The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has always had a problematic relationship with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a colossus of our freedom struggle whom diehard seculars regard the father of the nation. To revere Bapu, grant him grudging acceptance, or reject him outright has been a perennial dilemma.
The inner contradictions within the ruling dispensation came to the forefront again following Karnataka’s six-time-in-a-row MP Anantkumar Hegde’s bold assertion that the circumstances in which the country got its independence was more a well-staged “drama” enacted with the consent of the British rather than a genuine fight for freedom. The Gandhi led freedom movement, he felt, was in reality an “adjustment” which suited both sides. It paved the way for the foreign ruler to make an honorable exit. Hegde said his “blood boiled” each time he read the official version in history books that ahimsa and upwas satyagraha (fast-unto-death), Gandhi’s default mode of agitation, compelled the British to beat it.
Congress loudmouths and other self-appointed votaries of secularism immediately reprehended Hegde for casting aspersions on the sacrifices made by M K Gandhi and J Nehru though neither name had been uttered. But their reaction was understandable given the demigod status both occupy within the pantheon of the Grand Old Party. The slightest hint of reprobation, howsoever indirect, is enough to send its sycophantic followers into a tizzy.
What baffled was the BJP’s over-reaction. The party’s disciplinary committee shot off a show-cause notice to the MP at the behest of its newly appointed president, J P Nadda. But Hegde, who has a penchant for unleashing his pointed thoughts with sangfroid, said he stood by what he said.
Hegde’s hardline has its reasons. He is not ploughing a lonely furrow. On the contrary he may have been broadcasting the thoughts of the majority within the saffron brigade smarting at the disproportionate attention given to Gandhi and Nehru to the almost complete exclusion of a wide array of great leaders whose contribution in the freedom struggle remains largely unacknowledged.
Jumpiness at the slightest criticism of Gandhi and his official legacy angers true adherents of the bhagwa ideology. Paying obeisance to Bapu is an act they consider hypocritical given the philosophical dichotomy with the Sabarmati ke sant. The radical socio-political changes sweeping the country since 2014 under the rule of Narendra Modi is changing mindsets, howsoever slowly. There is a growing feeling within the Sangh’s larger family that the BJP needs to shake off the periodic bowing and scraping at the altar of Gandhi without throwing out his bequest lock stock and barrel. There is much about the man which deserves to be retained.
Though the origins of the Sangh’s differences with Gandhi lie in the latter’s disastrous decision to back the pan-Islamic Khilafat movement of 1919-22, the assassination of 1948 compounded the problem. The incident put the Hindu body permanently on defensive mode despite official exculpation from the charge of having plotted the crime. Nehru’s dominance of post-Independence politics under a secular Constitution discouraged the Sangh from speaking out against Gandhi’s blunders and the resulting fault lines plaguing Bharat’s political landscape. His death at the hands of a Hindu extremist, howsoever patriotic, proved a spanner. It came in the Sangh’s way of making a clean break with his legacy, a course of action which held the risk of inviting another ban.
Veteran Hindi journalist and RSS ideologue Ram Bahadur Rai, a close associate of Jai Prakash Narayan, told this writer that the sole reason behind the Sangh’s sneaking respect for Gandhi was the 1932 Poona Pact inked between Madan Mohan Malviya (on behalf of Gandhi who was then in jail) and Dalit leader B R Ambedkar. The pact effectively fobbed off the clever British bid to create a separate electorate for the depressed classes to wean them away from the Hindu fold. But the sense of goodwill, if any, was strictly one-sided.
Gandhi, on his part, never amended his view of the Sangh as a divisive majoritarian grouping till the very end. In one of his rare interactions with RSS sarsangchalak M S Golwalkar on 12 September 1947, Guru ji was told that the Sangh’s hands were “seeped in blood” without clarifying how. Four days later Gandhi again told a meeting of RSS workers at New Delhi’s Valmiki Colony that their “purity of motive” remained suspect despite the outer simplicity, discipline, and rejection of untouchability.
It is perplexing why despite such open contempt for Hindu interests, the RSS/BJP continues to pay lip service to Bapu’s political legacy. Playing down the core principles of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, the BJP’s forerunner, never did work in practice. The primacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the initial years of the NDA rule weakened the BJP’s ideological underpinnings. Rumors of a split swirled in 2000. Enough damage had been caused to the body politic in the preceding 50 years by an artificially propped Nehruvian consensus and the blighted influence of pseudo-secularism on people’s minds. It was impossible for any Centrist party, leaning leftward or rightward, to extend its influence without genuflecting to Bapu’s ideals. This may no longer be necessary given the new assertiveness and impetus for a nationalist revival among Hindus.
The Modi-led BJP thus may not have much to lose, electorally or otherwise, by gradually loosening its fealty to Gandhi. Deep inside, both Modi and his arch lieutenant, Amit Shah, the Union home minister, know only too well that Hindutva and Gandhism are two dissimilar worlds which can never cohere or coalesce. Modi and Shah can be partially excused for their infatuation with Gandhi given their common Gujarat roots. Modi’s frequent allusions to the world’s most famous pacifist has another reason: it helps him soften his hardline image acquired after the 2002 riots.
While Gandhian socialism, the BJP’s economic credo since inception, still has broad relevance, Bapu’s political patrimony is completely out of sync with the times. The earlier it is jettisoned the better. Because Mohandas, for all his virtues, was no saint, much less a god. He had well documented flaws, faults, and foibles which keep percolating into the public domain. Fussing and gushing over his worldview smacks of self-deception at its worst.
Doubtlessly it was Gandhi who kickstarted the freedom movement, and presided over its fortunes unchallenged for well over two decades. But his firm belief that attaining Independence was conditional on Hindus seconding themselves to Muslim interests drove him to commit one blunder after another. He went out of his way to advance the Muslim cause, but was betrayed by their Janus-faced leader, MA Jinnah. He fought against Partition, but was forced to accede to British insistence. He was an apostle of non-violence who was destined to seeing the country descend into a communal conflagration of unimaginable horror: one million people lost their lives, 15 million were rendered homeless.
The Quit India movement of 1942 was a signal failure, and there is much evidence to suggest that by 1945 Gandhi had lost the will to fight. Finally, it was the Pyrrhic victory of the Allied forces in the Second World War, the dare-devilry of Subhas Chandra Bose’s rebellion, and the after effects of the 1946 Naval Mutiny that put pressure on the British to make the “adjustment” cited by Hegde.
Gandhi’s greatest disservice was to compel the Congress to accept J Nehru as the country’s first prime minister despite rejection from every single Pradesh Congress Committee. Seen in retrospect it was the mother of all blunders, and responsible for many of the political troubles which beset the country today.
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