Patrice Riemens on Wed, 30 Jan 2008 13:18:41 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Ashis Nandy: Death Of The Mahatma

Bwo Goanet.
original: Editorial Times of India:

Death Of The Mahatma
Ashis Nandy

On the 60th year of the murder of Mohandas Gandhi, we must recognise
the ambivalence towards him in India's modernising middle classes.
Gandhi was not killed by British imperialism or Muslim fanatics, but
by middle-class Hindu nationalists committed to conventional concepts
of statecraft, progress and diplomacy. He was not killed by a lunatic,
as Nehru alleged, but by one who represented 'normality' and 'sanity'.

The middle-class antipathy to Gandhi cuts across ideologies. During
one of her earlier tenures, Mayawati precipitated a first-class public
controversy by attacking Gandhi. But she was only joining a long
line of distinguished critics of Gandhi, stretching from Mohammad
Ali Jinnah, the classical liberal turned Muslim nationalist, to Bal
Thackeray of the Shiv Sena. New, aggressive critics of Gandhi are now
being thrown up by the knights of globalisation in India.

The fear of Gandhi has been consistent in India and it has never been
confined to the expensively educated Indians now flourishing in the
global knowledge industry. This fear is the fear of ordinary Indian
citizens suffering from that incurable disease called Indianness and
suspicion of the open politics that empowers them and allows them
to bring into public life their strange, alien categories. It was
this fear that Nathuram Godse took to logical conclusion on January
30, 1948. His was the third attempt on Gandhi's life by the Hindu
nationalists, the first of which was made in 1930s. They made no such
attempt against any other key secular leader in India or against
Muslim leaders seen as enemies of Hindus.

Godse thought he was executing Gandhi on behalf of a majority. Exactly
as Mayawati and, before her, E M S Namboodiripad felt that they were
speaking on behalf of a majority - the bahujan samaj, the proletariat,
the Shudras and the Dalits - when they attacked Gandhi. However, once
the movement to which Godse belonged began to falter as an ideological
formation and succeed as a political party dreaming of capturing
power, it began singing a different tune. The RSS included Gandhi's
name in the daily prayers of its branches and, in the 1980s, the BJP
even adopted 'Gandhian socialism' as its official party ideology. May
be Mayawati's hostility to Gandhi had not waned when she spoke out
because she was yet to make a bid for pan-Indian presence.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Leninist hacks have always
considered Gandhi a menace to progress, modernity and rationality. The
respect to Gandhi that some of the retired Stalinists have begun to
show in recent years is a consequence of their political demise. The
vendors of secular salvation now find that Gandhi has survived our
times better than they have.

M N Roy, who broke away from Marxism, disagreed with the Leninists
on many counts but not on Gandhi. His three essays on Gandhi, read
chronologically, show a declining hostility towards the Mahatma. The
first is dismissive, the second ambivalent, the third mildly positive.
As his confidence in being able to mobilise people for his version
of revolution faltered, he came to grudgingly appreciate Gandhi's
ability to touch the ordinary Indians despite his 'irrational' credo.
Indian Maoists in the late 1960s and early 70s were no less hostile
to Gandhi. He with his toothless smile seemed to them a sly, scheming
warhorse brainwashing rural India with his bogus ideology, whereas
they, despite their direct communion with objective, scientific
history and theoretical guidance from the great witch doctor at
Beijing, had been exiled to urban India to survive as an ordinary
terrorist outfit. As Gandhi was dead by then, they took out their
anger against him by breaking his statues.

Within a decade though, from within the ranks of Indian Maoists
emerged some who drew heavily, often creatively, upon Gandhi. Pushed
to the margins of politics, with their dreams of an early revolution
in tatters, the ageing lions began to ruminate over their failures and
take Gandhi seriously. Two steps backward and one step forward, as the
great helmsman might have said! The liberals have never found Gandhi
digestible either. Shankaran Nair, an early Congress leader, said that
Gandhi was against everything that the great sons of 19th century
India stood for. Gopal Krishna Gokhale was even more forthright.
He declared Gandhi's Hind Swaraj to be "the work of a fool" and
prophesied that "Gandhi would destroy it after he spent a year in
India". Such honest estimates are now rare, because the liberals in
the meanwhile have produced their own house-broken Gandhi - modern,
nationalistic, progressive, statist and secular. There is nothing
left of the politically incorrect, intellectual maverick who took on
the imperious Enlightenment vision and refused to accept that its
dominance was proof of its finality.

It is possible that Gandhi sensed his growing isolation in public
life. The 200 years of western domination had done its job and the
definition of normal politics had changed in India. Gandhi chose
death, using as his accomplice the naive, lost ideologue, Godse,
to sharpen the contra-diction that had arisen between the Indian
civilisation and the newborn Indian nation-state. Robert Payne
understands this when he says, "For Gandhi this death was a triumph.
He died as the kings do, felled at the height of their powers". And
Sarojini Naidu was right when she said: "What is all this snivelling
about? ...Would you rather he died of old age or indigestion?"

The writer is a political psychologist

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