In the 150th year of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, Albert Einstein is being proven very right
“Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
Einstein said that on Gandhiji's 70th birthday. It has taken as many years and more for Indians to prove him right – in a twisted way, in a travesty of the original spirit of Einstein's forecast.
Mahatma Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse is being lauded by a section of Indians who see no cowardice in a young, 32-year-old able bodied man shooting a frail, unarmed 78-year-old at point blank range. That pusillanimity is reflected in the manner in which other young, able bodied men shot down other unarmed old men like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M Kalburgi and an unarmed, frail woman at her gate – Gauri Lankesh – in the name of Hindutva. If the bigots who support those acts think of these killers, including Godse, as macho men then the world will have to redefine the meaning of a coward and a blackjack.
However, what now impresses me about Einstein's forecast on Mahatma Gandhi's greatness, is that the GenNext of his very assassins have had to embrace him in his 150th year. Narendra Modi began his stint as prime minister by trashing Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru but could never denigrate or derogate the Mahatma. He had to visit the Rajghat, Gandhiji's samadhi, on various occasions, appropriate Gandhi Jayanti to launch several schemes of his government and, on the Mahatma‘s 150th birthday, even had to pen an article in praise of the great soul. While that was rather like Pontius Pilate writing a paean to Jesus Christ, I am also both outraged and impressed by RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, whose organisation has neither a history of nationalism nor icons to uphold, say that Mahatma Gandhi had a soft corner for the RSS. Now an organisation which threatened to eliminate a man for his beliefs and ideology and accomplished that assassination, seeks the blessings and endorsement of that very man to secure legitimacy in the eyes of the new generation? If irony had not died a million deaths before this, it sure would now.
For the RSS is the very anti-thesis of Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say it's very formation and foundation was based in opposition to Mahatma Gandhi. Its founder Keshav Hegdewar was a member of the Indian National Congress and a Seva Dal worker before quitting and forming the RSS. Before the advent of Mahatma Gandhi, the nation’s freedom struggle was largely fuelled by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak who, however, had his own biases regarding the inequalities in Indian society. There were others like MG Ranade, Gop0oalkrishna Gokhale, Dr BR Ambedkar and Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, a descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who had sought social reforms (like the abolition of castes and access to education to all) ahead of political freedom from the British. Tilak, however, was unwilling to consider the question of social reforms and abolition of castes and this suited the likes of Hegdewar who,was a Tilak acolyte just tine. Tilak's death in 1920 coincided with the reformist direction that Mahatma Gandhi gave to both the Indian National Congress and the freedom movement and this put the likes of. Hegdewar out of sorts. Hence the setting up of the RSS in complete opposition to the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi which apart from satya and ahimsa was also sarva dharma sambhav or unity in diversity. Gandhiji not just pressed for reforms in Hindu society, but also mainstreamed the Muslim population and both these were intensely hated by Hegdewar and his followers.
Indeed, Hegdewar’s successor Guru Golwalkar, according to meticulously researched accounts by Rajmohan Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson, and Ramchandra Guha, noted historian (both of who have written wonderful biographies of the Mahatma), had held out oblique threats to Mahatma Gandhi for his inclusive policies. Yet even Gokwaliar wanted to earn Gandhiji's approval and after a meeting with the great man in October 1947 when Delhi had been burning up in post-Independence communal riots, had wanted Gandhiji to mention the meeting in his prayer meeting.
According to historical records, Gandhiji had clearly told Golwalkar that the RSS ‘s hands were soaked in blood though Golwalkar denied that fact. But 22 years later on Gandhi's birth centenary in 1969, Golwalkar claimed that the Mahatma had agreed with his views and taken his name with pride at the prayer meeting.
While that account has been debunked by historians, I was startled to discover that Golwalkar made those claims while unveiling a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. For an organisation that did not fly the national tricolour from its building until 2002, that act of unveiling a statue of Mahatma Gandhi might have been as abhorrent as penning paeans to the father if the nation. Yet both Golwalkar and Modi had to do that in their time because clearly Gandhiji is greater than his assassins and it is very difficult to defy his legacy.
Why this is rank hypocrisy – the definition of hypocrisy by French philosopher Francois de la Rochefaucauld was that it is a tribute paid by vice to virtue –is also because while playing these tributes to Gandhiji and seeking his approval, the RSS defies his ideals of truth, non-violence and unity in diversity. The very claim by Bhagwat that Gandhiji had a soft corner for the RSS is based on untruth and is an attempt at rewriting history. Today, no one doubt, like in Golwalkar’s time, that the hands of its followers are soaked in blood and with the kind of policies unleashed in Kashmir and Assam, it is clear the BJP does not believe in unity in diversity.
But there are enough of us around for the RSS to be unable to kill the spirit of Gandhi entirely. I take heart from a young school boy in Varanasi who got the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi right when during a school debate he upheld Gandhiji as the greatest Hindu and the symbol of secularism. Gandhi's Hey Ram – his last words on being shot - do not frighten other communities, Ayush Chaturvedi said, because he was not a bigot despite being Hindu (I interpret).
If a young school going lad, so far removed from Gandhiji’s life and times, can pick up on Gandhiji’s spirit so well, Gandhiji will never die, indeed his assassins failed to kill him and that is why they have to now pay lip service to the great leader. That must be so galling to those who hate Gandhi and laud Godse. Gandhiji defeated the mighty British. What are a few bigots for his spirit and legacy?