An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. That’s the core value of those against capital punishment in principle, not when it’s convenient. Seeking mercy petition for Yakub Memon, one of the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused, who had served a prison sentence for over two decades, was not a sign of deracinated uber-intellectualism for Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the vice-presidential candidate of the Opposition, but adhering to his own humanity to save others from the black hole of vengeance.
Along with a host of others, as well as advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover who famously made the Supreme Court’s door open at midnight, Gandhi made a last ditch attempt to save a man from the gallows, as anyone with a shred of soul in them would.
That display of kindness and forgiveness has now become the stick to beat his vice-presidential candidature with.
What started with a tasteless and intentionally rabble-rousing tweet from NDA’s Kerala chief Rajeev Chandrasekhar, also part owner of the Arnab Goswami-launched Republic TV, has now morphed into a full-scale game of uglification and character assassination of one of the leading lights of civil liberties, a most erudite and eclectic scholar of the human condition, an ace diplomat and the former governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Last but not the least, one who happens to be a very able grandson of the Father of the Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Filing a mercy petition for someone who was convicted for mass murder is a campaign theme to be Vice President ? ???????? pic.twitter.com/yTt09aidJD— Rajeev Chandrasekhar (@rajeev_mp) July 16, 2017
There’s of course the bitter irony in the fact that media houses genuflecting before the Sangh Parivar, and the RSS, a thrice-banned organisation that is now trying to reinvigorate the cult of Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, are asking Gopalkrishna Gandhi to prove his patriotism.
These are the same lot who ritually demonstrate their absolute blindness to the pain of the ordinary Indian people, torn apart by a number of extremely thoughtless decisions by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, while exploiting their anxieties to whip up national security paranoia and communal hysteria to the hilt.
These are the very media outlets which refused to acknowledge cow vigilantism as a social menace, and the lynchings in the name of the cow as akin to terrorism, but declare that PM Modi is the biggest enemy of the “self-proclaimed gau rakshaks” the moment the Prime Minister tweets or mentions platitudes to quell the pressure cooker situation on the ground.
These are the very media outlets that cannot take the government to task over its inability to handle China’s many overreaches in Sikkim and Bhutan over the Doklam tri-junction standoff, but add to the surround sound of “surgical strikes” and overplay India’s defence preparedness, and its willingness to go the offence way, now that defence spending is being notched up at the expense of other welfare infrastructure such as health, education and agriculture.
But, of course, it is not them but Gopalkrishna Gandhi, one of the most prominent faces of humanist liberalism and constitutional patriotism in the country, who must take the patriotism test, and also must inadvertently fail it. He must fail it so that the Sangh Parivar and its Hindutva-pandering ideological state apparatus in the supine TV media can claim a fake moral victory over Gandhi, because the vice-presidential candidate had bared his soul and sought clemency for a man on death row.
Wanting a man not to hang, it seems, is a bigger crime than egging on, overtly and covertly, lumpens and vigilantes who go on a rampage to cull members of the religious minority and the scheduled castes. Civility and vying for liberty is the enemy of the authoritarian state.
The NDA's choice for vice-president: Venkaiah Naidu.
The smear campaign against Gopalkrishna Gandhi has all the imprint of the Sangh machinery in action, because the very premise of the false narrative is a dead giveaway.
While resuscitating Godse, the Sangh has also tried to appropriate Gandhi while also denigrating him. The shifty narrative of the BJP leaders when it comes to Mahatma Gandhi and his killer is a bundle of contradiction, given they at once want to coopt Gandhi but also eschew his pacifism, they want to openly valourise Godse but also whitewash his violent contribution to history. Little wonder then that the Gandhi museum in Ahmedabad has no mention of Godse, or how Gandhi was assassinated. This is the museum that PM Modi inaugurated only last month.
The past is continuous and the Sangh intends to reinvent its scurrilous stint during the British era with a new martial twist and fake nationalist padding. Hence, it doesn’t want to remember the umpteen number of mercy petitions that its stalwarts, particularly Veer Savarkar, wrote to the British for themselves from the Cellular Jail in Andaman.
Though that is no offence at all, the current hounding of a public figure by the Sangh and its mass media minions because he sought clemency for a man on death row, sounds not only hollow but hypocritical, utterly tone-deaf to irony and the rumbles of history.
