When Mahatma Gandhi's great grandson is barred from delivering a lecture on his own ancestor on his 150th birth anniversary by an organisation, ironically known as Patit Pavan Sangathana - words out of Gandhiji's favourite bhajan 'Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, Patit Pavan Sita Ram' - one fears Gandhi's India is fast morphing into the India of Nathuram Godse, his killer and assassin.
Three bullets pierced Mahatma Gandhi's chest on January 30, 1948 and he died, ironically for our times, with “Hey, Ram!” on his lips. Tushar Gandhi, his great grandson, who has painstakingly gathered evidence of the conspiracy to kill Gandhiji - published in a book titled ‘Lets Kill Gandhi' – today likens the CAA-NPR-NRC as the three modern-day bullets aimed at the chest of Mother India to kill the spirit of Gandhi they failed to all those years ago.
The dismay comes from not just the violence unleashed against sections of society over the past five years but also the manner in which people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Population Register and National Registry of Citizens were shot in cold blood by the police in states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. But when a minister in the Union government can fearlessly call protesters against the CAA traitors and exhort people to shoot them (desh ke gaddaaron Ko, goli maaro s****n ko) and no action is taken against him, then it is clear Gandhi's India is being replaced by an India more in consonance with his assassin Nathuram Godse, says Tushar Gandhi.
Indeed. As yet another Martyrdom Day of Mahatma Gandhi came and went by, I recalled the time in school when a siren would sound across the city and we would have to stand in silence for two minutes to remember and commemorate Gandhiji. It was the nation's way of remembering and reminding children of the light that had gone out of our lives that day – that anguished speech by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was also a lesson at school and reinforced the spirit of Gandhiji in the minds of little children so they may never forget his sacrifice for the nation.
Yet in recent years on his martyrdom day, while the sirens sound no more, the heirs to the legacy of his assassins re-enact the scene of the killing of a frail, unarmed old man who died to save India from the very same toxicity of today that was taking over the country at the time of Partition and Independence. Gandhiji's sacrifice subdued his assassins for a while and brought about the best in the rest of India which was led by nation builders like Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Azad, Dr BR Ambedkar and others. I tend to agree with Tushar Gandhi when he says that today there is no one to make that sacrifice that Gandhiji did and no one of the calibre of our founding fathers to bring the nation back on an even keel.
Godse's India really wins over when frail, unarmed women, some of them older and more fragile than Mahatma Gandhi was when he was assassinated, protesting at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi, have to face the horrifying prospect of a ruling party MP labelling them as thieves and rapists who might break into people's homes and violate their families. Godse's India really wins over again when a man with a licensed pistol storms into Shaheen Bagh after a minister exhorts the nation to shoot the protestors who he labels as traitors. It wins when students protesting peacefully (at Jamia Milia Islamia), as Gandhiji used to do routinely, can be shot at with impunity at almost the very hour, the very day that he was assassinated.
When did the land of Lord Buddha and Mahavira get so violent and begin to regard itself as macho and virtuous in targeting frail and unarmed men and women, including those like Narendra Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh?
But, as Tushar Gandhi says, we make a grave mistake if we believe this began merely five or six years ago with a regime change in India. The seeds for a violent majoritarian society were laid during the conspiracy to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi - Godse and his co-conspirators like Narayan Apte had even procured burqas and toyed with the idea of dressing as Muslim women to not just escape the blame for killing the father of the nation but also to set the Hindu and Muslim communities, fresh from the wounds of the Partition riots, in turmoil once again, just like a BJP ideologue, Gunja Kapoor, attempted recently at Shaheen Bagh.
It is just as well that Godse's macho instincts rebelled against hiding behind women's garments. But that fact, uncovered in Tushar Gandhi's book, reminds me, apart from Gunja Kapoor in a burqa, of the recent arrests of men in lungis and skull caps posing as anti-CAA protesters caught by police while trying to damage a train in West Bengal. They turned out to be BJP workers and it is no surprise any more that more than 70 years of Independence and attempts to build a pluralistic society had made no difference to their mindsets across at least two generations, if not three.
There is hope, however. School children are beginning to read the Preamble to the Indian Constitution as a matter of routine at morning assemblies, apart from the renewed pledge of unity in diversity that school students of my generation were made to recite every day. Reformists like R Periyar and Nehru have been abused so much by those opposed to their unifying ideologies that an interest in these leaders long past has been revived in the younger generation and books on them are flying off the shelves across the country. Now, Gandhi is a very common name among Gujaratis. Even if this is just one incident, my friend's niece who goes by that name had a recent falling out with a very close Maharashtrian friend. Asked what had gone wrong, she said, “How can a Gandhi and a Godse gel together?”
That might sound flippant and Godse is a name to be proud of in many circles these days. But this 20 year old seemed to have understood the original Gandhi and Godse belonged to completely different worlds. Just a small flicker of light. But one flame can go very far to dispel darkness in a gloomy world.