Far more insidious is the deliberate distortion by BJP of what Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee or Sri Aurobindo stood for. The intellectual heirs of these ‘Bengal Renaissance’ figures in contemporary times are Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray. But BJP is determined to appropriate Bengal’s icons from 19th and early 20th century as its heroes by intentionally misrepresenting them. This strategy drives Modi’s repeated glorification of Tagore’s “nationalism” to justify and promote his Hindu nationalist agenda to win the West Bengal elections.
“What is quite absurd is that the proponents of Hindutva – an ideology of hyper-masculine nationalism – are trying to possess Tagore” says JNU sociology professor Avijit Pathak. “Imagine Tagore’s profound reflections on the dangers of hyper-nationalism and the resultant psychology of violence.
Imagine some of Tagore’s characters – Gora with his existential quest and realisation of India as a maternal/inclusive space without walls of separation; Nandini with her feminine grace questioning the gigantic/hyper-masculine machine; and Nikhilesh seeing the dangers of communalisation of politics in the name of nationalism. The politics that the proponents of Hindutva – an ideology of hyper-masculine nationalism – practice is the negation of almost everything Tagore stood for.”
“Likewise, it is important to realise that Swami Vivekananda, despite his saffron and visibly ‘Hindu’ look, cannot be fitted into the discourse of Hindutva. The monk sought to activate the consciousness of a defeated nation, pleaded for ‘muscles of iron, nerves of steel and gigantic will’, celebrated the idea of a resurgent nation with a ‘soul’, and created an organisation of monks for social/spiritual work. But there is hardly any similarity between this project and what the likes of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar sought to create… Vivekananda wanted to spread the message of love and altruistic action, not hatred and exclusion.”
The BJP pulled off a coup in 1991, fielding Victor Banerjee — of Ray and David Lean fame—in a parliamentary contest but he lost so badly that he quit politics. Rajya Sabha MP Roopa Ganguly was another good catch because she once played Draupadi in B.R. Chopra’s hit television serial, Mahabharat. In contrast, singer-turned Lok Sabha MP Babul Supriyo has limited appeal. Hence the BJP’s desperation to bag top intellectuals, stars and celebrities who have so far proved elusive.
(The author is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Views are Personal)
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