11, Feb 2017 | Teesta Setalvad
Again and again, not satisfied with the physical assassination of the man named ‘Father of the Nation,’ a barrister by profession and one of the leaders of India’s struggle for freedom, ‘they’ kill Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi). January 30 is the death anniversary of the man, and this year the date marked the 68th anniversary of his passing.
Key supremacist outfits implicated in the killing, in cold blood, of the man of peace and harmony, were the Hindu Mahasabha (HMS) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The latter was even banned after the act, with India’s first central minister for internal security, Sardar Patel, noting in a letter justifying the ban that the RSS “had distributed sweets after the assassination.” While the RSS (to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many of his cabinet colleagues owe first allegiance) continues with a deliberate obfuscation of its role, the HMS is more forthright and brazen. So, this year, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha ‘celebrated’ Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by distributing sweets on his death anniversary at its city office in Meerut, a town in western Uttar Pradesh (a state that goes in for state polls in a week’s time).
Not only did this brand of supremacists perform macabre dances to celebrate the killing, but on January 26, India’s Republic Day, they marked the date as ‘black day’ and protested against the Indian Constitution. “We do not believe in the idea of a secular Constitution. When India officially declares itself a Hindu Rashtra, [Nathuram] Godse will be declared its hero and Gandhi’s assassination would be declared a national festival,” said Pandit Ashok Sharma, national vice president of the outfit. Last year, the same outfit declared its intention of building a ‘temple’ to the assassin of Gandhi, Nathuram Godse, but was prevented from doing so by some state governments who took action.
Therein lies the tale. Why was Gandhi, the ‘naked, half-clad fakir’, as British prime minister Winston Churchill so scathingly dubbed a man who inspired India’s millions, such a threat to the exponents of India—not as a socialist, secular, republic, but as a theocratic state, a Hindu nation? Why is Nathuram Godse, the assassin, a hero?
Gandhi, despite his personal religiosity, was firmly committed to the idea of India as a republic. His famous lines, “ByRam RajyaI do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by Ramarajya Divine Raj, Khuda ki Basti or theKingdom of God on Earth,” even today irk the fanatics.
At the heart of the visceral animosity that the RSS, HMS and their affiliates have against Gandhi is his deep, reasoned and passionate commitment to a composite Indian nationhood. His writings in Young India and Harijan are well-documented, as is his subsequent clarity on the issue, which is unequivocal.
It is worth revisiting some of the unequivocal views of Gandhi, even as India edges closer and closer to a majoritarian state. Under Gandhi’s guidance and leadership, communal amity remained central to the constructive programs of the Congress. Muslim intellectuals and leaders of national stature—Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Dr Ansari Hakim Ajmal Khan, Badruddin Tyabjee, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Jauhar Ali—were proud parts of the Congress fold. While the larger national movement, represented by the Congress and Revolutionaries, was surging ahead with a wider vision and inclusive foundation of Indian nationhood, at play were majority and minority communal forces, in parallel, pushing their narrow, hate-driven, communal agendas.
There have been severe critiques by Dalit leaders and intellectuals on Gandhi’s patronizing attitude towards the ‘untouchables.’ These have been enshrined in the historic works of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and cannot be wished away. Nevertheless, the very act of Gandhi’s killing, and the danger that his ideals still present to Hindutva supremacists, require a nuanced understanding of the issue.
In the 1930s, future laws that India would enact to address inequality and discrimination were being discussed. On January 27, 1935, Gandhi addressed some members of the Central Legislature. He told them that “[e]ven if the whole body of Hindu opinion were to be against the removal of untouchability, still he would advise a secular legislature like the Assembly not to tolerate that attitude.”
On January 20, 1942, Gandhi remarked while discussing the Pakistan scheme: “What conflict of interest can there be between Hindus and Muslims in the matter of revenue, sanitation, police, justice or the use of public conveniences? The difference can only be in religious usage and observance with which a secular state has no concern.”
From then until he was shot dead in cold blood on January 30, 1948, his responses and articulation on the disassociation of religion from politics became even clearer and sharper. This meant, in effect, he was a great threat to past- and present-day proponents of a Hindu rashtra.
Faced with the growing appeal of communalists across the religious spectrum, in the early to mid-1900s, Gandhi remained firm in his commitment to equal citizenship based on human rights and dignity.
Contrast this to the HMS at the same time. In 1937, at the open session of the Hindu Mahasabha held at Ahmedabad, V.D. Savarkar asserted in his presidential address: “India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations in the main – the Hindus and the Muslims.”
By 1945, Savarkar had gone to the extent of stating, “I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We, the Hindus, are a nation by ourselves, and it is a historical fact that the Hindus and the Muslims are two nations.” It was this sentiment of separate and irreconcilable identities of the followers of these religions that led to the communal holocaust and the formation of Pakistan.
If the Muslim League and Jinnah need to squarely be positioned for their responsibility in articulating a politics that eventually led to a communal bloodbath, the HMS and the RSS, with their consistently-divisive politics, cannot escape their share of the blame.
