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HomePolicyThe Saffron Brigade Appropriating the Legacy of Sardar Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

The Saffron Brigade Appropriating the Legacy of Sardar Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Hindu Activists

by Karmanye Thadani

Quite often we see Hindu rightists portraying Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose in the list of their heroes, which include Rana Pratap and Shivaji who fought against Muslim “invaders” (never mind that both Akbar and Aurangzeb were born in India, and were not exploiting its resources for another country, or that Hindu rulers too fought to annex each other’s kingdoms) but which almost never includes Nehru and seldom includes Gandhi.

The Hindu Mahasabha as a party (its individual leaders who were also Congress leaders, like Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, notwithstanding) never opposed British imperialism, and in its early years, even thanked the British for having liberated India from Muslim rule. Men like Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose had openly condemned the Hindu Mahasabha; yet, Hindu rightists portray these men as their icons, only because the latter left the Congress and the former was never in it (though this is not to suggest that I am a camp-follower of today’s Congress or even a basher of the BJP per se). Also, it is convenient to glamourize those who resorted to violence against the British owing to the very direct risk to their lives they had taken, as opposed to those who resorted to non-violent agitation, about whom it becomes easy to invent ludicrous conspiracy theories (though as a matter of fact, violent revolutions have often ended up in dictatorial regimes, with the revolutionaries who had staked everything for the cause now emerging as tyrants, and good dictators can always be followed by bad ones). Interestingly, though, the Hindu Mahasabha apart, Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, was a Congress member and got RSS cadres to participate in non-violent movements led by the Congress (which the Hindu Mahasabha as a party never supported)!

Bhagat Singh was a self-proclaimed communist who was ideologically opposed to religion per se, and his organization had a clear stand of not aligning with any communal party, including the Hindu Mahasabha. In the manifesto of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha founded by him, he wrote most explicitly that  there was no room for “the conservativeness and orthodoxy of the Hindus”.

Speaking of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, he was secular to the core and he was very critical of Hindu communalists who made sweeping negative generalizations about Muslims. In a speech he delivered in January 1940 (before he left India to join the Second World War), he praised the Ahrars, a Muslim group in Punjab, for rising against the British when the Congress leadership was deliberating, and said of the Hindu communalists – “Nevertheless, there are people-and stay-at-homes at that-who do not scruple to cast aspersions on the patriotism of Indian Muslims as a body.”

Netaji’s grand-nephew Sugata Bose laments-

“The Hindu right lauds his military heroism, ignoring his deep commitment to Hindu-Muslim unity and the rights of religious minorities.”

In fact, Savarkar, the most prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1940s and thereafter in his life-time, had supported the partition of India and as Amartya Sen points out in his book The Argumentative Indian, he had been speculating such a possibility even before Jinnah suggested it, as Savarkar felt the country would be better off without Muslims. Much as he is glorified by the Hindu rightists, Savarkar had written a mercy petition to the British while he was in jail in the Andamans seeking to be released and subtly apologizing for rising against the Empire, and on his return to mainland India, he opposed Gandhiji’s Quit India Movement and did not undertake any activity against British imperialism. Though some contend that he suggested to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to ally with the Axis Powers to fight the British, there is no conclusive evidence of the same, and this is denied by INA veterans.

Also, to conclude, I must point out that Netaji had chosen Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem of India. If the saffron brigade genuinely respects Netaji, they should stop questioning Tagore’s motivations behind writing that song and should not demand for it to be replaced.