On the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, one would have normally expected television channels to debate on his relevance to contemporary society, politics and economics or about any aspect of his legacy, be it his crusade against untouchability, communalism et al or his advocacy of ‘Gram Swaraj’, ‘Swadeshi’, cleanliness etc. As a developing nation, many of these problems continue to haunt us, and Bapu’s life and message continue to be a beacon light even five decades after he fell to the assassin’s bullets.
Yet, the debate focused on whether the ruling BJP has appropriated his legacy from the Congress party, whose disbandment the Mahatma had vociferously advocated following the country’s independence asserting that its raison d’etre has been fully served. It was nauseating to see panelists making claims and counter-claims, including allegations of RSS involvement in Gandhi’s killing and the Grand Old Party of reducing Gandhi to a symbol and promoting the Nehru family no end.
To begin with, Mahatma Gandhi belongs to the entire country. As Father of the Nation, no political party can claim any proprietary right over him or his legacy. Every citizen and organisation has an equal right over him as every Indian is the rightful inheritor of his legacy. Globally, too, he is known as an Indian icon and not as a representative of any organisation.
Playing the Devil’s Advocate, even if for the sake of it, it is argued that any organisation had differences with Bapu during his lifetime, does it disinherit them from his legacy? In a democracy, every dynamic organisation should be progressive and open to change. And if in the course of time, an organisation changes its viewpoint on a certain individual or subject, does it necessarily make them opportunists? After all, the Communist parties in India have shifted away from the Marxist concept of a bloody revolution and have actively participated in parliamentary democracy. Can you hold them guilty of believing in a violent rebellion against the state decades after they made their choices clear?
In recent days, one heard RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat distancing the organisation from some of the views
expressed by the organisation’s founder. Now, is that being progressive in tune with the changing times or being opportunist or pretentious? Similarly, the Muslim League under Muhammad Ali Jinnah played a crucial role in the partition of India but the Indian Union Muslim League has committed itself to the Constitution of post-Independent India.
If legacies of freedom fighters and stalwarts, hitherto neglected for reasons of political expediency, is sought to be resurrected, it has to be welcomed by one and all. And if legacy can be claimed only on the basis of whether a party has lived up to the ideals of Bapu, then none—including the one he led—qualifies. Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy is not about symbolism and tokenism. In it lies the solution to multitude of India’s problems.
K G Suresh
Delhi-based senior journalist