A deep source of resentment for the proponents of a Hindu Rashtra was the democratic and egalitarian agenda being articulated by the national leadership through the Karachi resolution. The attempts on Gandhi’s life that began in 1934 were a response to the dominant political articulations on nationhood, caste and economic and other democratic rights that constituted a direct challenge to a hegemonic and authoritarian Hindu Rashtra. In 1933, the year before the first attempt on Gandhi’s life, he had declared firm support for two Bills, one of which was against the abhorrent practice of ‘untouchability.’
The run-up to independence and, unfortunately, partition, was the scene or battleground for fundamentally different notions of nationhood. While over 100 years of sustained movements and mobilizations to throw off British yoke were rooted in the united battle of all Indians against foreign rule, the early to mid 1900s saw the birth and emergence of sectarian and communal definitions of Indian and Pakistani nationhood. With the birth of the HMS, the Muslim League and the RSS, these movements were in constant battle with the larger movement, significantly, at different points of time actually acting as collaborators with the British.
In September 1946, Gandhi told a Christian missionary, “If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it. The state would look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern!”
It was this overall understanding came subsequently to be reflected in Articles 25, 26 and 27 of the Constitution.
Gandhi soon after elaborated on this point, proclaiming in a speech at Narkeldanga: “In the India for whose fashioning he had worked all his life every man enjoyed equality of status, whatever his religion was. The state was bound to be wholly secular. He went so far as to say that no denominational institution in it should enjoy state patronage. All subjects would thus be equal in the eye of the law.”
Five days later, Gandhi observed in a speech at Deshbandhu Park in Calcutta on August 22, 1947: “Religion was a personal matter and if we succeeded in confining it to the personal plane, all would be well in our political life… If officers of Government as well as members of the public undertook the responsibility and worked wholeheartedly for the creation of a secular state, we could build a new India that would be the glory of the world.” Speaking on Guru Nanak’s birthday on November 28, 1947, Gandhi opposed any possibility of state funds being spent for the renovation of the Somnath temple. His reasoning was, “After all, we have formed the Government for all. It is a `secular’ government, that is, it is not a theocratic government, rather, it does not belong to any particular religion. Hence it cannot spend money on the basis of communities.”
This year, in early January, 2017, days before the death anniversary, Modi made his own contribution to erasing Mahatma’s memory. He unceremoniously replaced Gandhi on the calendar of the Khadi Village Industries Commission. The image of Gandhi on the spinning wheel (charkha) is not just a symbol of resistance to the economic exploitation of the British, but also an assertion of the simplicity and self-reliance of Indians. When the story broke and a video showed India’s prime minister having ‘photo-shopped’ his way to the image (this video was later ‘removed’), all manner of criticism followed. One more speculation doing the rounds is that soon Modi will also replace Gandhi from Indian currency notes!
Be it caste-ism, communalism or racism, the shrewdest manner in which communities and indigenous peoples have been excluded from the historical narrative has been evasion and erosion. It looks like that is what this regime, with Modi at the helm and inspired by the RSS, is set to do with Gandhi.
Given that, nothing can be more appropriate than this Ode by Gandhi’s grandson, Tushar A. Gandhi, written for us, this January 30, titled Get Lost Gandhi:
You have troubled us too long, we don’t want you any more, get lost.
You did not allow us to implement the final solution in 1947. You stood between us and Hindu Rashtra, we sent our man to get rid of you. But you stubborn old man you lived after we pumped lead into your chest. But now we don’t want you any more. We worship your killer, we have put them in power too. You shamed us with your poverty, your simplicity, we now want opulence, ostentatiousness, bombast, your insistence on truth, honesty and morality is outdated. We don’t want it any more. Get lost Gandhi.
We have taken away your spectacles so you can’t see our filthy souls and blood stained hands any more.
We talk about Swachcha Bharat (Clean India) now we don’t want your preachings about swachcha atma, swachcha aacharan, swachcha jeevan. We don’t want any of your words any more we now are addicted to Joomlas. Get lost Gandhi.
Your simplicity and voluntary poverty no longer impresses, we admire million rupee suits. Your Khaddar dhoti shames us. We are incredible Indians. Get lost Gandhi.
Your image on our currency has devalued it. Our new leaders admit this with honesty. We will erase you from there too ‘dheere dheere'(slowly, slowly) as it is the supreme leader is promoting cashless India and Paytm does not carry your image, its brand ambassador is our Supreme Leader. Get lost Gandhi.
We have stolen your Chasma and your Charkha we will use your Lathi to beat and subjugate all who dare to stand against us. We will prosecute them, we will defame them, we will hound them and we will beat them. We don’t need your ahimsa any longer for too long has it emasculated us. We worship Godse your murderer. Get lost Gandhi.
The only place you are welcome to stay is on Air India’s VIP plane, our supreme leader uses on his frequent foreign jaunts. Unfortunately on his foreign jaunts he can’t do without you Bapu.
But from Incredible India, Get Lost Gandhi!!
‘Sunle Bapu ye paigaam, Meri chitthi tere naam, chitthi mein subse pehle karta tujh ko Ram Ram….’
(Listen Father to this Message, This is Dedicated to You, In this LetterI first Greet You, Ram, Ram)