Of late, there has been a flurry of statements directly or indirectly denigrating Mahatma Gandhi. Pragya Thakur’s praise for Nathuram Godse as a ‘patriot’ stands out, because she is a high-profile Member of Parliament elected on the ruling party’s ticket.
According to reports, there has been a demand, attributed to the Hindu Mahasabha, that Meerut in Uttar Pradesh be renamed ‘Godse Nagar’. Several statues of Godse have been erected, beginning with the one installed at the Hindu Mahasabha office in Meerut on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2, 2016. It was reported that on the anniversary of the Mahatma’s assassination on January 30 this year, members of the Mahasabha garlanded Godse’s statue.
The most recent incident of calumny against the Mahatma was former Union Minister and current BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde’s statement on February 1 claiming that the freedom movement led by Gandhi was a “drama” that was “staged with the consent and support of the British”. He went on to say that it is not that “India got independence because of the fast unto death and satyagraha... Britishers gave independence out of frustration. My blood boils when I read history. Such people become Mahatma in our country.” Despite Mr. Hegde’s attempt to wriggle out of the controversy caused by his statement, it cannot be denied that his remarks were an attempt to bring Gandhi and his unparalleled contribution to the freedom movement into disrepute.
Disagreements with Ambedkar
No political leader, not even the tallest among them, should be immune from criticism. This applies to Gandhi as well. His ideas and actions were open to legitimate criticism even during his lifetime. For example, B.R. Ambedkar criticised Gandhi for letting down Dalits by going on a fast unto death against the separate electorate granted to them in 1932. This led to Ambedkar dropping his demand in exchange for greater representation for Dalits elected by the general Hindu electorate. Ambedkar later came to regret the decision.
Similarly, Subhas Chandra Bose was critical of Gandhi’s reliance solely on non-violence to gain India’s independence and the Mahatma’s aversion to industrialisation. Nonetheless, the two respected, even admired, each other. In 1942, after Bose had formed the Indian National Army and despite Gandhi’s aversion to violence, he called Bose a “patriot of patriots”. Bose referred to Gandhi as the “father of the nation” in a broadcast from Rangoon in 1944.
Gandhi’s economic ideas were criticised by the left because of his theory of trusteeship by which the wealthy would hold India’s wealth in trust for the people. The socialist and communist left argued that this theory was anti-poor because it justified the concentration of wealth among landlords, feudal princes and capitalists. Those, including Jawaharlal Nehru, committed to making India a strong modern state and an industrialised nation, were critical of Gandhi’s aversion to industrialisation and his belief that self-governing villages should constitute the basis of Indian polity.
These criticisms were based on genuine differences of opinion. Calumny is a different matter, especially since it is based on falsehood. The prime example of such fabrication is that Gandhi was responsible for Partition when the truth is absolutely the opposite. Gandhi remained a firm opponent of Partition until the very end. The Congress Working Committee accepted the Partition plan, knowing that this was the case. This is the main reason why Gandhi disassociated himself from the celebrations accompanying Indian Independence and left Delhi for Bengal to heal the wounds of communal riots. Unfortunately, slander has now become a fine art in India and electronic and social media have become the principal conduits for its propagation.
Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University