Hey Nagpur, This Is How It Could Have Played Out; Alas!BloombergQuintOpinion
What you are about to read is largely a work of fiction. It is inspired by the real events that took place at Nagpur, when a former President of India shared the stage with the RSS Sarsanghchalak at the passing out parade of cadres. Except for a few truthful and factual reproductions, which have been duly italicised (in blue) to maintain authenticity, the rest of the account is a satire cooked by this writer. He apologises if you find the attempt unappetising and unfunny. Please feel free to troll him.
Despite the threat of an early monsoon storm, June 7, 2018 was calm and only slightly cloudy. PD, a diminutive person with a giant political intellect, was on a never-before pilgrimage to the sanctum sanctorum of The Organisation, whose ideology he had virulently rejected all through his waking years (perhaps even through his nightmares). Yet he was warmly greeted, almost hugged, by SS, a domineering, mustachioed chief of the bachelorhood.
PD was immediately escorted to the birthplace of The Organisation's founder (for those with a tickle for history, it dated back to 1925). PD had been persuaded to write an exaggerated homily in the visitors' register: Today I come here to pay my respect and homage to a great son of Mother India.
But PD hesitated a bit before putting down his prized fountain pen. Then he made up his mind, and added the following lines: But how I wish you had not called Muslims "yavana (foreign) snakes", or questioned their patriotism, as noted by your biographer, CP Bhishikar.
SS was livid at PDâs 'transgression'; with one stroke, PD had destroyed The Organisation's attempt to white-wash an unsavoury past. But SS could do precious little. Any murmur from him would have blown up into a full-scale public relations fracas, so he ground his teeth and kept quiet.
The Calisthenics Begin
Soon both were on an elevated stage with a couple of other uniformed, unsmiling blokes.
The Organisation's triangular saffron flag was hoisted, and its anthem sung.
That done, everybody was just beginning to settle down, when a thickly accented, singly voiced, utterly unmusical rendition filled the air. Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaya He, Bharat Bhagya Vidhaata... PD also took out a miniature Indian Tricolour from his pocket, and pinned it on his lapel, instructing the TV cameramen to zoom into the flag as his singing continued.
Once the Indian National Anthem was finished, PD swiveled around to a now fuming SS, and said disarmingly: "I am sorry to have inflicted my croaky singing on you, but my protocol is unquestionable. I can only salute the Indian Flag and Anthem. I hope you understand."
SS was beside himself with rage now, but he managed a weak smile. His lifelong abstinence and resilience was on test today.
Now The Organisation's cadres swung into action, brandishing lathis (stout canes) and showing off their hand-to-hand combat skills. This was followed by SSâs speech, a ritual grandstanding of Hindu nationalism: "Irrespective of our diversity, we have to know that our ancestors were the same. Hindus are not just a majority. They are answerable for the country's future".
It was now PD's turn to froth at the mouth. He had fought all his life against such divisive drivel. But his legendary restraint was also on test today. He kept a poker face through the Hindutva diatribe.
Time For The Show-Stopper!
Finally, the clock struck for the evening's show-stopper, PD's speech! Time froze. TV images morphed into a slow-mo trance. You could hear a pin drop, as PD cleared his throat, and opened his dossier to read out his prepared text:
Hon'ble SS ji, and distinguished gentlemen (PD gave an unusual emphasis to 'gentlemen'), I know that you have a special place in your heart for Hindi, and would have preferred it if I spoke in that language, but my mother tongue is Bengali, and I think in English, so with your kind permission, I shall deliver my address in this 'foreign' language.
I am sure you remember that in 2010, while moving a political resolution at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) 83rd plenary in Burari, Delhi, I had asked our UPA government to "investigate links between terrorists and The Organisation and its affiliates that have been uncovered in some recent cases". I am quite amazed that you have invited me despite the fact that I virtually called you terrorists; thank you!
The stick-wielding athleticism of your cadres was quite remarkable. And I hope it shall be used when they come across ugly instances of vigilantism, a rather new and scary phenomenon in states that are ruled by your affiliates. I hope, for instance, that their newly acquired combat skills will protect a Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan, some of those unfortunate Dalit boys in Gujarat who were virtually skinned alive, or when a riotous mob set on Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh. Since you are trained and disciplined, you should free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal.
Hon'ble SS ji, do I have your permission to point out the most critical omission in your speech today? (SS was forced to nod his approval). Well then, I fail to understand how you could speak about India's ethos and history without dilating on the immeasurable contribution of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation? You must also recall that The Organisation was unfortunately charged with complicity in his dastardly assassination by Hindu fanatics, and banned in 1948. It is a matter of immense relief that The Organisation was not held culpable, but may I give a piece of unsolicited advice? It would be most statesman-like for you to condemn, once and for all, the communal atmosphere that eventually snatched our most beloved Mahatma in that moment of violent madness. As Gandhiji explained, Indian nationalism was not exclusive, nor aggressive, nor destructive.
I was equally pained at the complete omission of Pandit Nehru's contribution in building modern India, even as you rightly extolled many splendid milestones in that journey. Before going further, I must make an honest disclosure; I have been deeply influenced by Nehruvian socialism, and yes, you could call me a Nehru bhakt (devotee)!
India's nationalism was so vividly expressed in Pandit Nehru's Discovery of India, and I quote: "I am convinced that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other groups in India. That does not mean the extinction of any real culture of any group, but it does mean a common outlook, to which other matters are subordinated".
So I was surprised at the innumerable mentions of Hindu Samaj in your speech. Is that all there is to the diversity of India, everybody clubbed under a forcibly unified Hindu Samaj? No mention at all of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis in your construction of Hindu Samaj? How can we negate hundreds of years of our history so blithely? Yes, I agree that Kings like Ashoka, Mauryas, Guptas and several others laid the foundation of Bharat, until the Muslim invaders... (now PD paused - a long, tortured, lingering pause, as if he wasn't sure about what to say next).
Err, I know you persuaded me to insert this phrase, Muslim invaders, in my written speech, but allow me to digress from it. I shall press the delete button on the word Muslim. It's as silly, and dangerous, to prefix a religion to one-thousand-year-old invaders, as it is to current-day terrorists. And it's even more pernicious when such a historical distortion is used to demolish the edifice of the Babri Masjid, as we did in 1992, when your affiliate was ruling in Uttar Pradesh. So please expunge Muslims from this line before distributing hard copies my speech to the media.
Finally, before I sign off, I wish I had seen an equal number of women at this gathering. I know The Organisation is a bachelorhood, but that should not preclude us from acknowledging, and celebrating, India's extraordinary women citizens.
Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.