Narendra Modi is a good orator, and his first public speech at Rewari in Haryana on September 15, after being elected the BJP‘s prime ministerial candidate, provided ample evidence of this. I was intrigued, though, by his fulsome tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Modi announced that he is building in Gujarat a statue of Patel, made from iron pieces contributed by every village in India, which would be the tallest in the world, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.
I was intrigued because Sardar Patel was the man who banned the RSS, the institution which Modi joined at the tender age of 15, and which, on his own admission, has played an exceptionally valuable role in moulding his life and thought processes. Patel was India’s home minister when, on February 2, 1948, the government banned the RSS, in pursuance of its “determination to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the nation and darken her fair name”.
In a September 11, 1948 letter to Guru Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the then RSSsarsangh-chalak, the Sardar was forthright in his denunciation of RSS leaders: “All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji.”
Significantly, the Sardar was never in doubt about the role of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha in the murder of the Mahatma. In a letter dated February 27, 1948, to Pandit Nehru, he states this clearly: “It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through… Of course, his assassination was welcomed by those of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha who were strongly opposed to his way of thinking and to his policy.”
He reiterates this position in another letter (July 18, 1948) to Shyama Prasad Mookherjee: “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha… Our reports do confirm that, as a result of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible.”
Incidentally, although Nathuram Godse denied any direct link with the RSS at the time of his trial, many years later, in an interview to Frontline magazine in January 1994, his brother, Gopal, was quite candid about the truth: “All the brothers were in the RSS, Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He said it but he never left it.”
Sardar Patel was a staunch follower of Gandhiji and his inclusive vision. His emphatic opposition to the RSS, the institution which mentored Modi and shaped his world view, is documented fact. What is then Modi trying to convey by co-opting Patel and building the world’s tallest statue as a tribute to him?
Available evidence is definitive that the RSS played a key role in the political choice of Modi to lead the BJP. The evidence is also categorical that Modi is deeply influenced by the philosophy of the RSS. Modi was a pracharak in the RSS when Golwalkar, the longest-serving and most ‘successful’ RSS chief was the sarsangh-chalak (1940-73).
Modi reportedly wrote a book in his praise. Does he agree with Golwalkar’s explicitly stated views that India is an exclusively Hindu nation, with no place for people of other faiths, not even the rights of a citizen? Does he support Golwalkar’s praise of Nazi Germany, for having manifested a nation’s highest pride in exterminating the Jews? Does he believe, like Golwalkar, that the Manusmriti, that consigns shudras to perpetual service of Brahmans and advocates servitude of women, is the only valid law for India?
The BJP, I think, made a valiant attempt under A B Vajpayee to downplay this regressive thinking and broad-base its political appeal. But with the rise of Modi, the core philosophy of the RSS is back as the driving ideology of the BJP.
Sardar Patel, if he is at all watching these developments, must be both a deeply anguished and a very angry man. Angry, because of his clever appropriation by those whom he steadfastly opposed. Anguished, because the vision of India being offered by his new devotees is so different to the one for which he dedicated his entire life.
(The writer, an author and former diplomat, is currently adviser to the Bihar chief minister)