Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or simply known as Mahatama or Bapu is evidently the most recognizable name from India. He is called the father of the Indian nation and known to be a true leader of non-violence, a recent phenomenon in the history of struggle for the oppressed.
He was brutally shot and assassinated on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Chitpavan brahmin from Pune, Maharashtra, a Hindu nationalist, a member of the political party, the Hindu Mahasabha as well as RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh).
The current government in India led by Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi belongs to the political wing of the RSS called the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), himself being a proud member of the organization.
The RSS has been banned thrice by the post-independence Indian government, first in 1948 when Nathuram Godse, who claimed to have left RSS in 1946 over ideological differences, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi — then during The Emergency (1975–1977) — and for a third time after the demolition of Babri Masjid.
1998, then RSS chief Prof Rajendra Singh praised Godse for his devotion to the concept of Akhand Bharat – a unified India which includes Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and even Myanmar (Burma).
“His intentions were good but he used wrong methods,” Mr. Singh said.
BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur had to apologize for her praise of Nathuram Godse and said that her remarks were twisted to give them a different meaning.
She was followed by BJP MPs from Karnataka, Anantkumar Hegde, and Nalin Kumar Kateel. “Godse killed just one. Ajmal Kasab killed 72. Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. Now you tell us who is the most gruesome murderer?” Kateel tweeted before deleting his tweet.
Hegde tweeted that he was “glad that the new generation was talking about this”, adding that “Thakur should not apologize on her remarks”. He, however, later claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked.
The comments have put the party in a spot, with just two days left for the final phase of the 2019 Parliament election. The BJP then had swung into damage-control mode with party president Amit Shah himself stepping in to clarify that the three leaders’ comments are not in line with the party’s ideology. The party won the election with a total majority with even better performance than the last election.
Party president and home minister Amit Shah — in a series of tweets, distanced the party from the comments made by the leaders, adding that the matter has been referred to the BJP disciplinary committee. He also tweeted that the committee will submit a report on the matter within 10 days.
A little bit of background will help you assess the current situation in India. There is a party that has an overwhelming mandate from the people and a PM who calls himself Hindu nationalist and has been part of the so-called Hindu nationalist organization called RSS.
Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the same organization due to his firm belief that he was personally responsible for the partition and misery of Hindus of India and the formation of Muslim Pakistan.
However, it is not easy to criticize Gandhi, openly and Mr. Modi actually has to go and pay tribute to Gandhi on the day of his assassination every year. This year he said, ‘his ideals continue to motivate millions. On Martyrs’ Day we recall the heroic sacrifices of all those great women and men who devoted themselves towards India’s freedom and the well-being of every Indian,” Mr. Modi said in a tweet.”
It is worth noting that Narendra Modi had earlier surpassed hypocrisy when he said that while Thakur has apologized, he will never be able to forgive her for calling his assassin — a patriot. While some reprimand has been administered against her, she continues to be a member of parliament from BJP in the Bhopal constituency.
It is difficult to hold on to your job when your boss says that he will never be able to forgive you but that wasn’t all she again did the same when she said “The Congress has always abused patriots, termed them as ‘saffron terrorists’. Nothing is viler than this and I don’t want to say anything more on the issue,” Ms. Thakur told reporters in Ujjain when asked about Mr. Singh’s remark on Godse.
Mr. Singh in his earlier remark called Godse the first terrorist of India for assassinating Gandhi the father of the nation.
The biggest issue the RSS has with Gandhi is that he had always advocated Hindu-Muslim unity while proclaiming himself to be a devout Hindu. The cornerstone of its worldview is Hindu supremacy.
There is a gradual rise of widespread social media-based narrative where history takes a backseat and a narrative is built where anything and anyone can be judged as anti-national, coward, unpatriotic, or whatever they wish to call them.
They actually coin terms, like pseudo-secular, Andolanjeevi, Lutyens Media and there is an endless list of these terms. It is actually politically rewarding to make things simpler for a common man to understand.
But these narratives face the same problem that many political leaders realized the hard way. It is not easy to malign someone like Gandhi in India so openly. While this narrative is succeeding as of now, it may not stand the test of time. Sooner or late the social media generation will get to read facts and neutral sources. More importantly, they will gradually develop the ability to critically analyze information and tell apart facts from propaganda.
This is the same reason it’s not easy even for right-wing politicians to openly criticize Gandhi and get away with it. Globally they or the party they represent may be seen as one with extremist ideology, the manipulated historical narrative of propaganda doesn’t work there. Politically and economically not good for any party or the government.
There are so many ways that Gandhi is maligned in the new social media-based narrative with illustrative graphics and false posts that I may be able to address all of them but I will try to make things simpler by picking up three major allegations by the right-wing political groups in India and see it with the lens of historical evidence to see if Gandhi can be blamed for them.
Is Gadhi resposnsible for the partition of India into India and Pakistan?
This is the major blame that Gandhi gets from the right-wing Indian group and innocent citizens who fell into trap of false propaganda built over the years but has got a super boost with the advent of social media and internet penetration in India.
