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The apotheosis of Gandhi: A political project

There is one particular song about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi that never fails to make me laugh with derision. The lyrics of the song makes it appear that Gandhi was a certain superhero from Krypton who single-handedly won us our freedom without the slightest bit of help from anyone else. The song titled ‘Sabarmati ke Sant’ isn’t merely a gross overestimation of Gandhi’s contribution but a massive disrespect to every freedom fighter who contributed to India’s struggle for Independence.

Here is a portion of the lyrics:

“धरती पे लड़ी तूने अजब ढब की लड़ाई
दागी न कहीं तोप न बंदूक चलाई
दुश्मन के किले पर भी न की तूने चढ़ाई
वाह रे फकीर खूब करामात दिखाई
चुटकी में दुश्मनों को दिया देश से निकाल
साबरमती के संत तूने कर दिया कमाल
दे दी हमें…
रघुपति राघव राजा राम”

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Mahatma Gandhi was not Shaktimaan and I assume that Gandhi’s participation in the struggle for Independence which lasted for over 3 decades cannot be dubbed “चुटकी में दुश्मनों को दिया देश से निकाल”. The deification of Gandhi was of course driven by political goals. His assassination gave Nehru’s Congress a golden opportunity to remove the Hindu Right from the corridors of political power. And his glorification and incessant adulation only served to remind the general public of the horror that awaited should the Hindu Right ever came to hold political power.

Mahatma did contribute a lot towards India’s independence, perhaps, however, for a country that is called ‘Bharat’ after a King from its glorious ancient past, the title of ‘Father of the Nation’ is a bit of a stretch. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a great man, did some terrible things and said a lot of terrible things, but he was a great man. However, the adulation showered on him in this song is quite a few degrees over the top. Gandhi did not give us our freedom and it could be very well argued, as many great men already have in the past, that Gandhi wasn’t even the principal factor which caused British to surrender its power over India.

Such adulation of Gandhi ignores the contribution of other stalwarts such as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. who perhaps had more of an impact on the decision of the British to leave India. George Orwell, the great author, once said, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.” Gandhi could afford to abstain from violence because there were other great men who had embraced violence for the cause of Indian independence.

The deification of Gandhi has relegated many significant events of the Indian struggle for Independence to historical obscurity. The one event which suffered the most was perhaps the British Indian Royal Navy uprising of 1946. Protests against the poor quality of food and racism by the British which began at HMIS Talwar soon spread to Castle and Fort barracks onshore and 22 other ships and other naval establishments. They demanded the release of political prisoners and Indian National Army (INA) personnel.

The mutineers had widespread support among the public. They carried aloft a portrait of Netaji Subhash as they took out a procession in Bombay and flew flags of different hues which signalled the unmitigated desire for independence that had gripped the nation. Ultimately, an army battalion had to be inducted to save the situation for the British. After many dead and injured civilians and following assurances of sympathetic treatment by senior leaders of the Congress who were against the mutiny from the very beginning, the mutineers eventually surrendered.

Nehru’s Congress party won the battle for control of the Indian union in 1947. They defeated other factions within the Congress itself and other external forces to claim control of independent India. Thus, after 1947, they systematically propagandized the narrative that it was solely the Congress party which won India its freedom and it was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi with his enigmatic leadership who magically bestowed India with freedom through the sheer power of non-violence alone.

Nehru’s Congress furthered this narrative because they chose to gain from it. Stalwarts like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose needed to be pushed aside, the memory of Veer Savarkar needed to be tarnished, the contributions of various other freedom fighters needed to be sidelined so that the Congress party with Gandhi as its face and Nehru as his ever faithful disciple came to be regarded as the saviour of Indians.

Nehru and Gandhi committed many unfortunate errors and harboured many problematic notions. And Nehru sought to bury all of them under the deification of Gandhi.

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