Is Gandhi just meant to be a ‘senior sanitary inspector’ in modern context?

The BJP is trying to appropriate Gandhi only for his skills of cleanliness, deliberately leaving aside the cherished legacy that he brings in to freedom movement

Tikender Singh Panwar

The BJP is more interested in projecting Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘senior sanitary inspector’ than in exhibiting his real work and that is India! This is what Irfan Habib, quite perturbed at the contemporary developments, said at a seminar commemorating 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi. 

The fact that the tableau of Himachal Pradesh, for the ensuing Republic Day parade on January 26, 2019, was rejected, amply illustrates Habib’s observation.

Of course, his context was otherwise where he tried to build a narrative of ‘nationalism’ prophesised by Gandhi and the kind of nationalism we are witnessing today under the Modi rule. The first one he said was inclusive, where large sections of people had to be mobilised to get rid of the colonial yoke. The second is highly exclusive, where the BJP intends to consolidate itself under this halo by dividing the people on the basis of religion and caste.

No tableau from Himachal on R-Day this time

The Department of Language Art and Culture of Himachal Pradesh proposed to exhibit a tableau of Mahatma Gandhi and his association with Shimla on the 70th Republic Day function at Rajpath in Delhi. However, the Defence Ministry rejected the proposal without citing any reason. Apparently, the reasons are quite obvious!

Mahatma Gandhi had long association with the mountain state because Shimla was the ‘summer capital’ of the colonial India. It was called ‘Simla’ then. The centre of power at least for six months existed in this small town. Mahatma Gandhi had visited Simla 10 times. 

The tableau, as proposed by the Language Art and Culture Department, depicted historic relevance of all these visits.

The proposed tableau had also a proposal of exhibiting some of the most important agreements that took place in Simla, when Mahatma Gandhi was present. These include the meeting of Gandhi with Lord Willingdon on the problems arising out of Gandhi-Irwin pact. Then, again in July 1931 where he gave a charge-sheet to HW Emerson at Simla listing the instances of breaches of settlement. Once again in August 1931, along with Nehru, Patel and Ansari, Gandhi met the viceroy.

But the most important is the Simla conference of 1945 convened to agree on and approve the Wavell plan for Indian self-government.

However, it seems the most problematic to the BJP government at the Centre is the exhibition of the Nathu Ram Godse trial in Simla. Nathu Ram was an avowed member of the RSS, who killed Gandhi on January 30, 1948. Interestingly, the proposed tableau was also to exhibit Devraj Thakur from Sirmaur district, who was the one to nab Godse.

Anything exhibiting Godse as a villain is intolerable to the sangh parivar as Nathuram was a loyal soldier of the RSS. The sangh and its affiliates are even building a temple of Godse; thus depicting him as a deity, a saviour of Hindu religion, who killed a “demon” – Gandhi! What an irony we all are passing through. 

The Hindu mahasabha laid a foundation stone of Godse temple in 2017 in Gwalior. Hence, such a tableau was bound to be rejected, which was rightly done by the BJP government at the Centre. Quite loyal to its ideology though.

The BJP, that is trying to appropriate Gandhi only for his skills of cleanliness, deliberately leaves aside the long-cherished legacy that Gandhi brings in to the freedom movement. And that is combining people from different regions, religions, caste, gender and other cross sections together. The Modi government is comfortable to use him as an icon of sanitation campaign, but will not dig deep into his work as that scars them, which is difficult to hide. 

The Republic Day parade will miss the HP tableau. New Delhi is comfortable in depicting Himachal as the land of deities, gods, known for scenic beauties, 

handicrafts of the state, especially Kangra paintings, ‘Chamba rumaal’ (scarf) etc., but to have a tableau depicting Gandhi’s visits to the state along with Godse-the killer is unpardonable.

(Writer is former Deputy Mayor, Shimla MC) 

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