Talking of a Mahatma: Gandhi remains at the centre of fire during India's 2019 elections

Decades after his assassination, Mahatma Gandhi's memory is under attack again. This time, by a candidate aspiring to be in India's Parliament, no less. Can there be a cause for greater shame?

 |  4-minute read |   18-05-2019
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Sadhvi Pragya said that “Nathuram Godse was a patriot”, sparking a row after which she had to apologise and the party asked her to explain her stand.

My question is — have we lived up to Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals today?

In 1986, I was all spruced up, in a dapper dark suit tailored by Jamshedpur’s finest scissor-hands. My heart pounding, I waited to be ushered in for my last round of interview with Grindlays Bank (an old British colossus), India’s most renowned foreign bank at the time. At the XLRI business school campus, this was among the most coveted jobs as Grindlays was known for providing luxurious fully furnished accommodation, foreign postings, comprehensive training and muscular compensation. I was understandably nervous — but fully prepared with boilerplate answers on the state of the economy, the importance of banking, the impact of customer service and priority sector lending compulsions on multinational banks.

The interview went fabulously well, but it was the last and final question that I was completely unprepared for.

“If you had a choice to have dinner with anyone you liked, living or dead, who would be your preferred guest ? ” I was asked by a poker-faced but searching countenance staring me directly in the eyes.

I must have blinked a few nanoseconds at most, but my reply was fairly instantaneous: “Mahatma Gandhi”.

I got the job.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse of the political organisation Hindu Maha Sabha on January 30, 1948, even as India was in its infant fifth month of freedom from the tyrannical British rule.

A heartbroken grieving nation went into solemn mourning. India without Gandhi seemed unimaginable. 

main_gandhi-and-gods_051819101903.jpgFor India, it was unimaginable to think of the nation without Gandhi after Nathuram Godse assassinated the Mahatma. (Source: India Today)

It was beyond the pale of one’s contemplation. He had been murdered by a right-wing fundamentalist in whose eyes the 79-year-old Gandhi was a traitor, and for whom his violent bloody end was a manifestation of majoritarian atonement. In one of life’s greatest ironies, Gandhi who championed non-violence even against his most inexorable foreign oppressors was to die at the hands of a fellow Indian in a brutal cold-blooded slaying.

“Hey Ram” were Gandhi’s last words.

Fast-forward 71 years and India looks an extraordinarily transmogrified country, almost like a parallel universe unforeseeable on August 15th 1947.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur said:

"Nathuram Godse was a patriot, is a patriot and will remain a patriot… those who call him a terrorist should look within… they will get a reply in this election."

An individual who could be in India’s sacrosanct Lok Sabha, the august pinnacle of political representation, was effectively giving the Father of the Nation the ignominious sobriquet of being an “anti-national”. Thakur justified Gandhi’s killing on that tragic day at Birla House, New Delhi. There are moments you hang your head in mind-boggling shame.

In this case, you wished this was just a fleeting terrible nightmare.

It was not.

Thakur herself is accused of masterminding a terror attack that killed six persons at Malegaon in Maharashtra in 2008.

Currently out on bail courtesy a phlegmatic prosecution, the BJP has lionised her as a Hindutva apostle.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent considerable time elaborating her apparent innocence, even as the Special Court hearing the case talked about “prima facie evidence” against her and lambasted the cursory investigations done by the central government controlled National Investigation Agency (NIA).

As a stunned nation heard Thakur’s palpable adulation of Godse, the BJP made a superficial attempt at pretending that her outrageous counterattack to actor Kamal Hasan’s views was her own. But India has seen this unctuous charade before when BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj said something similar and after the initial brouhaha nothing really happened.

In short, the animus towards Gandhi is not an abrupt electoral ploy; it is essentially a deeply ingrained ideological abomination of the principles of secularism, religious tolerance and inclusiveness that the Mahatma stood for. The Hindutva foot-soldiers get adrenalised by the invectives being poured at Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and him. Other BJP leaders joined the vituperative chorus and made pot-shots at Gandhi, one even caustically calling him the Father of Pakistan.

At the time of writing, Modi has condemned Thakur’s comments but this is political opportunism at its Amazonian heights; with the last round of voting due on May 19, 2019, Modi needed to douse the rising blowback at Thakur’s reprehensible mocking of the Mahatma. India is in a dangerous free fall if this is the pestilence of hatred it is confronted with.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may have inspired the world, but India itself has failed him.

Also read: Nathuram Godse was an assassin, not terrorist. Hindu terror is a fake monster

Writer

Sanjay Jha Sanjay Jha @jhasanjay

National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. Co-author, The Superstar Syndrome.

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