General GD Bakshi is right. Indian students do miss an inspirational, secular figure like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

If General Bakshi supports India's Hindu nationalists efforts to revive nationalism at Indian universities, he may well be backing the wrong horse.

Yes, army veteran Major General GD Bakshi is spot-on about Subhash Chandra Bose. Indian students do miss an inspirational political figure like Netaji, the Bengali freedom fighter who masterfully commandeered Indian National Army (INA)’s way into India and liberated several regions before the imperial Army swung into action. There is a pressing need to infuse ideologies that make our students feel proud of this country.

But Netaji may not have liked the way that Major General Bakshi is going about it.

Bakshi’s comments on the “need to revive nationalism” to “counter” student protests, that have been rocking major universities campuses in recent years, were made at an Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) event where the guest of honour was the organising secretary of Akhila Bharatheeya Itihasa Sankalana Yojana (ABISY). ABISY is a branch of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). As reported in the Indian Express, ABISY and ICHR are collaborating to build the “spirit of nationalism” through a three-week long workshop on historical icons such as Bose, Maratha warrior-king Shivaji and spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda.

Disgruntled students who have been protesting at our university campuses may have looked up to a unifying brand of nationalism more favourably rather than a parochial Hindu nationalism that by its very name excludes nearly 20 percent of our population. We all know who is the prime driver of the Hindu nationalist thought in India, don’t we?

History documents Netaji as a staunch proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity. Multiple scholars have claimed that his support for religious diversity is one of the reasons why he, to this day, enjoys wide popularity in West Bengal.”Bengalis suffered a lot due to the partition which saw a great Hindu-Muslim divide. It is people’s perception Netaji could have prevented the division”, a sociologist,Ananda Kar, was quoted as saying in an article published on One India on August 18, 2015.

Even the Indian National Army (INA), which was his brainchild, is often held up as epitome of religious unity. According to historical accounts, the positivity created at news of an all-Indian force taking on the British briefly drowned the communal tensions that were very much prevalent in the heady years preceding the Partition. In stark contrast to INA’s secular rhetoric and inspiring military actions, the RSS was accused of helping the imperialist British by enlisting Indian troops to fight the INA.

So, if Bakshi supports India’s Hindu nationalists efforts to revive nationalism at Indian universities, he may well be backing the wrong horse.

Critics of the the Narendra Modi government accuse the administration of “appropriating” the legacy of historical icons who in the lifetime weren’t associated with Hindu nationalism in any way whatsoever.  Since coming to power in 2014, the government has run massive campaigns to invoke stalwarts such as Sardar Patel, India’s first home minister from Congress party, and now Subhash Chandra Bose.

What’s more unfortunate is that army stalwarts such as Major General Bakshi are being seen contributing to these campaigns which many equate to distorting historical facts.

This is not the first time that Bakshi has courted controversy with his comments. He was accused of “hate-mongering” in the wake of a speech he delivered at IIT Madras in August 2016, in which he reportedly ridiculed the freedom movement of India. He was also quoted as saying that the principle of nonviolence, as advocated by Mahatama Gandhi, was “nonsense.”