An ‘Iconic’ Shift :: Indian Currents, Editorial

Dr Suresh Mathew

Icons are persons or symbols worthy of veneration. Such symbols are not made in days or months. They come to live in the minds of people because they had dedicated their lives for the country and its people. But the way icons are appropriated and discarded by the Narendra Modi government trivialises those venerable souls. They are made pawns in the political game the Bharatiya Janata Party plays to widen its party base. Icons like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose have enthused and energised generations because of their dedicated and selfless work. They belong to all and they are beyond party politics. With Modi government coming to power, an unnecessary controversy has broken out deliberately pitting one icon against another. 

Ironically, most of the icons had the Indian National Congress in their gene. This seems to have put the BJP leaders in a fix. Suddenly they realised that they were bereft of icons belonging to the freedom movement. Their icons, who had roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, hadn’t led the freedom struggle from the front. Some of them had been widely seen as supporters of the British rule, though the party vehemently denies it. The rat race to selectively appropriate some of the icons from the Congress pantheon is a well thought out strategy to refurbish the saffron party’s image. Thus the BJP has taken into their fold Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, B. R. Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose. Adding some punch to the list, they have incorporated people like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Deendayal Upadhaya to satisfy the Hindutva proponents. One cannot close one’s eyes to the move by some fringe elements to resurrect the memory of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhiji, and get him included in their list of icons. Though the BJP would deny any role in this move, it will cut no ice with discerning public. Some party leaders have called Godse a patriot and urged the government to install his statues.  

The BJP’s new found enthusiasm to catapult B. R. Ambedkar to a higher pedestal is riddled with contradictions. Ambedkar was never their cult figure. In fact, senior BJP leader Arun Shourie castigates him in his book “ Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar and the Facts that have been Erased” saying that the Dalit leader had never participated in any activity connected with the struggle to free India. Hence this new found love for Babasaheb has more to do with vote bank politics than anything else. A more pernicious aspect of this ‘icon grabbing’ effort is denigration of leaders like Nehru. They have twisted history to show that Nehru and Patel could not see eye to eye. This portrayal of two of the tallest leaders of Independent India is tweaking history to suit the party in power. In the process new myths are created to substitute Indian nationalism with Hindu nationalism. Even the Father of the Nation gets sidelined in the Hindutva wave and the nation watches these developments with alarm. 

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