Kolkata: Jai Hind! Jai Shri Ram!
Can the two salutations go together? It depends on which side of the great indian political ring you are now placed, particularly, if you are a Deshi. Right now, the ring itself has been shifted to Bengal as the state is gearing up for assembly poll by May 2021.
On 23 January, we witnessed the latest show-down between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the mascot of the BJP-RSS and state chief minister cum Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee. The occasion was the 125th birth anniversary of ‘Netaji’ Subhas Chandra Bose, the legendary leader of Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA) that took support from the Axis power in WWII to liberate India from the British Yoke. Venue was the premises of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, dedicated to the queen of British empire at its zenith and now controlled by the central ministry of culture.
As soon as Bengal’s big sis was invited to speak, some of Modi-bhakts greeted her with the chants of Jai Shri Ram! It was clearly meant for taunting her as she had taken it as an affront earlier and even chased away BJP supporters. This time too, a visibly angry Mamata called it an ‘insult to an invited dignitary’ and refused to address. She ended her protest with Jai Hind! Jai Bangla! The two friends-turned foes hardly exchanged a glance, let alone a smile.
Modi could have stopped his minions by raising his index finger or wave of hand. He often makes such gestures either to warn the opposition parties or dismiss his detractors. But he chose to sit nonchalant.
What Jai Hind stands for
Bose, a Bengali icon with a pan-Indian appeal and a well known figure across the Indian subcontinent had coined the call– Jai Hind or Hail India. A mix of two Hindi and Urdu words respectively, it simply resonated his ideals of Hindu-Muslim unity as well as recognition of plural backgrounds of the INA soldiers. Indians from diverse regions, religions, castes and language groups placed their loyalty to a common homeland without any religious tinge and took oath to fight together for its freedom. It became popular among rank and file of all castes and creeds as well as a war cry against the Brits.
INA perished in the whirlpools of the war fortunes of great powers despite reaching the borders and shores of India but triggered a seismic tremor in Indian psyche that ultimately led to our freedom. Jai Hind became the words of popular greeting both among the ruling elites who believed in secular nationalism and the masses who followed them. Bose’s end is still a mystery and highly contested one. But that has only lingered his legend as a tragic hero. In post-colonial India, many believed in his second coming as the redeemer of the hopes of the freedom era and the unifier of a divided land after the murder of Gandhi.
What Jai Shri Ram stands for
In contrast, Jai Shri Ram (Hail lord Ram) was coined in the late eighties as both the war cry of the Hindu revivalists led by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and byword for their camaraderie. It has nothing to do with the devotion of Hindu faithfuls to the god-king of the epic Ramayana whose reign had become a byword for a benevolent and just rule and was revered across faiths in South and south-east Asia.
The war cry in his name has become a blood-curdling call for vengeance against Muslims in India and the mantra to trigger mass hysteria among Hindus, particularly in the Hindi heartland since 1992. Further, it has been morphed into an assertion of victory since Modi became the PM and master rooster of the BJP in 2014, the RSS political wing. More he has gained absolute power, the more the saffron cry connotes a heady invincibility that demands immediate submission of the religious and political minorities including the civil society. Fall in line, else, face the Lynch mobs or police hounds.
Nevertheless, the criers of Jai Shri Ram need to appropriate and subsume Jai Hind to get an aura of wider respectability and acceptability since the RSS did not join the anti-British struggle. So the Sangh Parivar is hell-bent to usurp Gandhi sans his calls for Hindu-Muslim Amity and non-violence despite the fact that his murderer was its fellow-traveller and now being worshipped in Modis India.
Amvedkar is also in the A- list sans his call for annihilation of castes and seperate Dalit identity beyond Brahminical Hindu order.
Politics on appropriation: Bengal’s icons
Similar RSS-BJP exercise is on with Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore) and Subhas Bose, all Bengali icons who also enjoy pan-Indian reverence and beyond the borders. Swami, the reformer monk had bridged Vedanta philosophy to modernity and spoke against any race or religion’s superiority. Today he has been turned on his head as the hero of Hindu supremacists.
Tagore, the philosopher-poet deplored not only Hitler-Mussolini and Japanese militarism but also the dangers inherent in nationalism. He detested ritualistic rigor of Brahminical Hinduism as well as bigotry of all religious communities while promoting pluralism and interfaith dialogues, particularly, Hindu-Muslim Amity. But RSS-BJP has been trying hard to make a critic of Islam and Christianity. His poetic images of Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal), has now become part of BJP’s poll campaign. Bose who followed Vivekananda in spirituality and was loved by Tagore is the latest target.
Bose and his legacy: BJP eyes a special effect
On Subhas Bose’s birthday, Modi spoke at length on Netaji’s legacy and the nationalist hero’s relevance in India under his watch as well as his personal inspiration. He virtually made Netaji an ambassador for his ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ or campaign for self-reliant India to make local corporate brands global. It’s also a new slogan to attract the global capital which may flee Covid-hit China and other countries in a corollary to his earlier Make in India campaign.
Modi even related Boss’s ‘parakram’ or bravery as the INA leader to current Indian army’s military might from ‘LOC to LAC’ or against Pakistan and China respectively. But he mentioned the icon as a devout Hindu who used to read Bhagwad Gita, the Hindu holy book. But he did not bother to mention Bose’s secular public life and composite nationalism encapsulated in the INA salutation– ‘Jai Hind’ salutation.
Modi’s silence on Bose’s pluralist politics and focus on Hindu-Muslim unity in undivided Bengal and India was deliberate and part of an orchestrated campaign. It was more evident during the light and sound presentation on Netaji. It focused on his clashes with Gandhi and other Congress leaders including his fellow traveller- turned rival, Jawarlal Nehru.
Clearly, the narrative suits BJP-RSS to target Congress today as well as stoke the Bengali sentiments that Bose was deprived in his life and death. Ironically, Mamata too shares it but wants to use it against ‘outsider’ Modi and his party.