DR RATAN BHATTACHARJEE
It is quite surprising that the whole world regards the Mahatma as one of its Superheroes while in India the worst kind of controversy rages about his legacy. Two years earlier India marked the 150th Birthday of Gandhiji as the Father of the Nation.
The BJP government seemed to have been more Gandhiite than the Congress in its efforts to commemorate the Birthday by exhibiting 1000 foot long greeting card, allowing prisoner releases and other rituals. But it is not difficult to understand that all were just eyewash and the Opposition leaders did not want to forget the ghastly assassination of the revered leader of Independence by Nathuram Godse.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled his glorious life and struggle, his philosophy of non-violence and his contribution to India’s Independence struggle. Many are; yet skeptical enough if the BJP leaders along with their RSS cohorts who regard Nathuram Godse as a patriot even today are at all happy with Gandhian support for the Pluralistic culture of Hinduism.
Some even referred to Gandhiji’s fight in South Africa on a negative note. They think that Gandhiji repeatedly referred to black South Africans using a racial slur and described them as inferior to Indians. They do not remember and rather like to forget that Gandhiji inspired leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. who delved deep into the collected works of Gandhi comprising nearly 100 volumes to study his ideas on politics, economics, sexuality sanitation, diet, education, Hinduism, communalism, rural administration or Panchayat Raj.
It was he who motivated women and Harijans to participate actively in the Freedom movement a fictional picture of which we get in Raja Rao’s Kanthapura. But these were all contested by both the right-wing and left-wing politicians in India as endorsed by Ramachandra Guha in his two-volume biography of Gandhi.
Some link the event of the removal of the statue of Gandhi in Ghana in 2018 to the racial slur in Gandhian activities in South Africa. In India, Gandhiji is criticized by the leftists like E.M.S Namboodripad for his views on the Caste system as if he were a conservative who subscribed to the view of preserving hereditary roles for different caste groups in Indian society. Even Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India justified the caste system in India in spite of his opposition to its survival. The BJP ideologically cannot accept Gandhiji’s preaching of a “harmonious social order,” as mentioned by Anand Teltumbde, one of India’s preeminent scholars on caste and the author of a recent manuscript on Gandhiji’s preference for the caste system though it cannot be ignored that Gandhiji advocated the gradual reforms for the caste system.
Even what the BJP Prime Minister calls today ‘Swaccha Bharata’ or Clean India is a campaign that Ganhdiji started long ago on Sanitation. Today many people motivate young people to become courageous and dignified. It is the dream of Gandhiji to envision a world based on social equality and pluralistic culture where to use Tagore’s words, the mind is without fear or the head is held high.
We might have been happier if PM Modi was telling us what Gandhiji told about Hindu –Muslim harmony in India. His concept of Hinduism is absolutely different from BJP’s Hinduttwa. As long as BJP MPs like Pragya Thakur and others hail Nathuram Godse as a patriot, Gandhiji will remain a controversial figure in India of today.
His presence will be nothing more than a ritualistic presence. To accept Gandhiji is to accept the main spirit of the Preamble to the Constitution where the secular and democratic principles are made the main spirit. Today when history is being taught in a new way by the UGC removing secular-minded scholars of India like Irfan Habib, R.S Sharma and others, we will forget the reason why Rajmohan Gandhi opined that Gandhiji represents the better angels of the Indian nature.
In 2011 Melissa Bell wrote an article on the Biography of Gandhiji in The Washington Post ‘Mahatma Gandhi: A Saint or Sinner’ in which she referred to the reviewer Andrew Robetts who showed Gandhiji as ‘implacably racist’ and tried to prove that he was a self-promoter interested in retaining power than unifying the caste system or solving the Muslim–Hindu divide.
Nothing can be farther than the truth. He was ready to sacrifice his life if India is partitioned. He told that his body is to be cut before the country is divided for Hindus and Muslims. It is a fabrication of facts that he was a self-promoter. The man who led the life of a half-naked fakir simply because his poor countrymen were not having clothes and what Louis Fischer observed about him in Sevagram ‘that his life was a message for us’, his life as he lived needs to be reassessed.
His non-violence movement is still a mystery for many and even Netaji Subhas too had a respect for him to such an extent that in spite of his difference of opinion on this issue he called Gandhiji ‘the Father of the Nation’ or Tagore not for nothing called him ‘Mahatma’. Louis Fischer rightly said, “Buddha failed, Jesus failed, so did Gandhiji fail. But his life as he lived will be a lesson for all in the ages to come.”
BJP Party or the RSS assassinator Nathuram Godse may come and go, Gandhiji will remain and his message of Non-violence that once stirred world leaders like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther Jr. Today while the world is under the terrible threat from the Taliban and the terrorists flourishing all around us when the Harijans and Dalits are facing torturers, women facing problems of safety, or Dalit women raped in the hands of the upper-class people or communal considerations making the divide larger using a false chauvinistic theory of narrow Hinduttwa, using the name of Lord Rama or other myths we too can say as Wordsworth addressed Milton ‘England hath need of thee, ‘Gandhiji thou shouldst be living at this hour, India hath need of thee!”
Congress which is breaking like a house of cards and once Gandhiji who wanted Congress to be a platform for many parties and diverse sections of people with diverse opinions needs to be reassessed for providing a correct perspective for Gandhian ideology to initiate the rebirth of a new progressive party with secular ideals and faith in pluralism and inclusion that can save the nation today from the demonic clutch of the communal forces that are consolidating the people from Kashmir to Kanyakumarika through false propaganda using the national resources and voting machinery.
Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee is a senior academician and a columnist and poet. He can be reached at: [email protected]