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The Impossible Gandhian Project and its Limits – Remembering the Mahatma Today

Gandhi, Nehru and Azad, Wardha 1935, image courtesy Governance Now

Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi (Roughly: Compulsion thy name is Mahatma Gandhi)

I have grown up hearing this expression and have often wondered about its meaning and at the almost proverbial status acquired by it. Whose majboori or compulsion was Gandhi really? Well, at one level, everybody’s, for practically every current within the anti-colonial struggle was uncomfortable with his presence and his leadership. Jawaharlal Nehru had even remarked once that after independence, his fads would have to be kept in check. All nationalists who fought for independence from colonial rule (as opposed to the pseudo-nationalists who tried to convert it into a cow-protection movement) had their gaze fixed on the state. They wanted control of that coveted instrument – that was the crux of their anticolonial struggle. There were others like BR Ambedkar, who too invested a lot in the state but realized that the state in the hands of the nationalists would be a disaster for his people. But no one among them (poet-thinkers like Tagore apart) was prepared to look beyond the state. And Gandhi’s disavowal of the state – and of politics as such – was something that no one could digest. More than anything else, that was what made him a majboori for this set of people who could only lay their hands on their object of desire as long as Gandhi was in the leadership – for he alone could move millions like no one among his contemporaries could.

But my hunch is that these were not the people who coined this expression. Gandhi was a bigger majboori for another set of people who were, ironically, equally disinterested in the state and its ‘capture’ – at least till recently. Yes, these were the different currents of the Hindutva Brigade (VD Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and his followers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). They had to tolerate Gandhi – that is exactly what their majboori meant – till they could finally eliminate him. And it was one Nathuram Godse, with connections to both Savarkar and the RSS, who eventually killed him. There were earlier attempts too on Gandhi’s life – all from upper caste Hindus (one lot being Chitpavan Brahmins). Continue reading The Impossible Gandhian Project and its Limits – Remembering the Mahatma Today