The temple of Mother India is full,
Landlord, usurer, capitalist, rich trader,
All are crowded inside with the cruel butcher,
Only the poor patriot in khaddar is outside.
- Baba Nagarjun,
‘Sach Na Bolna’
(Don’t Speak The Truth)
In his poem written soon after independence, Baba Nagarjun imagined the temple of Mother India as full of the hypocrites – the looters, plunderers and oppressors – while those patriots in khadi, the ones who speak of food, jobs, rights, will all surely be called communists and clapped in jail cells.
In India today, the BJP and Sangh Parivar have equated nationalism with bullying and beating, with the force-feeding of Hindutva. Or rather, they are cloaking their usual bullying and violence in the robes of ‘nationalism’, to disguise it. And they are inverting the very meaning of nationalism: those who help corporations and MNCs loot and plunder India are calling themselves ‘nationalist’, while the activists who defend the country’s land, forests, rivers, the rights of its people, and its democracy, are branded as ‘anti-national’ and seditious and put in jail. They are hell-bent on snatching away the political freedom to debate, dissent, to question: be it for the people of Kashmir, the North East or any Indian citizen.
Remember, the Sangh Parivar and votaries of Hindutva have absolutely no right to lay claim to nationalism – they betrayed the freedom struggle and supported the British. RSS leaders like Golwalkar disapproved of the freedom struggle, instead asking people to focus themselves on hatred and violence against Muslims.
Savarkar, while in Andaman Jail, wrote three ‘pardon’ letters to the British Government, promising to become “the staunchest advocate … of loyalty to the Government” if released, and asking, “where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” Contrast this with Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, who declared boldly in Court, “We wanted to point out that according to the verdict of your court we had waged war and were therefore war prisoners. And we claim to be treated as such, i.e., we claim to be shot dead instead of to be hanged,” and went to the gallows with ‘Long Live Revolution! Down With Imperialism!’ on their lips. The same RSS today is having the audacity to force citizens to undergo Sanghi ‘tests’ of patriotism! Shamefully, young students who demand freedom from Manuvad and capitalism, those who eat beef, and Hindu-Muslim or inter-caste couples are all branded as ‘anti-national’ in the Sangh’s definition.
At such times, it is absolutely urgent to remember what patriotism, ‘desh-prem’ really meant for our freedom fighters. We need to redouble the struggle to achieve the India of Bhagat Singh’s and Ambedkar’s dreams – and defeat the fascist Sangh Parivar that is the worst enemy of those dreams.
The BJP and Sangh declare that only those willing to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ (Victory to Mother India) can be allowed to live in India. This is the latest version of the old RSS bullying slogan –‘Bharat me rehna hai to Vande Mataram kehna hoga’ (Those who wish to stay in India must say Vande Mataram).
The Sangh and BJP like to make these demands of Muslims because they know that the ‘Mother India’ image is often based on that of Hindu mother goddesses. Even the author of India’s national anthem, Rabindranath Tagore, would have failed the Sangh’s ‘nationalism’ test. He wrote to Subhas Bose in 1937 opposing the idea of making Vande Mataram the national anthem:
“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Muslim can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram — proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate.” (Tagore letter to Bose, 1937)
Many poets and patriots in India’s freedom struggle and since have imagined the country as a mother. But their image of Mother India has been very different from that of the RSS.
The RSS ‘Bharat Mata’ holds in her hands, a saffron flag and not the country’s tricolour flag. She stands, then, not for an independent India but for a ‘Hindu Nation’ – that Dr Ambedkar warned would be the “greatest calamity for this country.” Mothers give birth to children – but the RSS has in fact, given birth to a ‘Mother’ who suits their own vision of hatred and violence. She is a ‘Mother’ whose sons kill humans in the name of protecting cows, rape and kill Muslim and Dalit women, shower abuse on women seeking rights, and shower bullets on every opponent from Gandhi to Kalburgi or Dabholkar.
Needless to say, the Meira Peibis of Manipur who stripped naked and said ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ to protest the rape and murder of Manorama by Assam Rifles, have no place in the RSS conception of ‘Bharat Mata.’ The mothers of the ‘disappeared people’ of Kashmir (who ‘vanished’ in police or army custody) have no freedom to speak or seek justice in the rule of the saffron-wielding Bharat Mata. Adivasi women in Bastar whose breasts are squeezed by security forces to check for lactation, and who are branded ‘Maoists’ if they are not lactating, cannot ask for justice or even tears from the saffron Bharat Mata. The saffron Bharat Mata also blames women’s clothes and conduct for rape and tells women to suffer domestic violence in silence, and her sons kill inter-caste and inter-faith couples in her name.
