FORGETTING GANDHI

Now that the BJP has come to power, some ultra- Hindu intellectuals tend to interpret Gandhi and his contribution to India's freedom struggle in a twisted way. They think the British left India because Japan attacked the empire in Burma. By saying so, they make it a point that Netaji's heroism - his escape and meeting with Hitler and then working with the Japanese - was superior to Gandhi's work with a spinning wheel. Then there was his work for Hindu Muslim unity which was his cardinal sin. In the eyes of these intellectuals killing Gandhi was necessary because his support for the Muslim Community had to be stopped. So, they lionize not Gandhi but his killer. There is a line of thinking that Gandhi has been given way too much importance and that because the Congress Party was so long in power, it worshipped Gandhi for its own benefit. After all, Gandhi used to be a member of that Party. His "followers" remained in Power very long. In order to score points with the Congress Party they try to diminish Gandhi and his role in India's struggle for freedom.

Gandhi was born in 1869, the same year Lenin was born in Russia. 146 years later, while Communism is losing its luster, the nonviolent social change that Gandhi espoused is gaining roots. Nonviolent direct action like fasting in prison or sitting inside a dean's office or refusing to move has become a part of the protest lexicon. Gandhi can be interpreted in many different ways. In his vast array of activities and the myriad of ideas he generated people are bound to look at both from their own way of thinking.

What is undisputable is that Gandhi placed a tool on every hand to openly defy the foreign rule. He had no need for clandestine conspiracy or hiding underground. Even in the thick of the Quit India movement he asked his followers (like G. Ramachandran and R.R. Diwakar and others like them) to leave underground and court arrest openly. Gandhi's tool was such that every one - a small child, a physically impaired man or woman, rich, poor, educated and illiterate - could use it. Others, even up to Subhas Chandra Bose, were full of personal heroism. Their methods could not be practiced by everyone. In order to be a soldier one has to acquire physical strength and a gun. At that point, Indians were weak in every way and they could not attack the British in a violent way. Those who did were put down quickly.

True, India's struggle for freedom did not start with Gandhi. But he was the one who created mass appeal for a struggle in which everyone could participate. As a result hundreds and thousands of people took an active part in the liberation movement. Simple activities like community prayer, spinning and fasting carried a political meaning. Throughout the newly liberated world of Asia, Africa and Latin America some sort of dictatorship followed the arrival of independence and democracy. Not in India. Thanks to Gandhi's strategy, there were so many people who had a stake in the country's independence that they would not allow a dictatorship to happen. That is why in spite of all the chaos and turmoil India continues to be a democracy and that in itself is an achievement.

Recently, in a public celebration of one of India's national days the organizers in the Washington area hung plenty of pictures of Narendra Modi. They pasted pictures of other leaders from the past and present across the podium. But Gandhi's picture was missing. Maybe trying to forget Gandhi has become a new trend. The same people who find Gandhi awkward also find India's existing national anthem unacceptable. That is why one hears so much about the "national song". Those who want to make India a country where everyone has to be a Hindu or those who find Gandhi's idea of tolerance as offensive could find him inconvenient. In order to defeat the Congress Party if BJP supporters and operatives discard Gandhi and his philosophy then, on their party, it will be a disservice to India and its people.


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