The truth is that RSS and most Indians dislike Gandhi but the world outside will not let them dump him
The RSS hates Mahatma Gandhi even more than Nehru. But it is forced to include Gandhi in its list of national icons to be remembered and revered (Pratah Smaraneeya), writes Apoorvanand
Awesome or Awful. This is how Gandhi is viewed by most Indians. The truth is that majority of Indians intensely dislike him but are forced to sing his bhajan as the world keeps reminding them of Gandhi and what the world, not just India, owes to the Mahatma.
Nothing exemplifies it better than the attitude of the RSS. Sardar Patel (venerated by the RSS as the best prime minister India never had), is on record stating that the hate and poison spread by the RSS had led to the murder of Gandhi. Talk to RSS members and you’ll be struck by the hatred and contempt they have for Gandhi even today. They also weave lies about Gandhi and his associates to justify their hatred for him. And yet, the RSS has been forced to list Gandhi among the ‘Pratah Smarneeya’ (someone who is to be remembered and revered every morning) in its pantheon of national figures.
RSS had to do it although it hates to have to bow before Gandhi, who seems to have taken his revenge in his own way. He keeps reminding his murderers that they cannot do things directly, that they must always resort to stealth. Had the world comprised only India, the RSS would happily consign Gandhi to the dustbin.
But sadly, the world is more than India.
Similarly, Gandhi forced upper castes to admit that their claim of superiority was morally flawed. They could not justify the caste system after his patient argument with them but they kept practising it. Was it not Gandhi, who after the Poona Pact had said that it was now for the upper castes to prove their sincerity. So, Gandhi’s memory keeps reminding them that they have not done enough. The upper castes also would have liked Gandhi to be buried.
It therefore fell upon a non-Indian, Joe Biden, President of USA, a country Gandhi never set his foot on despite repeated invitations, to remind the Indian Prime Minister of the central message of Gandhi. He told him that Mahatma’s “message of non-violence, respect, tolerance matters today maybe more than ever”. That an Indian Prime Minister has to take lesson in Gandhi from the leader of a foreign land tells us where we stand.
It was another US President, Barack Obama,who recalled Gandhi to disapprove of the violence against minorities in India. He said, “Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs— acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi Ji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”
Gandhi therefore is an embarrassment for most of us. We do not know what to do with the man we want to get rid of but the world just won't allow us.
Who is this Gandhi who has turned into a Shakespearean ghost? It is as if we are under his watch. Who could possibly like it?
The Gandhi that most Indians know today has been forged largely by the RSS. It holds him responsible for emasculating Hindu men of their virility by preaching non-violence, of weakening the Hindu religion by fighting for the rights of the then ‘untouchables’ and ‘depressed classes’.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd observes,“Gandhi was killed not just because he stood for an inclusive democracy in which Muslims would be equal citizens. He was engaging with Ambedkar on caste and untouchability. No other leader in the Indian National Congress, especially the Maharashtra Brahmin leaders, were in favour of this. Bal Gangandhar Tilak himself was opposed to Mahatma Phule’s reforms. His son, Shridhar Balwant Tilak, took his own life in despair after being harassed for supporting Ambedkar’s reform agenda.”
“Gandhi was seriously sympathetic to the abolition of untouchability and reforms in Hinduism, if not for abolition of the varna system. This was not liked by the Maharashtra Brahmin leadership of the time. Hence there were many attempts on his life before the final act of killing him in 1948.”
While it was definitely his steadfast support for the rights of Muslims which earned him the wrath of the likes of Savarkar, who conspired to get him eliminated, but it was also his crime of polluting Hinduism by insisting that ‘untochables’ were equal Hindus. Kancha Ilaiah concludes by saying, “Savarkar and his followers set out a theory of Hindutva which was different from that of Bengali Brahmin leaders and thinkers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore. The same Maharashtra Brahmin school, which opposed Gandhi, started the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They were all strong anti-Gandhians.”
Leftists or communists similarly have a very complex relation with Gandhi. A majority of them still believe that violence is necessary for social and political transformation. Gandhi comes in their way. They also feel that Gandhi was a lackey of capitalists and was on their pay roll.
Many Indians, who worship revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, and Savarkar or Godse in the same breath, believe that Gandhi was a phoney figure propped up by the British who wanted to destroy the real patriots. They do not realise that while the latter never had a good word for Bhagat Singh, Bhagat Singh despite his differences with Gandhi respected him for his capacity to mobilise the moral strength of the ordinary masses; and Gandhi too, in spite of his disagreement with the method of Bhagat Singh, had high regard for his bravery.
Gandhi’s rejection of violence as a means of change and his promotion of nonviolence was a revolutionary and to many even a crazy idea. Violence and bravery went together in the popular mind. But Gandhi reversed it. To be truly brave, you had to be sincerely nonviolent. This is where Savarkar differed with him. But was Savarkar alone?
I nteracting once with school teachers in Patna, I asked them to list their opinion of Gandhi. Then I asked them to list their sources of information. What had led them to their understanding and conclusions? Most of them had not read much of Gandhi. So, they believed in the rumours they had heard.
This is an exercise I have repeated at many places; and nearly everywhere I get the same answers. It is as if your being Indian is sufficient to claim knowing Gandhi sufficiently.
If we speak to political leaders, professionals or leaders in other fields, their knowledge of Gandhi will be found to be equally superficial. Gandhi’s works are available in 100 volumes, and free of cost, but they are seldom read. We sing his favourite bhajan ‘Vaishnav jan’ without realising that this ‘Vaishnav jan’ is actually someone who never leaves the battle field, one who chooses the most difficult battles, the unpopular ones. Gandhi stood before Hindus asking for equal rights for the Dalits and again faced them arguing for equal rights for Muslims in India.
Gandhi never cared to flaunt his Hindu credentials. He seldom visited temples and never cared for gurus. Is it really a surprise then that he was not interested in religion but in the people.
Nehru observed that the greatest contribution of Gandhi was that he could put ordinary Indians on a very high plane and he managed to do it for a very long time. This sublimation of the ordinary was a cooperative endeavour in which Gandhi and his people worked together.
What Gandhi was doing was to result in the creation of a nation state. But Gandhi valued Swaraj over a nation state;the individual above everything else. Individuals, he said, are not creatures of the state or the nation.
Individuals create them. Gandhi strove to create an individual, who with her sense of justice and love, would be able to resist the state or any power which seeks to demean the values of equality, justice and freedom. Coercion, even in the name of a high ideal, was to him unacceptable. "If you put gun on my head and ask me to read Gita, I would not", is what Gandhi said, “a flag which symbolises violence would never be able to command my respect". “Bharat mein rehna hai to vande mataram kehna hoga,” is an obscene slogan, Gandhi would have told his admirers in the RSS.
What would Gandhi have done, were he allowed to walk on the ruins of his dream? He would have despaired certainly, for he was a human being. But then he would have lifted his staff and started walking, walking on the burning and killing fields stained with the blood of minorities, the marginalised and the weak. He would have stopped to ask every skeleton, ‘what had happened here?’
(The writer is a professor in Delhi University and independent commentator & columnist. Views are personal)