Ignorant at the helm

In the notorious TV interview I gave on January 17, 2014, in consequence of which I have ever since been accused of sneering at Narendra Modi as a “chaiwallah” (when I did not even use the word as anyone can see by looking at YouTube), I did pointedly refer to the tragedy of a man who did not know that Alexander never reached Pataliputra and mixed up Nalanda in India with Taxila in Pakistan, aspiring to step into the shoes of the most sensitive and knowledgeable historian-prime minister India has known, author of such magisterial works as Glimpses of World History and The Discovery of India.

Modi has now done it again. Totally misusing a great national occasion—the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Indian National Army by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose—Modi mounted the ramparts of the Red Fort to launch a petty, partisan tirade against the Nehru family for having sidelined all the other greats of the freedom movement. This is rubbish—for the true traducers of the Netaji legacy are the Savarkar-Golwalkar-Modi brigade whose every thought and action are an insult to everything that Netaji stood for.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Netaji named his army the Azad Hind Fauj, not the “Swatantra Bharat Sena”, for nothing mattered to him more than Hindu-Muslim unity. In stunning contrast, we have had for the last five wretched years a prime minister who has only one Muslim minister in his cabinet. Half of Bose’s armed forces ministers were Muslims: Aziz Ahmed; M.Z. Kiani; Ehsan Qadir; Shahnawaz Khan; besides two advisers with ministerial rank: Kasim Ghani and D.M. Khan. Two of his closest companions were Abid Hasan, who accompanied him in the submarine from Germany, and Habib-ur-Rahman, who was with him when his plane crashed in Taiwan.

Netaji was perhaps the first in the world to incorporate an entire regiment of women in his army—the Rani of Jhansi regiment led by the redoubtable Lakshmi Sahgal. The RSS, whose proud pracharak is the prime minister, does not allow women to become even members, and Modi’s cabinet has a woman minister who asks whether you would take a “menstrual blood-soaked pad to a friend’s house.”

Netaji’s slogan was “Jai Hind”. The sangh parivar’s goons shout, “Bharat mata ki jai”, and beat up anyone who responds with “Jai Hind”. Netaji was the one who suggested “Jana Gana Mana” as the national anthem. Modi’s men test the patriotism of our Muslims on the anvil of “Vande Mataram”—to whose certain verses (not included in the national song) some Muslims object. Bose insisted on including Muslims in complete equality with Hindus as the axis of our nationhood; Modi and his peers accept Muslims only on sufferance.

Bose would have been horrified if anyone in his following had talked of “ghar wapasi” or “love jihad” or killing fellow-citizens in the name of gau-mata (and remember he was a pious, believing Hindu). Whereas, our prime minister keeps his lips pursed as the uttermost atrocities are committed by his cohort until pushed to the brink to utter an insincere platitude.

Where Modi and his crowd make Hindi the litmus test of nationalism, and describe unfortunates like me who had their education in English as “Macaulay’s bastards”, Netaji wanted Hindustani as the national language written in the Roman script.

Will someone volunteer to teach Modi a little history when he has time to spare after losing the next general elections?

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.