Home > 2016 > Recalling Gandhi in Narendra Modi’s India

Mainstream, VOL LIV No 14 New Delhi March 26, 2016

Recalling Gandhi in Narendra Modi’s India

Monday 28 March 2016, by Sumanta Banerjee

People must everywhere learn to defend themselves against misbehaving individuals, no matter who they are. The question of non-violence and violence does not arise. No doubt the non-violent is always the best, but where that does not come naturally, the violent way is both necessary and honourable. Inaction here is rank cowardice and unmanly. It must be shunned at all cost.” —M.K. Gandhi’s statement in Sevagram, June 22, 1942; published in Harijan, 28/6/1942; Collected Works, Vol. 1, LXXVI

The above quotation may sound un-Gandhian for many, and shock his devout followers. But Gandhi indeed made that statement in support of the railway hawkers who set up self-defence squads to resist depredations by British and US soldiers posted in India during the Second World War. It assumes relevance today, particularly now, when students, artists, human rights activists and other sections of Indian society are facing the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar’s formidable armed squads, which enforce Narendra Modi’s agenda of creating a national state of mind much like his own, and that of his political parent, the RSS. Despite occasional reports of the RSS headquarters’ impatience with Modi’s egocentric actions, both the parent and the son share the same demented singlemindedness in turning India into a Talibanised Hindu Rashtra.

The recent events in the academic institutions and universities all over India (from the Pune Film Institute to University of Hyderabad, to JNU and Jadavpur University), indicate an ominous trend. The present regime is planning to entrust the administration of these institutions to men of miserably meagre talents from within the Sangh Parivar, who with fanatical determination are pursuing the Parivar’s agenda of ruthless suffocation of the atmosphere of healthy debates, suppression of the growth of scientific inquiry among the students, stifling of dissenting views which challenge the conservative status quo, whether on gender issues or Kashmir (which had always enervated the atmosphere of these institutions).

What is even more alarming is the impunity with which the goons of the Sangh Parivar defy the judiciary—which at times remains a mute spectator, if not a collaborator. Led by their MLA, one O.P. Sharma, the BJP lawyers assaulted students, journalists, and even hurled abuses on a group of Supreme Court-appointed lawyers in the premises of Patiala House Courts complex in New Delhi during February 15 and 17. The police force posted there colluded in the entire shameful act by remaining passive. No wonder, since their boss, the present Delhi Police Commissioner, in his eagerness to satisfy his super bosses in the Modi Cabinet, concocted a story of linking the JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar with the Pakistan-based terrorist leader, Hafiz Sayeed, based on some fake twitter message! Curiously enough, the lower judiciary let off the BJP MLA, O.P. Sharma (who was caught on video assaulting a student), on bail, immediately after his arrest, but it chose to put Kumar behind bars, even though there was no concrete evidence of sedition against him. So much for the independence of the members of the lower judiciary!

The BJP’s Game-Plan—Premonitions of an Emergency-like Situation?

The Modi Government’s authoritarian inter-vention in the academic sphere, its manipulation of sections of the media in its favour by creating a hysteria that falsely depicts the universities as dens of Pakistani agents, and its defiance of the judiciary—are all of a game-plan. It is a plan to whip up a national frenzy of patriotism in the name of protecting the sovereignty of the Indian nation, and pretending to be the only custodian of that responsibility. Under that cover, Modi intends to suppress all dissent—whether Left or liberal—by branding it as ‘anti-national’ and the dissenters as Pakistani agents. Apart from using colonial laws in his powers as a Prime Minister, to arrest protestors on the charge of ‘sedition’, Modi, as the leader of the BJP, is unleashing his foot-soldiers (the goons of the ABVP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and other similar outfits) to attack any expression of protest against his policies.

The NDA Government is deliberately preci-pitating a situation of violent conflicts in various States—along religious communal lines (as evident in the active participation of the Sangh Parivar leaders in Muzaffarnagar, Dadri and other places). It then attributes these conflicts to local Muslim youth, who are arrested and branded as ‘Pakistani agents’. Even dissenters among the Hindu community who challenge superstitious religious practices are hauled up on charges of ‘hurting religious feelings’, and are entangled in long-drawn legal cases. The government is thus trying to discourage and threaten voices of dissent, by holding the Damocles’ sword of both the colonial sedition law, and a host of other draconian laws that the post-colonial Indian state had enacted. By branding every protest (whether in the universities or elsewhere) as ‘anti-national’ and tracing it to Pakistani support (as by trying to morph Kanhaiya Kumar’s image against a pro-Pakistan map—in some TV channels), the NDA Government is planning to create a public paranoia about ‘anti-national‘ elements who are supposedly out to destroy the Indian nation!

