Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ramrajya...Not a Rule of Hindus

Let no one commit the mistake of thinking that Ramrajya means a rule of Hindus. My Ram is another name for Khuda or God. I want Khuda Raj which is the same thing as the Kingdom of God on Eart so said the man we named the Mahatma, men of all men on February 26, 1947.

It was this Ramrajya that not just Mahatma but two different men harked back to after the dark, bleak days of 2002. Gujarat still smouldered with the black smoke of hatred and violence. Prime minister Vajpayee, from the same mindset and political dispensation as Narendra Modi the man who had presided over the death and destruction, used this analogy to remind Modi of the duty to his people as he visited the Shah-e-Alam Camp at Ahmedabad. Seventeen months later the chief justice of the country justice VN Khare sharply rebuked the elected head of Gujarat (September 2003) in the first judicial reprimand to the genocidal carnage that had been unleashed in the name of Gandhi. Where is your Ramrajya? he asked. Khare was also speaking of both just governance and compassion.

I shudder to think of the depth of pain Gandhi would have responded if he had been alive to witness not just the blood and gore in the land of his birth but the brazen, and shameful lack of remorse of many silent participants and compliciters in the violence. Buxom Gujarati women roamed burnt streets of Ahmedabad scouring shops with empty bags to loot what remained of destroyed goods, ice creams in hands at a new invention of Gujarat’s latest form of recreation. Some ordinary Gujaratis, not all had been emboldened by the chest thumping of hindutva’s fuhrer. Modi who had not visited a single relief camp till Vajpayee visited the state had shown a deadpan lack of remorse to the rape. Death and destruction let loose by trained militias of men in 19 of Gujarat’s 25 districts that year.

Supremacy and violence were anathema to the Mahatma. It is no wonder then that this man fell to bullets in independent India’s first act of terror (read terrorism) on January 30, 1948 had his greatest enemies in the proponents of hindutva. Few know that there were five failed attempts on Gandhiji in and around Maharashra, all planned and executed by proponents of hindutva before the one that took his life. Why was this frail bespectacled man, who at 79, walked with the speed of his purpose such a threat to those who dreamed of a supremacist Hindu nation?

He threatened the carriers of hatred, division and dogma because he appealed to our reason, sense of justice but above all our compassion and toleration. His arguments were sharp and clear, his sense of purpose raw and courageous. His deep principles arose out of a life he had carved for himself. He reached out and appealed to you and me even when the dark fires of communal violence had tarnished our birth as an independent nation with fire, and blood.

An anguished couple who had their son killed by hate filled mobs during the violence at Noakhali turned to him to ask how they could live with their bitterness, loss, their hatred. His reply is one I have heard echoed in the words of grieving parents in the streets of Dharawi, Bombay to Pandharwada Gujarat. Adopt a Muslim child approximately the age of your lost child he told them. Bring him up in the faith of his borth but as your son. As your love and caring for this child will grow, hatred and revenge will dissolve into compassion and forgiveness.

Small individual tales of loss echo what Gandhiji said at Noakhali even today. For many victims of brute force and violence, revenge is not the answer. A simple acknowledgement, expression of remorse precedes forgiveness. What is absent from the organized perpetrator is any sense of loss, sorrow or remorse to what they had unleashed while the individual recoils within with what he has done.

The day after an organized mob, in full public eye of a willfully inactive paramilitary force allowed a four hundred year old mosque to be destroyed at Ayodhya (Faizabad) the front page edition of The Times of India carried a quarter page advertisement of a Hindu temple math in Nashik, Maharashtra. The message was simple. What happened at Faizabad was a blot on Hinduism and not an occasion for chest thumping celebration. In that simple message delivered through a paid advertisement we can understand how and why Gandhi remains such a threat to the forces of division.
Hindutva, the ideal of a militarized supremacist Hindu nation (where others live in economic social and physical subservience) was first coined by Savarkar in his book by that name though the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founders in We and Our Nationshood Defined elaborated the concept sufficiently. Such thought processes are about 80-100 years old no patch or patch on the centuries old civilizational negotiation between communities, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim and Sikh.
Gandhi in his modern, dhoti clad avatar, represented Indian modern thought at its best and most intense. Deeply spiritual (it’s a word I prefer to what ‘religious’ connotes), he drew his strength from a of scriptures of varied faiths. Deeply spiritual he refrained from using religious symbols for political mobilization. He appealed to our wisdom, reason and compassion, a potent unstoppable mix. He had millions with him in thought and deed. Six decades and more after his death he draws crowds to his samadhi still. Years ago, sitting after a public meeting eating delicious jhunka-bhakar in semi-rural Maharashtra I tried as I have so many times to understand from contemporary political activists their understanding of what lies behind the appeal of the Mahatma. The answer I received that night has stayed with me. Headgear, pagdis and topis varied in the heartland of India, more often than not connoting caste difference. The unifying spirit of Gandhi metatamorphosed into the Gandhi topi that now rural peasantry across India wear. Gandhi s capacity to draw strength from the unifying thread of rationality, faith and belief, varied faiths and beliefs poses the greatest threat to any contrary notion of association, existence and nationhood.
Violence, loss and pain shook Gandhi because humankind was at its worst here. For the votaries of Hindutva violence is the means, blood and gore a small price to pay for perennial and perpetual hatreds, divisions, insecurities and an absence of remorse. As significant, with all the limitations of perspective, Gandhi abhorred what the organized Hindu faith had done to twenty five per cent of its own. Call them untouchables, label them Dalit. On November 20, 1938 Gandhi wrote an erudite piece on the Middle East, Jews and Palestine While deeply empathetic to the centuries old suffering by the semitic races, he likened their plight to that of the untouchables in Hinduism. While opposing any truck with fascist Gemany he still remained clear and focused hen it came to dishousing or disempowering the Palestinians. Jews had their birthright in every nation and civilization of the world. But, despite Arab excesses to oust the Palestinians from their land and divest them of their rights was not acceptable to Gandhi.
It is this complexity of thought and narrative, rational and humane in its simpliciter logic that typified Gandhi. A lawyer turned writer he used the best tools of both trades to reason with logic and communicate with the power of clearly constructed thought and purity of language. He drew women and men to him humbled by his purity and passion. Industrialists contributed jewels and wealth to his movement and shed glamour for the austere robes of khadi. His followers at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad were silent when hell and havoc broke loose in their precious city. Gandhians all over Gujarat and Gandhian institutes that dot the state and country have been virtually mute spectators to the attempted take over or make over of Gandhi by the men and material that killed him.Today the Ashram has a 400 crore project of savvy modernization up its sleeve. Solitary in his defiance to this takeover bid, the man killed by the votaries of Hindutva grins at their bid to claim his as their own.
In life as in death he remains a threat to the both racist supreniscism (that is Hindutva) and naked greed and globalization (that is driving our adivasis to distraction and our government to launch a (sic) green hunt on them.

Modi and Gandhi?
Gandhi selling a designer watch that costs a few lakh rupees?
Gandhihi’s chuckle would be marred by a lone tear that hints at the travesty. And tragedy.

Teesta Setalvad
Co editor Communalism Combat
For Matrubhumi Annual Issue 2010, released in Allappuzha, March 13 2010

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