It is important to differentiate a celebration of Gandhian philosophy from a celebration of his life.
India observed its 70th government-mandated holiday, and thank God it was on a weekday this time. Jokes aside, the fact that posthumous birthday celebrations of the Father of the Nation are reduced to a day of rest, and not mindfulness and reconsideration of the Gandhian values is abominable. However, being an Indian and having a skewed understanding of Gandhi’s legacy and internationally revered ideology is even more deplorable.
It is no coincidence that the United Nations Organisation observes the International Day of Non-Violence on the same day as Gandhi Jayanti.
Dhoti-clad and humble in demeanour, Gandhi’s personality has been described as exemplary and even sublime by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Gandhi was an ideal leader, he bore no hatred for his oppressors and propagated resistance through what he called Satyagraha, or soul force. He never held any office in the Government of India. His influence over those in office was implied, just not formally recognised. Clashes faced by him due to political and religious influence eventually led to his downfall. On Gandhi Jayanti, here is a look at some complicated aspects of Gandhi’s life.
The politics of the Indian independence struggle was elitist in nature; the masses had only instrumental value, while the English-educated and predominantly Hindu elitists, who advocated self- governance, accounted for a bulk of the Indian administrations. Never having faced gross violations themselves, their struggle for freedom was an intellectual pursuit and not an existentialist one. Gandhi, despite his deep concern for the poor, was unsuccessful in comprehending the crisis of the poor, especially when it came to the lower-caste community. His role was thus reduced to mass mobilisation, he ensured the peasantry freedom from the British Raj, but not from privileged India.
There are plenty of instances where Gandhi had displayed intolerance for different ideas. First, when Subhash Chandra Bose was forced out of his
elected position a President of the Indian National Congress because Gandhi found him to be insufficiently pliable and too
radical for his taste. And second, when Gandhi’s hunger strike (in 1932) forced B.R. Ambedkar, the voice of Dalits, to drop his demand for separate electorates. Since then, Ambedkar had disparaged Gandhi for his unwavering commitment to the caste system, implying that his concern for
the untouchables was a sham. Gandhi’s abandonment of the cause and interest of peasantry haunts them even today. The Dalits and Bahujans continue to struggle and experience a disconnect from true “freedom” seven decades after the independence.
Gandhi professed that above all, his mission was to bridge the gap between Hindus and Muslims. However, his equation of “Hindu nationalist tradition” to “Indianness” by his dress, vocabulary, demeanour, and his obsession with the protection of cows threatened the identity of other religious minorities. The use of the term Mahatma (great soul) by Gandhi’s acolytes as his title introduced Hindu spiritual terminology into the political arena. His ideas alluded to a mythical Hindu golden age that is assumed to have existed before the advent of Islam in India, which created a drawbridge and increased Muslim alienation in the country.
Gandhi’s ascension into a celebrity created disillusionment within people, and instances such as Jinnah being publicly booed-off a stage because of
his reluctance to refer to Gandhi as “Mahatma” became commonplace. He might identify as a peasant, but always in his essence, Gandhi was infinitely more than a peasant. He had intellect, vision, an ability to attract, the obvious privilege and pride of being an upper caste Hindu, and his asceticism. On the topic of Gandhi, school history textbooks are skewed to the point of blatant glorification, and the failure of the Indian National Congress post-independence shows how national identity was used as propaganda, devoid of any values.
The spirit of his ideas is more important than his human existence. The ideology of Gandhianism is more important to our nation than perhaps his legacy, and it faces the challenge of neglect and obfuscation. Three bullets to the torso can only take a life, and not erase thought.
Feature Image Credits: Path Decorations Pictures