Gandhi Alone is the ‘Father of the Nation’


The ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston was an eye-catcher for more reasons than one. While Modi was saying ‘All Is Well’ in India, thousands of protestors outside were showing a mirror to the real state of affairs in India. At the same event, the US President, Donald Trump, due to face impeachment proceedings, was trying to promote his electoral prospects in the next US elections. He flatters visiting dignitariesto achieve his goals of diplomacy. Here, too, he went on to praise Modi to the sky, calling him a great leader and saying, “I remember, India before was very torn. There was a lot of dissension; fighting and he (Modi) brought it all together. Like a father would. Maybe he is the ‘father of India’.”

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Right within the US, there are many views about Modi. The last time a similar debate cropped up was just before the Indian general elections of 2019. On the eve of the elections,the US premier magazine, Time, came out with a cover story, “Modi: the Divider in Chief’. Of course, in another article in the same issue of the magazine, he was presented as the one who is central to the process of economic reforms in India. What we see here in India, and what the lead article of Time magazine presented, was on the dot – the divisive role of Modi. The observation here has been that Modi’s coming to power has strengthened the divisive forces, the forces who want a Hindu nation. It is precisely these forces, who have gone on a rampage to unleash their agenda around cow-beef. Communal divisions have been deepened and identity issues have come to the fore like never before.

Minorities are being alienated and dalits and adivasis are being marginalized. Even language-wise,there is talk of making Hindi the national language. Identity issues, which create an emotional atmosphere and divide the people,have come to the fore. While Trump is talking in one tone, the Democratic hopeful in the last Presidential elections in America, Bernie Sanders, in a tweet, hinted that Trump is emboldening authoritarian leaders like Modi – leaders who are presiding over religious persecution, repression and brutality against minorities.

Till a few years ago,Modi himself spoke a very divisive language. Now, this job has been passed down to his associates. Yogi Adityanath’s anti-Muslim utterances abound. Anant Krishna Hegde, like many of his ilk,has been openly talking of a Hindu nation. To add to the list,SadhviPragya Singh Thakur, the accused in Malegaon blast, out on bail, has been praising Gandhi’s killer Godse, among other things. Lately, the way Article 370 has been abrogated has increased the alienation of the people of Kashmir tremendously.

In a way, Time magazine’s cover story did capture the state of things prevalent here. Trump is no scholar of history, ignorant of the reason as to why India regards Mahatma Gandhi as the ‘father of the nation’. Trump’s considerations are driven by his political contingency of gradually shifting America closer to India. Earlier, the US favoured Pakistan due to the compulsions of the Cold War era. Later, it kept siding with Pakistan as the US had designs on the oil wealth of West Asia and Pakistan was a part of these designs. Now, with the emergence of China as a major power, and China being close to Pakistan, US gradually wants to come close to India. These may be some of the factors due to which Trump is making such statements. But that’s not all. The US is also maintaining its Pakistan relationship on some scale and very shrewdly, Trump said that Modi had made aggressive remarks in the Houston rally. He seems to be buttering his bread on both the sides, at present.

Reactions to Trump’s formulations pointed out his hollowness. Gandhi’s grandson, Tushar tweeted if Trump will like to replace George Washington as one of the founding fathers of America?

What Trump has stated has pained those for whom Gandhi is the ‘father of the nation’. Anyway, the followers of Modi’s ideology do not regard Gandhi as the father of the nation. Their argument is that India, the Hindu nation; has existed since time immemorial and so, how can Gandhi be its father? Gandhi being the father of the nation also relates to the concept of nationalism. All those who were part of ‘India-as-a-nation-in-the-making’ see Gandhi as the central uniting figure. During the freedom struggle in the anti-colonial movement, it was Gandhi who played the role of uniting the country, which was scattered along the lines of religion, region, caste and language. The communalists, like the followers of Muslim League, saw Gandhi as a Hindu leader and Hindu communalists saw Gandhi as the appeaser of Muslims. Through a very profound and complex process, India emerged as a nation with principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Surely the likes of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar, Nehru and Patel played a great role in the making of modern India. The process had multiple components, anti-colonialism being the core, where the likes of Bhagat Singh inspired the idea and Gandhi led the greatest ever mass movement, the movement directed against the British Empire.

It is due to this that Subhash Chandra Bose, on July 6 1944, in a broadcast from Singapore Radio, sought the blessings of Gandhi, addressing him as the Father of the Nation. Sarojini Naidu, on April 6, 1947, on the eve of Independence, addressed Gandhi as Rashtrapita (Father of the Nation). So where do we go from here? The Hindu nationalists are euphoric about what Trump said, while all those, who identify with India’s struggle for Independence and uphold democratic values, are in anguish due to this statement from the US President. Trump’s superficial observation is neither sound in the history of India nor in the knowledge of what is happening in India. It is a mere diplomatic ploy to please the visiting leader.

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