Why BJP’s Subjugation of Gandhi’s Legacy Hit a Roadblock at Shaheen Bagh
‘Death ends all enmity’ (Marnanti Vairani) goes a maxim in Hinduism.
The story also goes that when Ravana was on death bed, Ram had even asked Laxman to go to him and learn something which no other person except a great scholar like him could teach him, declaring that though he has been forced to punish him for his terrible crime, ‘you are no more my enemy’.
It is a different matter that Hindutva supremacists -- who are keen ‘to transform Hinduism from a variety of religious practices into a consolidated ethnic identity’ -- are believers in the exact opposite.
For them, once the enemy is dead, the enmity flares up without any limits. They have no qualms that their adversary is no more to defend himself/ herself.
It has been more than five and half years that they are in power at the Centre and we have been witness to complete vilification, demonisation and obfuscation of many of their adversaries, all great leaders of the anti-colonial struggle. Of course, few were found to be ‘lucky’ enough that were promptly co-opted/appropriated by them, of course, in a sanitised form.
Thus Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who spent more than 11 years in British jail, and was a darling of the youth, and was chosen by Mahatma Gandhi as his successor, and without whose visionary role independence in India could never have been imagined, stands obfuscated and demonised.
Whereas the likes of Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar and Gandhi are being co-opted and attempts are on surreptitiously and not so surreptitiously to package and present them as icons of the Hindutva movement itself. As an aside, one needs to mention here that it has been years that Gandhi and Ambedkar have been included in their list of ‘Pratahsmarniy’ (worth remembering in the morning).
Interestingly, there is a dual move vis-a-vis Mahatma Gandhi, the ‘greatest Hindu of his times’ -- where one is witness to his ongoing stigmatisation, and simultaneous co-option/appropriation.
One can recall how it started with reduction of the Mahatma as an icon of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (October 2014) -- and brushing aside his legacy of anti-colonial struggle, or the way Khadi Village Industries Commission, without any qualms, substituted Gandhi’s photo with that of Narendra Modi, who, according to a senior Minister in Haryana’s cabinet, had become a greater brand of Khadi than Gandhi. Or Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, the first terrorist of independent India, being called a ‘patriot’ on the floor of the House, or his increasing glorification in the country and plans to establish temples to Godse in different parts of the country. The stigmatisation even went to the extent of his assasination being ‘re-enacted’ in Aligarh by activists of a fringe Hindutva formation etc.
The latest in series happens to be utterings of the ‘motor mouth’ senior MP of BJP, Ananth Hegde.
Speaking at a public event in Bengaluru, Hegde described the freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi as "drama" and said his "blood boiled" when he read history and "such people came to be called Mahatma".
Hegde,‘an admirer of Nathuram Godse’, even castigated the whole freedom movement and the freedom fighters, who had “asked the British how they should fight for freedom”. According to him the independence movement was “adjustment, understanding, 20-20 (cricket)”. “Those who never saw a lathi nor received a blow from a lathi are today described as freedom fighters in the pages of history,”
As expected, the outrageous statements made by Hegde, who was even a cabinet minister in the last Modi cabinet, received widespread condemnation. There were calls to take action against him. One also learnt that formally the BJP leadership was said to be uncomfortable with Hegde’s remarks, which has still failed to take any action against Pragya Thakur who had glorified Gandhi’s assassin many a time, and it has supposedly issued a notice to him to explain his remarks.
What is worth underlining is that despite the gravity of the remarks which can be construed as creating disaffection between communities, latest reports mention ‘no sedition case — the preferred weapon these days — had been slapped against Hegde’
Would it be correct to say that Hedge’s remarks were just a slip of the tongue or were deliberately made to provoke controversy to deflect attention from the government’s immediate troubles? Looking at his seniority in the party and his many outrageous statements earlier, which have even led to cases being filed against him earlier, it would be difficult to believe that they were inadvertent or so.
