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Sectarian Politics and the Partition of India: The Targeting of Nehru and the Congress | Anil Nauriya

25 May

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The rise of Hindutva-related organisations in India, especially since the late 1980s, has witnessed frequent attacks by them on the pre-freedom Congress in relation to the partition of India in 1947. These attacks increased since 2013 in the run-up to the General Elections of 2014. Some Hindutva organisations have become less covert than before in their glorification of the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi. Simultaneously, other sections of Hindutva forces have sought to disclaim responsibility for Gandhi’s assassination and to shift the focus of their attack on Jawaharlal Nehru. In this essay, Supreme Court advocate and writer Anil Nauriya, explores some aspects of these phenomena. He underlines also a connection between these tendencies and a development on another plane. This is that certain somewhat dubious and one-sided critiques of the pre-freedom Congress in relation to partition fostered by late 20th century colonialist historiography have been feeding into the Hindutva narrative.

Decades after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu Mahasabha workers have in recent years become emboldened publicly to glorify his assassins. On January 30, 2016, precisely 68 years after the assassination, some of them reportedly distributed sweets to mark the killing as they continue to hold Gandhi responsible for the Partition of India in 1947.

On the same day an intellectual associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sought, on the electronic media, nominally to dissociate the RSS from the prime assassin. However, the RSS and its various offshoots, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have seldom dissociated themselves from holding the Indian National Congress (Congress) responsible for Partition. On the contrary, this has been a major plank in its propaganda offensive against the Congress. Many BJP leaders have resorted to such rhetoric, especially at election time.

For instance, these attacks became especially marked since the latter months of 2013 in the run-up to the General Elections of 2014 1 . Some of the Hindutva organizations have also become less covert than before in their glorification of the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi. Simultaneously, other sections of Hindutva forces have sought to disclaim responsibility for Gandhi’s assassination and to shift the focus of their attack on Jawaharlal Nehru 2 .

There have also been some gradual changes in the rhetoric of the BJP compared, on the one hand, with that of the Jan Sangh, its pre-1977 predecessor, and on the other, with that of its natural allies such as the Hindu Mahasabha, the Shiv Sena and similar parties. The Hindu law reform conducted in the 1950s during Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure as Prime Minister had not gone down well with the sections of society prone to support the Jan Sangh, and the momentous churning of a near-stagnant social milieu provided a further point for conservative Hindu bitterness towards the country’s first Premier. It was some two decades later, with the Jan Sangh’s involvement in the political movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) in the mid-1970s, that the Sangh found itself having to engage Gandhians, Sarvodaya workers, socialists and others.

The targeting of Nehru

Thus, when the Jan Sangh re-emerged in 1980 as the BJP, its traditional doctrinal positions gave way to some modified formulations; alongside it became necessary to reshuffle the punching bags that the new party would target in its political practice. It is in this phase that its fire came to focus more exclusively on Nehru and his family. This did not mean that the BJP quite discarded its previous antagonism toward Gandhi.

By the 1990s, the BJP under Lal Krishna Advani had internalised Hindutva, the ideological position of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha leader. In 2003 the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government even installed, in the Central Hall of Parliament, a portrait of Savarkar who had directly inspired Gandhi’s assassin. JP was long dead and, in any case, for the BJP, he had served his purpose. The BJP (and the Shiv Sena) felt enabled to disclose some more affinities with the Hindu Mahasabha without directly attacking Gandhi himself.

The BJP strategy of not directly attacking Gandhi coupled with a selective utilisation of his name continues. Given the great respect in which Gandhi is widely held, it would have perhaps been inexpedient for the BJP, both domestically and internationally, to adopt a course that a party with no immediate prospect of wielding – or continuing to wield – power might have felt free to do. For that reason, despite the celebration and sweets-distribution organised by Hindu Mahasabha workers on the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination in 2016, the main focus of the Hindutva-BJP attacks in the immediate future is likely to be not on Gandhi as such but on the Congress, in particular on Nehru and his family. [. . .] .

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