No escape from Nehru for BJP–RSS

The shadow of Nehru seems impossible for the BJP to outrun. Even where they attempt to slight his legacy, they end up underlining the importance of it

India’s first PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
India’s first PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Sujata Anandan

I am highly amused by how the BJP–RSS (the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) seem to have tied themselves up in knots over one of the two greatest Indians that ever lived — Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

They hate Mahatma Gandhi too, but as yet have been unable to do much about obliterating the Father of the Nation from public discourse or changing his personal history.

They have tried with Nehru, but every time they attempt it, Narendra Modi gets slapped in the face with the enormous aura of Jawaharlal Nehru. Whether it is the Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong describing Nehru as a great nation builder of "immense culture, integrity  and exemplary courage’ in his own parliament, or the US house majority leader Steny Hoyer bringing up Nehru’s vision of India that all must follow — at a Howdy Modi event in the US, no less! — Modi has had no way of countering those eulogies.

Even as recently as last week, Australian senators described Modi as divisive while evoking  Nehru’s ideals of democracy as the way forward for India — never mind that Modi was in their backyard, holding events for a highly divided Indian diaspora, some of who had described him as a terrorist and called for his arrest in graffiti painted all over town. 

When Modi first came to office in 2014, I remember WhatsApp messages had gone viral describing Nehru as a Muslim hiding under the title of Pandit.

Later it was revealed that that misrepresentation originated from a government server. But, somehow, however viral it went, most people — including many bigots — found it difficult to credit that a Muslim could have been posing as a Kashmiri Pandit for at least three generations.

As the BJP’s credibility on that issue began to falter, one of my RSS sources tried to change tack on Nehru’s antecedents. “You might know that Nehru was a Muslim,” he said, even as I could not help bursting into laughter and telling him he should try pulling that on some of his 'believers', not an informed individual like me. Offended, he said, “Nehru ke poorvaj Mughalon ke daroga thay, aap ko maloom hai? [Do you know that Nehru's ancestors were sheriffs of the Mughals?]”


“Daroga ka matlab aap samajhti ho? Yaani chowkidaar! [Do you understand what that means? Meaning a mere watchman.]”

That had me double up even further. “Just like Modi is India’s chowkidar today?” I asked, when I could catch my breath. 

He was stumped. He had not thought of the fact that the term chowkidar had ceased to be small in Modi’s regime, though it did indicate the RSS’s Brahminical, discriminatory mindset.

Now after so many atrocities against Muslims and attempting  to trouble them every step of the way — another of these ideologues had grumbled that every air conditioner mechanic who was called to his door seemed to be Muslim and that he was out of his wits trying to find a suitable (read Hindu) person for the job — it is becoming obvious that a Muslim consolidation is once again taking place behind the Congress. The RSS are beginning to suspect that describing Nehru as Muslim may in no small way be responsible for their renewed comfort with the Congress.

In Karnataka, statistics reveal that only 2 per cent of the Muslims who voted at the recent Assembly elections opted against the Congress, and even then, the BJP did not get even a fraction of that 2 per cent.

In Mumbai, where municipal elections are long overdue, Muslims have decided to vote en masse for Uddhav Thackeray’s faction of the Shiv Sena, the Shiv Sena (UBT) — and this after the Shinde–Fadnavis government is throwing every lure at the limited number of Urdu newspapers in the hope that they might be able to persuade their readers to go against the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). But letters to the editors and the WhatsApp statuses of Urdu readers continue to call for voting against the BJP. Parents of young Muslim boys and girls are also now enrolling their children in community schools that are offering them a non-madrasa, secular education and the RSS is beginning to fear that these children will cease to be mere mechanics or shopkeepers and end up as engineers and scientists in direct competition with their own children.

Suddenly, the RSS has realised that labelling Nehru as Muslim and the Congress as a party for Muslims is proving counterproductive, for it is not just 98 per cent of the Muslims who voted for the party in Karnataka. Despite warnings from intellectuals that its proposal to ban the Bajrang Dal in that state as a terrorist organisation could boomerang, even Hindus voted resoundingly for the Congress.

So now the BJP-RSS change tack again. By manufacturing a video with a fake narrative around a sceptre that was presented to Nehru at Independence, and one that was rightly confined to a museum all these years.

The attempt now is to paint Nehru as a hard-core Hindu who believed in all the symbolisms of Hindutva, but they are not quite sure if they should condemn him for consigning the sceptre to the dark corners of a museum or malign him for not following Hindu traditions at the point of Independence.

As I understand it, the attempt is to try to paint Modi as a better Hindu than Nehru, for he is now giving the sceptre the place of honour it supposedly long deserved in parliament.

Now this particular sceptre is a Shaivite symbol, so I wonder what Vaishnavites might think of it — will it set the Iyengars in Tamil Nadu against the Iyers? Because ultimately it is an attempt to woo South India that has now completely slipped out of the BJP’s hands.

However, the brahminism of the South is very unlike that of the North, and at least the Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu has no room for such brahminical symbolism.

At the end of the day, as India observed another anniversary of Pandit Nehru's passing, I am glad none of us ever knew about that sceptre and that Nehru had rightly consigned it to a museum. India is a secular, socialist, democratic republic  and that symbol of transfer of power has no place across all four values.

Sceptres belonged with emperors, not popularly elected leaders.

But I guess Modi has been unable to resist anointing himself as a rajah, however symbolically, and basking in a glory that could never truly be his in the modern century.

Views are personal

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