Invoking Gandhi, the icon; Ignoring Gandhi, the idea
Gandhi, the man, must have been fascinating. Gandhi, the idea, even more so.Updated: Oct 02, 2019 23:38 IST
Mani Bhavan on the quiet and leafy Laburnum Road in Gamdevi was home and headquarters to Mahatma Gandhi for nearly two decades during his political years in Bombay. In fact, the young Gandhi’s sojourn had begun from Bombay in 1888, when he had sailed for England to study Law; he had returned to the city to work in the Bombay high court, made friends with the likes of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, business families like the Roychands, Morarjees, and brothers Pranjivan and Revashankar Mehta. The latter’s two-storied house was Mani Bhavan.
Parts of the home, including Gandhi’s room on the first floor, have been preserved in their original condition. On the ground floor, amongst various memorabilia and the office of Gandhi Sanghralaya, are a vast collection of books and stamps.
These stamps have been issued in his honour – 48 countries had done so by 1969, now the collection has swelled to more than 100. Mani Bhavan sees a high footfall with nearly six lakh visitors every year, half of them foreigners but, importantly, the other half Indian. This, then, is his enduring appeal.
There was Gandhi, the man. There is Gandhi, the idea and the principle. On his 150th birth anniversary, 71years after he was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu, the Mahatma is still being remembered, revered, debated, analysed, critiqued, and rendered relevant. Biographers have not yet finished their work. His own writings are being studied. His methods and concepts of resistance and revolution, his ideas on caste and casteist practices, his mistakes, contradictions, and strange habits are being scrutinised, celebrated or reviewed. Gandhi, the man, must have been fascinating. Gandhi, the idea, even more so.
The Congress he led fails to find inspiration in his ideas. But his ideological opponents and the hate-driven ideology which inspired Nathuram Godse to pump three bullets into Gandhi have come around to extolling his virtues, and are a step away from opportunistically claiming him as one of their own.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Dr Mohan Bhagwat wrote on Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary: “It was his dream…that public life should be based on truth, non-violence, self-reliance, and real freedom.” Can we hold the RSS and its political progeny to these Gandhian values?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, hailing Gandhi’s influence on the world: “In Gandhi, we have the best teacher to guide us.” On his multiple trips abroad, the Prime Minister invokes Gandhi, the icon. He does not invoke the memory and oh-so-brave anti-British actions of his ideological forefathers in RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. This says more than the Prime Minister’s words. Back home, his government has reduced Gandhi to a sanitation icon and twisted the meaning of satyagraha, but that political correctness makes India’s current Prime Minister, a man who by training and values is non-Gandhian, claim Gandhi’s legacy is testimony to the Mahatma’s relevance.
Is Gandhi, as the sociologist Ashis Nandy once wondered, “a projective text, something like a Rorschach where we read into him what we want to read and where others have a right to read into him what they feel”? Perhaps, yes. The current political power structures, willingly or otherwise, read what they believe will work in today’s marketplace, re-interpret Gandhi through their lens. Gandhi, the man and the idea, allow this but what jars is the suggestion that Gandhi found affinity towards or approved the RSS worldview. He did not.
Gandhi’s Hinduism was tolerant, inclusive, reflective, non-injurious to others, laid emphasis on equality, moral courage, non-violence and the power of truth. The RSS/BJP’s Hindutva is its opposite. Their idea of Hindu supremacy and subjugation of minorities would have nauseated Gandhi. Their elected representatives eulogising Godse would have amused him.
He would have been appalled at the lockdown and the torture of citizens in Kashmir, aghast at the turn of events with the National Register of Citizens. He would have recoiled at India’s home minister’s statement pointedly excluding Muslim refugees from citizenship. When asked if he was a Hindu, Gandhi had replied: “Yes, I am. I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.”
The men in power invoke Gandhi, the man, and entirely miss Gandhi, the idea. In cherry-picking Gandhi’s lines, they overlook one of his most powerful talismans: “…through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.”