The hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was celebrated with great fanfare across the country on the 2nd October, this year. Reams have been written about the Mahatma’s invaluable contribution to freedom struggle, the rich legacy that he has left behind for future generations and the values that he cherished right though his life. Politicians holding office and those bereft of power have thundered from the pulpits about the imperative need to revisit Bapu’s life, imbibe his ideologies and put into practice his doctrines. The cacophonous, monotonous and maudlin chant has always been an annual affair but this time around it reached a crescendo as the celebrations revolved around an important milestone in Gandhi’s life —- his hundred and fiftieth birthday.
Is Gandhi as relevant today as he was when he resorted to satyagraha to free India from the British yoke? Is there an overwhelming urge among political parties to appropriate Gandhi and his legacy and use it as cannon fodder to fuel their petty, political designs? Is there a rethink on the part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) vis a vis the Mahatma and his ideologies? Are the Mahatma Gandhi roads and streets, the postal stamps, the currency notes, caricatures on government office walls and Gandhi Jayanti the only reminder of the apostle of violence who walked tall through his life? Has parochialism dented Gandhi’s cherished principles of harmony and humanism? These are all posers that are valid in today’s India where Gandhism is not preached or practiced with the same fervour as it once was.
The relevance of Mahatma
Seven decades after he fell to an assassin’s bullets, Mahatma Gandhi continues to be revered as an icon, an inspiration not only to billions of Indians but to leaders and people in all parts of the world. Former US President Barack Obama once opined that Gandhi was an inspiration to him because he embodied the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things. World leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for civil rights and former South African President Nelson Mandela who adopted Gandhi’s principle of non-violence and came out of jail after serving a term of nearly three decades to head the first black majority government were all enamoured of Gandhi and his ideals. At a time when strife rules the world and its tremors are being increasingly felt in our country too, Gandhi’s policy of ahimsa is hugely relevant and his observation that an eye for an eye would only leave the whole world blind is perhaps the strongest indictment of violence in any form. Right through his lifetime Gandhi laid great emphasis on ‘truth’ and he practiced it with all sincerity. His book ‘Experiments with Truth’ was an eye opener to all. Duplicity in any form was anathema to the Mahatma. His focus on a clean environment remains highly relevant and the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ a government initiative that aims to create a clean open defecation India has met with a high degree of success and continues to be a flagship scheme of the Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance now in its second term in office.
The BJP’S mascot
Although leaders occupying the highest echelons of the BJP would like to place the Iron Man of India, Sardar Vallabhai Patel a notch above Gandhi, the realisation that as an icon Gandhi stands head and shoulders above all his contemporaries has compelled the BJP to appropriate him if not for any other reason but at least to derive a tangible benefit on the electoral front. The BJP’s eagerness to be seen as a party that defines the idea of India too has prompted it to make Gandhi its own, and he has now become a mascot for the party and his image has been utilised to the optimum in campaigns including the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan where the Mahatma’s spectacles are prominently featured. The ruling government at the Centre has been keen to propagate Gandhi’s idea of non-violence, Swachh and Swadeshi, but it has been clearly been a bit deficient where the question of religious harmony is concerned. In his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to the Mahatma and observed that as long as the thoughts of Gandhiji continue to be a significant part of humanity, his inspiration and relevance will also remain among us. However the opposition parties have decried the attempts of the BJP to appropriate the Mahatma and the interim President of the Congress party Sonia Gandhi has charged the party with attempting to sideline Gandhi and make the RSS the symbol of India as Gandhi had always been a tenacious obstacle to the RSS’s dreams of forging a Hindu state.
Gandhi and the RSS
Gandhi’s biographer Ramachandra Guha has gone on record to remark that Gandhi was ambivalent about the RSS. Right from the pre-independence days, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) distrusted Gandhi and the latter too had his doubts about the Sangh’s bonafides. The founder of the RSS, Dr Keshav Balram Hedgewar had always been a bitter critic of Gandhi and had once stated that the path of Gandhi and RSS appeared parallel and incongruent. Deendayal Upadhyaya, a leader revered by the BJP had even gone to the extent of advising his followers to cease calling Gandhi the ‘Father of the Nation’. However the Sangh had cherished the visit of the Mahatma to an RSS shaka and has never fought shy of reiterating his impressions. Obviously Gandhi had been impressed by their rigorous discipline, the complete absence of untouchability and the simplicity. The main bone of contention between Gandhi and the RSS was the Sangh’s continuous harping on the need to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra which Gandhi staunchly opposed at every opportunity. The Mahatma’s insistence on equal political status to numerically smaller Muslim and Christian communities was unacceptable to the Sangh, and its espousal of Hindutva as its credo. However there is evidence that the RSS had been blowing hot and cold in its relationship with Gandhi and sarsangchalak M. S. Golwalkar had once exhorted the cadres to imitate Gandhiji and act on his thoughts as that would enable them to reawaken the great Hindu dharma that imparts such lessons.
The RSS mouthpiece ‘Organiser’ had carried a cover feature on the Mahatma to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary but the present sarsangchalak of the Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat has once again reaffirmed the organisation’s commitment towards the ushering in of a Hindu Rashtra which is clearly an antithesis of all that the Mahatma stood for. There can however be no denying the fact that Gandhian thoughts and ideologies will continue to shape the destiny of this great country and that those who lead the nation now and in future will toil hard to realise his unfulfilled dreams. The Mahatma is and will always be a beacon light to billions of Indians in their unending quest for a better India where peace and harmony will reign supreme and where all castes, creeds and religions will co-exist in a spirit of universal brotherhood.