Such is the desperation of the RSS for new ideologue constructs that it will not hesitate to hijack the legacy of any historical or contemporary figure that fits in its narrative of right wing nationalism. The seeds of this affliction are perhaps embedded in the aberration that for all its robust jingoism, these saffron voices shrank like a violet during the freedom struggle, hiding in the imperial rabbit hole, and this is a historical fact that no amount of patriotic whining over a national song can now drown.
Having been just a jovial bystander even during a groundswell like the Dandi March — opting to lurk in the shadows — it is no wonder the RSS has very few cultural stumps of its own. The icons it gloats over, the likes of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Hedgewar and Golwalkar, are just mannequins that it dusts every now and then for a generation which is barely familiar with their names. This quest has the RSS occasionally rummaging through history for ‘heroes’ and we have witnessed even a ludicrous attempt to usurp ‘Marxist’ Bhagat Singh — by virtue of his Arya Samaj ancestry — and Dalit leader Dr B R Ambedkar, despite the Sangh’s congenital allergy for anything hostile to its Brahmanical ethos.
Sure, all parties try to appropriate national icons, but the saffron voices do so with an intellectual dishonesty that would put any make-believe choreographer to shame. So, they conveniently gloss over the indictment of the RSS by none other than Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In a letter to Dr Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, who later founded the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, Patel wrote: ‘’As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha… Our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Mahatma’s assassination) became possible.’’
The BJP has an inbred conflict with historical facts but even it cannot recoil from admitting that the RSS was able to make assertions about its ‘nationalist’ bonafides without unfurling the tricolour until 2002. In fact, Patel, with whom the BJP is besotted, had to virtually goad the RSS into accepting the national flag, even making it a precondition for lifting the ban clamped on the Sangh after Gandhi’s assassination. It, of course, took the RSS half-a-century to overcome its inhibition and rekindle its patriotism – prodded perhaps by Atal Bihari Vajpayee – and unfurl the tricolour.
The real challenge for the RSS, of course, is posed by its failure to invent a counter alternative to Nehru’s liberal thinking and humanism that appeals to most Hindus — the Pandit’s ‘historical’ blunder on Kashmir notwithstanding. It is rather ironical that in a country where more than 80 percent of the population is Hindu, the RSS finds it difficult to package its ideology and has to use borrowed crutches — purloined from the Congress — to establish its credentials. No wonder the political baggage that the BJP lugs around with such chivalrous enthusiasm also carries the imprint of the Congress. No wonder, the entire BJP political construct, too, and that of the Jan Sangh, in its earlier avatar, swirled around its spiteful chant against the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. To that extent BJP will never be Cong Mukt.
The Right has also never been able to invest in the kind of scholastic tradition that the left has: So, with all the resources at its command, not to forget a compliant administration and a conniving government, it has not been able to build an institution like the Nehru Museum and Memorial Library. After its sputtering attempts to nurture a parallel narrative, it is only now trying to turn the Swami Vivekananda University of Social Sciences into a counterweight to the leftist JNU. Unable, to look beyond Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Bharat Bhavan and despite its penchant for invoking ancestry, religious absolutism and mythology, the Indian Right has failed to produce any work that merits more than a lavatory scholarship.
Kalam was most successful RSS ‘appropriation’
Perhaps the most successful appropriation by the RSS was the attempt to fit former President APJ Abdul Kalam into this right wing template. By a slender thread hangs the legend of the Missile man: A fable that seeks to project that for five years at least, a ‘Hindu’ masquerading as a ‘Muslim’ was the presiding deity at Raisina Hills — a great cultural ‘conquest’ for the Sangh parivar. The entire edifice rests on the chant that Kalam was more enamoured of Hinduism than Islam. By way of anecdotal evidence, the saffron voices harp on his love for Sanskrit; dwell on his childhood friendship with three boys — all hailing from orthodox Brahmin families, including one who became a temple priest; and how events from the Ramayana were his bedtime stories. So were events from the Prophet’s life but this fact is glossed over.. They cite his penchant for quoting from the Bhagawad Gita and the Upanishads; highlight the innate preference for vegetarian food; mention his keen interest in Hindustani classical music and expertise on Rudra Veena — the enduring image that Kalam’s bust at Rameswaram seeks to reinforce.
And here the analogy gets stretched to the outlandish — the saffron piece de resistance — the fact that he was ‘not a practicing Muslim.’ So, mildly put, a pragmatic Kalam did not allow faith to come in conflict with his checkered career; and he found ‘all-round acceptance’ by allowing his Hindu orientation to subsume his Muslim identity. The bigot, of course, is delighted at such a construct — of a Muslim President who owes his ‘liberal’ outlook to his Hindu milieu rather than his orthodox upbringing and schooling — underscoring in a big way the intrinsic strength and resilience of Hinduism.
The saffron protagonists also point out with glee how Kalam refused to mix feasting with fasting during Ramzan and that no Iftar parties were hosted during his tenancy at Rashtrapati Bhavan. But they stick their heads in sand when told that the former president preferred charity (zakat — a Quranic obligation) and the presidential Iftaar budget was set aside for orphanages. Conveniently, they leave out any such unpalatable truths, such is the sophistry and deception. So, they would rather dwell on what was an unusual deviation for a moderate Muslim — Kalam refusing to be a chief guest for an event organised to mark Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and his former roommate recounting that he had never seen Kalam offering namaz or discussing his Muslim relatives.
RSS sarasanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat had described Kalam in his final tribute as a great visionary who ignited innumerable minds. But Mahesh Sharma, PM Modi’s culture minister, gave the game away when he declared that Kalam was a “great nationalist despite being a Muslim” – an outrageous remark for which he was never criticised within the party; rather he was later the beneficiary of Kalam’s official bungalow. That one cannot be both a nationalist and a Muslim and that the two cannot possibly cohabit is the kind of belief to which the Sangh subscribes. Belated amends were made by the BJP for Mahesh Sharma’s calculated “faux pas” when the name of Aurangzeb Road in Lutyen’s Delhi was changed to that “of a great human being who, despite being a Muslim, was such a great nationalist and humanist – APJ Abdul Kalam”. Maybe, a less grudging tribute to Nehru would also be in order.