The media is full of articles and videos on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of the ‘father of the nation’, Mahatma Gandhi. While there is a genuine attempt by most to recapture the teachings and path of Gandhi as relevant to contemporary India, there are those also those who are using the occasion to increase their own legitimacy. This is done be a clever maneuver of picking bits and pieces from his writing or incidences and also by quoting him partly leaving out the part critical to those quotes.

This is true about Hindu nationalists; the RSS combine in particular. While on one hand in a clever move they have picked up Gandhi as the symbol of cleanliness drive, leaving out his core message of communal amity, on the other now attempts are on to show that Gandhi was impressed by the discipline and lack of divisiveness in RSS. RSS Supreme leader, Mohan Bhagwat, writing on the RSS website says, “Gandhiji... visited a shakha near his place of residence in Delhi during the tragic days of Partition. He spoke to the swayamsevaks in the shakha. Its report was published in the Harijan, dated September 27, 1947. Gandhiji expressed his joy over the discipline of the Sangh swayamsevaks and complete absence of divisive feelings of caste and creed in them." To begin with the Harijan issue mentioned here is dated 28th September and not 27. Then while the quote is correct it leaves out the background and the further caution which gives the real portent of the quote.

Here Gandhi is recounting his visit to RSS in Wardha along with Jamanalal Bajaj, saying that these were his impressions in 1936. Since then the organization has grown. Then he adds, “But in order to be truly useful, self-sacrifice had to be combined with purity of motive and true knowledge. Sacrifice without these two had been known to prove ruinous to society.” Gandhi had visited the RSS shakha on 16th September, in the backdrop of many complaints from Muslims.

The meaning of the quote in the background of those complaints and the sentence following the part quoted by Bhagwat, gives the true picture of what Gandhi meant to convey to the volunteers of RSS Shakha.

This was not the first time that he had talked about RSS. In Harijan on 9th August 1942, Gandhi writes, “I had heard of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its activities; and also know that it was a communal organization”, this was in response to the slogans and some speech against ‘other’ community, about which a complaint was made. In this Gandhi is referring to the drill of RSS volunteers, who shouted that this Nation belongs to Hindus alone and once the British leave we will subjugate the non-Hindus. In response to the rowdyism indulged by communal organizations he writes, “I hear many things about RSS. I have heard it said the Sangh is at the root of all this mischief.” (Gandhi, xcviii, 320-32)

Rajmohan Gandhi in his book Mohandas (page 642) points out that “After independence, in the context of Delhi violence, Gandhi confronted the RSS chief Golwalkar, with reports of the RSS hand in Delhi violence, Denying the allegations Golwalkar also said that RSS did not stand for killing the Muslims. Gandhi asked him to say so publicly. Golwalkar said Gandhi could quote him on this. Gandhi did this in his prayer talk that evening, but he told Golwalkar that statement ought to come from him. Later he told Nehru that he did not find Golwalkar convincing’

The most accurate perception of Gandhi on RSS is brought forward by Pyarelal, his secretary. He narrates an event in the wake of 1946 riots. A member of Gandhi’s entourage had praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS cadres at Wagah, a major transit camp for Punjab refugees: “Gandhi quipped back, ‘…but don’t forget, so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini’. Gandhi characterized RSS as a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.” (Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase)

The need for RSS to show that they were on the right side of Mahatma is cosmetic. RSS combine propounds ‘exclusive Hindu nationalism’, in contrast to Gandhi’s ‘all-inclusive Indian Nationalism’. Still they need to get the legitimacy from the greatest Hindus of his times, Gandhi. Gandhi is also the figure most well known in India and globally. As impact of RSS is on the rise, it wants to draw further strength by associating with names whose ideology was at cross purposes with their own. Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose are the major figures with whom RSS is trying identify, despite core differences in the type of nationalism propounded by them and the likes of Patel and Bose. Gandhi the tallest figure of freedom movement, was killed by one of the Pracharak’s (propagators) of RSS, Nathuram Godse. Godse’s was a well-planned ideological assault of Hindu nationalism on Indian nationalism

The major attempts of RSS have been to recreate a historical narrative of nationalism. In this they began with presenting medieval history as the period of oppression of Hindus by Muslim invaders, by trying to project that Hinduism is native religion and Islam and Christianity are foreign religions. The attempts to do all the ideological acrobatics to prove that Aryans were the natives has been another of the forceful exercises in operation. To cap it all the achievements of science and technology are also presented to be having their roots in this land. The crux of the matter boils down to glorify the so-called Hindu past along with the values of caste and gender hierarchies prevalent that time. To identify with Gandhi is yet another step in this direction.

These ideological manipulations have picked up with greater intensity during last few years. We do need to save Gandhi from the distorted forms in which he is being presented. We do need to focus on his struggles against injustice, and inclusive humane approach to problems of the nation and society.    

