Opinion

Photoshopping history: Fake Nehru letter aside, here's why BJP wants to lay claim to Netaji's legacy

An attempt to present a very slanted image of Subhas Chandra Bose has been on for a very long time – hiding his passionate espousal of Hindu-Muslim unity and aversion to the Hindu Right.

Was the much derided fake letter, purporting to be from Jawaharlal Nehru to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, describing Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as a “war criminal”, that was widely circulated on social media recently, sponsored by the Modi government or the Bharatiya Janata Party?

The jury's out on the specific question, but versions of the "fake Nehru letter”, incidentally, have been circulating in public domain for a number of years now. Interestingly, however, a senior editor and television anchor of the India Today group writing in the magazine website a few hours before the official release of the classified files on January 23, quoted “sources in the Modi government with knowledge of the Netaji Files” that the files did indeed contain such a letter.

When this proved not to be the case, the fake letter, full of glaring errors, including hilarious spelling mistakes, became the object of ridicule across the social media.

Regardless of the actual complicity of the government or the ruling party – or some of its members – in promoting this crude forgery, this much can be said with certainty: BJP propagandists have been at work for quite some time now, photoshopping history to present a highly slanted version of Netaji. The attempt has been to hide his passionate espousal of Hindu-Muslim unity in the Freedom Struggle and bitter antagonism towards the BJP’s ideological ancestor, the Hindu Mahasabha, while emphasising his troubles with the Congress and its leaders.

In fact, there is more than a touch of irony to the new found adulation in the Sangh Parivar with Netaji, considering his troubled relationship with two of its most revered icons – Veer Savarkar and Syama Prasad Mookerjee.

Vociferous advocate of secularism

It is an incontrovertible historical fact that perhaps influenced by “Deshbandhu” Chittaranjan Das, his political mentor, Subhas Chandra Bose, right from the outset, was a vociferous advocate of secularism, going to the extent of drawing a distinction between “nationalist” Hindus and Muslims in the Congress and those who were “communalist”. It was under his presidency of the Congress that the party banned its members from dual membership of organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League because of their communal character, although Congress stalwarts like Lala Lajpat Rai and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya had early associations with the Mahasabha.

Indeed, not so long ago, Sangh political historians were sharply critical of Bose being one of the main Congress leaders who took the party of the freedom struggle away from its Hindu moorings.

The present votaries of Netaji in the Sangh appear to have also forgotten the many words of criticism levelled against him by both Savarkar and Mookerjee.

Savarkar was appalled at what he felt was Bose’s open bias favouring Muslims over Hindus as well as his aversion to Sanskritised Hindi as as the national language and his suggestion of a Roman script incorporating both Hindi and Urdu.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who clashed with Bose after the former sought to spread the Hindu Mahasabha, wrote about the latter’s implacable hostility in his diary claiming that he had threatened to crush the organisation by force if necessary.

If any more proof is necessary to underline Netaji’s opposition to the Hindu Right over anything else, it is provided by his approach to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections which Bose contested as head of his newly formed party Forward Bloc, shortly after leaving the Congress in a huff. Spurning an offer of alliance by the Mahasabha, he chose to work out a deal with the Muslim League to capture the Calcutta Corporation which was considered the ultimately betrayal by those who sought to promote Hindutva.

Selective amnesia

History tells us the sharp contrast between the approach of Netaji and the Hindu Mahasabha when Britain joined the Second World War. Even as Bose prepared to create a rebel army, Azad Hind Fauj, with the help of axis powers like Germany and Japan to use the war to bring about the downfall of the British Raj, Mahasabha leaders like Savarkar and Mookerjee exhorted Indians to be loyal to the Empire and join the war effort since it served Hindu interests.

The generous use of Persian and Urdu instead of Hindi names for Netaji’s rebel army, its motto, decorations, provisional government and the way Bose ended his fiery speeches with “Inquilab Zindabad” instead of “Jai Hind” or “Bharati Mata ki Jai” were all anathema to the Hindu Mahasabha and its fellow travelers.

The selective amnesia of BJP propagandists today brushing under the carpet the irreconcilable differences between Netaji’s nationalist vision and that of the Hindutva proponents, in a bid to use him as nationalist mascot against the Nehruvian legacy is similar to what they have done to Babasaheb Ambedkar.

In a similar vein, the famous declaration by the Dalit icon and main architect of the Indian Constitution declaring the Sangh’s self-proclaimed goal of Hindu Raj as “the greatest calamity and a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity, incompatible with democracy which had to be stopped all cost” appears to have been conveniently forgotten by the government and the ruling party in its fulsome praise of Ambedkar in recent months.

While there may well be an electoral dimension to this ideological somersault by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to idolise Netaji and Babasaheb with various assembly polls around the corner and the Dalit vote more important than ever, but this may not be the only or even the primary reason.

A far more plausible compulsion driving the turnaround on historical figures like Bose and Ambedkar could well be the obsessive need of the Sangh to counter the nationalist legacy of the Congress and the Gandhi dynasty’s Nehru heritage. They have chosen to do so by pitting giants of the Independence Movement like Bose and Ambedkar against Nehru although the indisputable differences the latter had with the two were far less fundamental in nature than the vast ideological divide between them and the creed of the Sangh.

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