Mahatma Gandhi’s Progeny – By Farzana Versey

“Let the minorities understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority”. (Words of wisdom at the recently-concluded RSS executive council meeting)

Haven’t we had enough of this goodwill baloney? Who in friggin hell do they think they are? The prime minister of India can declare that he would prefer to die rather than have the VHP utter his name while going on a rampage in the Orissa Assembly, but he has no problems sending a party man to consecrate a piece of stone at Ayodhya despite Supreme Court orders to the contrary and after the recent bloodshed that took place. Anyone else would have resigned. Banned those parties. But political incest brooks no such logic. And the outside forces today are seen as those who are inside. Let us not fool ourselves. The battle-lines have already been drawn if only we care to look beyond the smokescreen.

The saffron brigade is emulating Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s patronising attitude towards the minorities and the lower castes. The fact that these segments still have little power after 54 years of Independence shows that he was a failure. Not because he was a peacenik but because he legitimised the Hindutva agenda. As Albert Camus said, œAll modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the state.

And Gandhi was well aware of this. He talked about swadeshi and traditionalism; we are gasping for breath in a global village. He talked of Ram Rajya, which is what is sought to be ushered in. When he used non-violence as a œweapon there was a method in the madness. It was a gimmick, for the freedom struggle was most certainly not bloodless. An ideal state in hollow times is like a pitcher of water in an empty well. It can satisfy only one person’s thirst. So Gandhism probably did the Mahatma a world of good.

Gandhi as half-naked fakir is just what the Hindutva parties would need to market themselves. If only the Congress had not claimed copyright over him¦.if only one of their men had not assassinated him¦if only he had not become an international hero for the wrong reasons¦

But they need not worry. Deep down he can still be their icon. They have mastered his sulking technique. His fasts achieved nothing except more murder and mayhem. So a mahant in the 21st century can try to emotionally blackmail the government threatening to take his life if his wishes, instead of those of the judiciary in a democracy, are not fulfilled. Ashok Singhal uses the same strategy of an indefinite hunger strike (lasting two days!) demanding security for Ram sevaks in Ayodhya. A bunch of goons, who had recently gone on a killing spree, are sought to be given security. Can’t they protect themselves? If Lord Ram is coming in their dreams, surely he might be of some help?

And will they listen to the voice of reason? No. But neither did Gandhi. When there was talk of an honourable settlement between the Hindus and Muslims almost a decade before Partition, he had stated, œI wish I could do something but I am utterly helpless. My faith in unity is as bright as ever; only I see no daylight but impenetrable darkness and in such distress I cry out to god for light.

No wonder the international community loves him. He was snake charmer, sadhu, and magician “ everything that they were looking for by way of Oriental exotica. I have heard people say they do not mind Gandhi’s Ram Rajya but not the one of the saffron parties. What is the difference? His grandson Rajmohan Gandhi in Eight Lives: A study of the Hindu-Muslim encounter’ has quoted the Mahatma as saying, œMy own experience but confirms the opinion that the Mussalman as a rule is a bully, and the Hindu a coward.

One of the reasons the Mahatma is coming under closer examination is not because it sounds sensational but because he let us down. We cannot ignore this. Some years ago I had reported from Bhangi Colony (yes, it is still called that and the tokenism of the word harijan’ has remained just that) and a resident had said, Everyone goes on about Bapu, Bapu, wearing Gandhi caps. They say, wear khadi. Do you know how expensive khadi is? As Sarojini Naidu once said, it is very expensive to keep Bapu in poverty.

But the idol had to be propped up. And he was smart enough to write a frank’ account of his flaws in My Experiments with Truth’ before anyone else showed him his feet of clay. As someone has rightly said, sacrificers are not the ones to be pitied; our sympathies must be with those who they sacrifice.

If Gandhi has been deified, then so has his assassin, Nathuram Godse. Today we have a handful of people celebrating the man, reading out his will at memorial services, and a full-fledged fan club that was orchestrated by his brother.

