Bharatiya Janata Party national general secretary Ram Madhav’s piece in the Indian Express titled ‘No Mean Victory’, foretold the violence Tripura has been witnessing ever since his party swept to power on March 3. Explaining how the BJP scripted its victory in Tripura, Madhav spoke of the “violence, intimidation and an atmosphere of threat and oppression” that pervaded the state under Left rule. He quoted a diplomat who sent him a message saying, “The world needs fewer Communists.”
Presumably, the BJP in Tripura has taken the diplomat’s message to Madhav quite literally – they have attacked the cadres and offices of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), at places even occupying them. The gratuitous, grotesque form that the violence in Tripura has taken is best exemplified by BJP workers bulldozing the Communist icon and inspiration, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, in the town of Belonia, severing his head from the statue and then playing football with it.
Typically, the BJP ascribed the bulldozing of Lenin to an “overflow of anger”, precisely the argument it offered to reduce to rubble the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The Hindu Right’s anger is quick to overflow every time a person ferrying cattle is lynched or a Hindu girl marries a Muslim boy. The Hindu Right seems in a constant state of simmer at what Muslim rulers did to India centuries ago – destroyed temples, raped women, converted Hindus – who now must be brought back into the fold of Hinduism through a process benignly called ghar wapsi (a homecoming).
The Hindu Right must have an inexhaustible lust for violence to decapitate the statue of Lenin. In ‘No Mean Victory’, Madhav credits US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for “decimating Communism.” A word such as defeat or vanquish just wouldn’t do for Madhav. He predicts Reagan and Thatcher’s task is most likely to be completed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. The violence of language has sought an expression in action, symbolically and substantively.
Before Modi fulfils Madhav’s dream of decimating communism, including statues of communist icons, he should perhaps know that it is possible to sight Lenin in every Indian’s dreamland called the US. For instance, he is atop an apartment building in New York, gazing into the horizon. He reached there through a rather circuitous route, his 18-foot statue commissioned by the erstwhile USSR.
But before the statue could be sent overseas, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. Two American developers found Lenin junked outside Moscow. They ferried him over to the US and installed it on the roof of Red Square building in New York in 1994. For 22 years, the “quirky Lenin statue” became a landmark until, in September 2016, Red Square changed hands.
The new owners, for whatever reasons, brought down the statue, not violently, but with due care and diligence. Last year, Lenin was shifted to 178 Norfolk, a property owned by Michael Rosen, who had also developed Red Square. After a new plinth was built, the statue of Lenin was raised on it. No right-wingers, of whom there is no dearth in the US, chanted slogans against the statuesque rehabilitation of Lenin, let alone seek to disfigure him.
Lenin’s statues were indeed brought down in several countries that were once part of the USSR or reeled under its influence. In Ukraine, for instance, hundreds of Lenin’s statues were either demolished or removed. These countries believed they had been under the occupation of Communist Russia and, in their flush of freedom, sought to remove the symbols of socialism, of which Lenin’s statue was one. He was a reminder to them of their grim and bloody past.
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Though Madhav applauds Thatcher for decimating communism, he needs to acquaint himself with the history of Lenin’s bust in London’s Islington Museum. The UK government commissioned the bust during the Second World War as a tribute to the Soviet Union inflicting heavy losses on Hitler’s army. Unveiled in 1942 and placed in Holford Square, the votaries of fascism inscribed anti-communist, anti-racist slogans at the site. It prompted the government to shift the bust to Islington Town Hall and then to the museum.
It is beyond the Sangh to appreciate the nuances of history. For its activists, history is a morality play, a story of villains and heroes, all of whom Hindus, worthy of being extolled for waging a relentless battle against Muslim and Christian conquerors. India’s communists are incapable of appreciating the Hindu heroes of the past because their sensibilities are rooted in an ideology spawned in the West. It is a travesty of justice that the communists don’t see value in, say, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism, regardless of it being an intellectual patchwork that is as confusing as it is inelegant.
