PRAKASH KARAT | Caravan Daily
HAD Gandhiji been alive today, he would have sat on an indefinite hunger strike against the mob lynchings of innocent people accused of cow slaughter. Because for him, even a single act of violence against an innocent man was an anathema.
As we observe the 150th birth anniversary of the ‘Mahatma’, it is necessary to recall why he became a great soul for the crores of Indians and for many people around the world.
Gandhiji was truly a world historical figure of the twentieth century. He led the world’s biggest mass movement for freedom in India, which itself was the second biggest populous country in the world.
Gandhiji, as EMS Namboodiripad, observed had socially conservative views, but the language and idiom he used to communicate with the people succeeded in rousing the vast masses of the peasantry into action. It was Gandhiji who after his return from a long sojourn in South Africa, transformed the middle class oriented Congress into a mass movement.
In doing so, Gandhiji imparted his unique ideas, outlook and techniques of protest to the national movement. His “satyagraha” and non-violent civil disobedience, which he had pioneered in South Africa, became a phenomenon and style of protest, typical of the national movement for independence.
Gandhiji had a secular vision of the future, independent India. He thought Hindu-Muslim unity should be the bedrock of the freedom struggle. He maintained that “Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan.” That is why he took up the Khilafat movement in 1920 as part of the non-cooperation movement. Though the limitation of bringing unity on an archaic religious issue became manifest, it nevertheless made clear Gandhi’s stand on Hindu -Muslim unity.
Gandhiji was consistent in his stand that all religions be equally respected and all religious communities be treated in the same way. He also spoke about the need for a secular state in India and was of the view that religion and State should be separate. Significantly, he was against the proposed state funding for the renovation of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat.
Gandhiji was also a leader who understood the vast diversity and social complexity of India. It was he who first proposed the formation of the of the pradesh committees on linguistic lines. Accordingly, the AICC in 1920, set up the Congress committees on a linguistic basis. He traversed the length and breadth of India in his fight for his various causes – the peasant struggle of Champaran, the temple entry at Vaikom, the salt satyagraha at Dandi or the civil disobedience movement in Lucknow. He was truly the first pan-Indian leader of the massses.
The Left in the Congress, which emerged in the mid-1930s and later the Communist Party had criticism of Gandhism. Gandhiji’s technique of mass movement was designed to limit it and ensure that it would not lead to revolutionary action by the masses. Similarly, while championing the plight of the peasantry, Gandhiji was not against landlordism as such. Though he fought against untouchability all his life, he accepted the varnashrama dharma.
In all this, the Left had a radical critique of Gandhism. But the Left, at the same time, acknowledged his stature as the unparalleled leader of the national movement and appreciated his idealism, patriotism and courage.
Nowhere was this courageous role more visible than in the last phase of Gandhiji’s life. From 1946, as independence and partition of the country loomed ahead, Gandhiji was a lonely and disillusioned man.
As communal violence erupted in different parts of the country, particularly in North India, Gandhiji bemoaned the partition and the destruction of Hindu-Muslim Unity.
He refused to participate in the Independence Day celebrations. He was instead in Kolkata trying to douse the fires of communal violence. He spent 14th August night at a Muslim house “Hydari Manzil” in Beliaghata, a predominantly Hindu area. By his presence, he persuaded the local youth to stop attacking Muslims.
Before that, for three months, he had gone to Noakhali, which later went to East Pakistan. There he fasted against the violence against the Hindus by the majority Muslim population and went by foot from village to village to appeal for peace and communal amity. He was attacked by the communal Muslim leaders of being a Hindu leader.
After Kolkata, he returned to Delhi when reports of killing of Muslims and tensions in the capital disturbed him seriously.
It was there in Birla house, that he undertook his last fast on January 12, 1948 demanding that communal amity prevail and the Indian government give Pakistan Rs 55 crore of the Sterling Pound balance due to it. The cabinet had decided to withhold the payment citing the conflict in Kashmir as the reason. During the fast, people responded and both Hindus and Muslims sought to assure him that they would cease violence. The government released the money to Pakistan too.
It is for this “pro-Muslim” and ‘pro-Pakistan’ stand that Nathuram Godse and other Hindutva workers hatched a conspiracy to kill Gandhiji and his assassination took place.
It was in this last phase of his life, that the nobility, grandeur and tragedy of his life came to the fore. He truly transcended all the contradictions and complexities that he had faced in his epic life and emerged as a great moral leader.
Today, as we observe the 150th birth anniversary of this remarkable leader, the assassins of Gandhiji and the ideology they followed -Hindutva – are seeking to appropriate him.
While putting Gandhi on a pedestal, the BJP-RSS does so after stripping Gandhi off all the secular-democratic values that he possessed. But even while putting Gandhiji among its pantheon of leaders, their hatred for what Gandhiji stood for can barely be concealed.
The RSS shares the same Hindutva ideology as V D Savarkar. Savarkar was one of the conspirators in the Gandhi assassination, but was let off in the trial by the court, on technical grounds, as the evidence against him could not be independently corroborated.
Periodically, RSS and Hindutva leaders have made their views about Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, clear. Even as recently as May 2019, in the space of ten days, three BJP leaders made statements praising Godse or justifying his action. Pragya Thakur, then BJP candidate from Bhopal called Godse a “patriot”. Anand Kumar Hegde, former Union Minister, tweeted justifying Godse’s action. Nalin Kumar Kateel, BJP MP from Dakshin Kannada tweeted: “Godse killed one, Kasab killed 74, Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. You judge who is more cruel in this”.
Embarrassed by these remarks during election time, BJP president, Amit Shah, disowned these statements and said they are not the BJP’s views. He also said: “BJP has taken these statements seriously and sent their statements to the disciplinary committee.”
But no action was taken. On the contrary, Nalin Kumar Kateel has been promoted and made the Karnataka state president of the BJP in August exposing the hypocrisy of the BJP leadership.
So, the efforts by the RSS and the BJP government to appropriate Gandhiji and disembowel his inherently secular outlook by incorporating his religious world-view within the ambit of Hindutva is a diabolic move. These were the forces who stayed away from the freedom struggle led by Gandhiji and reviled him for being pro-Muslim.
Not only Gandhiji, but the legacy of the glorious national movement for independence and the values it stood for needs to be protected and carried forward. This can only be done by resolutely combating the RSS-BJP ideology and politics.
Prakash Karat is a former General Secretary of CPI(M)