Reclaiming the Freedom Fighters’ Past Won’t Take the BJP Very Far
BJP’s70 Saal Azadi, Yaad Karo Kurbani campaignon the 75th year of the Quit India Movement is ironic andinteresting for two reasons, if not more: the historic events of the freedomstruggle invoked by the BJP and the spirit of sacrifice of freedom fightersrecalled by it. It is well known that the BJP does not have freedom fighters inits pantheon.
Also,the relationship of its founder president with the freedom struggle as also ofsome of the leaders it revers was fraught with problems, to say the least. Whilethe BJP now is calling upon Indians to remember the freedom struggle, a look atthe history of this struggle reveals that the BJP’s ideological roots werenever in this soil of struggle and sacrifice.
Goal of Secular Nationalism
Tobegin with, the leadership of the freedom struggle strove for a secular nation atindependence rather than the establishment of some Hindu Raj. Even Gandhi’sspiritualised quest for Ramrajya didnot signify a move towards theocracy. In fact, as the struggle for freedomintensified, the goal of secular nationalism, based on the unity of allcommunities, became increasingly etched on the banner of the national movement.
In1934, the Indian National Congress (INC) that led the freedom movement bannedthe entry of those opposed to secular nationalism. Thus, members of the MuslimLeague, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS were forbidden membership of theCongress from this time onwards. Significantly, all three built their campaignsaround exclusive religious nationalism which saw Hindus and Muslims asconstituting two separate nations, something that became popularly known as the‘two-nation theory’.
The Right Wing Within the Congress
It is true that there were some leaders within the Congress with socially conservative leanings and Hindu-centric positions, and in political history they have been termed the ‘right wing within the Congress’. Before 1934, when the membership of the INC was open to all, some of its members, like Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai, had joined the early Hindu Mahasabha (in its pre-VD Savarkar days).
There were other stalwarts like Balgangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh, Bipinchandra Pal, Rajendra Prasad and Sardar Patel who would have liked India to be more vocal and definitive about the so called ‘interests’ of the majority Hindu community. But labelling these leaders as advocates of an exclusive Hindu nation or Hindu rashtra would be incorrect and ahistorical.
Sangh’s Aloofness from the Quit India Movement
Itis ironic that the BJP now is calling upon Indians to remember events like theQuit India Movement. History tells us that the RSS, which is BJP’s parent,stayed away from these events. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, leader of the HinduMahasabha and BJP’s founder president, was a minister in the Bengal government ledby Fazlul Haq at the time of the Quit India Movement. Historical records showthat Mookerjee opposed the Quit India movement and worked with the BritishGovernor of Bengal to quell all protests.
The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, likethe Muslim League, consciously stood aloof from the Quit India Movement. Forthe Hindu Mahasabha, whose president at that time was V.D. Savarkar (one of theearly advocates of the two-nation idea), the Quit India Movement was ‘injuriousto the Hindu cause’. He called upon the Hindus to stay away from it and notdefy the British government.
Alienating the ‘Other’ Community
Itis not as if everyone who fought for independence agreed with the Congress andits leaders. Many, like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Netaji SubhasChandra Bose and those in the communist and socialist parties, did not agreewith the Congress programme or moved away from it at some point in time, butthey remained committed to secular nationalism. They believed that allcommunities, whether Hindu or Muslim, have to come together in their struggleto defeat the British. Their main enemy was British rule over the Indianpeople.
Not only did they stand alooffrom the freedom movement, their goal was a Hindu rashtra or Muslim homeland where there was no equal place for theminorities.
Will BJP Work towards Hindu-Muslim Unity?
Therecalling of the spirit of sacrifice of freedom fighters by the BJP has to beseen in this historical perspective. This spirit of sacrifice was not for aHindu rashtra which the BJP and otherHindutva organisations would like one to believe, but for a secular countrywhere all religious, linguistic and caste communities stood united against animperial force, for national development.
Giventhis past, it is good that the BJP is talking about azadi and recognising the importance of events like the Quit IndiaMovement in making a free India. Looking at the damage which has been caused tothe secular fabric of the country in the last couple of years it would be evenbetter if the BJP works towards Hindu-Muslim unity. Surely, it can do thisbacked by the massive mandate it got in the general elections. Or, is it toomuch to ask considering that the BJP stands for a Hindu India?
(The writer is author of ‘Vishva Hindu Parishad and Indian Politics’ and teaches political science at the University of Hyderabad)