Branding Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as “Mahatma” (great-souled) and advertising and marketing him to international audiences as an undisputed and all-inclusive icon of non-violent resistance was maybe essentially the most profitable propaganda marketing campaign ever carried out by the Indian state.
Thus any try and critically problem Gandhi’s legacy, even when it takes place in an obscure small city in America, causes a lot controversy in India and past.
On the morning of January 27, a statue of Gandhi was discovered vandalised within the city of Davis, within the north of the US state of California. It was not instantly clear who sawed the bronze statue off its base and for what function, however the condemnations began flowing in straight away.
Indian media framed the incident as an assault not solely on Gandhi but in addition on the Indian folks, and swiftly branded it a hate crime. The Indian Ministry of Exterior Affairs, in the meantime, issued a press release to formally condemn the act of vandalism and referred to as upon the US Division of State to research the incident.
A number of days later, the identical ministry launched one other assertion, this time tying the incident in Davis to the continuing farmers’ protests in India with none substantial foundation or proof.
“It’s unlucky to see vested curiosity teams making an attempt to implement their agenda on these protests, and derail them,” the ministry stated. “A few of these vested curiosity teams have additionally tried to mobilise worldwide assist in opposition to India. Instigated by such fringe components, Mahatma Gandhi statues have been desecrated in elements of the world. That is extraordinarily disturbing for India and for civilised society in all places.”
A number of right-wing Indian media retailers went additional to overtly blame California’s Sikh neighborhood for the incident, claiming with out proof that they will need to have focused the statue in assist of Sikh farmers who’ve been main the protests in India.
There have been robust reactions to the incident within the US too. Nonetheless, the reactions within the US have been extra nuanced and various than they have been in India.
Native and federal authorities condemned the act of vandalism and Indian-American teams organised rallies to make sure the swift reinstatement of the statue. However a number of organisations additionally held demonstrations and issued statements to remind everybody that the statue was not welcomed by a major share of the Indian neighborhood in Davis proper from the time of its set up in 2016.
The California Sikh Youth Alliance, for instance, issued a press release saying whereas it doesn’t assist the way in which the statue was eliminated, it opposes all “monuments that lionise Gandhi”. “There is no such thing as a disputing Gandhi represents racism, anti-Blackness and is a blatant affront to Davis’s values,” the group stated.
The statue in Davis has since been reinstated. However the incident and the reactions to it increase some essential questions on Gandhi’s legacy and the way in which it’s being appropriated by the present Indian administration:
Why is the image of India’s anti-colonial battle now being condemned as a racist in America? Why is India’s far-right Hindu-nationalist authorities, which has hyperlinks to the violent ideology that paved the way in which for Gandhi’s assassination, making an attempt to defend him from any criticism? And most significantly, how ought to up to date racial justice actions take care of Gandhi’s difficult legacy?
Gandhi moved to South Africa in 1893 to characterize an Indian service provider in a lawsuit and went on to spend 21 years within the then-British colony. Throughout the twenty years he spent in South Africa, most of his actions and phrases demonstrated his anti-Black racism.
Actually, he rose to prominence in colonial South Africa, not due to his anti-racist activism, however his efforts to reconfigure current racial hierarchies for the advantage of his personal folks.
One of many first battles Gandhi fought after coming to South Africa was over the separate entrances for white and Black folks on the Durban submit workplace. Gandhi objected that Indians have been “classed with the natives of South Africa”, who he derogatively labelled as “kaffirs”, and demanded a separate entrance for Indians.
Throughout his time in South Africa, Gandhi repeatedly underlined the shared Indo-Aryan roots of the Indian and European peoples and argued that, attributable to this historic connection, the British empire ought to deal with Indians extra respectfully than Black Africans.
In an open letter to the parliament of colonial South Africa, for instance, he wrote: “I enterprise to level out that each the English and the Indians spring from a typical inventory, referred to as the Indo-Aryan. … This perception serves as the idea of operations of those that try to unify the hearts of the 2 races, that are, legally and outwardly, certain collectively beneath a typical flag.”
