India debates Mahatma Gandhi’s relevance on 75th death anniversary
By David Asta Alares
New Delhi, Jan 30 (EFE).- India commemorated on Monday the 75th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi amid a debate on how relevant his ideals remain today.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a champion of non-violence and leader of India’s struggle for independence, was assassinated on Jan 30, 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist.
With the idea of a secular India, which Gandhi fought for and that cost him his life, under threat amid the rise of Hindu nationalism and the emergence of a certain cult in support of Godse, evidenced in movies such as the recently released Hindi film “Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh” (“Gandhi Godse – a war”), this question seems more pertinent than ever.
Mahatma Gandhi was shot thrice at point-blank range while conducting a prayer session in the heart of New Delhi, less than six months after India gained independence from the British Empire following three decades of protests led by him.
“I said ‘namaste’ Gandhiji, and then I pointed at his chest and fired,” Godse, who preached the idea of making India a Hindu nation and viewed minorities as India’s biggest enemies, said during his interrogation.
Gandhi always said he was ready to give his life in order to stop the spiral of violence that led to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, leaving around 1 million people dead.
“He would have given his life to save a Muslim from harm,” Neera Chandhoke, a retired political science professor from the University of Delhi, told EFE.
For Chandhoke, who believes Gandhi must be understood as a political strategist with an exceptional ability to “capture the moment,” his spirit still lives on.
“First thing, and talking about this in the present context of India, he taught us what it means to have freedom from fear,” she said.
Non-violence, which formed the basis of Gandhi’s civil disobedience and passive resistance campaigns against the British, is another one of the aspects most relevant in today’s time.
Gandhi was a leader with a cosmopolitan mindset and knew how to value the diverse religions and languages of India, even though he made the mistake of thinking the discriminatory caste system would disappear, according to Chandokhe.
Although relevant, Chandokhe said that Gandhi’s ideas are conspicuous by their absence in the India of 2023.
“Gandhi has frankly been reduced to a pair of spectacles on their Clean India posters,” she said, with reference to the campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to build toilets and clean up the streets.
Whether reduced to a mere symbol or not, Gandhi’s ideas are more relevant than ever due to the coming to power of the BJP, led by Modi, who emerged from the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organization known for its radical Hinduism.
This is the opinion of journalist and writer Dhirendra K. Jha, who traced Godse’s trajectory from his days at RSS until Gandhi’s murder in “Gandhi’s killer” (2021).
Jha told EFE that BJP’s rise to power “signifies the revival of the same fault line” in Indian society “which led to the assassination of Gandhi.”
“The same resentment against Muslims and the same love for Hindu Rashtra that inspired Godse to kill Gandhi” has reappeared in present day India in the “constant attacks on Muslims and Christians,” he added.
These ideas never went away despite the fact that Hindu nationalists had to keep a low profile due to the outrage Gandhi’s assassination sparked in Indian society.
According to Jha, the government is busy creating a climate of impunity for the most radical sections of Hinduism while simultaneously pushing for controversial laws, including a regulation to give citizenship to illegal immigrants from neighboring countries, barring Muslims.