Our Caricatured Heroes : How Nehru became Chacha & Other Tragedies


A couple of photographs of Bhagat Singh wearing red and yellow turbans, and sporting some stubble were published in the I&B Ministry and the Punjab Government advertisements in 2010. They were criticized by Bhagat Singh’s family, Prof. Chaman Lal and Bipan Chandra on the ground that Bhagat Singh had renounced (not just stopped sporting) his kesh and turban, and remained clean shaven after 1928, and remained so till his hanging in 1931. The European Felt hat, titled at an angle, was a part of his disguise. The said advertisements carried pictures of his paintings (not portraits), and hence were not authentic.  “Why bother with paintings, when so many photographs of Bhagat Singh are available?”, they had queried. The turbaned pictures of Singh with a short beard have become popular in recent years, probably to highlight the Sikh identity of this self-proclaimed atheist. Not that Bhagat had ever ‘renounced’ his Sikhness, despite the gradually increasing Communist dogma in his thoughts and writings.

Recently, many left-liberals had raised hell in mainstream and social media alleging that the Gumnami actor Prosenjit’s, instead of Netaji’s portrait, had been unveiled in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. As with most of their coordinated rumour-mongering campaigns, this one turned out to be hoax as well, with Bose’s family clarifying that they had themselves shared the said photograph with the artist, Paresh Maity. The Hon’ President and his office were mercilessly trolled by the left-liberal clique for hours before they were left with eggs on their faces. The shameless predators later became silent, some deleted their tweets, but not one of them had the grace to apologize to the President. Such egregious error occurred because Subhash Chandra Bose now lives in our memories as represented only by his INA uniform, so much so that we cannot even distinguish his face from Prosenjit Chatterjee’s. The Master of Disguises would not have minded in the least, but his memory should have been better preserved.

Another Master of Disguises, Chandrashekhar Azad’s face and profile have completely melted away from public consciousness. Twirling a moustache, bare-torsoed and occasionally totting a pistol- Azad’s caricature is rather juvenile, and embarrassing. So much so that it has become tricky to put a face against his name!

The same gang of liberal-leftist racketeers are quite miffed with the PM’s ever-growing beard. Neither do Gurudev Tagore, nor Maharshi Aurobindo, nor even Guruji Golwalkar, hold a patent over longish beards, nor does this bunch of pseudo-intellectuals have any monopoly over Tagore. Nevertheless the ‘wokes’ feel entitled to take potshots at the PM’s long and flowing facial hairs, all the while raising fever-pitched voices against body-shaming and discussion of physical attributes as being against decency and human dignity.

This is the classic left-liberal strategy, whereby they reduce everything, be it the freedom fighters, or great leaders and their ideas to mere symbols, or their mannerisms. Caricaturing people by slotting them as per their religion, caste, colour, class or language helps the left to construct perverse and pernicious narratives. This also helps to peddle the rooster coop theory, and reduce a man, his struggle and legacy to simple formulae. Layered, meaningful lives are reduced to outlines so that various aspects, departures from narratives and exceptions to the peddled formulae, do not get appropriately highlighted. Ambedkar, Patel, Gandhi, Savarkar, Bhagat, Azad and Bose had multi-layered personalities with varied views on different subjects, but only some facets have remained alive in public memory because of their careful presentation so far. Anyone trying to paint a truer, deeper picture is labelled as a revisionist, or worse, a Nazi.

A rose pinned to his coat, and the ever present cap on Nehru’s head have become more Nehruvian than Nehru himself. A shawl always dons Sardar Patel’s shoulders in every pictorial or sculptural representation. The Mahatma’s round spectacles, dhoti and lathi have become hallowed Gandhian symbols. Neither is a charkha ever too far. Babasaheb did not always wear thick, black-rimmed specs, but over the years they have gone thicker and more prominent, almost to the point of having hidden his other facial features. Ambedkar certainly did not always carry Constitution in his hands, and might never have pointed his finger like he is seen doing in his images. His words have been exiled to libraries, worship of his name and these outward symbols have become synonymous with Ambedkarism. Charles Dickens would be proud. His caricatures helped sell his novels like hotcakes. Indian politicians and academics have managed to sell (or undersell) their predecessors in quite the same fashion.

While in most cases such tokenism has taken substance away from the lives and thoughts of legends, in Nehru’s case they have helped raise a halo around him. Roses in his buttonholes have been attributed to the memory of Kamala Nehru, or some little girl who used to wait for him with roses in her hands, his love for flowers, or for Kashmir, the influence of British judges and as homage to International Socialism. Jawaharlal himself never quite explained why, but the imagery has survived.

When Nehru died in May 1964, the Parliament looked for ways to commemorate his birthday, and the closest they could find was the Children’s Day that was celebrated on Nov. 20 [UN still celebrates November 20th as the Universal Children’s  Day]. Hence they passed a resolution that from thence, India would celebrate Children’s Day on November 14th, arguing that Chacha Nehru’s love for children knew no bounds.

Similarly, there is no documented reason for Nehru being addressed as ‘Chachaji’.  Was it because of his love for children, or since he was a lieutenant to Bapu, that he was referred to as ‘Chachaji’. The more I read about it, the more I am convinced that Rose, Children’s Day and Chacha – all three props were part of careful image-building exercises for a great man, who perhaps needed none of these, to be considered synonymous with the post-Independence Indian national life. (Was he addressed Chacha like how many refer to Azhar as Chacha too?)

But then, one does not have the liberty to choose how shall one be presented or remembered after one is gone. One does not caricature himself, after all. Even Buddha and Mahaveer could not avoid being worshipped or symbolised after they had attained nirvana, what to say of poor Nehru, Gandhi, Bose and Bhagat Singh.

#dickensian #charlesdickens #caricature #jawaharlal #nehru #gandhi #azad #bhagatsingh #leftisthistorians

#bipanchandra #subhashbose #netaji #Modi #tagore #ChachaNehru

One Comment Add yours

  1. Vinod says:

    Informative and interesting blog with an amazing way of storytelling. Thanks Abhinav bhai


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