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Martyrs' Day revisited - The Observer

Varsha Bhosle ()
26-February January 1

Title : Martyrs' Day revisited
Author : Varsha Bhosle
Publication : The Observer
Date : January 26-February 1, 1997

Rashtrapita, Rashtrapurush, portraits, grandsons, ashes, Bharat Yatras, high
courts... I'm up to my ears with the business. And with Martyrs' Day being
just round the corner, there's no hope of it abating. For the next two weeks
(or as long as Mr Bal Thackeray does not grasp the virtues in a political
maun-vrat), we're in for a diet of editorials titled "Recalling Gandhiji's
Vision" or "Echoes of Godse" or "Ahimsa and the Mahatma". So what better a
day than today for me to rush in where angels fear to tread?

Actually, the spark was a letter in The Pioneer, wherein a Mr Praful Goradia
asserted the significance of Netaji Bose's armed struggle. "There was no
doubt that the Congress, Mahatma Gandhi, his satyagraha and charkha were
instrumental in making masses aware of the importance of freedom. On the
other hand, non-violent means had limited impact on the British who could
rule 40 crore Indians with a few thousand expatriates aided by a million or
more (native bureaucrats). The rule was unshaken by the Congress and its
Quit India agitation even though Britain was hard pressed at once by Germany
and Japan. In short, the British could cope with Gandhiji. Netaji
personified the ethic of ends justifying the means; this was the language the
British took seriously."

My feelings exactly. Perhaps it was possible to reason with the British when
they were besieged by Hitlerian pressures. But at a time when the US, without
so much as a by-your-leave from the UN, bombs Iraq, the Gandhian exemplar
needs major rethinking. It's convenient for the West to urge upon us the
internationalised symbol of harmony - they don't have to, nor do they, carry
the weight of so much ivory-towered sanctity.

Regardless of Mr Thackeray's backtracking, I doubt if he has the subscribed
amount of respect for Gandhiji. The reasons for which are based on
Gandhiji's remarks on Chhatrapati Shivaji ("a misguided patriot"), and his
appeasement of separatist Muslims - the latter being the reason for his
abrupt dismissal by Hindutvawadi Nathuram Godse.

Isn't it strange that though we condemn the assassination of Mrs Indira
Gandhi, we also concede that Sikhs had legitimate grievances? Isn't that the
crunch of the film, Maachis? Isn't it why we keep silent when Mr Khushwant
Singh writes that he wept while watching the movie? Then why is there a
blanket on the reasons for which communists and right-wingers ideologically
opposed Gandhiji? Can there ever be a film focusing on the conditions which
shaped the assassin's angst and led to the execution? Unthinkable.

I always wondered, what brought on so unpardonable an act against an
essentially pacific man? Was it one incident, or a build-up? When I
accessed the free-thinking, uncensored Internet and read some "subversive"
tracts (uploaded from the US and drawn from the writings of Veer Savarkar), I
found these hidden annotations of history:

In December 1927, when the Madras session of the INC passed a resolution
calling for "absolute political independence", only two entities in India
were upset by it: One was the British government, and the other was Mahatma
Gandhi who termed it as "childish" and "irresponsible".

When Swami Shraddhanand converted over 50,000 Muslims to Hinduism, one Abdul
Rashid, incensed by this dwindling of Muslim numbers, killed him. Upon which
Gandhiji announced that the responsibility of the swami's death lay not on
just "Bhai" Abdul Rashid and Muslims, but Hindus, too. (How?) He then sought
to raise a public movement seeking clemency for Rashid from the
death-sentence passed by the British government. (Why?) When Abdul Rashid was
eventually hanged, 50,000 Muslims led a procession to honour the murderer
whom they now called a Gazi and Shahid. Gnadhiji did not object to this
glorification. (How come?)

During the late 1920s, when a Muslim published a book titled Kishan teri Gita
jalani padegi, a publisher named Rajpal retaliated with Rangila Rasool, a
collection of details from Prophet Mohammed's life. After which Rajpal was
murdered by one Ilam-din, whom the British, naturally, hanged. Promptly,
2,00,000 Muslims celebrated "Shahid" Ilam-din's transference to jannat with a
procession in Lahore. And what did the Mahatma do? He castigated Punjabi
Hindus for calling Rajpal a Dharmveer.

When freedom-fighters Bhagat Singh and Rajguru assassinated Asst Police
Superintendent Saunders, Gandhiji, in his article "The curse of
assassination" in Young India, condemned the act as being "dastardly".
According to him, "the innocent police officer discharged his duty, however
disagreeable its consequences to the community". Which makes me wonder, was
General Dyer of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, too, merely discharging his
duties? Is the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, brutally beaten during the "Simon
go back" stir, to be put down to innocence?

When even the pro-Gandhi newspapers were publishing the atrocities wrought on
Hindus in Bhopal by its nawab, our intrepid reporter from Young India visited
Bhopal and relayed to his readers the nawab's "simple" lifestyle and
described him "as almost Raja Ram".

During the time when freedom-aspiring Indians lent their moral support to
revolutionaries like Gopinath Saha as they went to the gallows, Young India,
which dwelt at length on issues such as Mullah Mohammed Ali's travel
itinerary, refused to even report on the hanging of Hutatma Yatindra Das till
months later. And when the communists involved in the Meerut bomb case were
arrested, Gandhiji appealed to the people to deny monetary help to the
defendants - which issue he later sidestepped by saying that he had expected
lawyers to provide the defence free of charge.

Even after the trainfuls of corpses slithered in from across the border
during Partition, Gandhiji implored Hindu refugees to "go back where they
came from" and repeatedly advised them to "die bravely".

And the immediate impetus for Godse's deed? That was Gandhiji's famous
hunger-strike to blackmail India into paying Pakistan Rs 55 crore - after
Pakistan's aggression on Kashmir in August 1947.

So much for Gandhian appeasement and Hindu angst; now the Thackeray thing:
Gandhiji was honest enough to reveal the details of his experiments on
Brahmacharya (which included his sleeping between two nubile women) when they
came to light during his visit to Noakhali. As formidable as the tests may
be, did he give a thought to the effects on the psyche of the young women?
In his book, Gandhi: A Memoir, William Shirer quotes Jawaharlal Nehru: "I
think Gandhiji is absolutely wrong in this matter. I do not know why he is
so obsessed by this problem of sex, important as it is. He takes up an
extreme position which seems to me most abnormal and unnatural. "

The fight for freedom is a state of war wherein every citizen has a right to
his choice of weapon, and wherein every small battle is the whole effort. But
the Congress so sanctified one man that it slighted everybody else's
contribution. And in the process of deification, it had to adopt his flaws -
which served to distort the 'nature of secularism and reduced India to its
present state. Worse, the Establishment still does not allow Gandhiji to be
put under a microscope - not realising that without transparency, an icon can
never sustain true longevity. But worst of all, it's obvious that the
virtues of Gandhiji could outweigh the criticism - if only given the chance.

It's all very well for editors to plaster the front page with lurid headlines
and for politicians to raise a hue and cry about an insult to the Father of
the Nation. But, which nation? In any country, there are always voices of
dissent - and when those voices are successfully suppressed by the very
people who benefit from doing so, the questions that occur. to me are. Whose
nation? What nation?

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