Varanasi and the Saudi King: A fake video and a WhatsApp forward to vilify Nehru

Twisted statements, false narratives, half-truths and fake videos continue to be churned out even 58 years after the death of the first Prime Minister on May 27, 1964.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India
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Arun Sharma

A new addition to the unending stream of propaganda videos being forwarded on WA alleges that Jawaharlal was anti-Hindu. The context provided is a visit by the then Saudi King to India in the year 1955.

The video claims the King visited Varanasi. But it alleges that following instructions by the then Indian Prime Minister, the Kashi Vishwanath temple and other temples on the King’s route was covered up so as not to offend his Royal Highness.

The video also informs that Nehru even had the Kalimah Tayyaba inscribed on government buildings to please the king, claiming that it showed Nehru’s anti-Hindu, slavish and pro-Islamic mentality. The video does not name the commentator, cites no evidence and attributes the production to an obscure group named ‘Nation with NAMO’ , suggesting the producers are at least supporters of Modi and BJP-RSS, even if they share no direct link.

Those who have been unquestioningly sharing the video, had the option of laughing at it before deleting the clip because it is clearly fake and outrageous.

  1. The very fact that this allegation seems to have surfaced in recent months calls the bluff on it. It is unthinkable that the RSS and the Jan Sangh would have remained silent all these years if such an instruction had indeed been given.

  2. The fact that the alleged episode presumably finds no mention in contemporary newspaper reports ( the clip would have cited the newspapers in that case) is another reason to suspect that the clip is a malicious attempt to malign the memory of the first Prime Minister.

  3. It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cover the Kashi Vishwanath temple with its high spires and huge domes. It certainly would have required many hands over several days and could not have been done overnight.

  4. The clip shows no photograph of the temple covered though in the 1950s photographs were quite common. Indeed the video shows a photograph of the Saudi King going in a profession, without explicitly saying that the photograph was taken during the King’s visit to Varanasi. Assuming it was taken during the visit, why is no photograph of the covered temple shown?

  5. Would the priests and the thousands of devotees who visited the temple, the mendicants and sadhus who lived in the holy city, have kept quiet? Wouldn’t the RSS and Jan Sangh activists have hit the streets?

  6. The visit would have been covered by the international Press as well but once again, the painstakingly produced video cites no international media to indicate reactions or outrage.

  7. Moreover, why would the Saudi King visit Varanasi if not to see Hindu heritage and soak in the holy city? This is the reason why thousands of foreign travelers, including Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley, visited Varanasi and still do. Was the temple ever covered for them?

  8. If Nehru had indeed been squeamish about showing the temple to the Saudi King ( there is no earthly reason why he would have been) he could have easily excluded Varanasi from the itinerary of the King!

  9. Moreover, Kalimah and all other Quaranic inscriptions are not written on walls or on buildings which Nehru would have known.

Nehru took great pride in being an Indian and was a rationalist. A well-travelled and well-read man, he sought out scientists and spoke against superstition. It is unthinkable that he could have given any such instruction. But clearly a large number of people swallowed the malicious claims made in the WhatsApp forward.

What also makes it improbable is the large number of foreigners from across the globe who have been visiting Varanasi and India both before and after Independence. They do visit Hindu temples and no evidence is available that any temple anywhere, leave alone the Kashi Vishwanath temple, was ever covered during any state visit of any other dignitary.

Ironically, while the Kashi Vishwanath temple was almost certainly never covered as alleged (as a telltale sign no priest is quoted or shown confirming the claim), the Gujarat Government did cover a portion of the road in Ahmedabad on the route of the then US President Donald Trump and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson so as to hide the slums.

The timing and the reference to Kashi Vishwanath temple leave no doubt about the motive. With the Kashi corridor being showcased by the BJP and the Hindu reactionaries raking up a controversy over the Gyanvapi mosque, it is not rocket science to see through the pattern.

***


The canard against Nehru has been sustained for over 70 years. Now in the age of social media and revolutionary communication technology, they have been given a fillip.

In 1963, when I was just thirteen, our Garhwali servant told us that Nehru had said the loss of Indian territory in Eastern Ladakh to China did not matter as nothing grows there.

A man of deep philosophical bent of mind that Nehru was, he had actually said, “…it does seem rather absurd for two great countries … immediately to rush at each other’s throats to decide whether two miles of territory are on this side or on that side, and especially two miles of territory in the high mountains, where nobody lives.” (Jawaharlal Nehru, Lok Sabha, 4th September, 1959)

I cannot imagine our illiterate domestic help had read Nehru’s original statement anywhere. Yet, he knew the twisted version that denigrates Nehru. Unfortunately, one can hear the same twisted claim in drawing room conversations among educated Indians.

