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June 16, 2017



Why Hindutva hates Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may have been born into the bania caste – whose vocation has remained trade and money-lending in India’s rigid caste pyramid. However, few in a country where people’s birth still very much defines their social station – and, in many cases, their calling – regard Gandhi as a mahajan or bania.


‘Most of the post-Independence generations of Indians, who were born long after Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of a Hindu fanatic, grew up knowing him as the ‘Mahatma’ and the Father of the Nation. Despite his humble appearance, Gandhi has always been a powerful, unifying figure for the Indians – over and above petty, sectarian politics.

Eminent historian Ramachandra Guha writes of an interesting incident in March 1922, when Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition: “When he was produced in court, the magistrate, after the law then prevalent, asked the prisoner to identify himself by caste or profession. Gandhi answered that he was ‘a farmer and weaver’. The magistrate was startled; so, he asked the question again, to get the same answer”.

Gandhi himself struggled all his life to transcend these distinctions and spoke for all Indians – especially for the Hindu-Muslim unity. He used his charkha to spin coarse khadi and experimented with crops and livestock rearing at his Sabarmati Ashram. No wonder he claimed to be a farmer and weaver, not a bania. So why is the BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who is himself a Gujarati – trying hard to portray Gandhi as one?

Dreaming once again of a ‘Congress-free India’, BJP President Amit Shah recently called Gandhi a ‘bauhat chatur bania’ (exceedingly cunning merchant) and suggested that the Mahatma wanted the grand old party wound up after Independence. Not surprisingly, the ‘bania’ barb has sparked a political storm and war of words between the BJP and Congress.

But this whole business has nothing to do either with Gandhi or the Congress that he once commanded and transformed from a staid colonial club to a vibrant national movement for freedom.

By targeting the Mahatma and the opposition, the BJP is clearly testing the national mood. For perhaps no one represents the idea of an inclusive and multicultural India as Gandhi does. The BJP must first attack and defeat this powerful symbol and mascot of an inclusive nation if it wants to win its ongoing war on the Idea of India.

By targeting Gandhi, it hopes to further demoralise and marginalise the Congress and is also looking to replace the nation’s revered, legitimate pantheon of icons with its own gallery of rogues.

It is a sign of the changing times that 70 years after Gandhi’s death, not only is his colossal contribution to India’s Independence under attack, but his assassins are also quietly replacing him in the national narrative and government textbooks as ‘heroes’ and leaders of the freedom struggle.

This is precisely what has happened in BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan. Following the recent, rigorous rewriting of history under the Parivar, V D Savarkar, the father of the Hindutva dogma, has replaced Gandhi as the leader of the national struggle in government textbooks.

As the Indian media reported this week, the diminutive man who brought a disparate nation together and shook the empire with his non-violent defiance, finds only a passing reference in textbooks under the BJP government.

Ironically, Savarkar – lionised by Hindutva as ‘Swatantryaveer’ (hero of the freedom struggle) – abjectly surrendered to the British after being incarcerated at Andaman’s infamous cellular jail. In contrast with patriots like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Ashfaqullah Khan, who refused to ask the British for mercy and embraced martyrdom, Savarkar begged for clemency. His pathetic letter – dated November 14, 1913 – features in the Penal Settlement in Andaman, published by the Ministry of Education.

Referring to his earlier clemency request, Savarkar wrote that: “If the (British) government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s subjects in India. If we are released, the people will raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge”.

Savarkar went on to add that: “My conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like”.

Savarkar is not just known for his ‘heroic’ history in the Andaman jail. He is also the key figure in the Hindutva plot to assassinate Gandhi in 1948 in Delhi. Nathuram Godse – who was eventually hanged for firing bullets at the Mahatma as he headed for his evening prayers – and three other associates were senior members of the Hindu Mahasabha led by Savarkar. The RSS, founded by a former Congressman and Savarkar’s follower K B Hedgewar in 1925, is its latter avatar.

Indeed, Savarkar not only was the brain behind the plot to kill Gandhi, but was also one of the main accused. He managed to escape the conviction by a whisker owing to the lack of corroborative evidence and also because of Patel – the first home minister who was known for his soft corner for Hindutva.

And now Gandhi, who offered his life for the nation, is being replaced by his assassins as the national icons. This is all the more absurd considering the Hindutva warriors entirely sat out the freedom struggle and, in many cases, acted as the collaborators of the Raj.

It’s not just Gandhi. Nehru, the country’s first prime minister – who was truly the architect of modern India – has forever been the target of Hindutva’s slanderous campaign.

This rewriting and revision of history is not limited to the Congress and national icons. It also acquires toxic, positively vicious overtones in dealing with the historical Muslim presence in India. True to the Sangh’s beliefs, Narendra Modi had talked of ending “1,200 years of slave mentality” in his speech in parliament soon after he was elected.

This is what the BJP has been doing by elaborately and aggressively rewriting history, portraying the 1,000-year long Muslim rule as nothing but the ruthless tyranny and oppression of Hindus by ‘foreign invaders’.

Who cares if this retelling of history is not rooted in reality? Who gives a damn if this dangerous distortion of the past by painting the 200-million strong Muslim minority as the enemy and the source of all evil, is wreaking havoc on the country’s peace and harmony?

Already, the attacks on Muslims and other minorities under the BJP have become so commonplace that no one even takes notice of them. It’s not enough for the party that it has come to power using hate and strife. It must also continually stir the pot until the country blows up into some kind of civil war.

As thespian Naseeruddin Shah lamented last week, the demonisation and open hatred against Muslims seen today is unprecedented. We have never experienced anything like this before.

Where will all this end? What kind of India are we leaving for our children? These are questions that all Indians who love and care for their country must ask themselves.

In the words of Guha, “dividing Indians into Hindus and Muslims is how the BJP seeks to win elections and remain in power”.

While the BJP wins these electoral battles, it is India that stands to lose.

The writer is an award-winning journalist.

Email: [email protected]