Throughout election season, I have been determined not to allow the negativity of the prevalent political culture to get to me. Yet, there are moments when it becomes exceedingly difficult to suppress the deep pain I experience as I see the likes of Pragya Singh Thakur valorising Nathuram Godse. Even though she seems to have ‘apologised’, and Narendra Modi has expressed his ‘anguish’ over her statement, the fact remains that in this age of loud and toxic politics, the violence that Godse embodied has become the new normal – and all that Gandhi represented, it seems, has to be ridiculed and laughed at.
Well, Gandhi-bashing is not new. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is known for his ‘experiments’ in diverse sites of his spiritually engaged and politically active life – from Tolstoy Farm in South Africa to Noakhali in undivided Bengal, his determined urge to see politics as a field of spiritual practice, and his art of resistance which differed sharply from the gospel of hyper-masculine/’radical’ violence. It is natural that such a man would evoke diverse reactions and emotions. His enemies were no less than his admirers.
Gandhi-bashing ought not to surprise us anymore. Ambedkarites do it quite frequently as they suspect savarna Gandhi’s approach to the caste question; the writer Arundhati Roy further glamourises this ‘anti-Gandhi’ campaign. But praising his assassin takes matters to a different dimension. What Pragya Singh Thakur’s statement indicates is that the dominant ideology of Hindutva-induced nationalism wants Gandhi to die every moment. Occasionally, Modi and his lieutenants can ‘praise’ the Mahatma and try to sell the ‘brand’ for their instrumental interests. But the fact is that they cannot stand Gandhi. What adds to the tragedy is that even many ‘progressive’ and ‘secular’ individuals are not very sincere in their engagement with Gandhi.
Why is this so? There are two primary reasons. First, the toxic political culture that the ruling regime has been nurturing since 2014 has aroused and activated our brute instincts. Its manifestations are diverse and many. Look at Amit Shah’s road shows, including the last one in Kolkata, his body language and gestures. See how the Prime Minister loses the grace of the position and resorts to the language of abuse we often hear in road side dhabas. When the top leaders begin the process, why should a Pragya Singh Thakur learn to control what she says? Why should the BJP’s cadres not indulge in vulgar social media campaigns or everyday violence? What worries me is that this pathology is infectious. Indeed, the tragedy is that even the opposition – Mamata Banerjee is a good example – begins to see the BJP as the ‘intimate enemy’, to use Ashis Nandy’s term, and imitates the same culture of negative campaigning, abusive language and street violence. In an environment of this kind, Gandhi is an embarrassment; you need a Godse to kill him time and again. Pragya Singh Thakur is a cumulative expression of this mood.
Second, the doctrine of Hindutva – developed by Golwalkar and Savarkar, politicised by Vajpayee and Advani, and weaponised by the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi duo – is the anti-thesis of Gandhi’s nuanced and creative engagement with Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. It has nothing to do with Gandhi’s anashakti yoga, his engagement with Tolstoy and Ruskin, his cross-religious dialogue, and his ability to see the futility of violence even in the Bhagavadgita.
In fact, the ‘soul force’ that Gandhi sought to activate through his political pilgrimage in Champaran and Ahmedabad, Noakhali and Kolkata, and Bihar and Delhi is something that the proponents of ‘brute force’ – the ‘social engineers’ of the 2002 massacre – would never understand. (What happened in Gujarat cannot be overlooked because there was yet another grotesque act in 1984 perpetuated by another political group). Let us be clear: No matter how they pretend, or excel in their dramaturgical performance – and Modi knows this art pretty well, as his ‘condemnation’ of Pragya Thakur’s comment tends to create the impression that he is a saintly figure, a follower of Gandhi – the fact is that they love Godse, and hate Gandhi.
On May 23, we will finally get to know the results of this ‘historic’ election. However, irrespective of the outcome, one thing is certain. The collective degeneration the past five years have brought will take a much longer time to be reversed.
Avijit Pathak is a Professor of Sociology at JNU