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Attack on Gandhi: Where diehard Left and extreme Right appear to meet

By Rajiv Shah 
Another Gandhi Jayanti has come and gone. Several of the top comments – some which we also published in www.counterview.net – on this occasion hovered around US president Donald Trump calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi “father of India”. Perhaps things wouldn’t have taken a turn that it did had not Modi’s “diehard” followers like Union minister Jitendra Singh going so far as to say that those who “do not feel proud” of Trump’s comment that Modi is the “father of India”, do not consider themselves Indians.
As this time happened to be the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday, Modi went global with his oped opinion piece in the “New York Times”, dated October 2. While full of praise for Gandhi, Modi singularly avoided calling him Father of the Nation, something which my friend and journalist colleague Hari Desai, a keen Sangh observer, has told me several times over (I am sure he has written about it too). He says, this is characteristic of all Sangh leaders.
There is nothing new for Sangh people to undermine Gandhi. I know it from my personal experience in 1960s and 1970s in Delhi, where we lived. In school, I used to be very weak in English, as least this is what my Gandhian parents thought. So, they decided to put me under a tutor. The first one (I don’t remember his name) turned out to be a diehard RSS fellow. On the very first day, he asked me whether we keep Ganga jal in our house. I had no knowledge what that meant.
The next day, he started criticizing Gandhi, blaming him for creating Pakistan, and praising Nathuram Godse for killing the Mahatma, calling Godse a “great revolutionary.” I mentioned this to my parents, who showed this tutor the door on the very third day. Yet another interaction was with a far off relative, who lived in the Chandni Chowk area in Delhi. A young boy who would regularly attend RSS shakhas, he would tell me range stories about Gandhi’s personal life, telling me, he was a debauch, and ending by stating that Godse did the right thing by killing the Mahatma.
I wasn’t really a great fan of Gandhi, but I always took criticism of the Mahatma with a pinch of salt. Frankly, I was never impressed with what all my parents told me about Gandhi, whom they appeared to venerate as some kind of a superhuman. But when someone criticized Gandhi, I looked around for another answer. During my college days, being part of the CPI-M’s student wing, Students Federation of India (SFI), I used to be a regular attendant to its study circles, where we were "introduced" with some bit of history, apart from why India should go communist.
Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Ambedkar
The first book that I read on Gandhi was CPI-M leader EMS Namboodiripad’s “Gandhi and the Ism”. It was a relatively more balanced view of Gandhi, providing all of Mahatma’s pluses and minuses. The book, as far as I can remember, didn’t go so far those study circles, where, the Mahatma almost characterized an “imperialist agent”.
We were bluntly told, he was a representative of the big bourgeoisie in alliance with imperialism! “See with whom he allied! Birla”, we were told. Gandhi’s mindset, we were told, was “feudal”, and characterized the state power – bourgeois landlord government led by big bourgeoisie. Thankfully, however, no one in the CPI-M made any personal attack on Gandhi, as those in the RSS did.
Decades later, I am puzzled: Have things changed? CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury, inaugurating a new party office in Delhi, calling it Surjeet Bhawan, tweeted, “Today, as we inaugurate #SurjeetBhawan, it is Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Gandhi’s India and our Constitution are under severe attack. In the serious rightward shift in India, it is only the Left which can provide answers.” Gandhi’s India? Wow, what a great change, was my first reaction!
Yechury has posted a few photographs of the new office, where they are going to train cadres. One of the replies on the Twitter to Yechury, however, tells him: “But we have heard there is not even a single photograph of Bapu in that office.” I have no means to know whether CPI-M has changed its view on Gandhi internally, as it seems at least in the open they have stopped criticizing the Mahatma. I also don’t know whether, like Sangh Parivar, CPI-M recognizes Gandhi as the Father of the Nation.
