Today is Gandhi Jayanti. If he were alive he would have been 149 year. Official celebrations are there. Narendra Modi is on an overdrive to ‘prove’ that he ‘inherit’ the legacy of Gandhi. His ‘swachchbharat’ campaign is nothing but an attempt to deviate from the real issues of the nation.
Gandhi has devotees and detractors both. Many people love his ‘spiritualism’ but in the Congress party those days many did not agree with his ‘spiritualism’ yet remained with him because his political battle. The fact is that even if we disagree with many of his views and I have critiqued him well in my articles and in my book recently published named as ‘ Rise and Role of the marginalised in India’s freedom movement’, Gandhi remain the person who influenced our political destiny in the 20th century. He was the person around whom the India’s political struggle revolved around during British Raj.
The crisis in India is making the icons as gods and put them above pedestal so that non can criticise them. It is not merely with Gandhi but others too. India today is a country of ‘camp’ followers who can be ‘rational’ about ‘others’ but mindlessly follow his ‘own’. We do not question our own because we feel that they are completely perfect. All the political leaders or human beings have negative sides too and they must be critiqued too where they fail. The attempt to make a super hero is a dangerous thing which disallow people to learn from the mistake.
Gandhi was the ‘first’ brand that the capitalist world created. In a democratic society you dont need these branding but when we inherit imported democracies, these brand are used to promote the political interest of the power elite. Branding is done carefully and the biggest casualty of branding is historical facts. Once a person become a brand, you can not discuss his failures or darker sides. That happened with Gandhi. State promoted him at the cost of others as if the freedom movement remained confined to him. Historian became his devotees who were not writing history text but ‘puranas’ and ‘mythologies’ and the result is that our children still feel ‘ de di hame aazadi bina khadag bina dhaal, sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal’. These are simple generalisation and over glorification of the person who was definitely the leader of our political movement.
Gandhi gave us political tool to fight against the might. One must learn from his skills of moblisation. You may differ with him but he had the capacity to bring together the huge number of political leaders from diverse cultural background. Congress became a movement when he said that it is not merely political battle but focus on villages including the issue of untouchability as well as those of the peasants. Before him Congress party was a Hindu upper caste party but to Gandhi’s credit, he ensure the representation of Muslims in it.
Gandhi knew the impact of symbolism. He knew that India’s masses would love an image of a saint or a sanyasi. He used the religious symbols. It was dangerous too and damaged us more than helping us but then for the short term gains of popularising mass movement he used everything. More than him, his devotees too made him a ‘miracle’ man. People used to do miracles in the name of Gandhi. The huge number of people that used to throng at Gandhi’s meeting were not necessarily politically enlightened people but came to see him as a miracle person as well as a messiah of the Hindustan. A person in the saffron robe even today is respected in our villages so you can imagine those years when literacy was virtually below 50& and poverty was rampant.
Gandhi emphasised his mission on two points. One, communal harmony and the other eradication of untouchability but he failed on both as he was looking for simpler solutions of these issues. The issues emerge from our prejudices and cannot be resolved through politically one upmanship of patronising approach or a photo-op. For untouchability he said that it was the ‘biggest’ sin of Hinduism but unable to respond how will it go. Will it go simply by a call ur a will it go with other means. He felt that Hinduism was great. Untouchability is sin but caste system is wonderful. How is it possible if caste system which is the root of untouchability, could be considered as wonderful. Unlike Dr Ambedkar, who wanted to challenge to power of religious text and their sanctity Gandhi silenced Ambedkar by saying that those who do not believe in the sanctity of Shastras can leave Hinduism and he would have no issue of their conversion to other religion.
Frankly speaking, Gandhi was a conservative do gooder. He grew up in Gujarat and saw the surroundings. He was definitely not a ‘philosopher’ who could challenge primitive cultural values. He was a political leaders who used different methods to engage people. These methods were over simplified by his bhakts but nevertheless, I would say, Gandhi was honest in many things. He did not hide things unlike our politicians and intellectuals today. He never hid his religiosity as he believed in them.
One of the worst decision of Gandhi was his behaviour towards Ambedkar during the round table conference. Gandhi was arrogantly humble when he denied Ambedkar even as a right to claim the leader of the Untouchables. Gandhi wanted to claim all the rights for him in terms of representation. We do understand that he wanted untouchables to remain the part of Hinduism and was doing his duty as a humble Hindu. Nothing wrong but to deny a great intellectual belonging to the community, who suffered the pain it, a right to speak for vast untouchable community, was Gandhi’s biggest blunder.
