You Can Shoot an Effigy, But What Do You Do With the Man?

This is Hindutva’s heyday. Gandhi has officially been co-opted, reduced to a pair of glasses and a broom, so why so much hatred for him? It looks like hate, but could it actually be fear?

On January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse walked up to Mahatma Gandhi at the grounds of Birla House and pumped three bullets into him at point-blank range. The frail old man uttered the name of God, and died.

Seventy one years later to the day, in a bizarre re-enactment of the assassination, members of the Hindu Mahasabha in Aligarh shot bullets into an effigy of the Mahatma. They also made sure that fake blood oozed out of their ‘victim’. This ghoulish act has received widespread condemnation across the country and criminal cases have been registered against 13 people involved in the event, including Pooja Shakun Pandey, the Mahasabha leader who staged the event.

The peace-loving amongst us recoil at this bloodthirsty hatefulness and celebration of violence, and the sane amongst us ask what the point is in shooting a dead man. But perhaps there is another question waiting to be answered, and perhaps it is not as absurd as it might sound: Did they shoot him because somewhere within themselves they know he is still alive?

Also read: In Photos: When BJP Leaders Met Hindu Mahasabha Member Who Shot at Gandhi’s Effigy

Could it be that those in the Hindu Mahasabha and its many kindred organisations have sensed Gandhi’s spirit walking amongst everyday Indians? Could it be that, despite their best efforts, the voice of the Mahatma and his calm call to compassion and non-violence have managed to waft over the deafening din of hate and communalism, and reach their ears, if not their hearts? And in doing so, has it unnerved them so completely that they feel the need to take their hatred of the man to the next level?

Let’s be honest, there is now open sanction for violence against all those considered the enemies of Hindutva. The smouldering dislike for Muslims, for example, that was just about kept in check over the last few decades, has now been openly fanned, and the fires of hatred that have burst forth have taken the lives of many.

The better known victims of this hate include Mohammed Akhlaq who was beaten to death in Dadri on the mere rumour of possessing beef, Pehlu Khan who was lynched by a mob in Alwar, young Junaid who was stabbed to death on a train simply for being a Muslim, and Mohammad Afrazul, who was hacked to death and then burned by Shambhulal Regar. There have been several others as well.

Undated file photo of Pandey with BJP leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Murderers have been garlanded and the families of the victims have had to face police action. Journalists, NGOs and activists who have spoken out against the rising tide of hate have faced harassment, legal suits and even imprisonment. The great Hindutva project – which began before India gained independence and received a great push forward with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 – entered its golden (saffron?) era with the coronation of its very own Hindu Hriday Samrat in 2014.

This is Hindutva’s heyday. The RSS reigns supreme. Gandhi has officially been co-opted and reduced to a pair of glasses and a broom, so why so much hatred for a man who is dead, and for all practical purposes gone from the body politic?

Or has he?

It looks like hate, but could it actually be fear?

Behavioural psychologists will tell you that hatred and fear are two sides of the same coin. One follows the other, as night follows dusk. Could it be that the spirit of the Mahatma is alive and well, walking the streets and alleys of India? Satya and ahimsa, as we know, were the ‘weapons’ with which he waged his ‘war’. Is it possible that over the past five years, every time the Hindutva organisations and leaders have seen those two most powerful of all ‘weapons’ in action, they have also seen the spectre of Gandhi?

Also read: Why Was Mahatma Gandhi Killed?

For instance, did they see his silhouette in March 2018, when 55,000 farmers marched into Mumbai to press for their rights, but did so at night so as not to disturb the school children who were to give their Board exams the next morning? Did the RSS and its acolytes sense Gandhi’s presence when thousands upon thousands of citizens in each of India’s metro cities came out under the banner of “Not In My Name” to protest the murder of young Junaid – whom they did not even know – a boy whose only “crime” was that he was a Muslim returning home from Eid shopping? Did the adherents of Hindutva see Gandhi weep when Rohith Vemula committed suicide, when Najeeb went missing from JNU?

Did they feel Gandhi’s heart when Yashpal Saxena – whose only son Ankit Saxena was murdered by the family of the Muslim girl he loved – refused to let the incident become communalised? Of this incident, activist and author Harsh Mander wrote:

“By affirming that he bore Muslims no ill will, Yashpal Saxena, whose only son Ankit Saxena was murdered by the family of the Muslim girl he loved, demolished one of the most widely used rationalisations for communal hatred. He rejected what I call the Doctrine of Vicarious Guilt, the idea that an entire community must collectively carry the guilt for crimes – real or imagined, committed now or in history – which any of its members may have perpetrated.” – Exactly what the Mahatma taught.

Does the Hindutva camp brush up against Gandhi’s ghost every time it sees its communal designs fail? The Hindu Mahasabha can shoot bullets into Gandhi’s effigy all they want, but they cannot fight the truth of his words.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.”

Rohit Kumar is an educator with a background in positive psychology and psychometrics. He works with high school students on emotional intelligence and adolescence issues to help make schools bullying-free zones.