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THE MAHATMA AND THE BJP

Now that the frenzied investigation into the causes of the state assembly elections outcome has run its course, we must turn our attention to the consequences. In a belt across the waist of Mother India are to be seen three of the most communal faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party: stretching from Narendra Modi in Gujarat through Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh to Dilip Singh Judeo, the power behind the throne in Chhattisgarh. This is the second-line leadership the BJP is projecting — the visage it will wear if it were ever to come to power at the Centre on its own as it has done in these three states. The so-called “development” issues were a tactical feint. The real strategic objective is the capture of power at the national level to alter the nature of our nationhood. The “Hindu rashtra” remains the goal of the forces of Hindutva.

Consider the first two major pronouncements of the new BJP state governments. Whatever the rhetoric about bijli-sadak-pani, the top priority, as stated by the Madhya Pradesh minister concerned, is the installation of an idol at the Bhojshala. And in Rajasthan, sweet secular Vasundhara Raje Scindia notwithstanding, the first government order has been compulsory enforcement of the singing of Vande mataram in schools to start the day. And the entire cabinet in Rajasthan, led by the chief minister, has travelled together out of the capital to pay homage to a religious figure.

Neither has a sadhvi swathed in saffron suddenly emerged as a professor of economics, nor has a maharani swathed in chiffons and silk signalled the transition of the Rajasthan BJP from the 12th to the 21st century. I am afraid, those happy days are over when Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, on the other side of the border from Godhra, remained calm and undisturbed while Ahmedabad and Vadodara burned, and Mount Abu in Rajasthan remained peaceful and secular while Himmatnagar, on the other side of the border with Gujarat, was convulsed. Now when the next communal match is lit, the forest fire is in danger of spreading right across western and central India.

Just as the Nazis first captured power in the states before moving to the centre, so are the Gauleiters of Hindutva being carefully positioned. In the normal course, there is no prospect of this country surrendering the Red Fort to those who would paint it saffron. So, in the normal course, would the Nazis never have come to power in Germany. It was the Great Depression that tipped the balance in Hitler’s favour. Only a cataclysm of that order would cause our secular people to turn in despair and desperate hope to these forces. Therefore, not panic but vigilance is called for — and one element of fashioning a counter-strategy is to expose the hollowness and hypocrisy of their claims to be part of the national mainstream.

For instance, they claim to be as respectful of the father of the nation as other Indians. Yet they seem to see nothing of the central tenet of Gandhiji’s philosophy, the message of non-violence, to go by the answer the minister for information and broadcasting, Ravi Shankar Prasad, gave in Parliament last week to Kanti Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal asking why the Centre had chosen to issue a government advertisement to the media on Gandhi’s birth anniversary which quoted Gandhiji as saying: “I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.”

The government’s defence was that the quotation was accurate, the two sentences having been taken from an article written by Gandhiji in 1920 entitled, “The Doctrine of the Sword”. What a saintly defence of the immense faith this government is placing on nuclear weapons and massive increases in arms imports and manufacture while whipping up national hysteria over alleged threats from within and without!

Alas, the rest of the article, and the context in which these two disparate sentences appeared, do not validate the saffron view of Gandhi’s sainthood. The meaning of the first sentence quoted clearly is that violence is the very last resort. For it is sanctioned “only” if the alternative is “cowardice”, not otherwise. The BJP would have us believe that all routes that do not encompass violence are roads of cowardice. They thus make the easy leap from saying that because cowards shy away from violence to submit to the violence of others, manliness requires us to take up arms to show that we are not cowards! What a perversion of Gandhi! For Gandhiji in the same article says: “I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.” The BJP forgets that infinite courage is required to practice genuine non-violence. Physical strength, held Gandhi, is not the only strength; indeed, only “the brute,” said he, “knows no law but that of physical might.” For human beings, said Gandhiji in the same article, “Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute.” Therefore, “The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law, to the strength of the spirit.” Would any but a BJP minister for information and broadcasting have left out every other sentence of the article to focus on only that which the BJP wishes to portray — Gandhi as Golwalkar!

Having posed the alternative between cowardice and violence, Gandhi clarified 83 years ago (for the article was written in 1920 and is still, it seems, to be read in full by Ravi Shankar Prasad and his ilk): “I am not pleading for India to practice non-violence because she is weak. I want her to practice non-violence being conscious of her strength and power.” But strength and power, insisted Gandhiji — and this is the crux of the difference between Gandhians and the sangh parivar — does not mean guns and bombs, for, said Gandhiji (it is still the same article I am quoting from): “No training in arms is required for the realization of her strength”. Contrasting an India which “considers herself to be powerless and paralysed before the machine guns, the tanks and the aeroplanes of the English” with an India which takes up “non-cooperation”, Gandhi offers through non-cooperation, “if a sufficient number of people practice it”, to “bring her delivery from the crushing weight of British injustice”. That is why, for Gandhi, in yet another sentence from the same article, “Religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well.”

The BJP is free to say it thinks Gandhi was nuts. That, in fact, is what all their gurus, from Savarkar to Moonje to Hedgewar to Golwalkar, did think. But to pretend that the BJP is honouring the Mahatma on his birth anniversary by purveying two sentences which portray the Mahatma as Attila the Hun is to do violence to both satya and ahimsa. Gandhiji’s ultimate indictment of the chauvinism and militarism of the party to which the minister belongs lies in Gandhiji’s conclusion: “If India takes up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory. Then India will cease to be the pride of my heart.” I challenge Ravi Shankar Prasad to print those two sentences as prayaschit next to a photograph of Vajpayee and Co. celebrating Pokhran II. Beware, as the Bible says, of the Devil quoting the scriptures.

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