Nationalism and patriotism are adherence to a nation, a country, not its government which is elected to serve, not rule. The RSS took over five decades to hoist the tricolour it so ferociously dangles in all its political conversations now. So, questioning Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s constitutional patriotism is as idiotic and petty as showing light to the sun. No wonder the saner voices on Twitter revolted at the very ugliness of this allegation against him.
To those manufacturing controversy: Gopal Gandhi is a conscientious objector to death penalty, not a Yakub 'backer'. Big diff for god sake!— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) July 17, 2017
Ashamed this is not journalism. Opposing the death penalty is no crime. Do a "patriot pariksha" for Godse maybe? https://t.co/LvXnIAHfER— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) July 18, 2017
This little weasel asking Gopal Gandhi to pass a patriotism pariksha is like Baba Ramdev asking Einstein to pass a science test pic.twitter.com/nT5nf4vHcc— IndiaExplained (@IndiaExplained) July 18, 2017
Thy moved far away frm #Journalism long back. A well respected media Grp reduced to a propaganda mouthpiece! How sad fr them n fr d country!— Hemanth DP (@DPHemanth) July 18, 2017
Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s unflinching commitment to citizens' rights and the government’s duties, his intrepid criticism of the regime’s rightward tilt at the expense of public welfare, stirring of the communal pot in a rabid display of permanent electoral Darwinism, the constant attempts to keep the national temperature at the boiling point – all these and more make him a first among equals of stellar citizens.
The Opposition’s dilly-dallying allowed the BJP to field Ram Nath Kovind as the presidential candidate, a low-key Sangh apparatchik, who despite being a Dalit would only add to the ingrained tokenism in Indian political theatre. In contrast, Gopalkrishna Gandhi would have been an exemplar candidate, who could have shown what a president could be and could aspire for, and not just be a rubber-stamp head of state.
Even as the vice-presidential candidate, he is unlikely to win, given the numbers are definitely with the BJP’s V-P nominee Venkaiah Naidu. The face of Gopalkrishna Gandhi is therefore important in stitching together an alliance of the factious Opposition parties, for whom secularism and inclusive growth matter than being quarrelsome ostriches with their head in the sand as India is reverse-engineered into a Hindu Rashtra.
In his comment pieces, Gopalkrishna Gandhi has batted firmly in favour of the marginalised. At a time when even the centrist and saner TV channels hailed PM Modi’s “love fest” with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Gandhi was among a handful of observers who called out the airbrushing of Palestine and Israel’s vicious occupation of the former’s territories by the Indian government. The “new chapter” in India-Israel ties is about Hindutva meeting Zionism, and Gandhi wrote: “Justice to the world’s Jews is one thing, Zionism quite another”.
This was Gandhi calling out the ideological alliance between Hindutva and Zionism paraded as pragmatism in foreign policy corridors. Not only that, Gandhi has been vocal about the economic calamities brought about by the government’s neglect of the agricultural sector, disastrous diktats such as demonetisation and cattle trade restrictions, as well as the systematic decimation of the informal sector.
In addition, he has pointed out the differences between a well-worked upon speech such as President Pranab Mukherjee’s and a thoughtless one such as PM Modi’s, saying how the former builds upon criticism to reflect on it, while the latter’s knee-jerk dismissal of Amartya Sen’s assessment of demonetisation as the ineffectual rant of a “Harvard” guy, reeks of megalomania and a distrust of intellect.
Gandhi has also given his two bits on the arbitrariness with which the BJP-ruled Centre had been demanding President’s Rule in various states it is seeking to wrest control of from other parties, chiefly the Congress, but also the AIADMK, TMC, the Left, AAP, etc. In West Bengal, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, etc, the BJP-ruled Centre has asked for President’s Rule. Gandhi has written:
“With rare exceptions, the recommendation for President’s Rule arises not from the Governor’s independent assessment of the situation but from Delhi. That is where the President has room to impress upon the government of the day the need for the greatest circumspection… Governors are not exactly the most popular of public servants in India today. Nor are they spectacularly unpopular. The astringent truth - for the incumbents of that office - is that Governors do not figure in people’s thoughts. They are a presence that is absent in the public imagination.”
This is exactly why Gopalkrishna Gandhi is such an eyesore for the Sangh brigade and their media mouthpieces. Because it’s not his surname but his wisdom that is the true yardstick of constitutional patriotism, something the Hindutva-wadis don’t get and want to subvert with all their twisted might.
However, Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s moral stature is higher than the biggest billboard the Sangh puts up to resurrect its intellectually stunted leaders.