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The non-material rudiments of true independence

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

It was for very good reason that my previous article pertained to free speech. This article of mine would be unpalatable to most, given the almost injudicious nature of nationalist sentiment in India. I therefore deemed it fit to explain the momentousness of free speech at length, appreciating which would make the current article of mine somewhat valid if not entirely emotionally palatable. For it evinces merely a view, which in my judgment is grounded in rationality and certainly not in contempt for India. Needless to say, a reader sensitized with the momentousness of free speech would find it prudent to contradict my essay not with the mercurial medium of hooliganism but with the tempered medium of academic rationalism.

For this article of mine shall raise questions on the very claim of us being independent. There is an apodictic case to be made insofar as administrative independence is concerned. I do not think, however, that this should be the only constituent of our independence.

I fail to discern the reasons behind the Indians’ celebration of their independence. Neither am I fanatically opposed to such celebrations, nor would I consider those who celebrate inferior to me. Expositions in a personal capacity as my sentences are, they would well be treated accordingly.

I must make manifest at the outset my sense of incredulity if not contempt at the reality that we as a nation are. I am keenly aware of the inordinate share that sentiment, as opposed to reason, constitutes amongst the Indian masses, at least a minuscule percentage whereof finds presence in the even more minuscule number of those who care to read my essays. Supposing, therefore, that the magniloquent language herein contained is legible, readers may well skip reading the impending paragraphs in order to not ail their sentiment. This advice of mine is directed at the munificent who cannot but preach love and humanity and thus scorn at pessimism and negativity, but even more so at the parochial jingoists who refuse to hear anything remotely negative about their country.

Nothing could constitute a greater affront to the legacy of this country’s freedom fighters than the citizens’ own sense of contempt for them. One may contend that to be the public is to exhibit a short memory. Granted, but could one exonerate the government for the same affront?

I suppose one and all have heard of the freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose. The official narrative is that he was the unfortunate victim of a plane crash dated 18 August 1945 in Taiwan. Could you be so gracious as to explain to me the reasons behind the monumental levels of snooping that independent India’s government mounted on his family? Not only was the government snooping on the Bose family, it was sending intelligence obtained there from to the British. The ignominy of it all does not cease here. A British MI5 official was in charge of India’s intelligence apparatus for almost two decades after independence. I am prepared to stand corrected, but it was my perception that an independent nation conducts itself in much more self-respectful a manner than as evinced in the aforementioned facts.

I am also prepared to stand corrected should the following perception of mine be falsified. An intelligence agency, as I understand it, is not a historical research apparatus. It is thus not in consonance with the realm of reason for it to invest so much in collecting intelligence pertinent to a man supposedly dead. Should one sift through the declassified files, one would discern that the powers-that-be were yet engaged in a hunt for the man himself. Was it to protect their metaphorical chairs of power? I cannot be certain. Regardless of the rationale, the fact that the state consistently narrated a fable to its citizens is indubitable. It is 2020, and seventy-seven files on Bose remain classified to date, despite the platinum jubilee of his disappearance having been transcended. I for one would cherish knowing the reason behind this classification. Perhaps this is not a democracy wherein politicians must be held accountable, but a feudal kingdom from the Dark Ages. In that event, I submit my sincerest apologies for having been under a major misconstruction.

As author Anuj Dhar’s meticulously researched books would prove — one of them co-authored with Chandrachur Ghose — Bose was very much alive, living incognito in India in the garb of a holy man since at least 1953, well until his demise on 16 September 1985. A select few revolutionary friends and politicians were aware of it and they kept his existence a secret on his express instructions. Police officers who attempted to investigate the identity of this “holy man” were abruptly transferred by the Uttar Pradesh government, and those who managed to gain access to him became his devotees overnight and maintained the secrecy.

Before I venture further, I seek to inform readers that the credibility of Anuj Dhar’s research is so high as to earn validation from the Allahabad High Court merely a few years ago. Not only was Bose alive, but as the written exchanges with his close circle of revolutionaries would prove, he was also planning covert military operations against Pakistan in 1971 before India officially entered the war, none of which materialized. He was also aware of the layout of the Jessore Cantonment in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) at least two months prior to its capture by the Indian Army.

Keeping into consideration the government’s overarching intelligence-gathering capabilities, it is impossible that it would have been unaware of his existence given that he was attempting machinations to such an extent. Some of those in the incognito Bose’s close circle go so far as to contend that Rameshwar Nath Kao (the first chief of India’s external intelligence agency R&AW), then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and even India’s thirteenth President Pranab Mukherjee (then only a member in the Congress party) had met Bose secretly on at least one occasion, although there is no written material to validate the same. There are a lot of unexplained facts: how, for instance, was he aware in 1966 of the fact that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were drugged, when the matter came to the forefront only in the early 1970s? How was he aware in the 1960s of the existence of a secret underground bunker in Beijing when this knowledge was made public only in the 1990s?

He lived in extremely penurious and often inhospitable conditions, and he exhibited signs of a man completely broken from the inside having known that his dream of an undivided India had been shattered by the sanguinary Partition. The food supply was often insufficient.