This has been done mainly by promoting Nathuram Godse’s (Gandhi’s assassin) speech in the court trying him for Mahatma Gandhi’s murder advising people to get the “right perspective” on both Gandhi and Godse.
Many innocent citizens blinded by narrative found the assassin’s rant blaming Gandhi for abetting Partition convincing, thus implying that Gandhi’s assassination was a legitimate act of retribution carried out by a true Indian nationalist.
As disturbing as it may sound to those who have actually studies historical events that led to partition, this revisionist version of Gandhi’s assassination by implication tries to justify Godse’s action. It not only tarnishes Gandhi’s character but also flies in the face of recorded facts.
In reality, Gandhi opposed Partition until the very end of his life. But he was to some extent sidelined by the Congress leadership by the end of 1946. By that time, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel had come to accept the idea of Partition without even the courtesy of consulting Gandhi. Eventually, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) accepted the Mountbatten plan to divide the country.
On the morning of June 3, 1947, the day the Partition plan was declared, Gandhi told Rajendra Prasad, “I can see only evil in the plan.” Answering a question by a reporter whether he would undertake a fast to prevent Partition, Gandhi, uncharacteristically dejected, replied: “If the Congress commits to an act of madness, does it mean I should die?”
It is a matter of record that Patel, on the advice of States Secretary V.P. Menon, had accepted the inevitability of Partition by December 1946 and had signaled this to Nehru.
Patel was convinced, as he later stated, that “if India is to remain united it must be divided”. Nehru was also eventually convinced that Partition was a necessary evil in order to neutralize Jinnah’s nuisance value and to establish a strong and centralized Indian state which would not have been possible with Muslim League ministries in office in undivided Punjab and Bengal.
2. Did Gandhi refuse to save Bhagat Singh?
Did Gandhi really try to do the best he could to save the lives of three young revolutionaries which included Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru? Many people in India are of the view that M K Gandhi was rather half-hearted in his endeavors to save them from the noose.
While the ideologies of Gandhi and Bhagat Singh were completely different, both had mutual respect for each other. Being an advocate of non-violence, Gandhi naturally didn’t approve of Bhagat Singh and his comrade’s militant ways to win freedom. That did not mean, Gandhi was in favor of Bhagat Singh and his friends’ hangings and did nothing he could to save him from the death penalty.
Kenning Ebron, the British editor of The Statesman, Calcutta, (until 1967, The Statesman, Calcutta, had British editors) along with Dean Fraser of The Guardian, London, analyzed why the trio was hanged and the reasons and circumstances that led to their unlawful executions.
Both the editors were remarkably honest and were very critical of British imperialism. They found that Gandhi was really serious about saving the three young men from the scaffold. He even wrote to the then Viceroy Lord Irwin to commute their punishment to life imprisonment.
Gandhi had pleaded with Irwin to save the lives of the young revolutionaries. But circumstances were volatile.
Historian Anil Nauriya has highlighted that Gandhi sent Tej Bahadur Sapru, M R Jayakar, and Srinivasa Sastri to the Viceroy to plead for the commutation of Bhagat Singh’s death sentence.
Home Secretary Herbert William Emerson (from April 1926 to April 11, 1933) wrote in his memoirs that Gandhi’s efforts to save Bhagat Singh and his friends were honest, and calling them perfunctory is an affront to the apostle of peace.
It must be noted by those who falsely condemn Gandhi for not succeeding in saving three young lives that the Viceroy’s moves were directed from England and these three were considered a challenge to the Raj and thus, were not thought fit for pardon.
What more could Gandhi have done, when he even wrote a letter to the Viceroy on the day of their execution, pleading whole-heartedly for commutation, not knowing that the letter would be too late.
3. Was Gandhi a British collaborate and harmed India’s interest by allowing Indian troop participation in World War II
Nehru now an emerging leader in the Congress was not excited by the idea of aiding the Empire’s war effort, and along with the other Congress leaders, he drafted a manifesto that essentially asked for complete independence in return for Indian support against the Nazis.
When World War II broke out the Congress declared that it would oppose Indian participation in the war without complete, immediate independence. Congress planned an antiwar campaign of civil disobedience.
At the height of World War II, Gandhi had in fact stepped up his Quit India campaign, urging the British to get out of the country altogether, while arguing that the war was none of India’s concern. Once again, he was arrested and jailed along with fellow leaders of the Indian National Congress and his wife.
Was Gandhi a perfect human being, no mortal can ever claim about another mortal but he was a face and an idea that got India a lot of respect across the world. He was the face of tolerance and non-violence, in a chaotic world.
He tried his best to bring together a country divided by religion, caste, language, culture, and race. India was utterly divided and many proponents of violent freedom struggle fail to come with a notable military resistance that India could mount on the British. Leave apart the fact that the British in the pre World War II era was militarily far too strong for military victory, that the most powerful German forces learned the hard way.
The beauty with history is that it can’t be manipulated for long and the pitfall of misinformation and propaganda is that it works fast but eventually fails.