History might lose Congress
On August 9, the country celebrated 75 years of Quit India movement. As usual, there were programmes hosted by the government and the state. This is the first time that the Bharatiya Janata Party, a political party, which came into existence in the 80’s and that had nothing to do with the freedom movement was presiding over these celebrations. In fact, BJP’s ideological mother ship, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), and all its other avatars were actively opposing Mahatma Gandhi and Congress led movement demanding the British rulers to quit India. There are a number of documents and testimonies of Hindu nationalists that trenchantly oppose the Congress leadership’s call to its supporters to give up government jobs and generally boycott everything British.
Quite evidently in the year 2017, 75 years after the great uprising that convinced the British despite assurances by Quislings that they could not continue in India much longer, it is difficult to reinterpret history to the extent that it gives an opportunity to those who opposed the freedom movement to quietly sneak- without even apologizing for their past conduct- towards the side of the winners and show as if they did nothing wrong. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, for instance, a venerated figure otherwise, could not really shake off the taint of snitching on some of his fellow freedom fighters till he occupied the top post. He was helped in shaking off these charges through a slanted probe by a usually credible publication that shows his act of betrayal as a minor transgression. India is a forgiving country that accommodates people of all kinds of pasts- so not just Vajpayee, but so many have prospered despite resisting the freedom movement. Expectedly, there is not a word about Vajpayee and his embarrassing brush with infamy. After all- photo shopping of history comes easy if one is in power.
In these times where fake news carries greater currency than fact based news, it does not really come as a surprise when some of the RSS supporters, without blinking in front of a national TV audience, claim that the right wing Hindus were very active during the freedom struggle and therefore they have every right to make claim on the movement and subsequently being on the side of the winners. This is an early start, but surely it will be repeated many times till it feels and sounds like the truth. Before this assertion attains a climax, history would be scrubbed clean of the likes of Jawahar Lal Nehru- who has been removed from Rajasthan school syllabus- and many other freedom fighters. Also, those that have no inheritors of their legacy and who fit into their Weltanschauung would be quietly co-opted like Sardar Patel or Bhagat Singh for instance. If the present dispensation remains in power in 2022, when India turns 75 years, we will have a brand new history and new iconography. Can this be resisted?
The real burden of challenging this narrative rests not just on those who worry country’s rapid descent to Hindu Pakistan replete with distortion of history, but also on the main opposition party, Congress, that may look very diminished in the parliament with just 44 seats, but still has an unrivalled pan-India presence. Congress or its leadership has forgotten the expanse of its support, but the BJP recognizes the challenge that the party poses due to the memories that it evokes.
Congress could have used this grand opportunity provided by history to assert and make an attempt to create space in people’s mind after their debacle in 2014. Instead of organizing a big public event in Mumbai from where Mahatma Gandhi had given a call on August 8 to the British to leave India, the party was happy to hold a Congress Working Committee meeting and make some noise on social media. For one of the oldest political parties in the world that has had a long engagement with the poor people of this country, this casualness to its past and even the desire to defend the values of the freedom struggle is not just depressing, but criminal. Many blame not so young scion of the Gandhi family and party vice president, Rahul, for the mess the party is in, but that’s only partially true. For long the party has lost its connect with the masses and it has been outsourcing its struggle to smaller parties and even NGOs. Its leaders cut deals with whichever party is in power to stay alive and relevant. This provides the hungrier parties and leaders to capture not just the past, but future too!