Despite episodes of hatred and nationalism, Gandhi's ideas are still alive and well in India.
NEW DELHI —On January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse walked up to Mahatma Gandhi at the grounds of Birla House and pumped three bullets into him at point-blank range. The frail old man uttered the name of God, and died.
Seventy-one years later, in a bizarre re-enactment of the assassination, members of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha Party in Aligarh shot bullets into an effigy of the Mahatma. They also made sure that fake blood oozed out of their ‘victim". This ghoulish act has received widespread condemnation across the country and criminal cases have been registered against 13 people involved in the event, including Pooja Shakun Pandey, the Mahasabha leader who staged the event.
The peace-loving among us recoil at this bloodthirsty hatefulness and celebration of violence, and the sane among us ask the point in shooting a dead man. But perhaps there is another question waiting to be answered, and perhaps it is not as absurd as it might sound: Did they shoot him because somewhere within themselves they know he lives on?
Could it be that those in the Hindu Mahasabha and its many kindred organizations have sensed Gandhi's spirit walking among everyday Indians? Could it be that, despite their best efforts, the voice of the Mahatma and his calm call to compassion and non-violence have managed to waft over the deafening din of hate and reach their ears, if not their hearts? And in doing so, has it unnerved them so completely that they feel the need to take their hatred of the man to the next level?
Could it be that the spirit of the Mahatma is alive and well?
Let's be honest, there is now open sanction for violence against all those considered the enemies of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. The smouldering dislike for Muslims, for example, that was just about kept in check over the last few decades, has been openly fanned, and the fires of hatred that have burst forth have taken the lives of many.
The better known victims of this hate include Mohammed Akhlaq, beaten to death in Dadri for being rumored to possess beef in 2015; Pehlu Khan who was lynched by a mob in Alwar in 2017; Hafiz Junaid who was stabbed to death on a train; and Mohammad Afrazul, hacked to death and then burned by Shambhulal Regar. Among others.
Murderers have been garlanded and the families of the victims have had to face police action. Journalists, NGOs, and activists who have spoken out have faced harassment, legal suits and even imprisonment. The great Hindutva project — which began before India gained independence and received a great push forward with the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992 — entered its golden (saffron) era with the premiership of Narendra Modi beginning in 2014.
This is Hindutva's heyday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reigns supreme. Gandhi has officially been co-opted and reduced to a pair of glasses and a broom, so why so much hatred for a man who is dead, and for all practical purposes gone from the body politic?
Or has he?
It looks like hate, but could it actually be fear?
Behavioral psychologists can tell you that hatred and fear are two sides of the same coin. One follows the other, as night follows dusk. Could it be that the spirit of the Mahatma is alive and well, walking the streets and alleys of India? Satya and ahimsa, as we know, were the ‘weapons' with which he waged his ‘war". Is it possible that over the past five years, every time the Hindutva organizations and leaders have seen those two most powerful of all ‘weapons' in action, they have also seen the specter of Gandhi?
For instance, did they see his silhouette in March 2018, when 55,000 farmers marched into Mumbai to press for their rights, but at night so as not to disturb the school children who had exams the next morning? Did the RSS and its acolytes sense Gandhi's presence when thousands upon thousands of citizens in each of India's metro cities came out under the banner of "Not In My Name" to protest the murder of Hafiz Junaid, a boy whose only "crime" was that he was a Muslim returning home from Eid shopping?
Did they feel Gandhi's heart when Yashpal Saxena refused to let the murder of his son become communalized? Of this incident, activist and author Harsh Mander wrote:
"By affirming that he bore Muslims no ill will, Yashpal Saxena, whose only son Ankit Saxena was murdered by the family of the Muslim girl he loved, demolished one of the most widely used rationalizations for communal hatred. He rejected what I call the Doctrine of Vicarious Guilt, the idea that an entire community must collectively carry the guilt for crimes – real or imagined, committed now or in history – which any of its members may have perpetrated."
Exactly what the Mahatma taught.
Does the Hindutva camp brush up against Gandhi's ghost every time it sees its communal designs fail? The Hindu Mahasabha can shoot bullets into Gandhi's effigy all they want, but they cannot fight the truth of his words.
"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it — always."