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150th Gandhi Jayanti: Cong Or BJP, Whose Gandhi Is It Anyway?

Gandhi is coterminous with India. Or, it’s the closest that one can get. Everyone – all Indians – can lay claim to Gandhi. But Gandhi cannot be limited to a party, a religion or a sect. Universal values are what Gandhi gave rise to. Universal acceptance is what the idea of Gandhi has received.

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Mahatma Gandhi best exemplifies the idea of India – non-violent, tolerant, secular, and pride in its civilizational ethos and values.

His 150th birth anniversary is a moment to pause, reflect and introspect – has India lived up to the ideals Gandhi laid his life for?

While Gandhi was a Congressman, it’s said that he wanted the Congress to be “disbanded” after its national project – the Freedom Struggle -- was accomplished. The BJP often says that by shrinking the Congress, “it’s fulfilling the Mahatma’s vision”.

For the Indian National Congress, Gandhi ideally should have been its biggest, most potent icon. Increasingly, however, it has come to be seen that the Congress pays only lip-service to Gandhi and his ideals. Like it does to other heroes in the Congress pantheon – Sardar Patel, for instance.

The BJP, it’s been argued, “has appropriated Patel”, and today, the party says, it is the rightful inheritor of Patel’s legacy – with nationalist strongmen Narendra Modi and Amit Shah reinforcing the point.

Interestingly, there is an attempt to treat Gandhi likewise – the BJP of today, for instance, would argue that the party stands for everything that the Congress of the Freedom Struggle stood for, and “hence the party is the rightful heir to Gandhi and the Gandhian ideals”.

The Congress would argue that the BJP’s love for Gandhi is “cosmetic”. It’s “limited to events and symbolic ideas like Swachh Bharat, and divorced from the core of Gandhian ideal of nationhood and pluralism”. The Congress argues that “the BJP stand on the largest minority group of Muslims, or its less than forthright stand on vigilante groups is a proof enough that the saffron party and the Gandhian ideology cannot meet”.

It’s true that the BJP, under Modi, made the Swachhta campaign its flagship programme. “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on Gandhi Jayanti on his 150th anniversary in 2019,” Modi had said, launching the scheme on October 2, 2014.

The BJP today argues that the fact that Swachhta today has become a mass movement is a tribute to Modi’s vision and governance, and, of course, Gandhi.

The BJP argues that there is a renewed interest in Khadi, originally a Gandhian symbol and project, courtesy Modi, and his forceful advocacy, especially through platforms like “Mann Ki Baat”.

BJP supporters argue that the Sabarmati Ashram, set up by Gandhi, has been made a hub of diplomacy due to Modi’s initiatives, which got a bevy of global leaders to this Ahmedabad landmark.

As narendramodi.in observes, the PM has also unveiled busts or statues of Bapu “from Brisbane to Hannover to Ashgabat, creating a lasting awareness about the Mahatma, overseas”.

The subtext here is that the BJP’s love is not limited to Patel and projects like the Statue of Unity alone.

The Congress, on the other hand, points to mob lynchings, honour killings, manual scavengers’ deaths, and argues “how could these practices exist if the BJP indeed were a party of Gandhi?”

While it’s true that Gandhi had an ambivalent view on the RSS (and thus he would have interesting insights on the BJP too, were he around today), the fact is that Modi and his BJP have brought Gandhi and many of his ideas mainstream, while the Congress has somehow lost its Gandhi in its Independence Day remembrances and token symbolism.

So, does Gandhi today belong to the BJP, and not necessarily the Congress?

Gandhi is coterminous with India. Or, it’s the closest that one can get. Everyone – all Indians – can lay claim to Gandhi. But Gandhi cannot be limited to a party, a religion or a sect. Universal values are what Gandhi gave rise to. Universal acceptance is what the idea of Gandhi has received.


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