The Mahatma is dead, long live the Mahatma. In reality, 75 years after three bullets were point-blank pumped into Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s chest as he made his way to a multi-faith prayer meeting, he no longer lives among the people for whom he gave his life.
Gandhi’s killing was the darkest day, records not just history. It left a country still in the throes of a new dawn orphaned as laments of ‘bapu’ convulsed a nation.
Discarded irreverently, these pages of history are now covered with a film of dust. Every other week they are pushed a little further into an obscure nook as though his time is up, again.
Gandhi no longer fits into the narrative of the past eight years a period, in which new chapters have rarely been written but old ones have been rehashed and renamed to make a glorious past, myopic.
Like a see-saw in a playground Gandhi’s marginalisation corresponds with his killer Nathuram Godse going mainstream, the victory of good over evil is more a feel good story in mythology books.
Adulation for Mahatma
The adulation for Mahatma Gandhi peaked as India’s Independence became a certainty and questioning the actions of an era in hindsight when thoughts and socio-cultural beats are no longer in tandem makes for poor reasoning.
Yet, it seems to be working. The time travel away from his legacy of non-violence and pluralism along with the shredding of the Mahatma’s image itself is another bullet, this time to our nation’s soul.
Once a unilaterally hateful figure Godse is now revered openly and with an ease that was unthinkable in the past. A boundary has been crossed as though looking for loopholes in our thinking exalts him not even as an anti-hero, simply as a hero.
The outrage is minimal as this strain juxtaposes itself into a society where glorifying violence is not necessarily frowned upon. Gandhi would not have recognised what we have become in a fleeting passage of time.
The attack on the Mahatma’s legacy is two-fold. At the forefront are those who eschewed even a verbal skirmish with the British and ran the other way as Gandhi, Nehru, Patel joined freedom fighters in the independence struggle.
In the jingoism of hyper-nationalism this truth though is the wrong jigsaw puzzle so pieces like Sardar Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose have been appropriated from another box.
These stalwarts of India’s struggle would have been aghast to discover themselves in the political corners they have been manipulated into.
They viewed with contempt the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS) that Godse was a proud member of. Nehru and Patel banned the RSS after Gandhi’s assassination, Patel later took the order back saying it was the fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha that was involved.
Godse also belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha, another extremist organisation and his rabid antecedents clashed with the idea of a syncretic India that Gandhi championed through his clarion call for religious unity.
Even after the fires of partition were being doused in the north, he was fasting in the east in Calcutta in the September of 47’ to stop an outbreak of communal frenzy.
Gandhi’s inclusiveness was a trigger for Godse who much like his mentor Savarkar espoused a brand of aggressive Hindutva that threatened diversity then and intimidates our fabric now.
Godse’s ideological guru Savarkar, who sent mercy petitions to the British from jail has also seen a re-birth for let not history and facts derail the discourse. Perhaps Gandhi foretold it, “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”
Secondly, this messaging makes the independence struggle itself irrelevant for a generation that was born when the country had healed from the scars of partition and shuns all nostalgia for the period.
With connection to that past already tenuous, the cord was firmly cut once the shift in Godse’s image was enabled. These are the anonymous people who trend Godse on twitter during Gandhi Jayanti as well as on Gandhi’s death anniversary.
Why does a fanatic and a killer, a man who murdered the ‘Father of the Nation’ increasingly find space in public discourse when his act was binary? In its answer lies our turmoil. The mantle of ‘Father of the Nation’ itself is shaky, it is only global respect that keeps it from tumbling from a perch that was once sacrosanct.
The dilemma to not abandon Gandhi completely comes from necessity, if nothing else it would look foolish when he remains a universally loved figure with faithful followers and pretenders.
Not every path followed by Mahatma Gandhi was above disagreement, his pacifist idealism didn’t convince moderates like Bhagat Singh but that is hardly an argument to delegitimise the former.
There was mutual respect between the two just as there is acceptance among sane voices that in a new world order the Gandhian philosophy may need some re-alignments. Many principals though remain absolute.
Are we now lost?
The Mahatma’s struggle went beyond freedom from the British Raj, it was also about the identity of a nation that is not homogenous, where ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth) were at the core of its foundation, “My religion is based on truth and non-violence.” Are we now lost?
A nation needs a focal point that glues its people together. Those who lived through the pain of partition took comfort in that they had Gandhi. While they shared him generously somewhere they and us forgot to protect him, he is slowly dying a second death.
The way back is not ironclad. Religious acceptance, more than lip service for the marginalised, empowering women beyond slogans, uplifting the poor are but starting points in reclaiming his legacy.
Crucially, those pages from the recesses of history need to be dusted, our children need to learn the truth.
For our country to find its essence again we must re-discover the Mahatma. The question is, do we have it in us?