Sunday, August 24, 2014

Column for the Week 15.8.2014

Diversity, Rights and Independence Day
Teesta Setalvad

A tragic-comedy irony of sorts will be enacted this August 15, 2014 when an RSS pracharak  will stand at the wonderful historical spot of India’s Red Fort, a tribute to the rich architecture of our syncretic past as the nation’s Prime Minister.

Even if one blots the memory that immediately takes one to Nehru’s emotive “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom….. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment, we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. ”(

Apart from the sheer eloquence of the delivery and the fact that Nehru had spent over 1,000 days in British jails fighting for azaadi, the fact is that India’s first prime minister, with Gandhi as his “Bapu” had jumped into the throes of a riotous mob to save lives during communal violence. A far cry from the man who sits in the same seat 67 years later, today (sic).

The social media, completely dominated by the right, be it of the Hindutva or any other politico-religious variety has been made to bait Nehru and Gandhi and any leader who represented composite nationhood.

The first time, ever, that the RSS, an outfit that was banned after Gandhi’s assassination (30.1.1948) unfurled the Indian tricolor was in 2002 after a saffron dominated government, NDA I snatched power in New Delhi. In 2004, ironically it was all set to launch ‘Tiranga yatras’ and Satyagrahas to defend the honour of the flag and the nation in an all out bid to opportunistically appropriate the Indian tricolor as it has tried to do with ‘deshbhakti’/patriotism.

Yet when the Indian people were involved in the decades, long struggle for freedom against British imperialisms, the RSS was conspicuous by its absence in the struggle When thousands of people faced lathis, bullets and jail sentences (including Nehru and Patel) for hoisting the Tiranga and participated all over the country in Satyagrahas during the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements against the British Raj, the Sangh publicly took the stand that it would not take part in the movement and seldom missed the opportunity of assuring the British rulers that they would keep to  the right side of colonial law and avoid any clash with the authorities. Of course the reason given for this was that the Sangh was secretly strengthening itself and would take on British imperialism only when it was strong enough to do so!

A similar duplicity has marked the statement and actions of the RSS and its leaders throughout its almost 89-year of history. Nothing illustrates this better than the Sangh’s attitude to the national flag.

In 1930, the Congress leadership first gave the call for observing 26th January as Independence Day. Unable to resists the popular mood, the RSS instructed its shakas to hold rallies of swayamsevaks “and worship the national flag, that is, the Bhagwa Jhanda”. The flag to be honoured was not the Tiranga, which had been adopted by the whole nation as the symbol of the freedom struggle. Nor would the Sangh observe 26 January as Independence Day again, although it became a permanent feature of the national movement.

After Independence, it was again the Bhagwa Jhanda and not the Tiranga that was hoisted and honoured at the first major rally of the RSS held at Ramlila Maidan on 7th December, 1947.

The only the RSS gave any recognition at all to the tricolour was in 1949 when the Government of India made written allegiance to the Constitution and the National Flag one of the conditions for lifting the ban imposed on the Sangh after the murder of Gandhiji. Article 5 of the first written constitution of the RSS states; “While recognizing the duty of every citizen to be loyal to and to respect the State Flag, the Sangh has as its flag, the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’- the age-old symbol of Hindu culture.” The usual double-edged meaning of RSS statements is unmistakeable. The Tiranga is termed the State flag, not the National flag. And ‘while’ it may ‘recognize the duty of every citizen’, the Sangh still requires its members, “integral parts of Hindu Rashtra” as the shakha prayer describes them, to owe primary allegiance to the ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’.

Better late than never, it was in 2004  that, at last the RSS and the Sangh Parivar joined the ‘national mainstream’ and salute and honour the tricolour, then may we suggest that before any of their leaders forcibly, and in violation of the law, hoist the flag in Hubli or anywhere else again, they immediately hoist it first on RSS headquarters all over the country.

Now in power with a full fledged majority it is to be seen what sort of respect the man at the helm and his MPs, many of whom are involved in UP’s communal violence, and some in hate speeches deal with the Indian Constitution the architect of which was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. On the issue of judicial independence NDA II has shown up to be in a desperate hurry to assert its executive superiority. This does not bode well for the balance of power. Once before during the Emergency, India had been thus tested. We emerged scarred, but stronger. What will the human and institutional costs be this time around ?


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