Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani on Friday said the country’s first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and arrested its leaders after the assassination of Mahatama Gandhi “under pressure from [Jawaharlal] Nehru.”
At a press conference in Shimla, where the BJP’s three-day ‘chintan baithak’ concluded, party leader Sushma Swaraj quoted Mr. Advani as having said this at a closed door meeting. This was in response to the remark of the expelled BJP leader, Jaswant Singh, questioning the appropriation of Sardar Patel by the Sangh and the BJP as its “icon.” He had pointed out that it was Patel who banned the RSS and put its leaders in jail.
Bipan Chandra, Modern India historian, told The Hindu over phone from Kerala that Mr. Advani’s reported remark amounted to “slandering Patel.”
He said: “To say he did something, only because Nehru asked him to, is slandering Patel, who was very independent-minded. Patel would not have done anything contrary to his conscience and his views.”
Irfan Habib, speaking from Aligarh, was equally categorical about Patel’s views on the RSS’ “violent politics.” “I have read the correspondence between [then RSS chief] Golwalkar and Patel. While he did not hold the RSS guilty of the assassination of Gandhiji, he held it squarely responsible for creating the communal atmosphere that led to the assassination. Patel’s stand against the violent politics of the RSS comes out sharply in his correspondence. Patel was the Home Minister of the country at a very difficult time.”
Professor Chandra also commented on the BJP’s attempt to “appropriate national heroes.”
They tried to make out as if Bhagat Singh was one of their heroes – the BJP used his photographs as they have used those of Gandhiji and B.R. Ambedkar. “But the RSS and the erstwhile Jana Sangh knew that he wrote, “Why I am an atheist.’ At that time they distanced themselves from his writing.
Search for heroes
Yet another historian, Mridula Mukherjee, alleged that the RSS and the BJP were “constantly searching for nationalist ancestors for they have none. That was why they attempted to build up Savarkar as a national hero during the National Democratic Alliance regime.”
At that time the party started a ‘yatra’ from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where Savarkar was imprisoned and his portrait unveiled in Parliament during the NDA tenure.
“But if Sardar Patel is the BJP’s icon, as it had asserted he is and gave that as the reason for expelling Jaswant Singh, the party should ponder over this fact: On February 27, 1948, in response to a letter from Nehru, Patel wrote: ‘It clearly emerges that … the RSS was not involved at all [in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination]. It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through’.”