The BJP and RSS’s strategy to rewrite history is an integral part of its politics. Every time the BJP comes to power, this takes on vastly disturbing proportions, as official platforms and bodies are (mis)used to showcase unadulterated lies, bigotry and communal propaganda in the name of ‘history’. Facts and historical evidence are blatantly ignored or distorted as the RSS-BJP attempts to create a narrative painting all its political opponents as ‘anti-national’.
These tactics were most recently displayed by Prime Minister Modi on the floor of the Parliament. On 7 February, Modi made two claims related to the partition of India in 1947 and the status of Kashmir. First, that India was partitioned because of Nehru and the Congress: implicit in this claim was the RSS’s argument that Sardar Patel was against the partition. Second, Modi claimed that a part of Kashmir would not be occupied by Pakistan had Sardar Patel been the first Prime Minister of the country instead of Nehru.
These claims, part of Modi’s non-response to issues flagged off during the Parliamentary debate, were surely an exercise in diversion from the burning economic questions of the day (unemployment, corruption in the Rafale deal, NPAs). They were also a continuation of the RSS’s long-term strategy to create a political narrative of Nehru versus Patel to explain modern Indian history. This strategy, born out of RSS’s desperation to hide its absence from the anti-colonial freedom struggle and thus to appropriate the legacies of well-known figures from Indian history, tries to overplay the political and ideological differences between the two Congress leaders. More importantly, it ignores the fact that Patel as Home Minister of the country banned the RSS in 1948 when its role in Gandhi’s murder became clear. Later, when Patel revoked the ban, it was on the condition that RSS would stay away from politics. However, most crucially, these claims on Patel’s approach to India’s partition and Kashmir fly in the face of simple, verifiable facts.
Sardar Patel, as the first Home Minister of independent India, had to deal with several chaotic and difficult situations post-independence. He ensured that the princely state of Junagarh (a Hindu-dominated region ruled by a Muslim ruler who wanted to accede to Pakistan) remained with India: arguing that the sentiments of the religious majority should influence the decision to maintain communal amity, and justifying the annexation with a plebiscite in which the overwhelming majority chose India over Pakistan. Pakistan then asked for the same principle to be applied to Kashmir, which was a Muslim-dominated region ruled by a Dogra Hindu king. Evidence tells us that Patel was more than willing to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan, as long as Pakistan agreed not to demand for the state of Hyderabad in south India. “We would agree to Kashmir if they agreed to Hyderabad”, Patel is known to have said, addressing a gathering at the Bahauddin College in Junagarh. Patel, therefore, hardly believed that Kashmir was an ‘integral’ and non-negotiable part of India. Had Pakistan’s Prime Minster Liaquat Ali Khan agreed to Patel’s suggestion, Kashmir would have in all probability been well and truly part of Pakistan today.
As far as the partition of India is concerned, the facts are again clear and verifiable. In 1946, both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League was adamant on the creation of Pakistan. The Congress, on the other hand, was reluctant. Sardar Patel was in fact the first well-known Congress leader to agree to the plan to partition India, citing pragmatic reasons of governance for doing so. Nehru was to add his support only much later. Clearly, Modi has used his official position to convert the house of the Parliament into a bully’s pulpit to distort history and vilify historical figures as well as political opponents through the strategic deployment of blatant lies. This is a grave misuse of public positions, and a most despicable violation of the principles of accountability and responsibility expected of elected representatives.
In its cynical aim to polarise the country on communal lines in order to garner political mileage and hegemony, the RSS-BJP have for long been using Kashmir as a convenient weapon. BJP leaders and their pet TV anchors not only refuse to acknowledge the complex history of the Kashmir dispute, they belligerently declare any democratic approach to the dispute as ‘anti-national.’
The Prime Minister’s blatant falsehoods on the floor of Parliament have provided an occasion, however, to call their bluff. The fact is that seeing Kashmir as an ‘integral and non-negotiable part of India’ was not at the dawn of India’s Independence, and is not now, a condition for being a patriotic Indian. Neither then, nor now, can the question of Kashmir be used to distribute certificates of ‘patriotism’. A mature rather than an opportunist and divisive approach to history is a hallmark of a democracy.