“You don’t fight fascism because you are going to win, you fight fascism because it is fascist.”
–Jean Paul Sartre
Against the backdrop of the General Elections of 2014 and 2019, Rahul Gandhi was often portrayed by critics as somewhat like the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. But it is much more complicated than that.
We have to go back a little to understand his Nehru-Gandhi legacy. The Nehru-Gandhi chain began with Motilal Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are the links in that chain.
Motilal and Jawaharlal’s close association with Gandhiji often leads people to interchange the Gandhi-Nehru relationship with the Nehru-Gandhi family. Mahatma Gandhi treated Jawaharlal almost like another son. But Jawaharlal was much more than that. And what was beyond his association with Gandhiji is what makes the right wing use the names interchangeably to bring disrepute to both Gandhiji and Nehru and his descendants. So it is very necessary for Rahul Gandhi to understand the nuances of why he is hated so much by the right wingers of today.
Despite being defamed by the ‘Right’, Jawaharlal Nehru's record is enviable. He spent nine years in British prisons but during his time he was also part of the radical youth along with leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose. But there was one fundamental difference between Bose and Nehru — the latter would have no truck with fascists and, like Rahul Gandhi, was instinctively opposed to the right wing, even turning down a request to meet Benito Mussolini while in Europe.
That is what makes him the most hated enemy of the right-wing forces even decades after his death. When he turned down Mussolini, Nehru was an ordinary Indian freedom fighter and the former no less than a Roman emperor who had succeeded in bringing British and French prime ministers Neville Chamberlain and Eduoard Daladier and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler for the notorious Munich Agreement (also known as Munich Betrayal) between the four countries that ceded parts of Czechoslovakian territory to Germany.
This act of a young freedom fighter from a British colony was even appreciated by the British masters – Chamberlain and the future British prime minister Winston Churchill, neither of who, however, could be regarded as abhorrent of association with fascists. But Nehru’s action was reflective of an instinctive opposition to fascism and set him apart from Bose, another son to Gandhiji, who had no qualms about teaming up with Mussolini or Hitler to drive the British out of India.
In this respect, Nehru was more of Gandhiji's true disciple. It is not that he did not believe in a militant struggle for freedom but Gandhiji believed in non-violence and so Nehru followed ahimsa in toto. Gandhiji did not care for Bhagat Singh's violent methods but Nehru would not quite abandon Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries.
Before tweeting in May 2018 that no Congress leader had visited Bhagat Singh in jail, Narendra Modi failed to discover that Nehru had indeed met Bhagat Singh and his comrades in the Lahore Central Jail on August 9, 1929 and also failed to read Nehru's autobiography wherein he had praised Bhagat Singh and saluted his sacrifice. So while the RSS and BJP can fault Mahatma Gandhi for abandoning Bhagat Singh, they cannot do the same to Nehru.
It is thus clear that Nehru believed in non-violence above violence but could also distinguish between the violence indulged in by revolutionaries and that used by fascists to subjugate the people.
Rahul Gandhi in the modern day carries that legacy of Nehru forward with a kind of polite pugnacity that is abhorrent to the RSS ideologues. For his politesse can be equated with Nehru's commitment to non-violence and his pugnacity is the equivalent of Nehru's understanding of the use of aggression in a revolution in modern terms for a regime change.
So the BJP must constantly demonise both Nehru and Rahul in order to make their fascism succeed. It is in this context that we must understand why the BJP, which has many dynasts of its own, hates the Nehru-Gandhis and their legacy so much.
They cannot get a decisive victory over the Congress or crush it quite completely without destroying the Nehru-Gandhi legacy.
The government of Atal Behari Vajpayee in its six years made no attempt to defame the Nehru legacy but the RSS machinery was still working beneath the radar through whisper campaigns and psychological warfare as well as use of cyberspace.
The 2004 defeat was a big jolt to them but one must blame the socialists for creating space for the fascists — right from Jaiprakash Narayan in the 1970s to the Samajwadi Party, George Fernandes, other former components of the Janata Party of 1977, all of who had little qualms about making adjustments with the BJP for their own personal gains.
Fernandes, who professed he was anti-fascist and broke the Janata party over the dual membership of the RSS ideologues like LK Advani and Vajpayee, unlike Nehru who would never compromise with fascists however powerful, had no problem being a minister in the Vajpayee government even after BJP's openly fascist tendencies were established.