In the identical letter, he went on to argue that “a common perception appears to prevail within the Colony that the Indians are little higher, if in any respect, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the youngsters are taught to imagine in that method, with the outcome that the Indian is being dragged all the way down to the place of a uncooked Kaffir.”
All through his keep in South Africa, Gandhi continued to voice his perception that Black Africans have been inferior to Indians. He overtly advocated for the continuation of race-based residential and social segregation within the colony and publicly allied himself with the British colonisers at each alternative. Throughout the Boer battle, for instance, Gandhi raised an Indian Ambulance Corps and served in it as a sergeant-major of the British military.
Gandhi’s unflinching loyalty to the British based mostly on “shared racial ancestry” and disdain for native peoples of Africa ran so deep that main students imagine throughout his time in South Africa he stood out “not as one among apartheid’s first opponents however as one among its first proponents”.
The toppling of Gandhi’s statues within the US
On this context, it’s not obscure why some within the up to date anti-racism motion within the US understand Gandhi as racist and wish to take away his statues from public areas alongside these of American and European colonists and slave merchants.
Concentrating on Gandhi statues within the US, nonetheless, stands to hurt not assist the continuing racial justice motion within the nation for a number of causes.
Not like these slave merchants and accomplice generals whose statues have been toppled throughout the nation lately, Gandhi performed no function in shaping the historical past of racial discrimination within the US. Actually, if something, Gandhi’s advocacy of non-violence and non-co-operation influenced Martin Luther King, Jr in his struggle for racial justice to an excellent extent.
Furthermore, many of the accomplice statues which were toppled have been put in particularly to rejoice white supremacy and intimidate the African American neighborhood on the top of the American Civil Rights Motion. Gandhi statues within the US, nonetheless, have been erected to commemorate not his comparatively unknown racism, however his globally celebrated ideology of non-violent resistance to colonial oppression.
As well as, rightly or wrongly, Gandhi is a revered icon within the eyes of many Indian Individuals. As they see Gandhi as a part of their id, they understand the vandalisation of his statues not as an anti-racist assertion, however an assault on their neighborhood.
Due to this fact, the toppling of Gandhi statues within the US, with out an accompanying dialogue on Gandhi’s difficult legacy, achieves nothing aside from aggravating the Indian American neighborhood and, extra importantly, supplies ammunition to these making an attempt to derail the anti-racist motion.
Nonetheless, whereas the knowledge of focusing on Gandhi’s statues within the US as an anti-racist motion have to be questioned, the present Indian authorities’s makes an attempt to make use of such incidents to its benefit and paint itself as the first defender of Gandhi’s anti-colonial legacy also needs to be challenged.
Hindu Nationalism: The ideology that murdered Gandhi
On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot lifeless by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist and longtime member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the ideological spine of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Get together.
Godse assassinated Gandhi as a result of he believed, like most Hindu nationalists, that Gandhi had favoured Muslims throughout the partition of India. The assassination of Gandhi, due to this fact, is rightly categorised by many as an act of Hindu-nationalist terror.
India’s Hindu nationalists are well-aware of Godse’s decades-long involvement with the RSS. Fairly cleverly although, in any dialogue involving Godse, they falsely declare that he severed his ties to the RSS years earlier than Gandhi’s homicide. After all, numerous historic data and testimonies reveal past any doubt that Godse remained near the RSS and its management even within the days main as much as Gandhi’s assassination. Actually, simply hours earlier than his execution, Godse was heard reciting the official prayer of the RSS.
To at the present time, the RSS continues to uphold the identical divisive and violent ideology that Godse served all through his life. Main Hindu nationalist organisations allied with the BJP, in addition to some BJP MPs themselves, routinely rejoice Godse as a “patriot”. Nonetheless, for the reason that BJP’s election victory in 2014, each the celebration and the RSS have additionally been working laborious to acceptable Gandhi’s legacy.
