Tushar Gandhi: “Yes, we failed Gandhi and in more ways than one”

Tushar Gandhi, in conversation with Sujata Anandan, says it has become way tougher retaliating to insults to his great-grandfather Mahatma Gandhi under the current government

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Sujata Anandan

Tushar Gandhi did not think much of his birth and inheritance until sometime in the mid-1990s when, with nothing much to do after dinner one evening, he was idly surfing through the limited number of television channels at a time when Doordarshan still dominated. He managed to hit a particular private channel where he just about caught a leading light of the city’s gay movement attribute a certain sexual proclivity to Mahatma Gandhi. The anchor, far from stopping the man, laughed and shared in the ridicule being poured on the Mahatma. Tushar Gandhi was furious. Apart from the Mahatma being his great-grandfather, he had other reasons to raise the red flag. Gandhi was also the father of the nation.

The National Emblems Act is clear—apart from protecting the Indian Constitution and the Indian tricolour from desecration, the National Emblems Act protects just two leaders of this country against abuse, desecration and commercialisation. The offence is non-bailable. Those two leaders are Mahatma Gandhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji. The former because he is who he is to the nation and made it to the list of venerables soon after Independence. Shivaji was added in the 1970s after various governments discovered beedi manufacturers were selling their products under the name of Shivaji, complete with a picture of the Maratha warrior king clearly displayed on the packet.

Tushar Gandhi jumped into the public domain to file a case against Ashok Row Kavi and the channel. Anchor Nikki Bedi, then the wife of actor Kabir Bedi, was pulled off the channel, it apologised to Tushar Gandhi who went on a dharna at Rajghat and no one dared to ever raise questions against the Mahatma’s life and times again. Tushar Gandhi soon entered public life, contesting a parliamentary election and losing out to the Shiv Sena candidate on a Samajwadi Party ticket after the Congress refused to accommodate him from Mumbai North-West—Sunil Dutt’s seat—when the latter refused to contest in the wake of his son’s involvement with the underworld. Now, he is completely off electoral politics but is Mahatma Gandhi’s vigilante and warrior—he has formed various trusts and think tanks in the name of Mahatma Gandhi and monitors every small insult to Gandhiji.

Tushar Gandhi is completely off electoral politics but is Mahatma Gandhi’s vigilante and warrior—he monitors every small insult to Gandhiji

Recently, Tushar Gandhi successfully fought and won a case in the Supreme Court against a person who was raising doubts about Gandhiji’s assassin really being Nathuram Godse. But unlike when he brought Kavi and Bedi to heel in the 1990s, he is unable to do much about the constant insults to the Mahatma today because the current dispensation is simply not interested in safeguarding the image of the father of the nation and even actively encouraging the desecration of his image and life and times.

“It used to happen even before 2014 but now they call Bapu such names that no one has ever before and they hero worship Godse, talk of building temples to the Mahatma’s killer and place him on the pedestal he should never have been. But they do it because they are encouraged by governments to do so,” he believes. Unlike in the late 1990s when following the Kavi-Bedi incident, a top Shiv Sena leader similarly raised the issue of Godse being a hero and the other Sena-BJP leaders on the stage had to beat a hasty retreat. The controversy overtook the government in such a manner that this leader promptly apologised and shifted the blame on to Bal Thackeray. “I do not believe in Godse. I said only what my leader wanted to hear me say.”

A furious Thackeray, afraid of judicial action against himself, let out a shower of abuse against his man and the two were soon estranged, forever. But now far from that kind of political will to keep the Mahatma’s image unsullied, there is glee, pleasure and active encouragement to violate his memory. “We have definitely let him down, if not the memory of his existence, all the ideals he stood for,” says his great grandson, sadly. “But while it is happening more openly now, one must keep in mind it was happening ever since the first generation of Gandhian leaders in the Congress or others who may have seen him during his lifetime passed away. That would be about the 1970s, soon after the grand centenary celebrations for him in 1969.

Tushar Gandhi is unable to do much about the constant insults to the Mahatma today because the current dispensation is simply not interested in safeguarding the image of the father of the nation and even actively encouraging the desecration of his image and life and times

“There was a lot of tokenism even then and the destruction of systems and institutions that Bapu held dear began around that time. Until 2014 there was some lip service to Gandhiji without implementation of his ideals in our lives,” says Tushar Gandhi. Now, these violation of ideals are not just replacing khadi with imported safari suits and designer boots instead of the humble chappals he preferred. That could end up as just some window dressing. Gandhi says the Mahatma’s absolute ideals that we lost through the 1970s was the unity of India—even unity in diversity, replacement of peace and non-violence with violent forms of protest and actions. We stopped regarding ourselves as one people and broke into dogmas of religions, caste, communities and creeds—that is not what Gandhi ever wanted. He did believe religion is the opium of the masses but his religion was never to divide or communalise, only to give sustenance to the people through the spiritualism of their individual religions.

Everyone knows how he bitterly rebelled against castes and how without his active encouragement women would not just have been able to take part in the freedom struggle but may have been kept out of nation building activities also for decades. So how can we resuscitate Mahatma Gandhi and restore his ideals among the younger generation? Tushar Gandhi says that is very simple and doable. “Unity. We must forget our differences and unite again.” He points out that not just since 1947 or under the Constitution but even before that, whether under Hindu rulers or Islamic kings, India thrived for centuries when they were united.

Whenever a kingdom was not united, it collapsed (like the Peshwas). Then western colonial powers, particularly the British, set us against each other and that is what Mahatma Gandhi desperately tried to address through the freedom struggle and Independence. For a time after 1947, we seemed to be getting there. “But since 2014, we seem to have thrown that all away,” he says. “Powers that be must realise that progress comes only through unity and sharing with and caring for each other. That is what Bapu tried to infuse in his generation of people. Sadly, we have thrown it all away and very few realise there can be no prosperity among a divided people.” The short message then on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is the age old and idiomatic one—“United we stand, divided we fall.” India had better watch out.

This article first appeared in National Herald on Sunday

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