BJP, RSS cannot match Netaji’s commitment to freedom, secularism or gender equality

Rani Jhansi Regiment of Indian National Army was first ever women’s regiment of any army anywhere in the world. Even independent India took 50 more years to admit the first women into defence forces

Photo Courtesy:
Photo Courtesy:

Sujata Anandan

As I write this on the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I wonder what is a nation without its heroes. And Netaji definitely was one, even though he collaborated with Hitlerian Germany and the Japanese army to reach his goal of overthrowing the British.

But such was his commitment to India, its freedom, its secularism and its ideal of Sarva Dharma Sambhava that his fascist associations in the belief that the enemy of an enemy could be a friend was considered a minor misdemeanour by all, including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who donned his lawyer's robes after long years again to defend the Red Fort trials of Colonel Prem Sehgal, Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Major General Shah Nawaz Khan.

These three officers in the British Indian Army had jumped ship and joined Bose's Indian National Army and were captured in Malaya, Singapore and Burma respectively. So bitterly were these British trials contested that popular sentiment forced British Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck to terminate the trials and many historians today believe that it hastened the end of the British empire in India.

Now that is something that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh did not like at all. They never wanted the British to quit India and hated all those elements who fought to boot the British out of the country. Undoubtedly, Subhas Chandra Bose was one of them. Because not only was he fiercely secular – he had named the regiments in his army after Gandhiji, Maulana Azad and, yes, Pandit Nehru, he was also a great proponent of gender equality. The all-women’s Rani of Jhansi regiment of the Indian National Army was the first ever women's regiment of any army anywhere in the world and indeed quite ahead of its times, including of independent India which took 50 more years to admit the first women into its forces. But there was nothing the Jhansi regiment could not to do, including hand to hand combat with the enemy and the RSS quite hated that for they believed all that women should do is remain barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen all their lives.

But, then, the Hindu Rashtra is a nation without heroes and all those they would want as heroes are actually villains. For all that they are trying to build temples to Nathuram Godse, can they actually justify Godse's assassination of Mahatma Gandhi? Is there anything in the writings of Keshav Hegdewar or Guru Golwalkar that are lauded as much as those of Gandhiji and Pandit Nehru? Even Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Balasaheb Deoras were apologists of their own convictions – one apologising to the British to get out of jail, the other to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency to escape being slammed behind bars.

So the RSS-BJP must necessarily appropriate the heroes of their enemies – the enemies being a liberal, secular India, one of whose greatest icons, Sardar Vallabhai Patel banned the RSS after their involvement in Gandhiji's assassination and Subas Chandra Bose, who would have too had he lived as long as Independence, probably destroying the RSS forever. Nehru's British-educated sensibilities prevented him from doing so, Bose would have had no such qualms.

But whatever they attempt and however hard they try, these Hindutvawadis are not able to rise above their DNA. That is why they had to publish a book detailing Mahatma Gandhi's great Hindu qualities and are quite unable to explain why a Hindu found it necessary to kill another Hindu as Godse did Gandhi. They have also not yet been able to come up with an explanation of how a man who banned their organisation and compelled them to adopt a cultural rather than political framework for their activities has suddenly turned from their villain to hero simply because he is another Gujarati - though I think I know. Patel, for all his sterling qualities, can never match Gandhiji's stature and so now the RSS pushes him back a little by appropriating Gandhiji as the greater Hindu leader.

They are doing something similar with Bose. With Assembly elections due in West Bengal, they are in need of a Bengali icon. After their spectacular failure in apporopriating Rabindranath Tagore, they now think Bose's comparative militancy as to other non-violent freedom fighters like Gandhi and Nehru would be more suited to their own villainy and violence unleashed in this country.

When they tried to appropriate Patel, I thought they were doing an injustice to their own convictions. When they described Gandhiji as a great Hindu leader, I wondered how they could insult Godse who thought he had been sacrificing his life for their Hindu cause. Now if they want Bengal, they have a true and appropriate icon to their cause from that state – Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Jan Ssngh, the precursor to the BJP. So why do they not hold him up as an example and build a statue to him on Park Street in Calcutta? Because, as I said before, placed under the lens of impartial assessments, all the RSS heroes are either outright villains to the Indian cause or apologists to their own convictions and will not pass muster.

Bengalis are nothing if not nationalist – and their definition of nationalism is very different from those who supported the partition of Bengal (like Mookerjee) or contributed to the terrible strife in their state during Partition. They also do not forget that it was Tagore who gave Gandhiji the title of Mahatma and that the Mahatma returned the compliment by christening Tagore as Gurudev.

Now with Bose there are two things that the RSS must note – he said 'tum mujhe khoon doh, mein tumhe azaadi doonga'. The RSS neither gave him a single drop of their blood, nor did they want the freedom he promised.

Then he said freedom is not given, but taken. And we must now take that freedom, a hard won freedom from the British, back from the clutches of the fascist forces who have nearly pushed us back into slavery of everything we fought against with every drop of our blood and breath of our life.

Jai Hind!

(The author is a journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. The views are the author’s own)

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