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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 43 New Delhi October 12, 2019

Gandhi Alone is the ‘Father of India’

Sunday 13 October 2019

by Ram Puniyani

The ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston was an eye-catcher for more reasons than one. While Modi was saying ‘All is Well’ in India, thousands of protestors outside were showing the real mirror to the state of affairs in India. At the same time Donald Trump, the US President, while on one hand due to face the process of impeachment, was trying to promote his electoral prospects in the next US elections on the other. As is his wont, he does flatter visiting dignitaries, for achieving the goals of his diplomacy. He went on to praise Modi to the sky as a great leader saying, “I remember India before was very torn. There was a lot of dissension; fighting and he (Modi) brought it all together. Like a father would. Maybe he is the ‘Father of India’.

Right within the US there are many views about Modi. The last time a similar debate cropped up was just before the Indian general elections of 2019. On the eve of the elections the US premier magazine, Time, came out with a cover story “Modi: the Divider-in-Chief’. Of course in another article in the same issue of the magazine he was presented as the one who is central to the process of economic reforms in India. What we see here in India and what the lead article of Time magazine presented was on the dot: the divisive role of Modi. The observation here has been that Modi’s coming to power has strengthened the divisive forces, the forces who want to have a Hindu nation. It is precisely these forces which have gone on a rampage to unleash their agenda around Cow-Beef, the communal divisions have been deepened and identity issues have come to the fore like never before.

The minorities are being alienated and Dalits-Adivasis are being marginalised. Even language- wise talk has been floated to make Hindi as the national language. The identity issues, which create emotive atmosphere and divide the people have come to the fore. While Trump is talking in one tone, the earlier hopeful in previous presidential elections in America, Bernie Sanders, in a tweet, hinted that Trump is emboldening the authoritarian leaders like Modi, the leaders who are presiding over religious persecution, repression and brutality against minorities.

Till a few years ago Modi himself spoke a very divisive language. Now this job has been passed down to his associates. Yogi Adityanath’s anti-Muslim utterances abound. Anantkrishna Hegde, like many of his ilk, has been openly talking of a Hindu nation. To add to the list Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the accused in the Malegaon blast, out on bail, has been praising Gandhi’s killer Godse among other things. Lately the way Article 370 has been abrogated the alienation of the Kashmiris is on the rise.

In a way Time magazine’s cover story did capture the state of things prevalent here. Trump is no scholar of history, ignorant of the fact as to why India regards Mahatma Gandhi as the ‘Father of the Nation’. Trump’s considerations are driven by his political contingency of gradually shifting America’s closeness to India. The reason for the US favouring Pakistan in yesteryears was the compulsion of the Cold War era. Later it kept siding with Pakistan as the US designs of controlling the oil wealth of West Asia were its prime motive and Pakistan was made a part of American designs in West Asia. Now with the emergence of China as a major power, and China being close to Pakistan, the US gradually wants to become close to India. These may be some of the factors due to which Trump is making such utterances. But that’s not about all. The US is also keeping its Pakistan relationship on some scale and very shrewdly Trump did say that Modi had made aggressive remarks in the Houston rally. He seems to be buttering his bread from both the sides at present.

Many a reaction to Trump’s formulations showed his hollowness. Gandhi’s grandson, Tushar, tweeted whether Trump would like to replace George Washington as one of the founding fathers of America.

What Trump has stated has pained those for whom Gandhi is the ‘Father of the Nation’. Anyway the followers of Modi ideology do not regard Gandhi as the Father of the Nation. Their argument is that India, the Hindu nation, is there from times immemorial and so how can Gandhi be its father? Gandhi being the Father of the Nation also relates to the concept of nationalism. All those who were part of ‘India as a nation-in-the-making’ see Gandhi as the central uniting figure. During the freedom movement and in the anti-colonial movement, it was Gandhi who played the role of uniting the country which was scattered along the lines of religion, region, caste and language. The communalists, like the followers of the Muslim League, saw Gandhi as a Hindu leader and Hindu communalists saw Gandhi as the appeaser of Muslims. Through very profound and complex process, India emerged as a nation with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Surely the likes of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar, Nehru and Patel played a great role in the making of a modern India. The process had multiple components, anti-colonialism being the core where the likes of Bhagat Singh inspired the idea and Gandhi led the greatest ever mass movement, the movement directed against the British Empire.

It is due to this that Subhash Chandra Bose on July 6 1944, in a broadcast from Singapore Radio, sought the blessings of Gandhi, addressing him as the Father of the Nation. Sarojini Naidu on April 6, 1947, on the eve of Independence, addressed Gandhi as Rashtrapita (Father of Nation).

So where do we go from here? The Hindu nationalist followers of the BJP/RSS are going euphoric about what Trump said and all those who identify with India’s struggle for independence and uphold democratic values are in anguish due to President Trump’s superficial observation is neither historically sound nor imbued with a sound knowledge of what is happening in India; it’s just a diplomatic ploy to please the visiting leader. 

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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