Certainly, since gaining management of the central authorities, Hindu nationalists have been on a quest to re-write Indian historical past and falsely current their motion because the one which constructed fashionable India. As most Hindu nationalist leaders remained subservient to the British all through the Indian battle for independence, the RSS and the BJP claimed revered nationalist figures reminiscent of Gandhi, who by no means supported their violent ideologies, as their very own. This is the reason Prime Minister Narendra Modi commonly quotes Gandhi in his political speeches and visits Gandhi’s ashram each time a overseas chief arrives in India.
The Hindu nationalist efforts to acceptable Gandhi are extremely hypocritical, not solely as a result of their ideology paved the way in which for his homicide, but in addition as a result of Gandhi, regardless of all his shortcomings, by no means supported the BJP and the RSS’ violent and divisive model of politics.
Whereas the BJP continues to view Muslims as “second-class” residents of India, Gandhi all the time acknowledged that each one Indians, no matter their faith, ought to be allowed to reside their lives free from state-sanctioned discrimination and oppression.
In a number of articles he wrote, he emphasised that the dearth of belief between Hindus and Muslims in India was rooted within the differential remedy of those communities by colonial authorities. Whereas the Hindu nationalists dreamt of – and are nonetheless working in the direction of – reworking India right into a Hindu nation-state, Gandhi all the time dreamt of constructing a very secular democracy in India. He made it clear repeatedly that the concept of “swaraj” (autonomy) means nothing except it’s achieved by means of communal concord and a united battle in opposition to the British.
The distinction between Gandhi and the Hindu nationalists is probably most evident of their approaches to Lord Ram – the legendary king beneath whose rule all peoples are believed to have lived in concord. There are a number of variations of Lord Ram’s story, however all of them embody, to differing levels, casteist/racist and misogynist components. The RSS and the BJP, like different Hindu nationalist organisations, have lengthy used the parable of Lord Ram to stir nationalist sentiment amongst their followers. Indian nationalists nonetheless chant “Jai Shree Ram” (Hail Lord Ram), after they agitate in opposition to or lynch Muslims and different perceived enemies of the “Hindu nation”.
Gandhi additionally used the parable of Lord Ram to additional his political agenda, however in a really completely different method. He noticed how widespread this story was amongst northern Indian peasants and used references to Lord Ram and his legendary kingdom to organise Indians within the battle in opposition to the British. He used the story to not divide however unite, and even popularised a tune dedicated to the legendary king which included the road: “All names of God confer with the identical Supreme Being, together with Ishvara [the umbrella term for a Hindu god] and the Muslim Allah”.
Gandhi used the parable of Lord Ram to unite Indians, whereas the BJP and RSS turned it right into a battle cry in opposition to anybody who doesn’t subscribe to their narratives of Hindu nationalism and supremacy.
Briefly, the Hindu nationalists who at the moment are appearing as if they’re personally victimised by the anti-racist criticisms of Gandhi haven’t any political, moral or ethical proper to utter his title not to mention defend his legacy.
What’s to be executed with Gandhi, as we speak?
Neither Gandhi’s political ideology nor his life is past criticism.
From the firebrand Marxist Bhagat Singh who criticised Gandhi’s political ways, to the Dalit stalwart Ambedkar who condemned his approval of the Hindu caste system, there have all the time been many who fiercely opposed and strongly criticised India’s “Mahatma”. Even as we speak, writer and activist Arundhati Roy spares no alternative to speak about Gandhi’s deeply problematic actions and phrases.
Maybe Gandhi by no means deserved the moniker “Mahatma” and shouldn’t have been remodeled right into a “good” icon of anti-colonial resistance.
Nonetheless, the Hindu nationalists, who’re working to dismantle the whole lot Gandhi constructed throughout his lifetime, ought to nonetheless not be allowed to acceptable him or use the much-needed dialogue about his difficult legacy to additional their political ambitions.
Let there be debate about Gandhi’s function in perpetuating racism and in preserving discriminatory hierarchies, together with the caste system. Let there be a radical reevaluation of this flawed man and his flawed legacies. Concurrently, let there be a unified struggle, a lot within the spirit of Gandhi, to reclaim the person from the palms of the rulers that subscribe to an ideology that murdered him.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.