September 13, 2015

India: Saffronising the institutions (Kuldip Nayar)

The Daily Star, September 12, 2015

Saffornising the institutions
Kuldip Nayar

Understandably, there is a sense of horror over the Bhartiya Janata Party government's decision to 'modernise' the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum at Tin Murti in New Delhi. The BJP spokesman has explained that the present museum tells only the Nehru side of national struggle for independence, not the entire story.

Ironically, the people to put forward the demand are those who did not contribute even a bit to the national movement. Their role, if any, helped the British rulers.

What the BJP has in mind is to saffronise the institution. The party made a similar attempt when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was at the helm of affairs. But he firmly resisted every move to reinterpret history. He recognised the role Nehru had played to win freedom and gave him full credit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is of a different kettle of fish. He openly seeks guidance from the Rashtriya Syamsewak Sangh (RSS), which runs down the national struggle because it was never part of it.

Re-doing Nehru museum under the Modi rule means the induction of outdated ideas into history. Nehru moulded the nation after independence and gave it a scientific temperament. Nehru's biggest contribution was the concept of secularism. At the time of partition, when Pakistan chose to be an Islamic state, he kept India secular. Probably, this is what the BJP does not like and wants to change the very character of the museum. Why doesn't the BJP have a separate museum where it can present the history in the way it wants to?

Not long ago, I was at Pune and found to my dismay that the Agha Khan Palace, where the British rulers would detain the icons of our freedom struggle, like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, has been converted into an environment park. I have no grudge against parks. But the places consecrated by the nation's blood, should have been preserved in their original shape so that the coming generations would see them as they were. Decoration, however honest in intent, extinguishes the original spirit.

In contrast, the Jalianwala Bagh at Amritsar has been preserved as it was. It retains the air of martyrdom and still maintains the centrality of the well. When one sees it, one can imagine how the people must have jumped into it to escape the relentless firing by the British-led soldiers. They were punished because of the 'humiliation' of one British woman who heard a hissing sound while passing through a bazaar. Protesters at the Jalianwala Bagh were only parading against the British rule. Theirs was a struggle for independence. Sadly, after killing hundreds of people, the remark made by one British soldier was that they wished they had more ammunition.

Indeed, places like the Jalianwala Bagh are the real temples. They remind us of the pain and pangs of our national struggle and of those who sacrificed all in the fight against the British. The places are in no way less important than the scriptures which we revere and cherish.

Unfortunately, the places of worship—temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras—are becoming more in number and vulgar in decoration. Followers mistakenly have come to believe that the use of marble or gold makes the place more endearing to worshipers.

Unfortunately, the buildings which did not contribute at all to the freedom struggle, have come to occupy positions of importance. Still worse are the efforts to substitute the ethos of pluralism with the ideology of parochialism. It is unthinkable how any party or person can demand a memorial for Nathuram Godse who killed Mahatma Gandhi.

BJP, an outfit to spread Hindutva feelings, should understand and appreciate the emotion which was misguiding the Muslims at that time. Even if it is assumed that the Muslims knowingly marshaled behind the demand for Pakistan, how are the Indian Muslims to blame for what happened 70 years ago?

When we are not blaming the generation, which was supporting the British, why should we pick on the Muslims whose forefathers helped create Pakistan? An average Hindu has not forgiven Muslims for the vivisection of India. At the time of tension with Pakistan, many Hindus still suspect the Muslims.

Even otherwise, Hindus maintain distance from Muslims. Social contacts between the two communities are more or less absent. And both live in the world of their own. It was different in my generation. We visited one another's house and ate together without feeling that we were doing anything extraordinary.

Today things have changed. A Muslim woman professor told me that one day a few Hindu girls stood up in the classroom and asked her why she was in India when she should have gone to Pakistan. No one in the classroom objected to the girls' remarks. I cannot blame the educational system, but I do blame the teachers who had created such an atmosphere where students could ask such questions.

True, partition on the basis of religion has told upon India's ethos of secularism and lessened the importance of Muslims in the affairs of India. But this feeling goes against the letter and spirit of our constitution. We are not a Hindu rashtra but a secular, democratic republic as the preamble of our constitution says.

BJP does not seem to realise that it does not have any Muslim icon in its ranks. I hope that things would change for the better. But how can they when the party wants to establish a Hindu rashtra and continues to keep the Muslim community at a distance? Sadly, the party is trying to change the very ethos of our country. Even in the midst of our national struggle, we were conscious that Pakistan would be an Islamic state. Still, we declared that India, after the British left, would be a secular state and we adhered to that undertaking.

The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.