Watching the TV anchors’ hysterical body language, and reading the hate messages on the social media, that echo the violent acts of the Sangh Parivar thugs and their psychopath leaders, one can understand how easy it is for a BJP-run Centre to mould public opinion through a subservient media, and persuade a substantial section of Indians, and even its educated elements, to sanction lynching of Muslims (branded as Pakistani agents), persecution of dissenters from within the Hindu community on the flimsy ground of ‘hurting religious sentiments’, and even killing of rationalists who dare to oppose Hindu superstitious beliefs and practices.

At the same time, Modi is putting up a brilliant masquerade as a global entertainer—trying to induce foreign investors, and impress the starry-eyed NRI diaspora. Whether the Indian media-hyped rhetoric of Modi’s promises will be translated into the shape of funds pouring into the sagging Indian economy is yet to be tested during the remaining years of his tenure.

Urgent Need for a Multi-pronged Strategy of Resistance

Meanwhile, India will have to suffer the Modi Government for the next three years. Our electorate are paying the price for allowing themselves (or at least one-third of them) to be used as a bargaining chip in a cynical political showdown between a corrupt and inept UPA II Government and a cunningly opportunist BJP ready to jump into the vacuum of public disenchantment. Through the present first-past-the-post electoral system, the BJP-led NDA managed to swindle its way into the Lok Sabha and put in position of power a banal personality as the Prime Minister, who is one of the iconographers of fascist Hindutva with the ghastly record of presiding over the massacre of Muslims in his own State of Gujarat as its Chief Minister. Narendra Modi’s elevation to the position of India’s Prime Minister is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the country’s parliamentary democracy.

In order to get rid of this government, we have to wait for the next general elections in 2019—or if a situation arises on the waves of a national mass movement which forces the Modi Government to resign and face a mid-term poll. Either way, we have to prepare for a multi-pronged set of strategies and tactics.

The immediate need is to resist the armed thugs of the Sangh Parivar, whenever they disrupt public meetings, debates, discussions, film shows, theatres and exhibitions which assert freedom of expression of secular ideas and democratic rights. Since we cannot depend on the police—which acts as an agent of the ruling BJP—we have to build up our own mechanisms of self-protection. But the prerequsite for that is the twin task of creation of public opinion and mobilisation of vast sections of the people in the streets against the hoodlums of the Parivar. The first task involves a widespread campaign to (i) expose the Parivar’s hypocritical claims of patriotism by disclosing the treacherous role of their leaders during the national movement—beginning from Savarkar’s abject surrender to the British Government in his petition from Andaman Jail (dated November 14, 1913), where he promised to work as its agent if released, to Atal Behari Vajpayee’s confessional statement to a Magistrate on September 1, 1942, naming two friends of his who participated in the ‘Quit-India’ movement, which led to their arrest and conviction; (ii) reveal the opportunist role of the RSS leaders, like Balasaheb Deoras, who, when jailed during the Emergency, wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi (dated August 22, 1975) begging her to lift the ban on the RSS, and offering in exchange the services of his followers to implement the Emergency. Equally shameful was Nanaji Deshmukh’s open statement in support of the Hindu killers of Sikhs in 1984, where he said that the Sikhs deserved their fate for their departure from the orthodox Hindu fold (reproduced in the Hindi journal, Pratipaksh, November 25, 1984); and (iii) nail the BJP-led present government for its failure on every front—economic, social, cultural—a record of stunning incompetence by a gang of uncivilised leaders, irredeemably orthodox in their beliefs and vulgar in their manners.

The next stage is to organise self-defence squads from among the citizens in urban mohallas and rural clusters, industrial hubs and educational institutions, to resist the Sangh Parivar’s thugs. If necessary, we should be prepared to face them with armed resistance. Let us not be squeamish about the use of violence at certain times. I began with a quotation from Gandhi’s writing, and continuing in the same vein, let me end with another quote from him. On November 6, 1946, Gandhi on his way to Noakhali in East Bengal, met in Chandpur a deputation of Hindus who were at one time armed revolutionaries, and who now sought Gandhi’s advice as to how to resist the communal onslaught. Gandhi said: “I have not asked you to discard the use of arms (to resist it)....”, but then he added a note of caution: “Even violence has its code of ethics. For instance, to butcher helpless old men, women and children is not bravery, but rank cowardice....Use your arms well, if you must. Do not ill use them...” (Pyarelal—Mahatma Gandhi, The Last Phase, Part I, Vol. IX, Book Two, Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1956, pp. 16-18).

The time has come to “use our arms well”.

Sumanta Banerjee is a well-known writer, journalist and columnist with a deep commitment to the Left and human rights movement. Some of his better known books incude In the Wake of Naxalbari:A History of the Naxalite Movement (2008), The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in NineteenthCentury Calcutta (1998), The Wicked City: Crime and Punishment in Colonial Calcutta (2009), Crime and Urbani-sation: Calcutta in the Nineteenth Century (2006).