When Abanindranath Tagore painted ‘Bharat Mata’ in 1905, she had no weapons in her hands, nor was she seated war-like on a lion. In her four hands she had ‘shiksha-diksha-anna-vastra’ (education, blessings, food and clothing) for her children.
Later imaginings, like the Vande Mataram poem in Bankim’s Anandamath, fused together the image of a benign, peaceful motherland providing plentiful food and water, with that of an avenging mother goddess, demanding that her sons violently kill Muslims.
The images of the country as a ‘Mother’ who is eternally self-sacrificing and nurturing, or as a ‘Mother’ who wants wars waged to ‘protect’ her, in fact shackle the real, live women of India. Think: ‘Mother India’ is always shown as a mother of sons, never as a mother of daughters. These images perpetuate the patriarchal notion that women always have to be ‘self-sacrificing,’ and must never ask for her rights and liberties from her own sons, her own family. The only time that such a ‘Mother India’ can assert herself, is in a war against ‘enemies’, when she will ask her sons to ‘protect’ her. Such an image has no room for struggles against gender oppression. When the ‘enemy’ is defined as the country’s own Muslim citizens, the consequences are even more dangerous – because then, in the name of ‘protecting Mother India’, Indian women can be beaten and kidnapped to ‘protect’ them from love and marriage with Muslim men!
Some of the best poems and songs in Indian literatures have, however, imagined ‘Mother India’ differently, in a way that has room for self-questioning and self-criticism, especially in terms of class, caste and gender oppression and ruling class repression.
In ‘O amar desher mati’, Rabindranath asked what he had done for the motherland:
“O my native soil, I bow my head to you in deep obeisance.
In you rests the universe, on you is spread the love of the universal mother.
You have put succour in my mouth,
You have comforted me with cool waters,
…O Mother, much have I eaten out of your hands, I have taken gifts galore— Yet what have I given you
in return I know not!”
In Rabindranath’s song ‘Keno Cheye Acho Go Ma’ (immortalized in Debabrata Biswas’ rendering the Ritwik Ghatak film Jukti Takko Aar Gappo), he is even more harsh:
“Why are you expecting something, mother?
They don’t want you
They don’t know their own mother
You gave your everything to your children
Your golden crops and holy water of Ganga
But they can give you nothing, nothing but lies…”
In 1950, in the dawn of independent India, Nagarjun wrote a scathing satire on the ‘Five Sons of Mother India’ based on the children’s game of rhymes, ending with ‘One son of Mother India, fighting for freedom/The police clapped him in jail, and then there were none.’
The painter Amrita Sher-Gil’s 1935 painting of Mother India was the painting of an adivasi Indian woman and mother. Sumitranandan Pant imagined ‘Mother India’ as a rural Indian woman in ‘Bharat Mata Gramvasini’. His ‘Bharat Mata’ had dusty, dirt-stained clothes, the Ganga and Yamuna were full of her tears, and she was ‘a migrant in her own home.’ That last line is an extremely powerful critique of India’s patriarchy, where a woman is invariably an ‘alien’ in her own home. In her parents’ home she is an alien because she is seen as belonging in her future husband’s home. And in her in-laws’ home, she is an alien, a migrant. Just as migrant labour is vulnerable, the ‘migrant’ daughter-in-law is vulnerable in her home, prone to abuse, violence, even death, but lacking any supporting networks.
Gorakh too ironically invoked the hypocritical worship of motherland and of goddesses to contrast it with the violence meted out to women imprisoned inside homes in the real world. Referring to the oft-quoted phrases
‘Yatra naryastu pujyante, ramante tatra devata’ (where women are worshipped, gods make their home) and ‘janani janmabhumi swargaadapi gareeyasi’ (The mother and motherland are even sweeter than paradise), he wrote:
Where she is worshipped
Gods are at home
She is Sita, she is Savitri,
She is mother
She’s sweeter than paradise
But colliding with the closed windows
She lies fallen
Her head bloody.
