In a move that has shocked many, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ejected Mahatma Gandhi from the wall calendar and table diary published by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission.
This attempt to marginalise Mahatma Gandhi from public mind is a clear manifestation of Modi’s narcissism. It’s Modi’s bid to create a cult around himself at the cost of stalwarts of Indian history. It also makes for bad marketing strategy as it is nobody’s case that Modi is in the same league as Gandhi in terms of appeal within and outside India. Moreover, Modi for all his followers, has large number of detractors and does not have the same bipartisan fandom as Gandhi’s.
The regressive move should alarm us about a much more fundamentally sinister plot that it has inadvertently exposed. It is a dangerous attempt to erase Gandhi’s legacy from Indian ethos. While the Hindutva icon Nathuram Godse only killed Gandhi, the present day’s Hindutva icon Modi is killing the soul of Gandhi.
Steadily murdering secular polity
Gandhi’s politics was not secular in the sense of complete negation of role of religion in politics (Gandhi saw religion’s role as providing the moral guidance for his politics), but it was secular in the sense of equal treatment of all religions. In fact Gandhi popularised the idea that minorities must not just be treated equally but should also be given certain special treatment to make them feel more included.
Gandhi often had to face a lot of opposition from Modi’s parent organisation, the RSS, for such views and in the end even had to pay with his life because of the ire he invited of the Hindu nationalists his alleged favourable treatment to Muslims. Still, Gandhi till his last breath held on firmly to secularism. If India today is secular nation, where minorities feel as much a stakeholder in our country as majority, Gandhi must deserve plenty of credit.
It is this idea of secular politics that the RSS has been attempting to dislodge for the past several decades. But until Modi emerged at the national stage, the RSS had not discovered any effective way to make the secular inclusive tolerant population of India to accept its regressive, intolerant, exclusionary communal politics.
Modi has often betrayed his aversion to secularism- be it mocking secularism on foreign soil or becoming the voice of majoritarian disgruntlement (during Bihar election, Modi pitted Hindu lower castes against Muslims on reservation). Modi’s politics, therefore, has often been at complete variance with that of Gandhi’s secularism.
Modi has mastered the politics of dog whistle to weaken secularism. This dog whistle sort of communal politics currently presents the greatest threat to the politics of communal harmony and inclusion that Gandhi championed all through his life. Unlike the earlier outright communal politics, under Modi, BJP has outsourced the task of doing away with the Gandhian secular order to lesser leaders and fringe groups who can be conveniently disowned if the role of the main leaders came under spotlight.
This method has provided a deniability that has made recognising the danger to Gandhian secular order still more difficult.
Grace, dignity, respect substituted by rancour and suppression of opponents
Gandhi stood head and shoulder above his political rivals in the years of his domination of Indian politics. Yet Gandhi never belittled his opponent the way Modi does when he mocks Rahul Gandhi in a manner which is more befitting of street politicians than of the leader of the nation. And not to forget his personal attacks against Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar during Delhi and Bihar polls respectively.
Gandhi always believed that openness to dialogue with political opponents was essential, whereas Modi has contributed to creating a toxic political culture where there is a near total breakdown of communication between the government and its political opponents.
An important reason for the relation with opposition reaching its nadir is the lack of grace and dignity in the way Modi has treated his opponents. Whether it was denying Congress the leader of opposition post in the Lok Sabha or in terming Arvind Kejriwal Naxali or destablising elected governments of opposition and imposing president rule unconstitutionally (Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarkahand), Modi has shown little respect to democracy.
Here again, Gandhi presents a contrasting picture. Gandhi lived in an era of stalwarts who had their own firm and often opposing stances, yet the father of the nation by treating his contemporaries with grace and dignity always kept open the possibility of them coming together for common purpose despite their differences. While Modi has created an India that would have horrified Gandhi, the current prime minister’s political opponents are often seen as anti nationals and subjected to humiliation and suppression that would put many autocratic regimes to shame.
Simple fakir vs a style icon
Modi has also undermined our Indian culture of personal simplicity that Gandhi exemplified. While Gandhi embraced simplicity, Modi flaunts his extravagant, stylish lifestyle. While Gandhi would be clad in simple dhoti, Modi wears stylish designer wear often costing lakhs and in some cases he prefers to change his clothes at least four times a day. Gandhi used to travel third class in railways while Modi prefers luxurious private jets.
Austerity was a matter of principal for Gandhi. In a nation as poor as India, Gandhi thought public servant could empathise and connect better with the masses by living in austerity. His philosophy has ever since exercised immense influence on Indian masses and leaders.
But Modi has popularised among his army of fans a very contrasting ideal where leaders are showmen, who should be style icons. While this unhesitating embrace of style and extravagance is certainly less hypocritical than those who profess simplicity for public consumption, it represents a normative challenge to Gandhian views of simplicity and austerity. Modi and his ministers have not just stopped at themselves abandoning this Gandhian emphasis on simplicity, they have also started mocking their rivals who still dare to stick to such values, an example being how the entire BJP mocked Arvind kerjiwal for wearing sandals and mufflers.
Replacing Gandhi’s non violence with masochism
Gandhi is known for politics of non violence. His politics was noble in challenging the belief that ‘the might is right.’ Gandhi crafted a politics that didn’t lay emphasis on the quest to dominate. He disowned aggressive and assertive behaviour that is characteristic of masochism. Modi is never shy of boasting about his imaginary 56 inch chest and how everything under his regime happens for the first time in the Indian history.
Any student of Indian history would recognise that Gandhi and his idea had been the biggest stumbling block in the way of RSS spreading their influence in India. On most occasions subtly but sometime explicitly (as in the case of BJP’s minister Anil Vij’s outburst against Gandhi) the Sangh Parivar had worked relentlessly to kill the ideas Gandhi stood for. In Modi, RSS has discovered a perfect executioner, who can complete the task that was left incomplete by Godse- cleanse India of Gandhian ideas.
(Views expressed here are the author’s own and Janta Ka Reporter doesn’t endorse them)