This gives it an underground operation legitimacy, somewhat like what happened during the freedom struggle. What we ought to know is whether Godse was possessed of a desire to further a cause, wreak vengeance or merely ensure his 15 minutes of fame.

He is extremely important to modern-day politics simply because he exposes the underworld face of it. He was poised between two aspects of it “ the lowly hitman and the ideologue dada. His initiation into the major league depended entirely on how big his target was. If his anger was against the appeasement of a community, then why did he not merely kill a few Muslims? Because that would have not made him a loyal soldier, a man who would do or die.

Just look at how the RSS and its acolytes operate and see how they are like underworld/terrorist outfits. There are the compulsory disciplinary drills, the initiation ceremony where you have to prove your loyalty and capability, the strict hierarchy, blind belief in an ideology based necessarily on the theory that you are being wronged by the System, and the submergence of the individual self, a very Gandhian trait.

Something that, ironically, L.K.Advani seemingly possesses too. Why does he avoid the spotlight? Is it only political expediency that makes him promote a Vajpayee? No. By coming across as the kingmaker, he can be seen as the Ram who took to banwaas’ with an Ayodhya awaiting him forever. That is the strategy — to make the country breathlessly anticipate the great saviour, and teasers about his hard line against the soft one of Vajpayee are sent out to titillate the cadres. One can almost hear the stentorian reprimand. The whispering gallery. And then the denouement by the avuncular patriarch “ we are all one.

There are very many reasons provided for his reluctance to take to centre-stage. One of them is his undoubted insecurity. He cannot take the responsibility for crucial decisions. He resigned after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. And he wasn’t merely being honorable; he was afraid.

And while he is in this survivor-in-the-forest mode, the people go through an agni pariksha’. Yes, the country is his Sita, the one he stands by but who will be put through a test to prove his point. L.K. Advani is a trustworthy man because there is a whole machinery that helps others keep the faith. So, he may go to bless a niece marrying a Muslim and get by with a few half-truths; his daughter-in-law may file a case against him saying that he was threatening her with dire consequences if she did not agree to divorce her husband and he can stay out of the rubble. He has his sidekicks, but they are called loyal soldiers of the party. He promotes certain favoured people and instead of a coterie it is seen as a cohesive unit. And that is the point: he can do anything and yet he will be called upright, uncompromising, unspoilt. In some ways he is; if you don’t plant trees you don’t get mud on your hands.

He has no charisma, therefore he would make for a very unlikely Gandhi, but look closely and there is the familiar austerity camouflaging a smooth shrewdness. He would not need a PR guy to point out his USP, for his presence is enough to convey what he stands for.

Like Gandhi, he is the statesman without a state. Today, the man who represents all that India is supposed to want is perhaps more rootless than many. From Karachi to kar seva’ has been a long journey. Which is why he clings to his RSS/Jana Sangh background; it makes him feel a part of the action. In some ways he is like a new convert “ he tries too hard. And that effort comes across as sincerity which, as Oscar Wilde said, is the greatest vice of the fanatic.

Identity gets based entirely on how others view you. It is a ghettoisation of collective souls, and only one will be picked by destiny to seal a deal or somebody’s fate.

This is why I feel Godse was a mere pawn. He did not constitute a think tank; he used gut sense. He was paranoid; he had to ensure that his lowly status would not impede his path to glory. Godse rode on the back of a cultural regression, mimicking a renaissance to become a figure in national politics.

Assassins and icons become heroes because they have simulated the System. The anathema and anachronism get transformed into Authority. The lines are bound to get blurred. For instance, Gandhi had admitted to making love to his wife while his father was dying in another room; Godse visited a brothel before he killed the Mahatma. And Gandhi’s call to Ram as his last words have become the Hindutva coinage. And they are done in the name of the people. As Don Marquis said, œPity the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Such voices ought to be heard not as an expression of freedom but of bondage. We are only as free as our chains let us be.

Published with special thanks to Farzana Versey for the contribution. 

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