Hijacking Bapu's legacy

Representation of the country as similar to the right-wing ideologue by reshaping Gandhian values is a grave disrespect to Mahatma’s vision of a liberal India

In the run-up to hijack the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and its political arm Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) are in no mood to spare any stone unturned. What could be the best occasion than a year-long celebration of Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary? So, RSS, BJP and entire Modi-government have opened all the floodgates to re-establish a new face for Mahatma's ideological heritor.

In lieu of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's slogan at Houston's NRG stadium—'Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar', American president Donald Trump gave the title of 'Father of India' to Modi. The boost in the morale of BJP after Trump's return gift to Modi is incomparable. The eagerness among BJP-RSS cadre to convert Trump's words into an event was so high that immediately after touching down at Delhi airport, Modi was given a reception as if he had now acquired the position of the king of world diplomacy.

PM Modi's recent visit to the US has fuelled RSS with such a new dynamism that its Joint General Secretary Krishna Gopal openly said that we wanted for years that the world should see India and RSS as one and the same. He was so delighted while reacting on Pakistan's stand in the United Nations that he told the media that RSS and India have now become synonymous. 'Imran Sahab (Prime Minister of Pakistan) has done this job very well for us and we congratulate him for that', Krishna Gopal said overwhelmingly. A new book about RSS claims that India and RSS would become one entity in a decade from now.

To make the road smooth for achieving this goal, the RSS-BJP combine needs to project itself as the true representative of Gandhi's values. It can be done only when the Congress party and its leadership is perceived as detached from Gandhi's bequest. But for Congress president Sonia Gandhi's hard-hitting speech at Rajghat on October 2, ruling dispensation would have succeeded in portraying Narendra Modi as the only implementer of Gandhi's programs in today's India. Sonia made it clear that those who always worked against the Gandhian values would never be accepted by Indian people as their true leaders and Gandhi's soul must be in pain for past 4-5 years while witnessing the circumstances through which his country is passing.

RSS is relentlessly trying to improve its image, especially in the international arena, from a conformist, conservative and conventional Hindu-centric organisation to a free-thinker, modern and contemporary one. After German ambassador to India, Walter Linder's visit to RSS headquarters in Nagpur in July this year got a very bad press abroad, the chief Mohan Bhagwat asked his lieutenants to organise his interaction with the foreign media based in India. Around 80 prominent journalists representing international media were invited and Bhagwat spoke to them for hours on September 24. He was assisted by high ranking Manmohan Vaidya and Krishna Gopal. Head of RSS north India division Bajarang Lal Gupta was also present during this intercommunication where foreign media asked the questions on various aspects and Bhagwat gave a frank reply to the queries posed by them. Foreign media was then told to keep the whole proceedings off the record as 'it is only a part of continuous process where Sarsanghchalak (the Chief of RSS) engages in constructive dialogue with people from different walks of the society'.

Reshaping Gandhi's legacy is an important part of RSS' plan for rewriting India's history. During the first week of January 2017, a group of Indian scholars gathered in a white bungalow on a leafy boulevard in central New Delhi. The focus of their discussion was how to rewrite the history of the nation. Modi-government had quietly appointed a committee of scholars in mid-2016 with the aim 'to use the evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today's Hindus are directly descended from the land's first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact, not myth'. The 14-member committee was given the task to shape the national identity to match the religious views of Hindu nationalists, that India is a nation of, and for, Hindus.

The committee, since then, is working to challenge the multicultural narrative that has dominated India until now and busy in rewriting various aspects of ancient history while keeping an eye on a larger plan to revise India's history. The RSS asserts that ancestors of all people of Indian origin, including 172 million Muslims, were Hindu and that they must accept their common ancestry as part of Mother India. According to few participants in Bhagwat's interaction with foreign media, they were told that the true colour of Indian history is saffron and to bring about cultural changes the nation has to rewrite history, 'for which the holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture for 12,000 years is underway'.

The foreign correspondents came back from Bhagwat's meeting with an impression that RSS totally rejects the idea that India was forged from mass migration and today's Hindu population is directly descended from the land's first inhabitants. They were told that the theory of an influx of people from central Asia 3,000 to 4,000 years ago was embraced during British rule. 'In much the same way that some Christians point to evidence of an ancient flood substantiating the Biblical tale of Noah and his ark, the settings and features of the ancient scriptures in India are also verified. If the Koran and Bible are considered as part of history, then what is the problem in accepting Hindu religious texts as the history of India?' RSS ideologues argued.

History will never absolve the Congress and the entire Opposition for their incompetence in blocking the efforts that are being made to steal the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Discounting the fact that the present ruling management is unwavering from the path it has taken to paint the entire Indian history with a colour of its choice would pave the way to handover the fundamentals of Indian nation into the hands of those forces who killed Gandhi. Gandhi invested in people. That is his legacy. It is up to the leadership of secular parties that they protect Gandhi's legacy and leave a legacy for future generations.

History is made by courageous leaders. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better. Liberty, for which Gandhi worked day and night, is in crisis today. Opposition leadership is perceived as absent. The opposition has to realise that liberty has always come from the populace, not from governments. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the rise of it. Therefore, unless ground-level consolidated efforts are made by the Opposition to revitalise itself, the future of Gandhi's India seems bleak and the future of Gandhi's values will depend on RSS and its affiliates.

(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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