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Gandhi's killers are National icons now
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may have been born a bania -- someone from a community whose vocation from time immemorial has remained trade and moneylending in India's rigid caste pyramid. However, few in a country where one's birth still defines one's social station, and in many cases, calling, regard Gandhi as a bania. Most Indians, born long after his assassination at the hands of a Hindu fanatic, know him as the 'Mahatma' and the Father of the Nation. Gandhi has always been a powerful, unifying figure for the Indians -- over and above the petty, sectarian politics.

Eminent historian Ramachandra Guha writes of an interesting incident, in March 1922, when Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition. "When he was produced in court, the magistrate, after the law then prevalent, asked the prisoner to identify himself by caste or profession. Gandhi answered that he was "a farmer and weaver". The magistrate was startled; so, he asked the question again, to get the same answer."

Gandhi strove all his life to transcend these distinctions, speaking for all Indians - especially for the Hindu-Muslim unity. So why is the BJP of Prime Minister Modi, himself a Gujarati, is trying hard to portray him as one?

Earlier this month, BJP president Amit Shah called Gandhi a 'bohut chatur bania' (exceedingly cunning merchant) suggesting that the Mahatma wanted the grand old party wound up after Independence. Predictably, the 'bania' barb set off war of words between the BJP and Congress.

By targeting the Mahatma and the opposition, the BJP is clearly testing the national mood. For perhaps no one represents the idea of an inclusive India as Gandhi does. The BJP must first attack and defeat this powerful symbol and mascot of an inclusive nation, if it wants to win its ongoing war on the Idea of India.

By targeting Gandhi, on the one hand, it hopes to further demoralize and marginalize the Congress. On the other hand, it's looking to replace the nation's revered pantheon of icons with its own gallery of rogues.

It is a sign of changing times that 70 years after Gandhi's death, not only is his colossal contribution to India's Independence is under attack, his assassins are quietly replacing him in the national narrative and government text books as 'heroes' and leaders of the freedom struggle.

This is precisely what has happened in the BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan. Following the recent, rigorous rewriting of history under the Parivar, V D Savarkar, the father of Hindutva dogma, has replaced Gandhi as the leader of the national struggle in government textbooks.

As Indian media reported last week, the diminutive man who brought a disparate nation together and shook the British empire with his non-violent defiance, finds only a passing reference in textbooks under the BJP government.

Ironically, Savarkar, lionized by Hindutva as 'Swatantryaveer' (hero of freedom struggle) abjectly surrendered to the British after being incarcerated at Andaman's infamous jail. In total contrast with patriots like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Ashfaqullah Khan, who refused to ask the British for mercy and embraced martyrdom, Savarkar begged for clemency.

His pathetic letter, dated November 14, 1913, features in the Penal Settlement in Andaman.

Referring to his earlier clemency request, Savarkar wrote, "If the (British) government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty's subjects in India. If we are released, the people will raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge.''

Savarkar is not just known for his 'heroism' in the Andaman jail; he is also the key figure in the Hindutva plot to assassinate Gandhi in 1948 in Delhi. Nathuram Godse, who eventually hanged for firing those bullets at the Mahatma, and his three other associates were senior members of Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. Interestingly, the RSS was founded by a former Congress leader and Savarkar's follower K B Hedgewar in 1925.

Indeed, Savarkar not only was the brain behind the plot to kill Gandhi, he was one of the main accused. He managed to escape the conviction narrowly for want of corroborative evidence and also because of Patel, the first home minister known for his soft corner for Hindutva.

And now Gandhi, who offered his life for the nation, is being replaced by his assassins as the national icons. This is all the more ironic considering the Hindutva warriors totally sat out the freedom struggle and, in many cases, acted as the collaborators of the Raj.

It is not just Gandhi; Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister who was truly the architect of modern India, has forever been the target of Hindutva's slanderous campaign.

This rewriting and revision of history is not limited to the Congress and national icons. It acquires toxic, positively vicious overtones in dealing with the historical Muslim presence and rule in India. True to the Sangh's beliefs, Modi himself had talked of ending "1200 years of slave mentality" in his speech in Parliament soon after his election.

Which is what the BJP has been doing by elaborately and aggressively rewriting history, portraying the 1000-year long Muslim rule as nothing but ruthless tyranny and oppression of Hindus by 'foreign invaders.'

Who cares if this retelling of history is not rooted in reality? Who gives a damn if this dangerous distortion of the past, painting the 200-million strong Muslim minority as the perennial enemy and source of all evil is wreaking havoc on the country's peace and harmony?

Already, the attacks on Muslims and other minorities under the BJP have become so commonplace that no one even takes notice of them. The lynching of CPM (L) activist Zafar Khan in Rajasthan this week at the hands of civic officials takes the persecution and victimization of Muslims to a whole new level.

It is not enough for the party that it has come to power using hate and strife; it must continually stir the pot until the country blows up in some kind of civil war.

As thespian Naseeruddin Shah lamented last week, the demonization and open hatred against Muslims seen today is unprecedented. We have never experienced anything like this before.

Where would all this end? What kind of India are we leaving for our children? These are questions that all Indians, who really love and care for their country, must ask themselves.

In the words of Guha, "by dividing Indians into Hindus and Muslims is how the BJP seeks to win elections and remain in power."

While the saffron party wins these electoral battles, by hook or crook, it is India that stands to lose.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist. Email:

News Updated at : Monday, June 19, 2017
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