Rahul Gandhi recently went to Cambridge — and the right-wing ecosystem went apeshit.
Come to think about it, he doesn’t have to do much to produce that result. Grow a beard, hug his mother, kiss his sister, eat a meal in a dhaba — it is all grist for the likes of ‘Minister for Rahul Gandhi’ Smriti Irani and other luminaries to go nuts-r-us. (And nuts is the operative word — sample this, and this). But even by the standards of this ecosystem, the recent blow-up was pure bananas.
The case against him is, apparently, that in course of a talk in Cambridge he referred to India as a union of states. It’s not the first time he has said this — it is one of the talking points he regularly employs to push back against the BJP’s tendency to flip a middle finger at the concept of federalism and to push its One Nation One Bullshit (okay I made that last part up) agenda.
According to the right wing, though, Rahul Gandhi’s statement is yet another example of his ignorance, exacerbated by the fact that he was badmouthing the country while on foreign soil. I generally weed out these threads when they begin to sprout, but my eye was caught by an exchange on Twitter between journalist Ravi Nair and a retired Major General of the Indian army.
It’s not that a senior army official, who passed out of the NDA on the back of an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, seems blissfully unaware that literally the first line of that document reads: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. (In the Major General’s defence, he only promised to protect the Constitution, he did not promise to read it.)
It is not that the ex-army official did not know that the Constitution defines India as a Union of States — it is that an officer of that seniority, from an outfit that is, or used to be, completely apolitical, was playing the part of a two-rupee troll on Twitter.
In other recent news, an avowed BJP supporter known for communally-charged comments was shoe-horned into the post of Additional Judge of the Madras High Court.
The Shinde-Fadnavis government in Maharashtra appointed Rashmi Shukla to the post of DG, SSB. Here is why it is an issue.
Elsewhere a judge of the Allahabad High Court, in an actual judgment, quoted extensively from various Hindu myths and legends and deemed that anyone who kills a cow or allows others to kill them “is deemed to rot in hell”. He even specified the duration of that incarceration — “as many years as there are hairs upon his body” (an incentive, if you needed one, to go in for the sort of full-body wax so popular among our Bollywood stars).
WAY back in 1998 I was on the road, covering various aspects of the election campaign of that year. I ended up in Baramati the day before campaigning was to end and sought an interview. It was early morning; Pawar was about to set out on a round of the surrounding villages before ending his campaign with a rally in Baramati town. He was in one of his expansive moods that day — instead of the half-hour sit-down interview I’d angled for, he asked me to join him in his Pajero and do the rounds with him.
It was one of those rare occasions when you find an articulate, informed politician in a mood to discuss anything and everything, with no restrictions (Here is part 1 of that interview, and part 2).
During that campaign, he had repeatedly called out the RSS, not Pakistan, as India’s biggest enemy. The subject came up during our chat; that segment is reproduced here in full:
Talking of mistakes, a very senior BJP leader said that the Congress made a big one when it didn’t allow the Vajpayee government to survive the vote of confidence… Why?
Pawar: The argument I heard was that if the Congress had abstained, the Vajpayee government would have survived the vote of confidence. But being in a minority, it would not have been able to achieve anything at all, and in time it would have fallen. And with its fall, the stability plank would have been lost to the party for ever….
The BJP should never be allowed to rule, it is too dangerous. For instance, Advani was a minister during the Janata government — and in his short tenure, he managed to fill his ministry with RSS people, and that gave us a headache when we came back to power.
The BJP and the RSS practise the politics of infiltration. I’ll give you an example. Before the fall of the Babri Masjid, Bhairon Singh Shekawat and I were negotiating with the Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Ram Janambhoomi people, for three days we had intense negotiations. We reached a stage where, in one more day or maybe two, we could have come to an agreement. But at that time, the senior RSS person involved in the discussions said he had to leave for three days.
I asked him why, I argued with him, told him nothing could be more important, but he was adamant. So finally I asked him where he was going, and he said Hyderabad, to attend the seminar of the Indian History Congress. I was quite shocked that he thought a seminar was more important that this.