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

The ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston was an eye catcher for more reasons than one. While Modi was saying ‘All is Well’ in India, thousands of protestors outside were showing the real mirror to state of affairs in India. At the same time Donald Trump, US president, while on one hand due to face the process of impeachment, on the other he was trying to promote his electoral prospects in the next US elections. As is his wont he does flatter visiting dignitaries, for achieving goals of his diplomacy. He went on to praise Modi to the sky; as a great leader; saying, "I remember India before was very torn. There was a lot of dissension; fighting and he (Modi) brought it all together. Like a father would. Maybe he is the ‘father of India’."

Right within US there are many views about Modi. The last time the similar debate cropped up was just before Indian General Elections of 2019. On the eve of the elections US premier magazine Time came out with a cover story “Modi: the Divider in Chief’. Of course in another article in the same issue of the magazine he was presented as the one who is central to the process of economic reforms in India. What we see here in India and what the lead article of Time magazine presented was on the dot, the divisive role of Modi. The observation here has been that Modi’s coming to power has strengthened the divisive forces, the forces who want Hindu nation. It is precisely these forces who have gone on rampage to unleash their agenda around Cow-Beef, the communal divisions have been deepened and identity issues have come to the fore like never before.

courtesy : Haku Shah. 'Sabarmati at Ahmedabad'

The minorities are being alienated and dalits-Adivasis are being marginalized. Even language wise talk has been floated to make Hindi as national language. The identity issues, which create emotive atmosphere and divide the people are to the fore. While Trump is talking in one tone, the earlier hopeful in previous Presidential elections in America, Bernie Sanders in a tweet hinted that Trump is emboldening the authoritarian leaders like Modi, the leaders who are presiding over religious persecution, repression and brutality against minorities.

Till few years ago Modi himself spoke very divisive language. Now this job has been passed down to his associates. Yogi Adityanath’s anti Muslim utterances abound. Anantkrishna Hegde like many of his ilk have been openly been talking of Hindu nation. To add to the list Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the accused in Malegaon blast, out on bail, has been praising Gandhi’s killer Godse among other things. Lately the way Article 370 has been abrogated the alienation of people of Kashmir is going up.

In a way Time magazine’s cover story did capture the state of things prevalent here. Trump is no scholar of history, ignorant of the fact as to why India regards Mahatma Gandhi as the ‘father of the nation’. Trump’s considerations are driven by his political contingency of gradually shifting America’s closeness to India. The reason for US favoring Pakistan in yesteryears was the compulsion of cold war era. Later it kept siding with Pakistan as US designs of controlling oil wealth of West Asia were its prime motive and Pakistan was made a part of American designs in West Asia. Now with emergence of China as a major power, and China being close to Pakistan, US gradually want to become close to India. These may be some of the factors due to which Trump is making such utterances. But that’s not about all. US is also keeping its Pakistan relationship on some scale and very shrewdly Trump did say that Modi had made aggressive remarks in Houston rally. He seems to be buttering his bread from both the sides at present.

Many a reaction to Trump’s formulations showed his hollowness. Gandhi’s grandson Tushar, tweeted that whether Trump will like to replace George Washington as one of the founding fathers of America?

What Trump has stated has pained those for whom Gandhi is the ‘father of the nation’. Any way the followers of Modi ideology do not regard Gandhi as the father of the nation. Their argument is that India the Hindu nation; is there from times immemorial and so how can Gandhi be its father. Gandhi being father of the nation also relates to the concept of nationalism. All those who were part of ‘India as a nation in the making’ see Gandhi as the central uniting figure. During freedom movement in the anti colonial movement, it was Gandhi who played the role of uniting the country which was scattered along the lines of religion, region, caste and language. The communalists like the followers of Muslim League saw Gandhi as a Hindu leader and Hindu communalists saw Gandhi as the appeaser of Muslims. Through the very profound and complex process, India emerged as a Nation with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Surely the likes of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar, Nehru and Patel played great role in making of the modern India. The process had multiple components, anti colonialism being the core where the likes of Bhagat Singh inspired the idea and Gandhi led the greatest ever mass movement, the movement directed against British Empire.

It is due to this that Subhashchandra Bose on July 6 1944, in broadcast from Singapore Radio, sought blessings of Gandhi, addressing him as Father of Nation. Sarojini Naidu on April 6, 1947, on the eve of Independence, addressed Gandhi as Rashtrapita (father of Nation). So where do we go from here, the Hindu nationalists followers are going euphoric about what Trump said and all those whole identify with India’s struggle for Independence and uphold democratic values are in anguish due to this statement from US President. Trump’s superficial observation is neither sound in history of India nor knowing of what is happening in India, it’s a mere diplomatic ploy to please the visiting leader.   

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED