Is there an effort being made to appropriate Rajguru’s legacy?

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Aritra Bhattacharya| The News Minute| Rajgurunagar| 24 August 2014| 8.00 pm IST

Thus far, he was a revered desh-yodhdha (patriot), but now, one may well have to revise the story to make him a dev and dharm yodhdha. At least that’s what the banner at his birthplace and his descendants say, although it is in contravention with history.

Shivaram Rajguru—one among the communist trio of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru—was born in Khed (now Rajgurunagar, after him) on 24 August, 1908. The janam-wada (quarters where Rajguru was born) at his birthplace, renovated by a local committee, has a banner that proclaims that he gave up his life for ‘dev, desh ani dharm’.

“What’s wrong with that,” asks Ram Khedkar, a member of the Hutatma Rajguru Smarak Samiti, who was also the local gram panchayat leader for ten years. A BJP worker, Khedkar says there is nothing wrong in the words on the banner and the line about martyrdom for the sake of ‘dev, desh ani dharm’ is taken from a popular song about Shivaji.

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On being asked if the triumvirate of ‘dev, desh ani dharm’ could be applied to a communist like Rajguru, he says, “He came from a Brahmin family and had travelled to Nasik to learn Sanskrit.”

Kondiba Namdeo Takalkar, President of Rajguru Pratishthan in Rajgurunagar sees an RSS hand behind the appearance of this banner and the related claims. Rajguru Pratishthan was registered in 1985 and has been petitioning various governments to build a befitting memorial for the freedom fighter, but to very little effect. He says the Hutatma Rajguru Smarak Samiti was ‘formed by local people, unregistered’, and has a ‘number of RSS members’.

On being queried about the RSS-BJP’s role in the memorial, Khedkar says there is strong RSS presence in the area around Rajguru’s birthplace. “When I was the gram panchayat leader for ten years (1996-2005), I worked with Balvant Apte (national-level BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra) to facilitate this small memorial. Balasaheb would work in Delhi and I, here. Our efforts ensured he had a memorial by 2005,” he notes.

The delay in memorial construction is something Takalkar also faults. He holds the state government solely responsible for the mess at Rajguru’s ancestral house, where only the janam-wada has been renovated. “The state government promised Rs 7-8 crore for the memorial, but hardly anything has come,” he says. Khedkar, on his part, says only the boundary wall of the compound was built with money from the state government, and all photographs and banners inside the memorial were put up by the Hutatma Rajguru Smarak Samiti.

Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University and Trinamool Congress MP Sugata Bose wonders how Rajguru could be called a dev-yodhdha. He notes the freedom fighter could be called a dharm-yodhdha “only if you think of dharma in the broadest sense, as an ethical way of life”.

Rajguru’s descendants, and Khedkar and others, however, are clear about what dharma means. Satyajit Rajguru, a descendant of the communist rebel, says the family has ‘discovered’ a manuscript written by Rajguru’s brother, where the author talks about how he travelled to Nasik to learn Sanskrit. “He was a firm believer in God and also a Brahmin,” he notes.

Ram Khedkar says most people around Rajguru’s birthplace know of his leanings and his devotion for god. They could not, however, point out the basis for converting Rajguru, a communist in the freedom struggle, into a martyr of ‘dev, desh ani dharm’.

Arts editor, curator and teacher Sadanand Menon says the furthering of these markers is part of a process of appropriating icons into the Hindu right-wing. “I am not surprised. This is a sort of neo-nationalism, where the majoritarian party (BJP) is ensuring that individuals and their specific ideologies are over-ridden by ‘nationalism’—every icon becomes the right-wing’s symbol,” he notes.

In the recent past, the RSS-BJP has been accused of trying to appropriate Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel. As also Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and BR Ambedkar. Rajguru is perhaps a late entrant into this process.

“What would matter most,” says Menon, “is a counter-statement from the Left, which has almost vanished from the political spectrum.” Revision of history, as we have seen, is an ongoing process. It is the resistance that matters.

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