The Mahatma laid the greatest stress on inter-faith harmony, and respect for all faiths.
Last week, I saw a brilliant and evocative documentary on Mahatma Gandhi, called Ahimsa. It has been made by Ramesh Sharma, the award-winning filmmaker. The film brought tears to my eyes. A thought that struck me afterwards is that, while the Central government is commemorating with great fanfare the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji, the BJP is doing everything, directly or indirectly, to demolish the legacy and message of the Mahatma. Consider the following.
The Mahatma laid the greatest stress on inter-faith harmony, and respect for all faiths. He was a pious Hindu, but he was, in thought and action, a man who envisaged an inclusive India, where all Indians, irrespective of their faith, would enjoy equality and be a part of the national mainstream. The BJP’s worldview is directly opposed to this vision. Its leaders, spokespersons, and affiliated organisations talk openly and repeatedly about the Hindu rashtra; and, they look upon minorities, especially Muslims, as derivatives on sufferance in a nation where only Hindus have a monopoly.
This exclusionist view of the BJP militates directly against the most cherished tenets of Hinduism itself. It is important to emphasise this because the Mahatma, while extracting the best from all religions, especially drew inspiration from Hinduism’s eclectic foundations. The revered Upanishads state: Ekam satya, bipraha bahudha vadanthi (The truth is one, the wise people call it by different names). Our ancient scriptures have emphasised: Anno bhadraha kritvo yantu vishwataha (Let good thoughts come to us from all directions). It was our sages who proclaimed: Udar charitanam vasudhaiva kutumbukam (For the big hearted, the entire world is our family). Adi Shankaracharya audaciously declared that the only reality is the all-pervading cosmic consciousness of Brahman, and all other man-made differentiations have little ontological value.
The communal venom that BJP leaders often spout, including the valorisation of Godse, the man who killed the Mahatma, and the brittle and false definition of Hinduism aggressively propagated by their followers, would have been anathema to Gandhiji. He would have been appalled at the CAA-NRC scheme, which seeks to institutionalise religious division and target one community in particular, thereby militating directly against the plural, composite and inclusionist vision for which Gandhiji lived and died for, and which is enshrined in our Constitution. Gandhiji never reconciled himself to the fact of Partition, but even if he reluctantly accepted it, he was emphatic that India, unlike Pakistan, would not become a bigoted religious theocracy, and would embrace all the religions which have over millennium found a home here. Moreover, the NRC will particularly work towards the harassment of the marginalised and vulnerable who will have to produce the documentation to prove their citizenship. This would be yet another repudiation of the Mahatma, who fought for their rights tirelessly.
Secondly, ahimsa or non-violence was an article of faith for Gandhiji. The abhorrent violence inherent in acts of lynching — and that too in the name of protecting Hinduism — would have deeply pained him. Most recently, he would have been appalled at the statement of UP CM Yogi Adityanath that he would take badla or revenge against those protesting the CAA. Undoubtedly, violence by the protesters was wrong too. But the disproportionate use of force by the police in UP, and their reportedly communal bias, makes a mockery of the principles of the Mahatma. The police used the same kind of vicious violence in Jamia Millia Islamia university, where even the library was vandalised and students mercilessly beaten.
On January 5, JNU saw the worst example of organised violence by goons against students and faculty members. As the nation — and the world — watched in horror, these goons, armed with stones and lathis and metal clubs, reminiscent of the Klu Klux Clan, went on the rampage inside the precincts of one of India’s foremost universities in the capital of the Republic. A police inquiry has been ordered to establish their identity, but there appears to be enough evidence — although I am willing to be corrected by concrete facts to the contrary — that these were right-wing thugs who wanted to teach the “left oriented anti-national” students of JNU a lesson. The police, through its inexplicable inaction, became an accessory to this crime, as did the JNU administration and the university’s security apparatus.
Finally, Gandhiji was the quintessential democrat. He believed that dissent is a vital part of a democracy, as is the right to protest. He was a firm believer in the efficacy of dialogue, where disagreement did not entitle you to hate or demean the other side. On the contrary, the BJP believes in demonising those who oppose it. Its refrain is that anyone who doesn’t agree with it is a Paki stooge, or should be banished to Pakistan. All those who differ from the party are ipso facto anti-national. They are peddlers of fake news. Only the BJP has a monopoly on what is good for the nation. Such an attitude has put an end to the possibility of a civilised discourse which is an inalienable adornment of a democracy, and which Gandhiji set great store by.
Remembering Gandhiji on his 150th birth anniversary is something a grateful nation should do. But remembering him through official publicity, while simultaneously demolishing everything he believed and stood for, is a cruel joke. Ultimately, Gandhiji wanted a united India, where people of all faiths can live with respect and equality, and in which social peace and harmony prevails, for that alone can ensure a happy and prosperous India. That was his Ram Rajya. Until the BJP understands this basic, unalterable, and non-negotiable aspect of Gandhiji, and acts upon it, all its lip service to the Mahatma will remain just that.