘brilliant’ idea ‘those days, the arctic was where India is today. Aryans did not come from anywhere, the arctic moved far north from India.’ One cannot even imagine how Tilak would have reacted to this postulation.

The exclusion of Tilak by the followers of Savarkar is rather understandable. After all, Tilak would find it difficult even to comprehend Savarkar’s assertion made at the outset in his book Hindutva, on who a Hindu is: “Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism.”

Apart from exposing the pettiness of the powers that be, the ICHR poster also brings forth the conflict between Hindu religion and culture, on one hand, and the exclusionary political ideology of Hindutva, on the other.

Purushottam Agrawal is a Delhi-based writer, literary historian, and political commentator. He is the editor of the bestselling Who is Bharat Mata (Speaking Tiger, 2019), a collection of texts on and by Jawaharlal Nehru. Agrawal’s latest book is Kabir Kabir (Westland, 2021).

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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