Why Hindu Nationalism Will Never Kill Gandhi's Legacy

Despite episodes of hatred and nationalism, Gandhi's ideas are still alive and well in India.

Pooja Shakun Pandey shoots an effigy of Gandhi
Pooja Shakun Pandey shoots an effigy of Gandhi
Rohit Kumar

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."

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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