All had a common enemy —Nehruvian liberalism. The RSS took brilliant advantage of this — Nitish Kumar today personifies the complete compromise that the socialists have made with their ideology, giving the BJP, and now Modi, a much-needed leg in the door.
The victory of the Congress in 2004 and 2009 did not mean the party had gained any power. Despite being the leading component of the UPA, the Congress has been ceding space since 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi lost his mandate.
But there was more — in victory or in defeat, the party has lost track of Nehruvian liberalism even in the fields of art, literature, history, philosophy et al. This was duly noted by the RSS and the space occupied by its fringe organisations, something that even Sonia Gandhi could not spot and overturn during her successful years as Congress president.
Enter Rahul Gandhi, who has an instinctive perception and abhorrence of fascism like his great grandfather. And so the RSS launched a programme to destroy his image among the masses. The RSS used all its mechanisms for a psychological war against Nehru and Rahul and used every medium to destroy their credibility.
Rahul Gandhi was painted as unsuitable even before 2014. But when he overcame that image by 2019, he was still rejected as an unsuitable candidate for high office despite his sensitivity and intelligence, evident from the interviews he gave while Modi did not have the courage to give any.
Rahul Gandhi has a degree in development economics from Cambridge University against Modi, whose educational qualifications are uncertain, who has never been able to produce a degree, who is crude and uncouth against Rahul's civility but still is painted as the most charismatic leader in the country today – the most undeserving image and entirely the creation of the RSS propaganda machinery.
By 2014, Rahul Gandhi was left alone to bear the brunt of the right-wing propaganda both personally and against the party. Any other mortal would have long fallen.
But Rahul Gandhi has stood his ground and refused to abandon the battlefield. The BJP has destroyed all institutions and he stands with his back to the wall. Yet he battles on and it frustrates the RSS when they see that despite multiple assaults, they have failed to crush Nehru’s spirit in his great grandson.
Even within his party, Rahul has had much opposition. Rahul Gandhi, unlike some in power today, has never hidden any facts about himself from the people. The General Election of 2019 was won on a lie but Rahul only spoke the truth — like a doctor who had diagnosed your illness correctly but you would rather believe the quack who says you need nothing more than his quick fix solutions. Only when the person does not get better and is on his last legs does he run to the doctor, who he hated before for recommending a serious surgery.
That is what is happening in the country today. Rahul Gandhi is that doctor trying to rescue the nation from its quacks and is much hated today-by both the people and the quacks. Clearly, the RSS hates Rahul for having the solutions it does not have and the growing realisation that a diverse country like India cannot be ruled by religion alone. There is also the slow realisation growing among the people that Hindutva is different from Hinduism and also that India is accomplishing nothing under the leadership of Narendra Modi.
But Rahul Gandhi, the doctor who resigned his job after the patient ran away, does not lose faith in his medicine, he makes no compromises with his ideology. The people are likely to run to him and his party for solutions when Modi’s quackery has been completely exposed. That is why the RSS must renew its attacks to destroy him completely before that happens.
So, Rahul Gandhi's battles have become the need of the hour for even the country as a whole today.
He is no longer the president of the Congress, yet all sorts of people still pillory him for his failure to fix everything that the government is doing wrong today. That is the fear of the RSS — that the only antidote to their toxic politics is the Nehruvian vision of India as a liberal, pluralistic democracy that his great grandson shouts from the rooftops again and again, ad nauseum, day in and day out.
There is something of the ascetic in the man who does not react or respond to the constant abuse poured upon him, his father, his mother by the likes of those who only have boastful lies (like selling tea from a non-existent railway station) to match against a family legacy rich in humility despite its so called aristocratic moorings.
Anyone heard of how Nehru found his bodyguard stretched out on his bed and how he quietly covered the man with a blanket and slept off on a chair beside the bed. This was the legendary first Prime Minister of India.
We have seen that humility in Rahul – fetching water for someone who fainted at his public meeting, rushing an injured journalist covering his meeting to hospital, his sister Priyanka carrying the man's shoes in her hands until he recovered.
Such humble stories have the makings of history, even if the Nehru-Gandhis do not wish to boast about them. But they show that history awaits Rahul Gandhi.
That is what worries the RSS so much.
(Edited from the original Marathi by Sujata Anandan. Translated by Abhir More. The author is a prominent Marathi blogger and political commentator based in Mumbai)
(Views expressed are personal and not that of National Herald)