This column is being filed on Gandhi Jayanti. Eminent historian and college senior, Shahid Amin, has always maintained that more than Gandhi's birth anniversary, we should observe his death anniversary. There is a point in this: after all, we have a Tees January Marg in New Delhi but no 'Do October Marg'. It is Gandhi's life, work and his idea of India that need to be strengthened and celebrated.
The launch of the Rajya Sabha TV began with a discussion at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the relevance of Gandhi on his 142nd birthday. By the time my turn came, my co-panelists had already touched on various topics - the current poverty estimates of the Planning Commission, the fasts of Anna Hazare and Narendra Modi, the relevance of Buddha, BR Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and the role of the NGO movements - in the discussion on Gandhi's relevance.
The people who led the heroic struggle in South Africa often remind us that while we sent MK Gandhi to their country, they returned the Mahatma to us. This transition in Gandhi's own life and work is one of eternal relevance. After he returned to India, he refused to participate in the Home Rule movement since he was opposed to any agitation against the British. He travelled around the country "as an observer and a student" and in the process of learning about India and its people, he emerged as the greatest mass leader in the country's struggle for freedom. Till date, his capacity to rouse the masses remains unmatched.
What also remains unmatched was his capacity to control the dynamics of popular upsurge when he felt that it was assuming a revolutionary character. The first time that the Mahatma employed fast as a weapon was in 1918 to control the militancy of the Ahmedabad working class. His withdrawal of the civil disobedience movement after the popular upsurge at Chauri Chaura paralysed the freedom struggle for the next five years. It was not only the Communists, but Jawaharlal Nehru and many leading lights of the Congress were similarly opposed to such decisions of Gandhi. Nehru wrote: "We in prison learnt, to our amazement and consternation, that Gandhiji had stopped the aggressive aspects of our struggle, that he had suspended civil resistance."
This led, on the one hand, to the rise in communal riots and on the other, the unleashing of vicious repression against the Communists through the 1924 Kanpur, 1929 Meerut and other conspiracy cases. It was this disenchantment that transformed many Congress leaders into Communists and led to the establishment of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army in 1928 by Bhagat Singh. In response to a question from a JNU student, I replied that I would never forgive Gandhi for not taking up the case of Bhagat Singh with the British. The case against Bhagat Singh was much weaker than that against VD Savarkar in the assassination of Gandhi case. The latter was let off. Singh would have never accepted any reprieve or clemency and that is why he remains our eternal hero.
Gandhi also opposed a resolution - moved on behalf of the Communist Party of India by Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Swami Kumar Anand at the Ahmedabad session of the All India Congress Committee - seeking Poorna Swaraj. The Congress finally adopted the resolution for complete independence at the Lahore session in 1930.
Gandhi's capacity to rouse the people into action was matched by his uncanny capacity to identify issues like salt and Dandi march. This along with his capacity to control mass militancy made him acceptable both to the exploiting and the exploited classes. Living in the house of one of India's biggest capitalists, he could rouse the exploited masses into action.
Ably assisted by other visionaries, Gandhi led the freedom struggle for a modern Indian secular democratic Republic. He was assassinated for both articulating and leading the people for the realisation of such an India.
With his assassination, a new phase of the struggle began: how to safeguard this vision of modern India from the onslaughts of the communal forces who continue to nurture the ambition of transforming the secular democratic Republic into a rabidly intolerant fascistic RSS vision of a 'Hindu Rashtra'.
Nothing else could have captured this threat more eloquently than the images of Modi garlanding Gandhi's statue. The metamorphosis of Gandhi's Gujarat and Ahmedabad into that of Modi's defines the contours of the struggle to safeguard and strengthen the vision of modern India.
This is reflected in the arrest of Gujarat IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, by the Modi government for having submitted an affidavit to the court that had "important documentary evidence" on the role of certain highly placed functionaries/politicians/police officers of Gujarat in the 2002 communal pogrom.
Gandhi's assassination was aimed at eliminating his vision of modern India, denying the people their constitutional freedoms and rights and subverting the very foundations of our secular democracy. This effort has not been allowed to succeed so far. Appropriate observations of Gandhi's assassination, apart from his birth, his capacity to continuously learn in the interest of improving the lot of the common Indians, the highest standards of morality and probity in public life and the spiritually elevated methods of struggle, notwithstanding all the differences discussed above must define the contours of the people's struggle for strengthening modern India.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.)