The Sangh forgets that India’s communists may subscribe to the ideas of Marx and Lenin, but they didn’t come to power through coups or a violent revolution. It is the people who voted for them. India was the first country in the world to elect a communist government – in Kerala in 1957. Tripura and West Bengal, too, have repeatedly voted the Left to power. When it was voted out in these states, it didn’t resort to essentially immoral methods of grabbing power, as the BJP has been guilty of in the Northeast.
The BJP’s attitude to past icons is cloaked in hypocrisy. In 2016, when professors and students of a university in Ghana sought to bring down a statue of Gandhi claiming that he was a racist, the Modi government was quick to express anger. It justifiably pulled diplomatic strings to ensure the Ghanaian government relocated the statue to a safer place. Amar Sinha, the then secretary (west) in the Ministry of External Affairs, was quoted in The Hindu thus, “They have issued a very, very good press statement… urging the people to focus on how the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and he as an individual were shaped over a period and not focus on the excerpts from some of his earlier writings.”
Might not the Sangh parivar tell its followers that India’s communists too bear diverse imprints of a variety of political thoughts, influenced by an array of intellectuals and revolutionaries, including Lenin?
From another perspective, the decapitation of Lenin in Belonia is a remarkable display of chutzpah by the footsoldiers of a party that, in its first stint in power at the Centre, installed the portrait of Hindutva ideologue Veer Savarkar in parliament. Savarkar wanted to overthrow the British colonial rule through an armed revolution, but a spell in jail turned him into a collaborator.
Savarkar then took to directing his rage against Muslims and anyone who he deemed was their supporter. He inspired Gandhi’s assassins, Nathuram Godse and Narayan D. Apte. In fact, Savarkar was exonerated in the Gandhi conspiracy case only because of a technicality. The Justice J.L. Kapur Commission of Inquiry found that, contrary to Savarkar’s disavowal in the court, he had a very close relationship with Godse.
Savarkar also justified rape as a political tool in his book, Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, recommending a tit-for-tat for what Muslim rulers allegedly did to Hindus. He castigated Shivaji for sending back the daughter-in-law of the Muslim governor of Kalyan whom he had defeated, as he also did Peshwa Chimaji Appa (1707-1740) for doing the same with the Portuguese wife of the governor of Bassein.
“But is it not strange that, when they did so, neither Shivaji Maharaj nor Chimaji Appa should ever remember, the atrocities and the rapes and the molestations, perpetrated by Mahmud of Ghazni, Allauddin Khalji and others, on thousands of Hindu ladies and girls…”
Then follows a chilling passage:
“Let these sultans and their peers take a pledge that in the event of a Hindu victory our molestation and detestable lot shall be avenged on the Muslim women. Once they are haunted with this dreadful apprehension that the Muslim women too, stand in the same predicament in case the Hindus win, the future Muslim conquerors will never dare to think of such molestation of Hindu women.”
That should give readers a clue why Hindutva mobs have publicly raped women during the riots of Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar. It does seem rich of the Hindu Right to decry Lenin and the Soviet Union for the violence they perpetrated.
But there is also an unstated reason why the statue of Lenin was demolished. This became evident when BJP national secretary H. Raja posted on his Facebook page, “Who is Lenin? What is his connection to India? What is the connection of communists to India? Lenin’s statue was destroyed in Tripura. Today Lenin’s statue, tomorrow Tamil Nadu’s EVR Ramaswami’s statue.”
Now it is the turn of E.V.R. Ramaswami, popularly known as Periyar, who spearheaded a movement against the Brahmins for exploiting non-Brahmins. His wasn’t a western ideology. The truth is that the Sangh demolished the statue of Lenin and has that of Periyar in its crosshairs because both subscribed to the idea of equality, of creating a non-hierarchical society. To such a quest the Sangh, evidently, is bitterly opposed.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist based in Delhi.