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Silly Point : Who owns Gandhi, anyway?


WHEN Nripendra Misra escorted Narendra Modi to his prime ministerial chair, perceptive observers, apart from noticing that Modi signed his charge assumption report with a Mont Blanc pen, could not have missed the startling fact that there were no photographs of his spiritual or political gurus on the mantelpiece. No Golwalkar, no Savarkar, no Hegdewar, no Madan Mohan Malaviya or Shyama Prasad Mookerjee either.

Mahatma Gandhi stood alone in his pristine purity and Modi worshipped him with a few convenient flowers placed there by a resourceful PMO. In that moment pregnant with history, Modi snatched away the Mahatma from the grasp of the Indian National Congress and washed away all the innuendoes and allegations about the murder of the Mahatma by the Hindutva brigade, whether of the Hindu Mahasabha variety or its RSS clone.

This is not to allege that Modi had any selfish designs in this endeavour. He was a genuine admirer of the Mahatma not only because he was a Gujjubhai like him, but because much of what he said made sense. He did not find Gandhi obscurantist, trying to promote the self-sufficient village or basing his model of employment generation on revitalisation of village industries. (As the Congress led by Nehru so blatantly did. Which is why Gandhi suggested in 1947 that the Congress should be disbanded.) He had obviously read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, which spoke of the electronic village as a futuristic model of development around the globe.

So much for the Mahatma. But the Mahatma was a larger-than-life character and he was owned by all varieties of people from Vinoba Bhave to Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King to Richard Attenborough. No one in the whole wide world could lay claim to an unchallenged descent from Bapu. Modi could not have overlooked the fact that it was the Sardar, who in his capacity as Home Minister of India had arrived at the conclusion that the RSS was the villain of the piece and had banned the organisation. For many years, people with an RSS background were not recruited into government service. Obtaining proprietorship rights over him was a much dicier proposition.

What made the endeavour achievable was the fact that the Congress had, in its anxiety to promote the Dynasty, allowed the Sardar to suffer by neglect and had almost consigned him to limbo.

And so Modi thought up the project for erecting the tallest statue in the world, a formidable Statue of Unity 697 feet tall, that would immortalise Sardar Valabhbhai Patel much more than his Bismarckian feat of integrating 538 princely states with India that is Bharat.

That left only one more member of the Holy Trinity. Although he did not consider Panditji’s policies to be wrong, he did not hero-worship him to the extent that Atalji did. Modi took over the most visible emblem of Jawaharlal’s personality, namely the Jawahar jacket. He asked a fashion designer to build a 21st century version of the jacket and experimented with all the vibrant colours of the spectrum. These jackets enhanced his 56” chest, duly enlarged by a bullet-proof vest, and made him the most nattily dressed Indian Prime Minister of all time.

Having established ownership rights over these stalwarts, Modi turned his attention to the spiritual giants that this country has produced and adopted Swami Vivekananda as his personal icon. He was the hero who had introduced the West to the perennial philosophy and was a non-controversial proponent of Hinduism. At the same time, he had exhorted the youth of the country to arise, awake and not stop till the goal was reached. Modi’s first name was Narendra, not unlike the Narendernath of Vivekananda. (There was an unsubstantiated rumour or speculation that he was Vivekananda reborn.) And Modi was the only Prime Minister to have, like Vivekananda, roamed the length and breadth of this vast country as Parivrajak, a
wandering monk. He had seen the lives of the poor at close quarters and when he spoke about the problems faced by the womenfolk in attending to the call of nature, he based his remarks on “experienced reality” (bhoga hua yatharth).

The Hindus have numerous scriptures, but the Bhagwad Gita stands a class apart. It is a treatise on spirituality, it is not the kind of shashtra that exhorts us to hold our nose and recite Vedic mantras. Its most telling aphorisms are “Yoga is skill in action” (yogah karmasu kaushalam) and “even-mindedness is yoga” (samatwamyogahuchyate). Learned observers have discovered that it can be used as a management manual and a guidebook on enlightened citizenship.

SO Modi, in his naturally shrewd way, presented this Hindu scripture not carrying the odium of Hindutva to various VVIPs of the world like the Emperor of Japan and the President of the US.

He had filed his papers as a candidate for the 2014 elections from Vadodara constituency situated on the banks of the river Narmada, a river holy to Hindus. But at some stage in the proceedings he shifted to Varanasi, the oldest city of the world.Varanasi is so holy that deceased Hindus of all climes are flown to the city so that their bodies can be cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, where Lord Shiva is personally present to grant absolution even to sinners. Varanasi is so hallowed that Hindu widows from all over migrate to this city and wait patiently for Yama’s messengers to claim their souls. It is also located on the banks of the river Ganga which falls directly from heaven onto Shiva’s tresses.

Again, by the simple strategy of selecting the right city and the right river, Modi gave a subliminal message to all Hindus that he was an ardent Hindu nationalist but he did it tactfully so that the minorities would not take umbrage.

His latest coup is the manner in which he battled the swollen-headed Thackeray cousins by putting in his claim to the legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji. That annexation was not incredible, as Shivaji is too great to be imprisoned in the household shrine of a particular political family. But most of us could not believe our ears when he said, loudly and emphatically, that he had great respect for Balasaheb and would, therefore, as a gesture of goodwill, desist from criticising the Shiv Sena.

That was a masterly stroke. Only a genius who rewrites the rules of the game can attempt such a complicated gambit. Poor second-generation Thackerays! They did not know which way to look.

The tailpiece features the comment made by an internet writer of comedy pieces. He stated that Modi had not spared even the unfortunate Kejriwal who was down and out and had bitten the dust. Arvind’s greatest weapon was the broom. By wielding this plebeian instrument on Gandhiji’s birthday, Modi had snatched away even this proletarian weapon from Kejriwal’s nerveless hands.

I find the comment churlish. What should Modi have used? A vacuum cleaner? Really, some people seem to have become paranoid about Narendrabhai.

All that Modi has to do now is to steal Indiraji from the Mother and Son, and his Ashwamedha Yagna would be complete.

MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India

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