The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s implacable opposition to Jawaharlal Nehru springs from its contrasting worldviews, about which historians and political analysts have written extensively. Though emotions seldom constitute an analytical category in political commentaries, yet it won’t be wrong to say that envy and jealousy drive the Sangh’s antipathy to Nehru as much as ideological differences.

All democracies have a multiplicity of ideologies. But rarely do you witness a political formation venting such passion against its opponent as the Sangh does against Nehru, even though five decades have passed since his death.

You might think it is logical for the Sangh to detest and demolish Nehru in its attempt to turn to reality its vision of making India a Hindu nation. Political thinkers such as Samuel Huntington have said you cannot but hate what you do not want to become. But even such a flawed definition cannot explain the Sangh’s anger against the man long dead.

True, the Sangh will never want to embody, in any way, the essence of Nehru. But  it does seem to pine for a Hindutva Nehru. Nehru influenced the political context in which he lived as much as it shaped him. Even as the Sangh desperately seeks to create its own Nehru, it endeavours to make India a Hindu nation and, therefore, undo what it has always been – accepting, tolerant, integrative, diverse yet united. Its task would be rendered simpler to have a Hindutva Nehru espousing the cause.

Undermining tolerant ideas

The compulsion to undermine the tolerant ideas makes the Sangh envious of Nehru, not just because he endorsed and upheld them, which were, after all, subscribed to by an entire generation of leaders. It is envious of Nehru in the dictionary sense of it – of being resentful of someone who possesses what one desires but doesn’t have.

What did Nehru possess that the Sangh does not have but hankers after? The answer: Power.

Nehru possessed power not just because he presided over the state apparatus. That he acquired many years after he and the Sangh stepped into the public arena, representing not only two different ideas but also two different approaches to the British rule. Nehru’s power was grounded in his popularity, his ideals, his participation in the national movement, and as Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant. Those were the decades in which the Sangh was engrossed in the incipient task of consolidating Hindus than opposing the colonial rule.

It has always been easy for the Sangh to fathom the popularity of Gandhi. He was homespun, quoted from religious texts, and was a devout Hindu who did not dither from combining religion and politics. Here was a man who could stop riots through fasting. Gandhi was steadfastly opposed to the idea of turning India a Hindu nation. He favoured an inclusive India in which, as the Indian Constitution subsequently adopted, every citizen, regardless of his or her creed, was an equal citizen. It was impossible for the Sangh to win the war of ideas because of Gandhi.

This is why it made great political sense for the Hindutva adherents to assassinate Gandhi. He towered over the rest. It was impossible for his contemporaries, rivals or friends, to compete against him, not even during the months of Partition riots when hatred stalked the land and blood drenched it. Even the assassin Nathuram Godse confessed he was guilty of patricide, but justified it saying that he had to kill the Father (of the nation) to save the Mother (land). His demise was expected to make it less difficult for the Hindutva forces to win the war for India’s soul.

An atheist inspired a religious nation

But they had not reckoned with Nehru. He was obviously no Gandhi, yet the nation’s love for the first prime minister ran deep. This love the Sangh could never quite comprehend. Nehru was an atheist who had no qualms in confessing it to a people deeply religious. Nor did he desist from weighing in favour of rationality in a society in which, at times, superstition seemed synonymous with religion.

Nehru may have worn khadi, but he neither appeared nor was a homespun leader, not at least in the Sangh’s imagination. The westernised aspect of him was palpable – in his style and mannerisms, his espousal of ideas deemed western, his felicity with the English language, his elegant and eloquent speeches. He was also wealthy and handsome, as famous or infamous for his romances as for his temper.

For Indians, no, Hindus, to become besotted with Nehru – that is at the roots of the Sangh’s resentment against Nehru, though it has dressed its envy as opposition to the ideas he represented. It was not he alone, but an array of leaders who subscribed to these ideas, quite natural as it was born in the crucible of the national movement. But Nehru’s commitment made the ideas resilient, which could not have been possible in the absence of his popularity, especially following Gandhi’s assassination.

Falling back on Vajpayee

The Sangh has responded in two contradictory ways to the popularity of Nehru. Its first response has been to create its own Nehru, a homespun version of him. This mould Atal Bihari Vajpyee was perceived to fit – avuncular, liberal, possessing enviable oratory skills, democratic, and boasting a lifestyle often described as rangeen or colourful. He was pitched as a Nehru who was acutely conscious of his Hinduness and who was Hindu in his belief. Remember the many times we were reminded of how Nehru had told Vajpayee, in his younger days, that he would become prime minister one day. We often tend to imitate one whom we resent for his or her qualities and virtues.

For all its attempt at imitation, the Sangh was stung by the return of the Congress in 2004. A misplaced sense of history had the Sangh ascribe the Congress’s victory to the pull the Nehru name still commanded. Envy turned into jealousy, spawning insecurity, fear and anxiety in the Sangh. These emotions darkled the Sangh’s imagination, making it believe that Nehru’s ghost was still haunting them.

Don’t believe it?

Well, in April 2005, a year after the BJP was voted out of power, then RSS sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan told editor Shekhar Gupta that it wasn’t Godse who pumped bullets into Gandhi. A perplexed Gupta asked, who killed Gandhi then? Sudarshan replied, “You can see who stood to benefit from Gandhi’s assassination. Everybody knows Gandhi was going to make Patel prime minister.”

But somebody did shoot Gandhi in front of hundreds of people, Gupta countered. An unflappable RSS chief replied, “Yes, somebody did. But not saamne se, kintu peechhe se (not from front, but from behind). It was…a conspiracy to give the Nehru parivar unfettered power and to blame the Hindus for killing Gandhi.” Nothing other than jealousy could have inspired Sudarshan to blame the assassination of Gandhi on Nehru. Gupta wrote about it five years later, on 13 November, 2010.

The Iron Man

The other expression of this jealousy is to pit Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel against Nehru. Failing in its attempt to create its own Nehru, the Sangh seeks to provide a competition to him through another leader of the national movement. So deep is the Sangh’s jealousy that it has chosen to gloss over the fact that it was the Sardar who imposed a ban on it, besides pressuring it to declare itself as a cultural organisation.

Not only does Patel appear a homespun leader, he can be portrayed as the man who was denied his due because he did not possess the power of prime minister. This denial the Sangh projects as a consequence of the conspiracy Nehru hatched, but the Sangh is acutely aware that Nehru’s popularity, apart from other reasons, titled the balance in his favour.

Jealousy motivates the Sangh’s attempt to scale the popularity of Nehru posthumously. This is why it must build a statue of Patel 182 meters high, to ensure he towers over Nehru in the present. It is an attempt to spark off a competition between the dead. It ties up so neatly with the claims that our ancestors in ancient times were acquainted with the science of genetic engineering and plastic surgery. In its attempts to rewrite the past, Hindutva advertises its own inferiority, which, as we know so well, masquerades as superiority, but barely conceals its jealousy of Nehru.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His book The Hour Before Dawn will be published by HarperCollins in December.