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Saffron socialism

Saffron socialism

K.M.  Shrimali
The Hindustan Times
April 7, 2000
Title: Saffron socialism
Author: K.M.  Shrimali
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: April 7, 2000

(On how George Fernandes has buried his past)

I remember it was in 1967.  Blitz, then quite a well known weekly of Bombay, had created an enormous aura around the young David called George Fernandes who had defeated S.K.  Patil the Goliath to become an MP.  The famous Vivekananda Hall of the Delhi School of Economics in the campus was packed to its capacity - nay, it was overflowing - to 'welcome the giant killer'.  As a post-graduate student, I had the privilege to be there and listen to Mr Fernandes speak.  He was a fiery speaker.  The passionate and persuasive anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist tirade heard then often reverberates in my mind, till this day.

Ten years later came the unforgettable Parliamentary elections.  The products of Jayaprakash Narayan's 'Total Revolution' formed the Janata Party that brought the first non-Congress government at the Centre in 1977.  George Fernandes was one of the leading lights of this new configuration.  Soon after, he banished Coca Cola, the symbol of 'US sponsored imperialism', out of the country.  For many years Indians had a real, indigenous soft drink alternative, the 'double seven', the drink that commemorated the year 1977 and end of Emergency.

The year 1979 saw the end of the Janata Party government.  Again, Mr Fernandes stood up for the principles that were dear to him.  We can still recall how he and Raj Narain, that irrepressible socialist colleague of his, had forcefully raised the issue of 'dual membership'. Fernandes had then found it an extremely repulsive idea that his colleagues in the Government belonging to the Jana Sangh (the previous avataar of the present day BJP) could also be members of the nefarious RSS.  Consequently, Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K.  Advani and others preferred to snap ties with him rather than cut their umbilical cord with the RSS.  The result - the Janata Government fell.  But Mr Fernandes had no regrets.  And I think rightly so.

Two decades later, India entered the 21st century.  But now, Mr Fernandes was in different company.  The former militant and anti-communal socialist now preferred to celebrate the 52nd century of the heralding of the Kali yuga, the most degraded of the four ages of the 'Hindu calendar'.  Last year I watched him perform in Parliament with dismay when he ingeniously defended the persecution of Christians in BJP-ruled Gujarat, almost invoking the RSS argument that such inhuman acts were pent up responses to decades of the Congress' appeasement of the minorities.  He went to the extent of shocking the Lok Sabha by comparing the 'Hindu suspicion' against Christian missionaries with Indira Gandhi's suspicion of the Muslims in the 1970s, implicit in the alleged order banning recruitment of Muslims to important governmental positions.

Mr Fernandes is yet to substantiate his claim.  Assuming that he is indeed able to dig out the three-decade old circular, does he sincerely believe in retributive justice?  Is he convinced that two wrongs make it right?

Like Mr Advani, the Samata Party leader was no less quick in giving a clean chit to Dara Singh, whose alleged involvement in the brutal murder of Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa is an open secret and whose fanatic Hindu credentials could not be concealed even by the infamous Wadhwa Commission report.  All this because it suits his singular politics of damning the Congress and cosying up to the RSS.  Is it any wonder then that his reticence over Mr Vajpayee's call for a 'national debate' on the question of 'religious conversions' ceases to be mysterious?

Yes, there are numerous skeletons in the cupboard of the Congress which raise genuine doubts about its 'secular' credentials.  But how can a rational person like Mr Fernandes defend the Bill passed by the Uttar Pradesh Government seeking to impose restrictions on the construction of religious buildings, and making the district administrator a law unto himself?  Isn't it an obnoxious idea that nobody can appeal against his decision?  That such laws exist in the Congress-ruled states is no consolation.  It is too important a matter to be left to partisan party politics.  I hope he will be able to recall the role of the district administrator in Ayodhya in 1949.  Hasn't the nation already paid a heavy price for just one official's dastardly connivance in fomenting strife among two religious communities?

Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani have orchestrated the view that the RSS is only a socio-cultural organisation.  Kalyan Singh, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and till recently a hardline member of the RSS, said recently: 'The RSS is a social and cultural organisation only in name.  It controls the BJP.' This might have been an outburst of a wounded tiger.  But Ram Prakash Gupta, the present Chief Minister, who owes his chair to Mr Vajpayee's grace, is even more candid: 'If there is an impression that I am pursuing an RSS agenda, what's wrong'?

The entire nation has seen photographs of Home Minister L.  K.  Advani, sitting next to Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel in khaki shorts at the RSS sankalpa shivir in Ahmedabad early this year.  The Gujarat Government had also issued an order lifting a ban on Government employees joining the RSS shakhas.  K.S.  Sudarshan, the present chief of the RSS, has publicly claimed how the Sangh had been influencing the appointments and removal of key ministers and bureaucrats in the NDA Government.

It is baffling that when all the major allies of the NDA such as the DMK, TDP, Trinamool Congress, MDMK etc., had joined the Opposition in opposing the Gujarat Government's order,

Mr Fernandes remained conspicuous by his reticence.  Even his party later expressed only a much delayed, hesitant, muted and completely softened response.  How can this socialist reconcile this cultivated politeness and this sudden U-turn with his vociferous demand against the RSS in 1979?  Has the 'dual membership' issue ceased to be an issue?

Has Mr Fernandes forgotten that he became an idol for the country's productive workers when he organised the textile workers in Bombay and all-India railwaymen in the sixties and seventies?  How has 'the giant killer', who was never tired of fighting the forces of unbridled capitalism, allowed himself to be an apologist of Pepsi and Coke?  In a country where millions are already unemployed, this follower of JP and Ram Manohar Lohia has been defending massive disinvestment in the PSUs that is bound to throw out hundreds of thousands of jobless workers on the streets.  Doesn't his conscience prick for a moment?

Verghese Kurien and M.S.  Swaminathan, architects of the 'White Revolution' and the 'Green Revolution' respectively, have boldly warned the nation that the NDA Government's policy of importing foodgrains, pulses, fish and milk to placate the interests of already subsidised farmers of the capitalist West, is a sure recipe of importing unemployment.  While Kurien tells us, 'farmers might have to sell their milch cows', Swaminathan has gone further to underline: 'Food security is linked to national sovereignty.  You cannot have Pokhran and also let your people starve.' Are you listening George?  Would you like to go down in history as the 'collaborator of neo-colonialism and harbinger of US imperialism'?

Vivekananda had exhorted the Indians: 'Rise.  Wake up.' When will you, Mr Fernandes?

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