However, clearly, the CPI-M’s dislike for Gandhi has now been taken over by other sections of the Left. The Ambedkarite Dalits are as critical, if not more. One of them is Arundhati Roy, well-known author of “The God of Small Things”, for which she was awarded Booker Prize, She once called Naxalites “Gandhians with guns in hand”, but two years ago she started calling Gandhi “racist”, citing some of the Mahatma’s utterances in South Africa. She is, strangely, quiet now, refusing to attack Gandhi, something that she would virulently do only two years ago.
However, on his 150th birth anniversary, social media is full of Left-wingers who continue attacking Gandhi as before. One of them is Bhaskar Sur, a Facebook friend, who, on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti wrote, “Gandhi's pseudo non-violence only led to the orgy of violence”, adding, “Gandhi was one of great masters of self-fashioning, repackaging and salesmanship in the political mart.” What you read here is nothing but bad things about Gandhi, though, unlike Sangh men, who are making personal attacks on Gandhi, he avoids doing it.
Sur, who lives in Kolkata, in his 1,000-odd word Facebook post, says, points to how Gandhi was “convinced of the beauty of the caste system and patriarchy”, and was “against democracy, women's voting rights and technology”, adding, “He fought democracy with his nebulous 'swaraj ' and 'Ramrajya' and his 'ahimsa’ based on vegetarianism had far wider reach than the tame reformist discourse of the moderates.”
Yechury inaugurating Surjeet Bhawan
Worse, Sur says, without any reference, “In South Africa he was the stretcher bearer of the racist white government and during the World War-l he became a recruiting agent of the British army and almost worked himself to death procuring canon fodders. In personal life he often thrashed his wife. Her tears, he writes, had an edifying effect on him.”
The comments on the post from Dalit activists like Kamal Kumar Niyogi, who is general secretary of the Bahujan Communist Party (I didn’t know if such a party existed), who agrees with Sur, and says, Gandhi’s was a “strong believer and practitioner of Varnashram theory of Manusmriti”, was a “defender of Brahmanical patriarchy and believer of superiority of Brahman/Sanatan Dharma in contrast to Islam and Christianity.”
Niyogi continues, Gandhi’s 'Hind Swaraj' was “nothing but the typical manifesto of Brahman-Baniya-Raj. He was against the reasoning, scientific temperament, equality, fraternity and liberation of subaltern castes, classes and nationalities. He was against the unity and assertion of oppressed, exploited and demeaned castes, classes, genders, religions and nationalities as the distinct political force.”
The hatred for Gandhi among a big section of Dalits, whatever I have learned, appears to stem from Ambedkar’s long-standing disagreements with Gandhi, even though, I think, what this section seems to forgets, both cooperated with each other in every possible manner. Some of my Dalit friends who have tried to praise Gandhi are known to have been reprimanded for doing it.
My friend and journalist colleague Nachiketa Desai, who has access to lot of yet to be published works of his grandfather, Mahadev Desai, personal secretary of Gandhi, tells me, “One should remember, it was Gandhi who ensured that Ambedkar to be chairman of the Constituent Assembly, which framed the Constitution. Also, while Nehru was reluctant to take Ambedkar in the first Cabinet, Gandhi told him, it has to be national Cabinet, not of Congress, and Ambedkar was included.”
Did Gandhi believe in varnashram dharma, or caste system? I once posed this question to Tridip Suhrud, a top Gandhi expert, who is architect of digitizing most of the Gandhi and Gandhi-related works, bringing them under a single website, https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org/, available free of charge to anyone. He told me, “Granted, Gandhi’s views on caste had its limitations. But he was a great learner, and changed his views on caste at the end of his life.”
Suhrud also told me, “Tell me, apart from Gandhi, which other national leader during the freedom struggle fought untouchability and manual scavenging? Neither Nehru, nor Sardar, nor Bose… none. Gandhi called manual scavenging a national shame. He stood by the Valmikis like no others did. He interacted with Ambedkar to understand the latter’s anger, and understood it…”

Comments

Unknown said…
Excellent piece, throws light on the Left's predicament of being caught in an existential crisis, where strongly going against Gandhi takes them closer to the RSS and criticizing the Right doesn't take much closer to the Congress. To be (against)Modi or not to be (against) Congress is the question! This piece could have taken us to how Gandhi is just the man for the ruling party but not the Idea. Gandhi as the man, not as the Idea.

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