“Is PM Modi’s understanding of history ridiculous?” 

Historian Mridula Mukherjee asks how ‘dividing the country’ would benefit the Congress party electorally?

Photo by Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images
Photo by Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images


Replying to the motion of thanks on the President’s address in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 7 attacked the Congress party, alleging that the party divided the country for ‘electoral gains and petty reasons’. He added that if Sardar Patel would have been the first Prime Minister of India, “entire Kashmir would have been ours”.

Historian, retired JNU professor and an authority on the Indian National Movement, Mridula Mukherjee speaks to Vishwadeepak on PM Modi’s claims. She believes that anybody who knows anything about the Indian freedom struggle or Indian history would not buy into the PM’s arguments.

Q. Attacking the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Modi blamed them for the division of the country. He asserted that if Sardar Patel would have been the first Prime Minister of India, entire Kashmir would have been ours. What would you say about the PM’s understanding of Indian history?

A. First, a light-hearted comment – even if Sardar Patel had been the first Prime Minister, and because of that entire Kashmir was ours – if we accept it for a minute, still it would have been to the credit of Congress. Because, Patel was a Congress man. So, how would it help the BJP, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, if the credit goes to Patel, not Jawaharlal Nehru. How does it help them, I do not understand. Have you created Sardar Patel, PM should answer this question.

Was Sardar Patel even a member of Hindu Mahasabha? Was he member of Hindu Mahasabha or RSS? No. He had ample opportunities after Mahasabha was established in 1915, and it was a political party, but he made a choice to be with the Congress, not with them. So, on what basis they make claim on Sardar Patel? What does he want to imply—that every Gujarati is a Sanghi?

By saying that if Patel would have been the PM, the entire Kashmir would have been ours shows a very simplistic understanding of the Kashmir issue. There are others who say that because Nehru was a Kashmiri, he wanted to keep Kashmir with India despite it being a Muslim-dominated state. There are others who say Kashmir was a Muslim majority state, why was it not permitted to join Pakistan? It is also said that accession of Kashmir to India could only happen because Nehru put pressure on the Hindu Maharaja, Hari Singh, to sign the accession paper. So, who was responsible for Kashmir accession’s to India? There are many, many theories there. These are ridiculous and unnecessary arguments.

Everything done in Kashmir had the approval of Sardar Patel. It even had the approval of Mahatma Gandhi who was a pacifist, but he did not oppose sending in the army. When it came to the Kashmir situation, he never said ‘do not send the Army’.

I see it as an attempt to create division among Hindus and Muslims and between Gandhi and Nehru and between Nehru and Patel. Of course, there were differences between them, nobody is a clone of the other, but they were all within one party and they all remained united.

Q. In his speech, Modi attacked Pandit Nehru, who is considered the architect of modern India, by saying that Congress wants us to believe that India got democracy due to Nehru while in reality, democracy has been integral part of Indian culture. Can you tell us what is Nehru’s contribution to the nation?

A. I do not know who in the Congress ever said that we became democratic because of Nehru. I think he is putting a false proposition and then trying to make us believe it.

The Congress position on this issue has always been that there was a struggle for freedom in which democracy was a basic principle. And, Indian National Congress, was committed to democracy. It wanted to set up a democratic India after removing the British. So, it was not a question of one person’s contribution, it was everybody’s contribution including of many other groups and individuals who may not be part of Congress. Yes, Nehru’s contribution was when India became independent and he was the Prime Minister, his role was in strengthening democracy and laying down the foundation of a democratic and republic India.

He ensured, after the constitution was passed, the first general election was held as soon as possible. He was very unhappy that it was delayed. Though it was a massive task in this huge country. He remained committed to democracy and never tried to concentrate power in his hands. He never tried to suppress other political parties or establish one-party rule similar to what has happened in most third world countries, which have recently become independent from colonialism.

So, that is Nehru’s contribution…to resist the temptations of any powerful, popular leader, to start believing that I am the answer to all questions and problems. I can even send you some quotations where Nehru repeatedly warns against any notion that any one man can rule the country. No matter how great. Perhaps, we should be warned as such tendencies are there in the BJP.

So, Nehru’s contribution after independence is strengthening and laying down the foundation of an independent democratic country. But, the democracy that we got in India was a result of a struggle for freedom in which everybody contributed. I do not think Congress has ever made such a statement or can make such a statement that it was only Nehru who brought democracy in India.

Q. Modi alleged that Congress divided the nation for ‘electoral gains and petty reasons’. Being a historian and specialist in modern Indian history, what would you say?

A. Frankly, as a historian, as a social scientist, I am unable to understand this argument. How would dividing the country, benefit the Congress party electorally? I have been trying to think what could be the possible way in which Congress could have benefitted by the partition? I have my limitations. I am unable to imagine how could it possibly benefit the Congress!

Who would be happy after partition? Everybody knows that it is the British who were responsible for creating a divide between Hindu and Muslims in India.

Once that divide became a big chasm and Muslim League started demanding Pakistan, then despite the Congress trying till the end and refusing to accept any division of the country, the British decided to divide the country. They decided to hand over the power to two – in India to the Congress and in Pakistan to the Muslim League. Congress did not want division. It opposed the division till the end. Its acceptance only means it accepted under protest, under duress. There was no choice because Lord Mountbatten said we are leaving on August 15. They had no choice but to accept it.

Even Gandhiji said that Partition will be over his dead body but ultimately, he accepted it because power was not in their hands. Please try to understand, power was with the British. It was they who had to decide. And they decided to divide the country.

Nehru was such a leader, who all through life fought for the unity of the country. He was a nationalist. Why would he want to divide the country? When I say nationalism, it means two things—independence from the colonial power and national unity.

Both the Congress and all nationalists including Nehru were completely committed to that. To even remotely suggest that Nehru could be happy with or wanted Partition for electoral politics is absurd. Anybody who knows anything about Indian history would not buy the story. Why would Congress benefit from Partition, tell me. I want to understand.

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