How on earth could their ‘buddy’ join hands with the BJP?
New Delhi: On the face of it, George Fernandes had every quality that would have made him a Left-liberal icon—a socialist whose life was a study in simplicity (unlike that of the salon socialists), a champion of the underclass, an intrepid fighter against tyranny, an industry minister who drove out Coca Cola and IBM from India, a defence minister whom soldiers still remember for his solicitude. In short, he had everything that would have ensured his beatification by the Church of Custodians of Truth and Rectitude. But it didn’t happen.
In fact, intellectuals hate him; such is their hatred and contempt for him that even his death has not softened their attitude towards him. Consider the obituary written by historian Ramachandra Guha, a high priest of the liberal establishment (The Antinomies of George Fernandes). While admiring Fernandes for being “an Indian politician so without arrogance and affectation that bus drivers and railway signalmen dealt with him on equal terms, as a brother, and whom Tibetan and Iranian students venerated as a father,” he goes on to castigate the late leader “for the unfortunate moral compromises he made in his last years in active politics”. No prizes for guessing the moral compromises: alliance with the “communal” Bharatiya Janata Party.
This reminds me of something from a very dissimilar context. In Ashadh Ka Ek Din, a famous play by Mohan Rakesh, the protagonist Mallika reminds her old flame, the classical poet Kalidas, “You wrote that a single flaw gets concealed by a bunch of virtues, just like the moon’s spots are overcome by its beauty. But not poverty; even hundreds of faculties can’t hide it.”
In Fernandes’ case, it was the poverty of rectitude. How on earth could anybody just join hands with the BJP? And he was not anybody; he was somebody, a buddy of their own who took up the right causes like that of workers, spoke and did the right things like ousting big, bad multinational corporations from the country. He was not just an opportunistic politician cosying up to fascist forces; he was one of their own. And thus he became a turncoat, a traitor to the great and glorious Leftwing cause. QED.
For years after Independence, Left-liberals, under government patron from successive Congress regimes, have sedulously built the narrative to outcast the saffron brotherhood, or at least keep it beyond the pale of the acceptable. This was a symbiotic relationship: intellectuals enjoyed influence and affluence, whereas the grand old party was able to keep the biggest party representing the biggest community at bay.
Despite the rise of the BJP in the last three decades and intellectuals’ loss of the patronage they enjoyed in their heyday, the old tendencies persist to date. From Congress president Rahul Gandhi to editorialists keep taunting the RSS and the BJP over Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi. In the world of intellectuals, any interaction with the Right is worse than a capital offence, punishable with perdition. Wasn’t Godse a Rightist? Isn’t this one fact enough for eternal damnation of the Sangh Parivar? It is, for it represents all that is regressive and diabolical in India. Ergo, no truck with it can be allowed. Period.
Of course, this verdict doesn’t take into account several facts. While Godse believed in the ideology the RSS subscribes to, just this reality doesn’t mean that the entire organisation is, or was, responsible for the assassination. Millions of Muslims share their faith with Osama bin Laden and Saeed Hafiz; this doesn’t render them terrorists.
Interestingly, intellectuals have no problems if a leader gets pally with the communists, whose ideology was responsible for the death of over 100 million people in the world. In fact, few people have inconvenienced the Sitaram Yechurys and the Prakash Karats with questions about the purges, murderous collectivisation drives, and forced famines in the erstwhile Soviet Union and China, about the killing fields of Cambodia, and so on.
And fewer have challenged the wisdom of dogmatically keeping the BJP out of any political equation because it doesn’t fit into some tedious, dialectical syllogism. George Fernandes was among those who, like his guru Ram Manohar Lohia, knew what the Congress represented in the 1960s and 1970s—tyranny. He valiantly fought against it.
Notice the intellectuals’ duplicity. They have no problems with communists’ crimes and misdemeanours. It was not just communists’ egregious role in Russia and China that is never brought to the fore; their role in our own country too seldom comes up in public discourse. Communists sided with the British during the Quit India Movement and took orders from Moscow and Beijing. The Communist Party of India was an ally of the Congress during the Emergency; the grandees who later split and formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) regarded New Delhi as the aggressor in the 1962 India-China War. But nobody is besmirched permanently for being a communist, let alone being associated with the CPI or CPM. Fernandes, however, has been stigmatised by Left-liberals forever.
This is not to say that he was an angel; he was a politician and, like any other politician, he also made compromises. By helping oust Prime Minister Morarji Desai, for instance, he ironically assisted the comeback of the leader he hated the most—Indira Gandhi. In intellectuals’ scheme of things, assistance to tyranny is no crime, alliance with the Right is.