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Distorting History of Freedom Struggle

By Ram Puniyani

11 September, 2003

Shyamji Krishnavarma is very much in the news. Mr. Narendra Modi, who
brought the urn containing his ashes, went on to say that Krishnavarmas
contribution is next only to Subhashchandra Bose. At the same time, BJP
ally, George Fernandes lamented that barring Nehru family all other
freedom fighters are being ignored. As such the way freedom fighters are
given emphasis or are ignored gives an idea of the politics of those
currently projecting them. How come suddenly the swayamsevak Modi has
started remembering the freedom movement, with which his ideology and his
alma mater RSS had nothing what so ever to do with.

To begin with, Fernandess lament that barring Nehru family all others have
been forgotten does not hold any water since one knows that people pay
homage to Bhagat Singh, Subhashchandra Bose, Gandhi and Patel with deep
reverence. It is true that the state may not be having official functions
on the anniversaries of all the freedom fighters but the Nation does
fondly remember these contributors to our Nation building. Mr. Modis
ranking of Subhaschandra Bose and Krishnavarma as first and the second in
the list is a bit puzzling. Can the freedom fighters be ranked in such an

Indias freedom struggle was a complex process in which many a tendencies
participated. The major stream, which spearheads the movement, was the one
led by Mahatma Gandhi, the movement of Indian National Congress. Theirs
was a broad platform in which many a tendencies were present. From
Socialists like Nehru on one side to soft Hindutva elements on the other
side were a part of this. The streams, which kept aloof from freedom
movement, were the ones which based their politics on the Religion. The
declining classes-Landlords, Kings and the ideologues representing the
feudal social relationships, initiated these streams. They were together
in the United India Patriotic Association and later this association and
this ideology of Religion based nationalism gave way to Muslim League on
one side and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS on the other. Muslim League called for an
Islamic country since Muslims are a separate Nation, while the Hindutva
ideologues stated that since this is a Hindu Nation, the foreign races
have to accept this Hindu Nation and accept the norms of Hindu Nation.
Since at deeper social level the landlords-Kings survived in alliance with
the British rule there was no question of these ideologies struggling
against the British rule.

To criticize Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS for not participating
in freedom struggle is unwarranted. They did not aim for democratic
nationalism, they did not aim to struggle against British rule so why
should they be criticized for something which was not their goal at all.
These ideologies represented social groups who survived on the land
revenue, which they shared with the British. Merrily this stream survived,
at no time being the subject of British repression.

Amongst the streams, which stood for Indian nationalism and the
accompanying values of Liberty, Equality, Community and Justice, mainly
three groups can be identified. The first and the major one was that of
the one led by Gandhi. He converted this movement into a mass movement in
which all the sections of society could participate. It could transcend
the religion, caste and region to integrate whole of the country into a
single Nation. It was the biggest mass movement of the twentieth century.
Its three major goals were to throw away the British rule, to build a
modern India. Its accompanying values were support to equality of caste
and gender. Innumerable leaders contributed to this stream. From W.C.
Bonnerjee, Annie Beasant, Phirozshah Mehta, Jawaharlala Nehru, Vallabhbhai
Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai
and a host of people coming from all religions came forward in this
movement. While some claim that Hindus mainly fought the struggle, an
analysis of those who participated in this cuts across all the religions
in equal proportion.

The second group is that of revolutionaries who struggled to put pressure
on the British to leave India. In this group most of them were inspired by
the Socialist ideals and the biggest revolutionary organization was
Hindustan socialist republican army. Bhagat Singh, Chadrashekhar Azad,
Ashfaqulla, Surya Sen were prominent in this group. Pre 1923, Savarkar was
also anti British but after giving undertaking to British to get released
from Andamans he practically capitulated and remained aloof from Anti
British struggles.

Role of Subhashchandra Bose was remarkable. After he left Congress he
formed Azad Hind Fauz (Free Indias Army) and took up the battle against
British. Nehru donned his lawyers robes to protect those from Azad Hind
Fauz, who were charged with sedition against the British rule. People like
Shyamji Krishnavarma are in a unique category. Inspired by Russian
revolution and the principles of modern plural democracy they served the
struggle from abroad. And one has to understand their principles and role
while paying eulogy to them. Hindutva ideologue like Shourie have thrown
mud on Dr. Ambedkar and dalit movement in pre Independence India for being
Pro-British. As a matter of fact Ambedkar and his movement were the
backbone of the for social transformation, which was the base, on which
the freedom movement stood. The total picture is very revealing and one
has to see the diverse pieces falling to make the whole, which constituted
the totality.

It is true that Gandhi stood tall and being the unquestioned leader of the
mass movement, which was at the center of the struggle, is the father of
Indian Nation. Nehru because of his vision and foresight built the modern
state despite being riddled with the odds of society in the grip of feudal
norms and in the grip of Brahminical values.

Today when the Hindu right is on the offensive, it wants to erase the
Gandhis legacy. This has become easier for this movement as Gandhi has
been reduced to an icon bereft of his values and principles. Nehru is
currently on the firing line as Hindu Right wants to do away with. Since
RSS itself has nothing in the form of contribution to freedom it tries to
project Savarkar. As Savarkars 1923 undertaking and the post 1923 attitude
does not help the matters much. So in order search for icons, which can
serve its purpose, revolutionaries like Krishnavarma, who are totally for
secularism, socialism are being propped up. In case of Varma the advantage
is that people at large do not know much about him so he can just be
presented as an icon. As such Shyamji Krishnavarma was close to Communist
Gadar party and was for pluralist society. But how does that matter? His
principles can be hidden under the garlands since any way they are not
known to the people. So this clever move by the shrewdest Hindu Right
swayamsevak serves the Hindutva politics very well. This also can kill
many birds in one stone. Ranking of revolutiories and freedom fighters is
being done deliberately. It is too well known that Gandhis place, as
Father of the Nation and the foremost contributors to freedom could not be
questioned. Up until now it was only in RSS shakhas that a whispering
campaign against Gandhi was on and one of the ex Pracharks of RSS, Godse
went on to kill Gandhi. That was also the time when RSS followers
distributed sweets to celebrate his murder. Now with the new found
confidence in the wake of Gujarat carnage where RSS progeny BJP could win
the elections despite the blood on its hands, its confidence is growing by
leaps and bounds and Modi and his ilk can gradually create a new Father,
and series of new figures who can be shown as the real ones in contrast to
Gandhi and Nehru.

In case of Krishnavarma, one cannot underestimate his contribution.
Krishnavarma lived in London and for his campaign for Home rule he got
into trouble with British authorities and had to shift to Paris. He was
running a magazine, Indian Sociologist and set up an India House to
support Independence struggle. Later he moved on to Geneva, where he lived
till his death. One is personally uncomfortable with ranking of the
freedom fighters and the misuse of such occasions to play the politics for
ones agenda. All those who contributed in their own way must be given
respect and honor. But to use such occasions to subtly downplay those like
Gandhi and Nehru who were at the forefront of this struggle is something
one abhors.

Remembering freedom fighters and their contributions is something which a
grateful Nation should do. Their values and principles are a bacon light
for us. The way Modi, Advani and company are projecting Shyamvarma, Patel
etc. is more to down play the legacy of Gandhi and Nehru, the central
figures of our movement. Advani and co. also wants to suppress the fact
that people like Krishnavarma and Patel had nothing whatsoever in common
with the Hindutva ideology in whose name they are trying this political




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