ICHR reluctantly backs down but still seeks to justify omission of Nehru from poster

Veer Savarkar and Madan Mohan Malviya found a place in ICHR's first poster on the 75th anniversary of Independence. So did Bhagat Singh, who was hanged in 1931. But Nehru was 'inadvertently' left out

Amrit Mahotsav poster
Amrit Mahotsav poster

Sanjukta Basu

The backlash has forced the ICHR on the backfoot. Omission of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the first poster issued on the 75th anniversary of Independence, it has explained, is no big deal. The controversy is unnecessary and there will be other posters which will include Nehru, is the condescending concessionary statement made by the ICHR secretary.

The exclusion of Nehru, one of the key architects of modern India and who spent nine years in British prisons during the freedom struggle, could not have been inadvertent. And the explanations have not been convincing.

The Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) excluded Nehru from the digital posters released on the occasion of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav commemorating the 75th year of India’s Independence. The poster released by ICHR contains a map of India along with photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, B R Ambedkar, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Madan Mohan Malviya and V D Savarkar. Nehru is missing.

“It is not merely petty but absolutely ahistorical to celebrate Azadi by omitting the pre-eminent voice of Indian freedom, Jawaharlal Nehru. One more occasion for ICHR to disgrace itself. This is becoming a habit,” said Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in a Tweet.

Member of Parliament and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hit out at the Prime Minister, “Why is Prime Minister silent on omission of Nehru's picture from ICHR's celebration of India@75. This goes against all facts & authentic history. We know the PM wants to obliterate Nehru’s legacy, but this is unconscionable! He must rise above his prejudices and tell ICHR to fix it.” The social media backlash against ICHR’s move has been massive with “Nehru” trending on Twitter for over 48 hours at the time of writing this report.

Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the explanation was unacceptable and minced no words in doing so. “ICHR Member-Secretary’s explanation for the omission of Jawaharlal Nehru from the first digital poster to celebrate 75 years of independence is ludicrous…After bowing down to prejudice and hate, it is best the Member-Secretary shuts his mouth,” said Chidambaram.

Though ludicrous, the very fact that ICHR’s had to come out with an explanation is the existential crisis BJP and more particularly Modi suffers from. They cannot afford to remove Nehru’s legacy from India’s history even if they have the power and inclination to do so. On the one hand Modi wants to fulfil Golwalkar's dreams by turning the idea of India we got from Nehru-Gandhi on its head and take India on a 180 degree reverse direction, unwilling to go down in history books as someone who simply carried forward the previous government’s work. On the other hand, in the attempt to establish RSS’s Hindutva project, he runs the risk of destroying democracy and turn India into a fascist nation ruled by a tinpot dictator, too big a risk in geopolitics.

Yet another manifestation of this existential crisis was when the Union government announced that India will help Hindus and Sikh refugees from Afghanistan (owing to the ongoing crisis after Taliban takeover). It was soon assumed that Muslim refugees would not be helped owing to the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) which excludes Muslims. Minister Hardeep Singh Puri even went ahead and claimed that CAA was necessary for such situations. But in reality, CAA is not helping anybody. It is a defunct law since its Rules have not been framed yet. Moreover, it only applies to those who entered India before 31 December 2014. India’s existing laws which does not have any religious conditions are being used to give shelter to Afghan refugees of all religions.

Modi’s existential crisis is that he made CAA to establish himself as the Virat Hindu Hriday Samrat who changed the secular nature of India's citizenship laws and established Hindu Rashtra. But in the larger scheme of things, he cannot afford to do blatant religious discrimination in accepting refugees.

Caught in this dilemma Modi’s breakthrough solution is to dismantle everything only to rebuild them in his own image. So, the Planning Commission is replaced by Niti Ayog, Prime Minister’s Relief Fund is replaced by PMCARES, the old parliament building will be replaced by a new one, previous government’s policies and programs are renamed, Nehru Memorial would have to make space for other Prime Ministers, all the assets Nehru built would be sold to cronies…the list goes on.

This do-over is primarily an RSS ambition. RSS did not participate in freedom struggle thinking it would never happen so why antagonize the British rulers. Golwalkar wrote, “Hindus, don’t waste your energy fighting the British; save your energy to fight our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians and Communists.” But once we gained independence, team-Nehru gave us the universal adult franchise without religious discrimination, Congress got all the due credits and RSS saw itself fading away into irrelevance, burdened by their own insecurities, hate and jealousy. Today they are living in the house Nehru built and trying to dismantle it piece by piece. They would soon try to remove the entire history of freedom struggle from people's memory because they are ashamed of not having any role in it.

These attacks on the idea of India and Nehru-Gandhi legacy would continue. As historian and author Purushottam Agarwal wrote in the introduction to his book ‘Who is Bharat Mata’ Writings by and on Jawaharlal Nehru,’

“The Hindutva generals realize fully well that without distorting Nehru’s memory and tarnishing his image, without belittling his towering personality, in fact, without erasing his impressions on the Indian mind the Hindutva project cannot have a lasting success…The question that all democratic-minded citizens have to ask…is the Nehruvian idea of India worth defending or not?”

Views are personal

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