A couple of weeks ago, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan was invited by the Editors’ Guild to deliver its annual lecture. Patwardhan’s speech, titled We or our Nationhood Redefined, was marked by his characteristically cool tone, systematically reassembling facts that have a tricky habit of leaking from national memory. Facts like the twentieth century’s worst genocidal dictator Adolf Hitler and his programme of racial cleansing has a respectable and massive following in India in the form of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. That the RSS has at least 50,000 branches across the country with over 40 million members, and runs a network of 18,000 schools across India. That one such child, recruited from the age of 8 from a relatively poor family, is Prime Minister Modi; and another is Party Chief Amit Shah. That just before the recent reshuffle, 5 Chief Ministers and 17 of the 23 Cabinet-level senior ministers were current or former RSS members. That the assassins of Gandhi are really the RSS, not the lone lunatic Godse who merely carried out what others dreamed about. That RSS’s poisonous communal agenda was roundly condemned by Sardar Patel, of whom PM Modi has promised to build the world’s tallest statue. Or more obscure but equally revealing facts, like the letter written by RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras from jail during Emergency, praising Indira Gandhi and especially her programme of sterilisation of Muslims. And those truly mind-boggling-in-their-irony facts, like the widespread involvement of the RSS in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, when the BJP cynically says “1984” every time somebody says “2002”.
On a day when the Nanavati Commission has termed the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat as a purely communal reaction to Godhra, and cleared then Chief Minister Modi’s government of any wrongdoing, or even inaction, it is critical we re-read Patwardhan’s speech, to remind ourselves exactly what we are up against if we believe in a non-communal, non-divided, heterogenous India. As Patwardhan put it, given the history of the RSS in this subcontinent, if a Modi didn’t exist, he would have to be invented. Read more.