May 27, 2018, 11:17 pm IST
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Redefining Gandhiji

Redefining Gandhiji

S. Sivadas , Jul 07, 2017

The recent remark of the BJP President, Amit Shah, at an eminent persons’ meeting at Chattisgarh’s capital Raipur, that the Congress party was devoid of any ideology and that Mahatma Gandhi wanted that the party be disbanded soon it achieved its objective of attaining freedom was nothing contentious. But his qualification of the remark with the description of Gandhiji as a ‘bahaut chatur Baniya’ has raised the hackles of the Congress and other parties as well as the Mahatma’s two grandsons.
Shah had said at Raipur that the Congress was a party that was not wedded to any ideology and was launched for the purpose of achieving freedom. Once that was achieved, Gandhi had said, there was no reason for it to exist and recalling it Mr. Shah had said; ‘Bahut
chatur Baniya tha whoh (Gandhiji). r. Gopalakrishna Gandhi, his grandson was quick to react, saying that he would have laughed at the remark, but the sheer tastelessness of it baffled him. And his brother, Rajmohan Gandhi, retorted: "The man who overcame the British lion and snakes of communal poison in India was more than a 'chatur baniya'."
Historian and public intellectual, Ramchandra Guha, who has written a voluminous volume on the Mahatma, remarked, ‘The comment was crude and ill-informed, and unworthy of the president of India's ruling party."
While leaders like Stalin of the DMK,  D.Raja of the CPI and Sitaram Yechuri of the CPM and Manata Banerjee of the TMC and West Bengal Chief Minister, have also criticized the comment as Shah’s, and the BJP’s, contempt for the Father of the Nation.
While all these have been predictable responses from political foes, one waited for the response from the intellectual and academic fraternity. These have come but belatedly, and for understandable reasons. For those who have studied the class character of the nation and society and for students of M N Srinivas on the Jati and its various manifestations, always a favorite topic for academics from the West who want to understand the country, it is understandable that it took them time to reflect and come out with their weighty pronouncements.
Akaar Patel, an academic from Gujarat and no friend of either Modi or the BJP,said he was surprised by the shock it has created. In his state the reference to the caste or the adjective used was not pejorative. It was in a way a compliment. It is like describing someone as a ‘smart Brahmin’, which is regarded as a compliment.
Interestingly it is worth recalling, in this centenary of the Champaran uprising, Gandhiji’s role in it and the way he handled it. This has come in for much criticism. While the agitation by indigo farmers was going in the Bihar district Gandhiji was drawn into it and he went there to study the situation and negotiate with the British authorities. He kept the lines of communication open much to the surprise of both parties. When the agitation turned violent and resulted in many deaths Gandhiji suddenly withdrew the stir. With this he did two things, he defused the situation and he completely foxed the British.
Gandhiji was to use the same tactics, though in different ways, in two other incidents around the same time; the Khilafat agitation and the Vaikom Satygraha for temple entry in Travancore. The Khilafat movement he supported because he wanted to have the goodwill of the Muslim clergy and for communal harmony and this was a grand gesture. Though at that time he was unaware, or pretended not to know, about the Kemal Ataturk revolution in Turkey which had overthrown the clergy. He was caught in an awkward situation, but the gesture came in for appreciation. In the temple entry agitation too, Gandhiji, who was no great temple-goer himself, supported the agitation for the entry of all people into what is a private place of worship. The royalty finally conceded to the demand after some time. In each instance Gandhiji had acted on his instincts, totally confusing the opponents.
At the inauguration of the Benares Hindu University in 1920, Gandhiji’s speech was so revolutionary and even blasphemous that the entire royalty seated on the dais walked out, leaving their turbans behind on the table. Time and again Gandhi was to employ such methods and this is the wiliness that he used throughout his career.
Thus when Gandhiji said that it was time that the Congress wound itself up after Independence this was a remark made to shock as well as to bring the squabbling leaders to their senses. This was a double-edged remark that would cut in many ways. Now when the Congress party finds itself in such a situation with no clear ideology or agenda this question had been raised by many thinking people who are not politically aligned. Whether Shah was aware or not, this was a remark that fits in with this point of view.
We find that Gandhiji was using every occasion for testing his opponents and even himself. Not surprisingly some of his opponents were also from the same
Baniya class and were a match for him. The British have been called a nation of shopkeepers and they had always kept their commecial interests uppermost in their minds. Right from the search for raw materials to revenue collection they had trained the bureaucrats, and they were wily negotiators. Gandhiji’s other adversary, Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, also belonged to the Bohra community of Islam, again a merchant class. Here he was to meet his Chatur match.


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