A man who proved to be a catalyst for the exit of the British lived unrecognized and in penury. Despite this ignominy, there remain eminent members in the intelligentsia who call Bose a Nazi sympathizer merely because he happened to be practical: soliciting Hitler’s help in raising an army- not inviting Hitler for an invasion of India — in order to liberate the country. That the eminent voices in the intelligentsia should calumniate his pragmatic notion of, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is incisive of an ingrained fascination of pacifist idealism. How could a nation ungrateful to its own heroes truly be called independent?

The same could be contended in the context of yet another freedom fighter: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar: a nationalist at heart, nothing short of an emancipator to the Hindus, a poet, playwright and historian of sterling worth. Deeply influenced as he was with the philosophy of utilitarianism, many of his progressive ideas were too shocking to even contemplate for the orthodox Hindu community in Maharashtra.

Given the ludicrously incomplete abomination that passes off as history in India, it is often difficult to appreciate Savarkar’s motivation at a mass consolidation of Hindus. The “scholarly consensus” would lead one to construe the Congress as tragic hero that failed to prevent India’s partition caused by the British, the Muslim communalists and the Hindu communalists. Needless to say, the narrative is highly monochromatic and reprehensibly infantine. In an endeavour to pen a cogent argument in favour of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a legislation brought forth by the government in December 2019, I explained the ramifications of the Khilafat movement of 1919 — a pernicious amalgamation of religion and politics wherein Muslims were mobilized on Islamist sentiment in order to demand the reinstation of the Turkish emperor vanquished by the Allies in World War 1, who also happened to be the caliph (leader of the Islamic world), who was himself not desired by the Turkish populace. Contrary to the popular narrative — of the supposed fraternity between the innocent Hindus and the Muslims having been shattered by the conniving British — it was the Khilafat, actively supported by the Congress, that sowed the seeds of Partition. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s epochal book, “Pakistan or the Partition of India” makes it amply evident, employing government data and incisive analysis of society in order to evince how innocent Hindus had been led by the much-revered Gandhi to support the perilous agitation for the Khilafat — a support which caused many Hindus their lives commencing with the horrendous genocide of the Hindu Nairs in Malabar at the hands of the Moplah Mahomedans.

The Khilafat having popularized sentiments of pan-Islamism, Savarkar discerned a threat to the Hindus which was merely a matter of time. No wonder, therefore, that he sought to consolidate the Hindus, being injudiciously attracted to the saintly aura of Gandhi, akin to the rats attracted to Pied Piper’s mesmerizing flute. He created an intellectual corpus in the form of a phenomenal booklet titled “Essentials of Hindutva”, perhaps his first book written in English, in order to secure a pan-India readership. The consolidation of the Hindus, therefore, was a defensive response to pan-Islamism, and the Partition could in great substance be attributed to Islamism and its endorsement by the Congress; and definitely not imaginary “Hindu communalism”.

Not that there were no communal incidents perpetrated by the Hindus, but it was never institutionalized. Hindus were much more known for social reform movements such as those carried out by the Arya Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj, Shuddhi and so forth. The communalism perpetrated by the Muslim League, however, was institutionalized. From Syed Ahmed Khan to Allama Iqbal and from Ali brothers to Jinnah, the most prominent among them were all advocates of Islamism. It is fallacious to equate Jinnah with Savarkar; the former demanded more and more special concessions whereas the latter spoke of strict equality and even advocated State aid to minority institutions — in proportion of the taxes they paid, that is.

Being the intellectual fount of the ideology of Hindutva espoused in theory by the incumbent BJP, Savarkar is often the choice target of the most virulent and sordid opprobria by the proponents of the Left, the proponents of Islamism as well as self-proclaimed liberals. Condemned as he was to fifty years of imprisonment by the British to the horror prisons of the Andamans, he did not hesitate to pen highly cogent — and may I add eloquent — petitions to the Government of (British) India.

They target Savarkar on this count with a vexatiously high frequency, quoting paragraphs from his petitions out of context without the slightest of ignominy. I wrote an answer on Quora explaining his petitions in a comprehensive manner, concluding that penning such petitions was a good strategy. When those targeting Savarkar have no argument left in their quiver, they fabricate that he gave the title “Veer” to himself, whereas it was in fact fellow revolutionary Wamanrao Joshi who did so at a public function, as noted by Savarkar’s biographer Dr. Vikram Sampath.

A dedicated reading of “My Transportation for Life” written by Savarkar as well as Dr. Sampath’s comprehensive biography on him would perhaps inflict a tremor on a conscientious man’s spirit. For this account of events would have sufficed to demolish the myth that British Raj was somehow benign. Despite having been subjected to months of chained solitary confinement, with his cell facing the gallows where fellow revolutionaries would routinely be executed and thus being tormented by their screams, having to live in his own squalour as did many fellow revolutionaries imprisoned at the Andamans, extracting a substantial amount of oil by running the kolhu as would be expected of a bull and a substantial load of other mistreatment, Savarkar, notwithstanding occasional thoughts of suicide, did not lose his fortitude. He went to the extent of agitating for prison reforms, and was successful in improving the lives of many prisoners by helping them get rid of their addictions and inculcate in them a habit of reading.