Remember, there is nothing surprising as far as statements by Hegde are concerned, which not only denigrate Mahatma Gandhi but also the great freedom struggle. They resonate with the essential concealed disdain towards the anti-colonial struggle of the Indian people which, according to them, brought to power ‘pseudo-seculars’ and their allies and did great harm to the cause of a Hindu nation. Instances galore show how its’ founders ridiculed the martyrs and made fun of people’s struggle.
This is Hedgewar, the founder member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Patriotism is not only going to prison. It is not correct to be carried away by such superficial patriotism.(CP Bhishikar, Sanghavariksh Ke Beej: Dr. Keshavrao Hedgewar, Suruchi, 1994, p. 21.
Here is a quote from Golwalkar, the second supremo of RSS about martyrs:
There is no doubt that such men who embrace martyrdom are great heroes and their philosophy too is pre-eminently manly. They are far above the average men who meekly submit to fate and remain in fear and inaction. All the same, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideal, and failure implies some fatal flaw in them. (M.S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, 1996, p. 283)
Third, any student of the independence struggle knows that it is a ‘weak point’ as far as Hindutva formations in general, or RSS in particular, are concerned. Much has been written on the fact that not only did RSS not participate in that struggle and focussed itself on ‘organising Hindus’, but that it even deterred its own activists from joining it.
Interestingly, there is a strong commonality between Hindu communalists as well as Muslim communalists. Neither the Hindu communalists, led by the likes of Savarkar and Golwalkar nor the Muslim communalists, led by the likes of Jinnah, participated in ‘Quit India’ movement. Their support to the British rule also becomes evident when one witnesses that it was the same period when Hindu Mahasabha was running coalition governments in Bengal and parts of today’s Pakistan with Muslim league.
Coming back to the denigration of Gandhi, a key question arises why the Sangh Parivar and its affiliated organisations cannot stop this double move vis-a-vis Gandhi, where they want to appropriate him, co-opt him as well as vilify/demonise him simultaneously.
One can recall an interesting analysis by an educator with background in positive psychology and psychometrics when Hindu Mahasabha activists were arrested along with their leader, Puja Shakuni Pandey, for enacting the scene of Gandhi’s assassination in front of cameras and sharing it online. The video of the said incident went viral where Puja Pandey, called ‘Lady Godse’ by her followers, was found shooting at Gandhi's effigy and celebrating his assassination.
Rohit Kumar had asked:
This is Hindutva’s heyday. The RSS reigns supreme. Gandhi has officially been co-opted and reduced to a pair of glasses and a broom, so why so much hatred for a man who is dead, and for all practical purposes gone from the body politic?
Or has he?
It looks like hate, but could it actually be fear?
Explaining the nuances of behavioural psychology which describe hatred and fear to be two sides of the same coin, he had further asked:
Could it be that the spirit of the Mahatma is alive and well, walking the streets and alleys of India? Satya and ahimsa, as we know, were the ‘weapons’ with which he waged his ‘war’. Is it possible that over the past five years, every time the Hindutva organisations and leaders have seen those two most powerful of all ‘weapons’ in action, they have also seen the spectre of Gandhi?
Looking back, one can see merit in his argument.
How does one explain the Modi-Shah regime, one which looked triumphant till just the other day, being put on the defensive suddenly? The victory of 2019 -- with more number of seats and an increased percentage of votes -- followed by the triumphalism associated with triple talaq move, followed by the overnight dissolution of a state from the map of India, throwing to the bins the agreement reached with the Kashmiri people decades ago and the Ayodhya judgement, everything looks remote now.
Why it is that millions of Indians -- young and old from different sections, regions and strata of society -- suddenly rose up to defend the Constitution, rejecting the anti-constitutional move to make religion a criteria of citizenship. Why it is that the Preamble of the Constitution, which was drafted when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister of India, a man which the saffrons have demonised umpteen times, could suddenly become a rallying point of this upsurge of the masses? Why is that Shaheen Bagh --the historic protest by women discriminated since centuries on the basis of religion and gender - has emerged as a new symbol of non-violent resistance, and is inspiring similar such protests the country over?
Subhash Gatade is an independent journalist. The views are personal.
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