What the RSS and BJP are trying to do is to evacuate every possibility of such introspection, critique and dialogue with ‘Mother India.’ Instead, they are trying to turn ‘Mother India’ into an alibi for the worst of violence and discrimination in Indian society and specifically, in the politics of Hindutva fascism. Both Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar stood for a ruthless critique of all that is rotten and oppressive, and a transformation of India’s society. While many imagined the motherland as bountiful land or as a suffering land calling for freedom, Bhagat Singh and his comrades squarely placed the living, labouring people of the country at the centre of their patriotism. This is why the Sangh Parivar attacks the inheritors of Bhagat Singh’s and Ambedkar’s legacies most violently.
Bhagat Singh warned against “a replacement of a white rule at Delhi by a brown rule,” saying that such a rule “once installed on the throne runs the risk of being petrified into a tyranny.” (To The Young Political Workers)
Bhagat Singh made it clear that his goal was not just to replace white rule with brown rule, he and his comrades wanted nothing less than revolution. And they boldly stated what they meant by revolution:
“‘Revolution' is not the cult of the bomb and the pistol. By ‘Revolution' we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must change. Producers or labourers in spite of being the most necessary element of society are robbed by their exploiters of the fruits of their labour and deprived of their elementary rights. The peasant, who grows corn for all, starves with his family, the weaver who supplies the world market with textile fabrics, has not enough to cover his own and his children's bodies, masons, smiths and carpenters, who raise magnificent palaces, live like pariahs in the slums. The capitalists and exploiters, the parasites of society, squander millions on their whims.” … - In a court statement in the Assembly Bomb Case (mid-1929)
Bhagat Singh made it clear in his February 1931 Message that what he spoke of was a socialist revolution:
“We want a socialist revolution, the indispensable preliminary to which is the political revolution. That is what we want. The political revolution does not mean the transfer of state (or more crudely, the power) from the hands of the British to the Indians, but to those Indians who are at one with us as to the final goal, or to be more precise, the power to be transferred to the revolutionary party through popular support. After that, to proceed in right earnest is to organise the reconstruction of the whole society on the socialist basis.”
What kind of revolutionary party did he mean?
Bhagat Singh wrote quite clearly that the party he saw as essential for freedom and revolution was the communist party conceptualized by Lenin:
“We require – to use the term so dear to Lenin – the “professional revolutionaries”. The whole-time workers who have no other ambitions or life-work except the revolution. The name of such a party is the communist party. This party of political workers, bound by strict discipline, should handle all other movements. It shall have to organize the peasants' and workers' parties, labour unions…” (To Young Political Workers)
Today, young men and women who walk on Bhagat Singh’s path and join the communist movement, are being branded as seditious and anti-national by the BJP and RSS!
Bhagat Singh told the Court:
“Bombs and pistols do not make revolution. The sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas”, and in his last Petition to the Punjab Governor, he asserted:
“….Let us declare that the state of war does exist and shall exist so long as the Indian toiling masses and the natural resources are being exploited by a handful of parasites. They may be purely British Capitalist or mixed British and Indian or even purely Indian. … All these things make no difference. … The war shall continue … till the Socialist Republic is established and … every sort of exploitation is put an end to and the humanity is ushered into the era of genuine and permanent peace.”
It is shameful that communal fascist outfits name themselves after Bhagat Singh! Bhagat Singh himself was an atheist, but more importantly, he and his comrades were firmly against communal politics.
In April 1928, Bhagat Singh and his comrades made it clear at the Naujawan Bharat Sabha conference that youth belonging to communal organisations were not allowed to become members of the revolutionary Naujawan Bharat Sabha.
Bhagat Singh revered Lala Lajpat Rai and avenged his death at the hands of the colonial police – but when Lajpat Rai turned to communal politics, Bhagat Singh did not spare him: he printed a pamphlet with Rai’s photograph on it, with Browning’s poem ‘The Lost Leader’ as the caption!
In the June 1928 issue of the magazine Kirti, Bhagat Singh wrote two articles titled Achoot ka Sawaal (On Untouchability) and Sampradayik Dange aur unka Ilaj (Communal riots and their solutions).
In the latter, he firmly identified the role of ‘communal politicians and newspapers’ in fomenting riots. He ridiculed the so-called nationalist leaders who were either too timid to speak up against communalism or themselves got carried away by the communal tide.
