Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Ladakh and delivered a rousing speech to raise the morale of the Indian Army, which suffered losses after a violent conflict with the Chinese army. As many as 20 soldiers had lost their lives and many were injured and the Chinese army also suffered in this conflict.
In his speech, Modi recited a famous poem of eminent poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar ‘Today, Pain Praise for them’ to encourage the troops posted in the tough terrain of Ladakh, staring down the enemy along the Line of Actual Control. The lines of the poem he recited were as follows:
‘Repeatedly burn there ashes
inflame in them sparks,
They walked to the gallows
without valuing a life like gem,
Today! Pen praise for them.’
The Prime Minister used this poem to instill veer bhava (feeling of bravery) among the soldiers. Dinkar was a poet renowned for his works that were full of veer rasa (brave mode) as well as an interesting blend of softness. He was hailed as a ‘Rashtra Kavi’ (national poet) for his inspiring works written during the freedom struggle.
Dinkar remained in the Congress party for his entire political career and was known as a disciple of former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
Considering Dinkar’s political affiliation, the Prime Minister Modi’s recital of his poem hence led to speculation where it was merely an instrument to provide confidence to the Army or if it also had any specific political context. Was it only a deliberation device or should it be read in the broader context of BJP’s politics on the Indo-China issue?
It is interesting to note that Dinkar despite being a Congressman for life and a disciple of Gandhi and Nehru, had criticised the former PM in 1962 for his handling of the China issue. The Indian defeat in the 1962 war had turned Dinkar a critic of Nehru as he composed poems to slate Nehru’s handling of the issue.
So the question emerges whether Modi remembered Dinkar for a dual purposes - to inspire the Indian army and also as a critique of Nehruvian and Congress politics on India-China issues.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly attacked Modi and the BJP for their mishandling of the relationship with China, and this could be Modi’s own way of replying by just hints and memory reference.
Dinkar had composed his famous poem ‘Parshuram ki pratiksha’ in which he had criticised Nehru symbolically and with poetic argument for his failure to lead India to victory against China in 1962.
In the poem, Dinkar had disparaged Nehru and said he had made the nation timid and transformed her from a lion to a sheep. He opined that sword which people help in their hands during the independence movement should be melted and be turned into a spinning wheel. In this poem, he also slammed Nehruvian defense and foreign policy, which he said failed to prepare the nation to fight a war against China.
PM Modi and the BJP have been ardent critics of Nehru and the Congress, and this government has tried to project blame on the first PM for laying a weak foundation for the nation, and blamed it for everything from China to Kashmir.
The recent border clashes with China have dented and raised doubts about BJP’s claim of its success in projecting India as a strong nation and putting national security first. The opposition has used this to criticse BJP for its failure in foreign and defense policy in the context of China.
The remembrance of Dinkar, could hence, be a memory reference point to remind the Congress of its own failures in the context of Indo-China relationship.
The author is professor and director of GB Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj. Views are personal.