His second blunder was inability to accept his defeat at the Round Table Conference that gave Untouchables rights for separate settlement under the Communal Award in 1932. Gandhi Fasted against it in Pune and compelled Ambedkar for a compromise which was the the reason for political reservation.
Gandhi today is not alive because what he wrote or did. He is alive because he created a mass movement all over the country. As I said there were number of Gandhians, and others who got associated with him. He guided them in doing vocational work, engagement with the community. Perhaps, that was his biggest power. His second biggest power was creation of a responsible and accountable leadership. The congress leaders might have their own religious and caste prejudices but they were broadly honest.
Gandhi’s historical hour was that in Noakhali during the beginning of our freedom when the nation saw huge communal carnage, people killing each others. When the political class was engaged and sitting in Delhi, he walked in the street of the city of Noakhali and called for peace and togetherness.
Gandhi’s was killed by hatemongers. All those who are enjoying power in his name. Remember, despite hatred, it was not Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis, Muslims who killed him but a brahmin Nathuram Godse. It is these hatemongers who celebrate Gandhi’s killing because he talked of peace and harmony which was the biggest threat to those who harvest their crop of hatred.
Remember Gandhi for his power in bringing people together. His strength in speaking the truth. His strength in not hiding his religiosity and yet talking about equal rights for all. His strength in mass moblisation and creating institutions. Mass movement as a biggest political movement is Gandhi’s power. And yet, dont make him God or a superhero. Learn from his failures too. Learning from failures provide us power and strength. Gandhi’s failure of not able to take the challenge of religious orthodoxy is costing the nation today.
The two issues he devoted his life are threatening us even today. Caste system is increasing and strengthening. He believed that the Savarnas should take care of the untouchables but the savarnas have shown that they wont change. They will continue to nurture their hatred and contempt against the Dalits. So, Gandhi definitely failed. He was trying to find solution of the untouchability from religion which actually created it. Without challenging the brahmanical institutions you can not bring any changes in India’s social system. Gandhi was a great man, an apostle of peace but he remained meek to brahmanical domination which is costing heavily to India, even today.
The communal hatred against which he fought lifelong is now spread all over like a virus. We failed to handle it because on both the side, Gandhi promoted religious leadership, wanted them to sit together. Secularism became Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaai sitting together. All men who never wanted to challenge the authority of their ‘religions’. All men who were happy with their ‘personal laws’. All men who were not keen on independent voices of women. All men who were not keen on caste questions inside their religions. And the result is that this sarv-dharma secularism has become the biggest threat in our attempt to create a united India.
India is at the cross road. It can not be at one man’s idea. It has to be a collective consciousness. It must learn from all. It need a constitutional morality today. This is the only way out. Let religion be just a personal affair. Let us not learn our moralities from religion. Gandhi actually addressed that constituency of people, which is huge in India who take guidance from religious leaders. Even today, Deras, Babas, Gurus are guiding our political parties. Will we challenge them. I am sure, Gandhi would not have done so but his inability to challenge religious wrongs is costing us today.
Gandhi will be live in India. Both for his great work as well as his dark sides too but he accepted his faults too. He might not have been a great, a giant but he died as a martyr and was killed by those paradoxically who claim to hail the brahmanical values which Gandhi could not challenge all his life.
Gandhi was essentially a man of masses. He got his strength by working with and engaging with people. A man of great humour, Gandhi remain active till his death. But after his death, the work that people should have been doing was actually done by the government. Pushing Gandhiism into our throat without ever questioning made Gandhi a figure of hatred among many. Remember, as long as an icon is in the hands of people, he will be great and revered but when government and power try to appropriate him for their political purposes, there are bound to happen murmurs and objections.
It is important for all of us to keep our icons out of the government control if we really wish to gain from their work and unite people against the forces of obscurantism and hatred. Always feel that these leaders were amidst political movement and taking decisions according to need and time so remembering their differences and focussing on their basic values, we can move ahead. Whether Gandhi or any other icons, the biggest dangers to their values are the ‘bhakts’ who make them superheros and any dissent of their values is considered as ‘antinational’ or anti people. Beware of Bhakts.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: firstname.lastname@example.org