BJP's Gandhi predicament

By invoking Gandhiji in the manner Amit Shah has, BJP wants to isolate him from Cong and is focused on ways to de-legitimise the party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of the BJP today but most of the backroom strategy, planning and grassroots execution is said to be the work of BJP president Amit Shah.


Shah is often showered with adjectives, varying from clever and conniving to being a master strategist who has pushed the BJP to its present heights. Whichever side of the political spectrum this is argued, there is little doubt that the party president has brought to the BJP a new kind and style of political handling.

This is the style of the (almost) singular leader, replacing the wider leadership base that the BJP used to claim. And an important part of that BJP strategy is focused on ways to de-legitimise (what was) the main opposition party, the Congress. The BJP articulates it potently with its aspiration — a “Congress mukt Bharat.”


This is the backdrop against which we must visit the remarks of Shah on Mahatma Gandhi, who he has called a “chatur (clever) bania (a mercantile class)”. According to Shah, Mahatma Gandhi also sought dissolution of the Congress after independence, and that the Congress itself was no more than a “special purpose vehicle” to gain independence from the British.


The remarks are part of a larger BJP gameplan to demonise and decimate the Congress rather than merely defeat the party at the hustings. The `demolish Congress’ campaign is an old one, but it gets refreshed every now and then. We needn’t grieve for the Congress – many will argue it deserves what it has got and the party must fight its own battles. That is the only way it can respond to the challenge it faces today.


But politics aside, Shah’s remarks on Mahatma Gandhi seeking to reduce the foremost leader of the 20th century to a mere “chatur bania” show that he is far away from being restrained by any sense of responsibility that should accompany his current position as the president of the ruling party. He cares more about his role as a wily politician and brooks no boundaries. The ends justify the means. He has also displayed gross ignorance about the history of India’s freedom struggle and Gandhiji’s relationship with the Congress.


By invoking Gandhiji in the manner Shah has, the BJP wants to isolate Gandhi from the Congress. The game began with Sardar Patel, whose legacy the BJP has tried to appropriate. Gandhiji is a world leader and is back on the global agenda of peace and non-violence.


Prime Minister Modi himself has paid tributes to the Father of the Nation as he launched one of his signature programmes, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, on August 15, 2014. In fact, he offered it as a way to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi coming up in 2019.

As Gandhiji’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi has rightly said, Amit Shah’s remark that he was a clever bania was tasteless and has mischief hidden in it. The use of the word chatur, implying wiliness in Gandhiji’s actions, is indeed in bad taste and reflects Amit Shah’s deep personal dislike for Gandhiji. Yet, he had to add Mahatma before he said Gandhi. This is the BJP’s present political predicament.

The Mahatma does not go away and the BJP doesn’t know how to handle this force and power that continues to hold sway almost 70 years after Gandhiji was snatched away from us. In Indian culture, a Mahatma is never chatur in the sense of being wily. Mahatma is what people call a person who is saral (simple) and nirmal (pure). A Mahatma is above board, forthright, frank, honest, open, straight and compassionate.


About the reference to dissolving the Congress, Gandhiji did suggest disbanding the party. The party had two sets of leaders and workers. One set contained persons with mainly political motives and the other had persons committed to build a new India of Gandhiji’s vision. Gandhiji wanted to wean away the constructive workers and get on with social reconstruction in the villages of India.


It should be remembered that one of the main things Gandhiji attended to on the morning of January 30, 1948, was finalising the draft of the Constitution of the Lok Sevak Sangh, an organisation that he had proposed for social reconstruction. A large number of these volunteers were Congress members and workers who followed Gandhiji because he was their informal leader and occupied a morally superior position.


Gram swaraj
So a band of committed workers would have joined and worked under Mahatma Gandhi if he was not taken away from us in a violent manner. He wanted Congress as a party to commit to gram swaraj. This does not mean he wanted to disband the Congress. He wanted to make it as an even more powerful instrument in the service of the poor and the rural masses.


The use of the phrase ‘special purpose vehicle’ for Congress reflects the poor knowledge base of the BJP president. Congress evolved from a group of enlightened citizens of British India who wanted to bring social and political reform in the country and aimed to modernise the country.


Gandhiji after his return to India from South Africa transformed Congress into a nationalist political organisation to lead the freedom struggle. With all the political manoeuvrings that went on during the final days before Independence, Congress was the only party with credibility and respect in treating all religions and communities equally.


Gandhiji wanted this strength of the party to be used in rural reconstruction. He was concerned about the Congress people taking up political power without doing grassroots reconstruction work may take the country to a course of unsustainable development. This was the foresight of Gandhiji, which is missed completely by Amit Shah.


(The writer is a noted Gandhian economist and former Vice Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapeeth, the University started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920)
(The Billion Press)

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