Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior BJP leader LK Advani at Rajghat on Monday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary at
Rajghat in New Delhi on Monday. Pictures by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Oct. 2: The Congress today questioned the distorted portrayal of M.K. Gandhi as the Narendra Modi government pulled out all the stops to project the Mahatma as a byword for cleanliness, wondering where had his core values of truth and non-violence disappeared.
The party also recalled the Sangh parivar's dislike for Gandhian philosophy; his assassin Nathuram Godse's links with the RSS, the BJP's ideological mentor; and the irreconcilable differences between Gandhi's views and those of the Sangh's late ideologue, M.S. Golwalkar.
While President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Modi laid exclusive focus on Swachh Bharat, exhorting citizens to clean India, the Congress's blunt message was: Gandhigiri is not safaigiri.
This battle had started in 2014 after the BJP assumed power with an absolute majority and is being played out every year since then on the day of Gandhi's birth anniversary.
"Today, the BJP and this Government feel the political need to appropriate Gandhi to strengthen their messaging. But make no mistake, this only exposes their duplicity and intellectual bankruptcy," the Congress has said in a message posted on its official website.
"At his heart, Modi is an RSS-bred Sakha man and owes his rise in national politics to the unflinching support of the organisation. His views on religious minorities are too well documented to warrant repetition."
The RSS, the post said, "severely criticized Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence and considered it impotency. Hindu-Muslim unity, for members of the Sangh Parivar, is a dirty phrase, and so is the word secularism".
The post quoted Golwalkar as saying: "The movement led by the Congress has had more disastrous and degrading effects on the country. Most of the tragedies and evils that have overtaken our country during the last few decades and are even today corroding our national life are its direct outcome."
"Let us not forget Godse was an RSS member," the post said. "Despite the Sangh's attempts at disowning him, brother Gopal Godse said in an interview to Frontline magazine on January 28, 1994: 'All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS."
The Congress also posted a hypothetical question-and-answer piece with the Mahatma's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi to guess what Gandhi would have done on some of today's burning issues.
For example, on demonetisation, Tushar said: "He would have highlighted the suffering of the poor and infirm, and condemned it as a Himalayan blunder."
On lynchings and cow vigilantism, he said: "Gandhi would have fought for justice for the victims and would have laid the blame at the door of the campaign of hate."
On the recent crackdown on Banaras Hindu University students, Tushar said: "He would have told the girls to stand firm and not succumb to the barbarity of the oppressor. He would have stood with them in the front ranks."
The students, protesting the varsity administration's response to a girl's campus molestation, were baton-charged by police as they marched to the vice-chancellor's quarters.
Tushar also said Gandhi would have described rationalists and dissenters as the conscience-keepers of the nation and condemned the army of trolls on social media as "cowards who attack from hiding".
A Congress leader explained this hypothetical piece was aimed at presenting the real Gandhi to the masses. While spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil argued that the BJP could not follow the philosophy of truth and non-violence, the party's communication chief, Randeep Surjewala, tweeted: "Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time."
In a series of tweets, Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot asked the government to ensure communal harmony if it wanted to follow the path shown by Gandhi, apart from paying attention to rural development and agriculture.
Contesting the emphasis on cleanliness, Gehlot said "Bapu's ideals were non-violence, equality and religious tolerance".
The government's Gandhian discourse rests on cleanliness. No official advertisement put out by any central ministry or BJP-led state government in the last three years had referred to truth and non-violence. In fact, the advertisement given by Uttar Pradesh's BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath in some newspapers today surprised many. It said:" Satya aur ahimsa ka marg dikhane wale Mahatma Gandhi ko shat-shat naman (homage to the Mahatma who showed the path of truth and non-violence)."
Other advertisements - both corporate and government - were about brooms and cleanliness.
A subtle message, however, came from BJP ally and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. "The idea of cleanliness encompasses our thoughts, feelings and actions. Let us restore the pristine beauty of our state with a clean heart," she tweeted.