In his petitions to the British, he acted as an advocate for his fellow revolutionaries many of whom were illiterate and had no knowledge of either English or the law. They looked up to him as their leader, and addressed him as Bada Babu. Perhaps the most manifest instances of his selfless fervour are his paragraphs asking for continued imprisonment should his release be considered an obstacle to the release of the rest, and other paragraphs which make an impassioned and cogent case for the same dignified treatment for Indian revolutionaries as would be given to revolutionaries in other nations.

The irony of it all is that Britain today recognizes Savarkar as an Indian patriot by means of a plaque at the (formerly) India House in Britain — and vested Indian interests label him a coward, an apologist of the British and a Muslim hater whereas, in fact, he fits none of these disparaging labels.

The very fact that governments at both the state and centre can even dream of erasing his dignity is evincive of the deeply ingrained sense of ingratitude this nation has towards those who wielded arms for the nation, and celebrates only those such as Gandhi and Nehru, who chose the path of constitutionalist struggle — no less significant given its mass appeal to even the poor. Even Sardar Patel is not celebrated as much.

My concern is not restricted to appearing hilariously delusional in discussions in a cosmopolitan environment — recounting nothing but protests while the Americans recount their revolutionary war and tactics against the British — my concern is more profound than that. Incomplete history serves as an apt propellant for intellectual dishonesty. A nation that cannot be truthful as regards its own past could possibly not be expected to be honest about its future. As Major General G.D. Bakshi said during one of his speeches, “Where you go depends on where you come from.” Has India come only from the legacy of the non-violent mass movement where socialism prevailed as propounded by history? Then it cannot expect to be an industrialized nation with a technologically salient military as its politicians routinely dream. India has earned its lethargic bureaucracy courtesy of the British colonial system coupled with the inefficiency of and corruption fostered by socialism. We tend to trivialize the variegated ways in which the legacy of the past affects us. Unidimensional propagation of history shall not let India transcend its socialist and pacifist inebriation.

With the phenomenon of reinvestigation into history having been particularly invigorated after the ascension of Narendra Modi to power in 2014, hidden facts are being revealed and popularized with hitherto unseen vigour. In such circumstances, the academia that has hitherto reigned on its writings evincive of omissions and fabrications shall try its best to preserve the status quo. Two types of responses can be expected, namely, (a) this is unverified information; (b) we have material problems such as poverty to deal with, so we must move on. It is easy to refute the former argument. To the latter, one would do well to say, “One never moves on”.

The Americans never moved on after their independence from Britain. They moved forward with the stern realities of the past kept into consideration. The United States of America was the first experiment with a republic in modern history, envisioned by its founding fathers as a paragon of liberty. Would it have served the USA well to have forgotten the significance of its revolutionary war and moved on as if nothing had happened? Would it have served the USA well to have forgotten the Second World War and retreat into isolation? Why must then India move on and ignore history? It is the very utility of history to serve as accumulated wisdom. The Jews never forgot the Holocaust. It is the memory thereof that has compelled them to narrate their story as survivors to the nations of the world. To that extent, perhaps polemically, denying the Holocaust could warrant legal repercussions in certain countries. India, I contend, has survived even more monumental an onslaught on its heritage. India must progress with the memories of its history ingrained in its consciousness, for it shall not allow India to rest. Its past shall encourage India to persevere. The stories of its resilience shall serve as a propellant for India to progress.

I would be prevaricating and thereby untruthful towards India in the event that I choose to participate in independence day celebrations knowing that I am not truly free. One may contend that India shall be plagued with problems notwithstanding the materialization of all I have enumerated above. I do understand that India shall not assuredly transform into a utopia. Yet, the foregoing parameters, I submit, constitute the fundamental necessities of advancing to the next stage in the unceasing endeavour at evolution.

The following are the questions, therefore, that I pose to the Indians, me included:

  • Will we celebrate innovation, entrepreneurship and government non-interference in business — something that shall generate jobs, contribute to economic growth and secure our lives?
  • Will we of our own accord without overly relying on the academia, write and popularize our true history and inspire our forthcoming generations, without bothering about religious sentiment?
  • Will we of our own accord accept absolute freedom of speech and expression save perhaps such of it as may be barred under the Brandenburg precedent or an Indian equivalent thereof?
  • Will we with our sheer numbers compel numerous political parties to transcend their feudal dispositions and comport in a manner as would befit a modern democracy?
  • Will the best of us devise and normalize modern pedagogy and improve our education so as to generate skilled human resources for the future?
  • Will we transcend religious, caste, gender and all other differences and pledge our allegiance to none other than the Tricolour — the Trivarna Dhwaja — that waves atop the Siachen Glacier and the Red Fort with equal resplendence, and to your individual Dharma?

Should the answer to all of the aforesaid be a reverberant affirmative, I shall see no irony in celebrating Independence Day in its truest form. Here is hoping that our society develops prudence enough to read through my essay — or any essay, book, blog et al with similar thoughts — without feeling offended, for that shall be a single yet monumental stepping stone to our intellectual evolution.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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