Think of the likes Zee News and Times Now today when you read Bhagat Singh’s words:
‘The business of journalism, once considered noble, has become most dirty… the real duty of the newspapers is to educate, to cleanse the minds of people, to save them from narrow sectarian divisiveness, and to eradicate communal feelings to promote the idea of common nationalism. Instead, their main objective seems to be spreading ignorance, preaching and propagating sectarianism and chauvinism, communalising people’s minds leading to the destruction of our composite culture and shared heritage.”
Bhagat Singh saw revolutionary Marxism as the answer to communalism. He wrote:
“The material questions of the belly are at the bottom of everything, this is one of Marx’s major insights…. To stop mutual riots, class consciousness is needed. The poor, toilers and peasants need to recognize the capitalist as their real enemy. It’s in their interest to get rid of discrimination on the grounds of religion, colour, race, nationality and nation, and unite to take power in their own hands. “This will free them of their shackles and give them economic freedom. …
Those who know Russia’s history know that the Tsarist rule divided people and there were riots among communities. But there have been no riots since the rule of the workers has come into being. Now every person is seen as a ‘human being’ not as a ‘religious being.’
“Among all the depressing news of the riots, there was some encouraging news from Kolkata: trade union workers did not join the rioting, rather Hindu and Muslim workers joined hands to try and stop riots. …Class consciousness is the beautiful way to prevent riots. …It is good news that India’s youth today reject the efforts to foment mutual hatred and violence in the name of religion. Rather, instead of seeing themselves as Hindu, Muslim or Sikh they see themselves first as human beings and then as Indians. Such ideas will ensure a bright future for India.
“The martyrs of 1914-15 separated religion from politics. They said religion is a personal matter and none should interfere in it. Nor should religion be introduced in politics because it prevents unity. The Gadar movement remained united because the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims all sacrificed their lives together.”
Note that Bhagat Singh here makes it a point here to place humanity even above Indianness, and absolutely rejects any communal politics. He would have abhorred the idea of inhuman lynchings and rapes being celebrated in the name of nationalism, and of ‘India’ being defined as ‘Hindu Rashtra.’
Bhagat Singh frontally attacked untouchability. On the hue and cry against conversions, this is what he had to say:
“…the harsh truth (is) that if you (the Hindus) treat them worse than your cattle, they shall desert you, join to the fold of other religions where they hope to enjoy more rights, where they are treated as fellow beings.”
And he did not speak merely of reform or of ‘uplift’ of the untouchables. Rather he called upon Dalits to emancipate themselves – calling them the “real working class”:
“'Those who would be free must themselves strike the first blow.’ It must be kept in mind that every one belonging to the privileged class, strives to enjoy his own rights, but would try his utmost to keep on oppressing those below him, and keeping the underprivileged under his heel. Thus might is held to be right. Then waste no time and unite to stand on your own feet and challenge the existing order of society. Let it then be seen as to who dares to deny to you your due. Do not be at the mercy of others and have no illusions about them. Be on guard so as not to fall in the trap of officialdom, because far from being your ally it seeks to make you dance on its own tunes. The capitalist bureaucratic combine is, truly speaking responsible for your oppression and poverty. Hence always shun it. Be on guard about its tricks. This is then the way out. You are the real working class. Workers unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains. Arise and rebel against the existing order. Gradualism and reformism shall be of no avail to you. Start a revolution from a social agitation and gird up your loins for political economic revolution. You and you alone are the pillars of the nations and its core strength. Awake, O sleeping lions! Rebel, raise the banner of revolt.”
Today, we can see youth all over the country ‘sharpening the sword of revolution on the whetstone’ of Bhagat Singh’s, Ambedkar’s, Periyar’s, Phule’s and Savitribai’s ideas. On their lips are the slogans of Inquilab Zindabad and Jai Bhim. Like Rohith Vemula of HCU and Chandrashekhar Prasad of JNU, they are willing to sacrifice their lives to transform society. Instead of humiliating and killing people who refuse to worship the Sanghi Bharat Mata, they say ‘We debate, we dissent, we argue.’ For them the people are the heart and soul of patriotism – they say ‘Jai Hind, Jai Hind Niwasi/Jai Bharat, Jai Bharat Wasi’ (Victory to India and the People of India).