Modi and RSS show scant interest in the year-long 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

The RSS mobilised its entire cadre to commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary in 2013-14. But it has done nothing remotely similar in respect of Gandhiji in 2019-20

Modi and RSS show scant interest in the year-long 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

Sudheendra Kulkarni

Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest Indian in the modern history of our nation. Yet, India has been drifting away from his ideals and principles faster in the last six years than at any time since his assassination in that fateful January evening in 1948.

At best, he is becoming a distant memory in our national life. At worst, he is reviled and held responsible for emasculating the nation with his insistent advocacy of truth and nonviolence; for harming the nation with his “appeasement” of Muslims that allegedly led to Akhand Bharat’s partition; for making Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, instead of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first prime minister of free India, a decision that supposedly led to multiple problems that are alive even today; and for being an ideological roadblock to the realisation of the agenda of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

In the latter category of his decriers are those who are governing India today and their vast legion of supporters. The more raucous among their supporters do not hesitate to eulogise Nathuram Godse, Gandhiji’s assassin, and others who conspired in the assassination, including V.D. Savarkar. There was even a concerted campaign to honour Savarkar with ‘Bharat Ratna’, the nation’s highest civilian award. Narendra Modi’s government probably dropped the idea because the needle of suspicion pointing to Savarkar’s supportive and assistive role in the crime is too strong. But the government may still pursue the malignant idea in its remaining four years.

Godse’s crime in Gandhiji’s assassination was never in doubt. Yet, one of the star MPs of the ruling party, Pragya Singh Thakur, had no qualms in calling him a “patriot”. In doing so, she was echoing the never-openly-expressed belief of lots of people in the BJP and the RSS. Reacting to this comment, Modi did say, "I will never be able to forgive her for insulting Bapu.” However, till date, the nation does not know what its powerful prime minister has done to give effect to his words. The reason for his inaction is not difficult to fathom. Pragya Thakur wears saffron robes, and commands a strong following in the saffron family that is the support base for Modi’s party.

It is because of the saffron parivar’s strong dislike for the Mahatma that the commemoration of his 150th birth anniversary, which comes to a close on October 2, has been so lukewarm. The year is coming to an end with the government having shown no interest whatsoever in educating the people about Gandhiji’s heroic life and the abiding national and global relevance of his legacy.

The prime minister did not take the initiative to organise a single befitting international conference with the participation of leading luminaries of the world. Nor did he convene a single national meet to bring together the entire political establishment in honouring the Father of the Nation. What a reassuring message of national unity it would have sent to the people! We take pride in saying India is the world’s largest democracy. But so fractured and feeble has our democracy become that the ruling party did not want to give space and voice to the opposition in jointly paying tribute one who was the greatest uniter of the nation.

Did the BJP as a party do anything to pay its tribute to Gandhiji? No. The RSS, which is the BJP’s ideological controller and organisational backbone, had mobilised its entire cadre base to commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary in 2013-14. But it has not done anything remotely similar in respect of Gandhiji in 2019-20.

Of course, it is futile to expect all this from Modi’s government, his party and the Sangh Parivar, because they are actively burying Gandhiji’s legacy with their policies and deeds. After all, the BJP’s very survival in power depends on relentless communal polarisation of India’s plural society, which is necessary for consolidating and expanding its Hindu votebank. To succeed in this endeavour, it is cleverly manipulating and exploiting the nationalist sentiments of the majority community by projecting Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) as true ‘Rashtriyatva’ (Indian nationalism). Such manipulation is only possible by representing Indian Muslims as either “aliens” whose loyalty to the nation is suspect or as less than “true Indians” who need to be “assimilated” into the Hindu mainstream.

A necessary corollary of this emotional and intellectual manipulation is to constantly whip up anti-Pakistan hysteria. This, too, is necessary because showing Pakistan, a self-declared Islamic nation, as an irredeemable “enemy” helps in justifying the BJP-RSS claim that India is a Hindu nation. This is indeed the flip side of the Muslim League’s ‘Two-Nation’ theory, to which Gandhiji was irreconcilably opposed.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan stands condemned in the eyes of the world because of its support to Islamist extremism and terrorism targeting India. And this support has immensely helped the BJP in its agenda of communal polarisation in India.

Mahatma Gandhi would have been horrified by both what Pakistan has done and what India under the BJP is doing. Hindu-Muslim amity and unity was the heart and soul of his philosophy that guided India’s struggle for freedom from the British colonial rule. Even after the tragic partition of India, which he tried his utmost to prevent, he advocated peaceful and brotherly relations between India and Pakistan. Indeed, he sacrificed his life to Godse’s bullets in service of these two noble causes — communal harmony and Indo-Pak reconciliation. Neither cause helps the political agenda of the BJP led by Modi and Amit Shah. This is the primary reason behind the government’s apathy in commemorating Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary.

Gandhiji’s philosophy and legacy handicap the BJP’s agenda for other reasons too. The most tolerant and broadminded among all the political leaders of his time, he was a staunch defender of people’s democratic rights and freedoms, including the freedom of dissent and constructive criticism. He stood for press freedom and the integrity of the justice system. He argued for a system of administration that does not discriminate citizens on the grounds of creed, caste, class and political ideology. He insisted on disputes and conflicts to be resolve peacefully, through the power of honest dialogue. He was an uncompromising votary of egalitarianism, and argued that the government’s first task is to care for the last man in the developmental queue.

All these ideals are also anathema to the government, whatever may be its leaders’ pious pronouncements and declarations. Its daily assaults on constitutional values and democratic institutions (including Parliament, as we have recently seen in the fraudulent way in which the farm bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha), its deliberate enslavement of the media, its constant confrontation with the political opposition, its economic policies that have resulted in unprecedented widening of the rich-poor divide, its curtailment of people’s civil liberties, the gross violation of human and democratic rights of our sisters and brothers in Kashmir, and the Modi government’s growing disinterest in issues related to world peace and disarmament — all these simply cannot be reconciled with Gandhiji’s dream for India.

The Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary now comes to an end. But true believers in his mission for a better India and a better world cannot and will not rest. To us, he remains an undying source of moral guidance and practical inspiration.

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