The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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New enemy brings Gandhians back to the battlefield

Vadodara, Dec. 9: A rare phenomenon of this election in Gujarat is the political activism of the Gandhians. Used to shunning politics in favour of “constructive action” and some well past their sixties, they have come together to oppose the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat, claiming that this is their aapad dharma (duty during a crisis).

The Mahatma, the Gandhians say, believed that if only the differences of caste and religion were set aside could India become a civilised society. “They (the Hindutva forces) murdered Gandhi once and now they are murdering what he stood for,” they say.

The Gandhian activists are refusing to share a platform with the Congress. Nonetheless, they are canvassing support for the Congress by addressing small gatherings.

Chunibhai Vaidya, Indubhai Jani and Prakash Shah in Ahmedabad, Narayan Desai in Vedachi, Jhinabhai Darji in Vyara, Govind Rawal in Sabarkantha, Uttam Parmar in Keem, Bipin Desai in Surat and Jagdish Shah in Vadodara and many others like them spread in different parts of the state are busy advising people to exercise their franchise to defeat the BJP.

They have created the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti for this purpose. They bring out leaflets and have joined hands with several other secular groups to educate the people about the socially disruptive forces that Narendra Modi and the BJP represent. Indubhai Jani, Prakash Shah, Jayendra Pandya, eminent journalist Diggant Oza and former Communist Batuk Vora are addressing anti-BJP meetings in Ahmedabad. Those in the regions are also doing their bit.

Narayan Desai is addressing political meetings of Congress rebels who he thinks ought to win because they are honest and deserving of victory. He has made them sign four pledges at a public meeting — that if elected they will not support any communal political party in the legislature; that they will declare their property and income on election; that they would do so every year till they are in the legislature; and that every three months they would come back to the constituency to give an account of the legislative proceedings and answer questions from the public. “Communalism and fascism is something that we cannot accept,” he says explaining his activism.

Jhinabhai Darji is the grand old man of the Congress who organised the adivasis of south Gujarat but then left active politics. He is out again campaigning for a rebel Congress candidate in Vyara and for the Congress candidate against Narendra Modi in Maninagar.

Jagdishbhai Shah runs the Vinoba Ashram in Vadodara. He has also been addressing informal meetings and advising his supporters to vote for the Congress. “I tell them clearly to vote for the Congress as I do not want the anti-BJP vote to be divided. The strongest Opposition candidate should be given the vote and the Congress is the strongest.”

This is remarkable for someone who says that he often does not even vote in the elections. “Vinoba used to say in Bengali that rajneeti rakshsher shashtra (politics is the science of the demons). But we came out against the personal dictatorship of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. Twenty-four years later we are being forced to give a call to oust a political party because once again we consider it our aapad dharma (duty during a crisis) to do so,” Shah explains.

When the Gandhians met to discuss the situation among them, some expressed the view that the BJP ought to lose this election. “It was as if such a wish would come true on its own. But what prevailed was the feeling that the BJP should be actively defeated. This required using our political energy to do so,” says Jagdishbhai Shah.

There were communal riots even during the Congress regime, Shah admits, “but never before had a government and a party turned against a community as the BJP has turned against the Muslims.”

“Is the language that Praveen Togadia and Narendra Modi use, the language of dharma' Does Hinduism teach people to hate others and indulge in violence against them' No. And people understand this. That is why they will not get votes in the name of religion,” he declares.

How effective did he think the Gandhians were' “People know that we have normally kept out of politics. That is perhaps why we retain some influence in society. Besides lakhs of workers are engaged in the khadi (handloom) industry, we run hostels for students. We have a link with the community and we tell them what we think. What impact do we have' That depends on the regard that people have for our work,” Shah explains.

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