That is when he explained. The IHC controls the way Indian history is written and studied, it approves syllabus and textbooks, it has total control. And the key weapon of the RSS is education, its goal is to rewrite Indian history to suit its agenda. In fact, the RSS is already doing it — the portrayal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as anti-Muslim is only one example, they talk of how Afzal Khan tried to trick him and how Shivaji killed Afzal Khan, that is the story the kids read about, but conveniently, no one menions that Shivaji’s chief army commander was a Muslim, that he personally constructed three mosques for Muslims… one of my candidates in the state is a direct descendant of Shivaji Maharaj, and his family still pays money for the upkeep of these mosques, but this is never mentioned. Shivaji maintained that all communities and religions should live in harmony, but look how that is being distorted today!
Sorry, but how does all this tie up with the IHC?
Pawar: To be a member, you have to do post-graduation, and Masters, in Indian history. So over the years, the RSS has been systematically selecting students, instructing them to study history, and getting them into the IHC. At last count the RSS-oriented students are 46 per cent of the society. Another five per cent, and the RSS will control it, and then it will write Indian history to suit its own ends. That body is like that, it plans ahead, and works systematically to achieve its goals. In fact, I must say that though the RSS and the BJP are my political enemies, I admire this quality in them, they plan for the future and they work steadily towards a goal.
THAT interview took place 25 years ago. Look around you today, at the systematic efforts to erase parts of Indian history that the right wing finds inconvenient; at the ongoing attempts to rehabilitate Savarkar’s image; at the serial renaming of roads and buildings (a week ago, the BJP renewed its demand that Lucknow be renamed; one of its poll promises for the upcoming assembly elections in Telangana is to rename entire districts); late last year the Union Education Minister, no less, said that from 26 January 2023, students will learn the “corrected” version of history…)
(Update: Found this, just now. An MLA of the Shinde Sena in Maharashtra says he is writing to the PM asking for the removal of Aurangzeb’s grave from Aurangabad. How do I insert a face-palm emoji in this thing?)
Over the last few years and particularly since 2019, I’ve thought back to that interview, and Pawar’s take on the RSS policy of infiltration, on many occasions in light of unfolding events.
My family, dating back to the time of my grandfather and his father, used to be politically active. Time, and death, have accounted for most of my father’s generation and of the one before it, but several of those political links still remain active.
Relatively recently, I met one such family contact while on a personal visit to Kasargode, and the subject of the RSS came up during an extensive chat. I asked about the RSS infiltrating and controlling Indian history, and my contact laughed.
“History?”, he said. “That is the tip of a very large iceberg; it is just the part you can see. For decades now, the RSS has funded and shepherded bright, ideologically committed young men and women through school and college and pushed them into the ranks of the police, the judicial system, the IAS, the IFS, even the army. Their goal is simple and effective — control the institutions, and then it no longer matters what party is in power.”
(Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi said something on similar lines during a recent press interaction on the sidelines of his Cambridge lecture: “The opposition in India is no longer fighting a political party. We’re now fighting the institutional structure of India. We have to compete against the BJP-RSS which has captured all our independent institutions.”)
Think now of that hyperventilating army official, of Victoria Gowri’s ascent to the Madras High Court, the Allahabad High Court judge whose ruling is based not on law and the Constitution but on myth and legend, of the not-so-subtle rehabilitation of IPS officer Rashmi Shukla, of the many false cases being filed by the police across the country, and of the myriad similar instances that briefly make headlines and are as quickly forgotten, and you realise how prescient Pawar was when he said the RSS is the single biggest threat to the unity and integrity of this country.
PostScript: Going forward, I’ll also use this space to link to interesting articles and books I come across. For now, this beautiful essay by the prolific author and columnist Amitava Kumar: Many Words For Heat, Many Words For Hate.
Incidentally Amitava’s opening, about the many words used in our regional languages to describe heat, reminded me of a piece my friend Arati Kumar-Rao had once done, about the desert dwellers of Rajasthan and the many names they have for cloud formations.