The insidious campaign has made a series of claims over the years. The most common is that Nehru’s ancestors were Muslims; that Nehru had manipulated India’s Partition to become the Prime Minister, that Sardar Patel had received 14 votes and Nehru only one but still Mahatma Gandhi made Nehru the prime minister.

Is it possible that the Sardar, strong willed and with a high self-esteem, would still have agreed to be the first Home Minister under Nehru? It is so obviously fake that one need not even dignify it with a serious response. But the campaigners have been relentless.

One more claim by the fake factory is that though the Sardar was the Home Minister, it was Nehru who ordered surveillance of Netaji Subhas Bose’s ancestral houses in Kolkata. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in Parliament that Sardar Patel had exhorted Nehru to attack China but Nehru didn’t. Home Minister Amit Shah asserted that Nehru was a pacifist and hence did not heed Patel’s advice to move into Tibet and occupy Pak Occupied Kashmir.

Both Modi and Shah, besides several BJP leaders and the BJP chief minister of Goa, claimed before the state election earlier this year that the liberation of Goa was delayed because of Nehru, that it was because of Nehru that Goa’s liberation was delayed till 1961.

Thank God these men were not Nehru’s advisors. Otherwise, India would have been at war by 1949 with Pakistan, China and Portugal, with the last one over Goa. The statements betray ignorance of history and have been made merely to tarnish Nehru’s image.

PM Modi has the talent of making innocuous statements and yet make them sound sinister (example: Dr Manmohan Singh bathes with his raincoat on). While defending the Citizenship Amendment Act in Parliament, the Prime Minister cited the Liaquat-Nehru Pact (known as the Delhi Pact) to ostensibly insinuate that Nehru was neither secular nor so great as Congress makes him out to be!

If you listen to the PM, he begins with great flourish and mocks the opposition by saying, “You claim Nehru was such a great person, secular and was such a great visionary but…” he takes a deep breath, pauses and a goes on to say, “this pact was signed…it is in black and white…it is on record…” before pulling out the ostensible punch line: even the great visionary wanted citizenship to be granted to the refugees coming into India…

The Liaquat–Nehru Pact (or the Delhi Pact) was a bilateral treaty between India and Pakistan, under which refugees were allowed to return to dispose of their property, abducted women and looted property were to be returned, forced conversions were derecognized and minority rights were confirmed. It was a statesmanlike agreement to address the suffering of the displaced victims of Partition. But Modi made it sound like a vile act!

In the same speech, PM Modi goes on to cite a letter which Nehru had written to the then Assam chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi. As is usual with him, PM Modi built up suspense over the letter before ending with a flourish. Nehru reminded Bordoloi of the fine distinction between refugees and migrants. Voila! See, Nehru was on the same page as Modi? Nehru wanted what Modi is seeking through CAA, see? And yet Modi is communal while Nehru was secular!

The speech achieves the desired effect though the attempt to draw a parallel between the Partition and post-2019 Indian subcontinent is laboured and falls flat. So does the laboured attempt to put himself and Nehru on the same page. But the video nevertheless leaves his audience with the vague impression that Nehru was not after all so great and Modi is certainly of the same, or even greater stature!

***

BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya is one of those who have sought to malign the first Prime Minister. Although fact checkers were quick to call him out, the graceless IT cell chief has not bothered to retract or tender an apology.

He had tweeted a series of photographs in which the first Prime Minister is shown embracing women, putting a tilak on one of them, lighting a cigarette for another, sharing a joke with one and so on. The intimate photographs continue to be shared with the insinuation that the first Prime Minister was of loose morals.

While Malviya had ignored the identity of the women, deliberately or due to ignorance, they happened to be Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, his niece Nayantara Sehgal, danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai, US first lady Jaqueline Kennedy, the wife of the British Deputy High Commissioner Mrs Simon and Edwina Mountbatten’s 18-year-old daughter Pamela.

There have been other attempts at Nehru’s character assassination. A widely shared photograph shows Nehru being restrained by people on a stage. The photograph was shared with the claim that it was taken after Nehru was publicly slapped by a Swami in 1962 after the Chinese debacle. But on this instance too the fact checkers were able to establish that the photograph was taken in January, 1962 in Patna by the Associated Press. They were also able to cite a report in the Indian Express which categorically said that a surging crowd had broken barriers to move closer to the stage and an infuriated Prime Minister, who wanted to jump into the crowd, was restrained by security personnel.

The caption of read: “A security man grabbed Indian Prime Minister Nehru to keep him from plunging into a riotous crowd at a meeting of the Congress Party in Patna, India, January 1962”

(With inputs from AJ Prabal and Shalini Sahay)

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