How does one remember Gandhi?

October 2nd is Gandhi’s birth anniversary. There will be reams of printed paper telling us how great he was, telling us how far his countrymen have drifted from his ideals, listing for us what his other great contemporaries have said about him, how many great men and women he inspired through his acts. All this and more.

Will there be any articles critical of his ideas and consequences thereof ?  There could be. There could be articles that are critical of his “village centricism” of his “anti-modernism”. Critical of his many eccentricities – sexual, social and political. There might be essays that relate Gandhi’s methods to our current move against Naxal killers and those that might decry the State’s “high-handedness” while ruthlessly protecting innocent citizens from ruthless terrorists and their supporters.

There might even be essays about how Gandhi might have aided the rise of Hindu Nationalism with his “silly” talk of Rama Rajya and such. With his “mixing” religion and politics. With his alienation of Muslims with all his Hindu symbolism.

Then there is the Dalit question. How did Gandhi effect his “Harijans”? Did he really help them or betray them? Why could he and Dr. Ambedkar never get along? Or was Dr. Ambedkar too proud to bend to Gandhi’s will? Or was Gandhi too stubborn? What was Gandhi’s view on caste, finally? Was he against caste or was he against untouchability or the ill-effects of wrongful discrimination?

Gandhi’s attitude toward Muslims and Hindus. How did that turn out? Did Gandhi really believe all religions are equal? That they teach the same truths? Or was this strategy to forge a united front and while doing that – look like a saint? Was his saintliness affected?

What was Gandhi’s stance on Christian missionary activities? What did he say of conversions in the name of Christ? Why was he against? Was he really against while sounding against? If yes, was he then a Hindu Nationalist in disguise? Or was he a mis-guided Hindu? Or was he Hindu at all? After-all, his opposition to conversions was never based on opposition to the Christian principle. To him Christ and Mohammed could do no wrong.

Was Gandhi a democrat? Or was he not? If not, what was he? Why did he mis-behave with Bose and a host of his opponents within and without the Congress? Or did he? Were his opponents who were in the wrong? Did they somehow not see his light?

A liberal Gandhi? I have my doubts. Gandhi could not have been a liberal. He was conservative by many estimates. He was also traditional. His instincts seemed right. Was his blunder his methods? Was his sin his hunger for power and his need to be the sole spokesman? Did his propensity to bend people to his Will finally result in breaking him?

What about his Satyagraha and Ahimsa? What of it? Was it on display when Bhagat Singh was hanged and Gandhi did little or nothing at all to help him? What of the Mapillai killers who found solace in Gandhi’s soothing words? When he kept quite and silently accepted that he as Hindu was indeed worse than the most fallen Mussalman? Was it evidenced when he asked the Hindu father of a slaughtered son to adopt a Muslim orphan and raise as Muslim? Why did he ask that Hindusthan defend itself through arms against the marauders in Kashmir? But then he also told the Jews that the best way to defend themselves was to happily let Hitler kill them.

Is all this what led him to his downfall? Because let’s make no mistake here – Gandhi had his downfall. Gandhi was no hero to his people and colleagues when he died and for sometime before he died. Nathuram seems to have done him the greatest favor.

It’s very difficult to bracket Gandhi in some or other category. He was multidimensional. But when one speaks of his impact on the events of this country then one must perforce gauge what could have been the impact if his opponents had had the upper hand. For instance; what if Shri Aurobindo had not abandoned his rightful duty and stayed on to fight for Congress leadership? What if Bose had stayed too? What if Sardar Patel had been more assertive in his common sense? What if the Hindu Mahasabha and the Congress had combined to face the Muslim League? With the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?

What if?

The lesson of Gandhi’s epoch is the lesson of illfounded  tolerance that this country consistently displays in the face of grand failures and thorough incompetence. The other lesson of Gandhi’s epoch is again this country’s recurring and unfortunate feature – that of missed opportunities and tragic choices.

The third lesson of Gandhi’s epoch is that we must choose carefully; those that wish to lead us.

– Namaste

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