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Who owns the Mahatma?

Who owns the Mahatma?

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: Sunday Pioneer
Date: February 4, 2007

Introduction: The Congress has appropriated the Gandhi patent. And it abuses it, as it did at the satyagraha celebrations last week, by insisting the Communists have a right to it as well.

Nothing in Johannesburg bears the remotest resemblance to what this South African city looked like a hundred years ago. At least, the images captured in records of the time are far removed from what we see today, as are the social and political realities that separate today's South Africa from that which shaped the destiny and politics of an unheard of Gujarati lawyer who is now remembered across the world as Mahatma Gandhi.

As part of its discriminatory policy towards Asians - essentially Indians who had come to South Africa as indentured labour and many of whom were now established as traders - the authorities of Transvaal had decided to introduce the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance which required Indians, including children, to be finger-printed, carry passes, and live and work in segregated areas.

The proposed law also banned any fresh migration of Indians and barred those who had left the Transvaal during the South African war of 1899 from returning home.

Understandably, people were up in arms and hugely agitated. On September 11, 1906, a meeting was organised at Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, attended by 3,000 Indians and addressed by a Gujarat lawyer then simply known as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. "The old Empire Theatre was packed from floor to ceiling. I could read in every face the expectation of something strange to be done or happen," Gandhi was to later recall in the book, *Satyagraha* in *South Africa*.

While many of the agitated Indians wanted to register their protest by taking recourse to violent means, Gandhi disagreed. He offered an alternative method that was to later take form as *satyagraha*, a deadly yet deeply ethical weapon of resistance against suppression and discrimination in the Empire and beyond.

It was at Gandhi's prodding that on another 9/11, remarkably different from the one on which Mohammed Atta and his band of *jihadi*s wreaked havoc in the US and unleashed a terrible war that continues to rage, a resolution was adopted to marshal peaceful means of protest: "Indians solemnly determined not to submit to the Ordinance in the event of its becoming law and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submission."

Elaborating on what was then an incipient concept, Gandhi told the gathering, "We might have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse. If someone asks me when and how the struggle may end, I may say that if the entire community manfully stands the test, the end will be near.

If many of us fall back under storm and stress, the struggle will be prolonged. But I can boldly declare, and with certainty, that so long as there are even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can only be one end to the struggle, and that is victory."

History informs us that a day after the meeting of September 11, 1906, Empire Theatre was gutted in a mysterious fire. "Friends brought me the news... and congratulated the community upon this good omen, which signified to them that the Ordinance would meet the same fate as the theatre," Gandhi recalled in his later years.

There was no victory in that battle as the Ordinance became law and the humiliation heaped on Indians and later Blacks - turned relentless.

Yet, the seed of satyagraha was sown and over the course of the next three decades become the moral underpinning of India's struggle for Independence.

*Last week, the Congress celebrated the centenary of *satyagraha*, timing the event so that it coincided with Martyr's Day, in the company of politicians who have never demonstrated any commitment to Gandhian values or the Mahatma's concept of ethical politics rooted in *dharma*. Neither the Congress nor the Left, nor for that matter those who graced the occasion, subscribe to the principles of *satyagraha*. If paying lip service were evidence enough, then the event was no more than a slur on Gandhi's memory.

The only political party to have been left out of the celebrations, which were organised by the Congress but funded by the Government, was the main Opposition party, the BJP. Asked to explain the omission, a Congress worthy retorted, "This is not a town hall meeting." Last week's event may not have been a town hall meeting, but the one at Johannesburg that saw the launch of satyagraha was open to all.

The Congress has once again reiterated it is the true inheritor of Gandhi's legacy and has the exclusive right to all that made him a Mahatma. It forgets that in his lifetime, disappointed and disheartened by the Congress's politics, more so during the run-up to Independence and its immediate aftermath, Gandhi all but dissociated himself from the party and its leaders after appealing in vain that it be disbanded.

It is both a sign of the times and the warped thinking of the present Congress leadership that the luminaries who adorned the dais during last week's celebrations were all foreigners. Indians, all of them adoring fans of Sonia Gandhi, formed the audience, to be lectured by foreigners and non-practitioners of Gandhian values on the relevance of satyagraha. The Mahatma, wherever he is, was surely appalled.

More so because today's Congress should have chosen to ignore the disdain and despise with which Communists treated Gandhi and his politics while the Mahatma was alive, and the ruthlessness with which they disparaged him after his death.

Those who have a passing knowledge of history will cite how the Communists, including those who were members of the Congress, refused to participate in the Quit India Movement, spurning Gandhi's invitation and pouring scorn on the man and the putsch he led against the British colonial Government. But that's only a minor manifestation of our Communists' treachery; the real and more substantive attack on Gandhi was both vicious and bilious.

*For the Communists, Gandhi was no more than a "*bania*" bourgeois, a charlatan who lacked both grit and determination. As Arun Shourie says in *The Only Fatherland*, his damning indictment of Indian Communists, "All through the first two and a half years of the Second World War the Communists abused Gandhi*ji* for 'inactivity', for 'curbing the masses', for 'compromising with imperialism'. They abused the Socialists - JP and others - for 'compromising with the compromisers', for sinking into 'the mire of Gandhism, the path of the bourgeoisie', for 'utter blindness, utter political bankruptcy'."

After the Congress Working Committee passed the "Quit India" draft resolution at Wardha, the *People's War*, official organ of the Communists, in a caustic comment, said, "After nine days of labour the Working Committee has brought forth an abortion. The resolution it has produced has bankruptcy writ large upon it. From the rut of inactivity it now seeks to lead the nation into the politics of blind desperation and disaster..." That was only the beginning.

In publication after publication, in pamphlets and handbills, the Communists went into overdrive to rubbish Gandhi and the flowering of satyagraha. A month later, the *People's War* articulated the Communists' position on *satyagraha* that merits reproduction: "...Before this can be done, before the actual difference between the saboteur and *satyagrahi* can be made to yield any substantial results, the objective unity of their plans which is there despite their desires and differences, must be clearly realised. The * satyagraha* creates the atmosphere without which the saboteur could not function. The saboteur has contempt for the *satyagrahi* but without the patriotic upsurge created by the Congress *satyagraha*, the saboteur will not get a second person to help him. The two trends are separate but despite themselves they strengthen each other. Why? Because both are aiming in different ways to achieve the same result, viz whipping up enthusiasm for a sagging movement. Because both are the product of frustration and despair that has overwhelmed most of the Indian patriots today. The *satyagrahi* is only partially disillusioned with sabotage as a form of struggle but not with *satyagraha* being struggle. The saboteur and anarchist is the patriot gone blind, the innocent tool of a hidden Fifth Columnist. Both seek their inspiration from the bankrupt policy embodied in the slogan DO OR DIE..."

Yet, the Congress, which falsely claims to be the protector and practitioner of all that Gandhi stood for, especially *satyagraha*, the embodiment of truth in politics, has no problems pretending the Communists are co-legatees. Hence, the special invitation to the Left parties to attend last week's celebrations.

And what of the Communists who have suddenly discovered that satyagraha is integral to their politics? Truth, you see, has never been the strength of our comrades.

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