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Whose Gandhi is he: The icon of peace at the centre of political war

PM Modi has asked BJP lawmakers to take 150-km padyatra in their constituencies to create the tempo for the big day

Sunday September 15, 2019 8:01 PM, Anindya Banerjee, IANS

Gandhi Birth Anniversary Celebration

[Matatma Gandhi has been the overarching theme of both "Swachh Bharat" and "Clean India" with his iconic circular specs becoming the official logo for the mission. (File Photo: YouTube)]

New Delhi: 150 years after his birth, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is at the centre of a political wrangle with both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress trying to appropriate his legacy. Whose Gandhi is he?

Both the BJP and the Congress have held top-level meetings to discuss how to commemorate October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi and have chalked out their respective plans to claim and reclaim the legacy of the Mahatma.

Is the assimilation of legends of the freedom struggle into its ethos, part of the RSS-BJP agenda to rewrite its own history as well as deliver a 'Congress-mukt' Bharat, as they have been promising, to the masses and render the Congress meaningless in the current milieu, whereas the Grand Old Party (GOP) continues to refuse to see beyond the figures 'the first Congress family' has thrown up?

BJP has the first mover advantage

Soon after coming to power in 2014, Narendra Modi declared war on filth from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Highlighting Mahatma Gandhi's view that "Sanitation is more important than Independence", Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014 to tackle the sanitation and waste management problems.

Matatma Gandhi has been the overarching theme of both "Swachh Bharat" and "Clean India" with his iconic circular specs becoming the official logo for the mission.

While the main aim was to eradicate open defecation by building toilets, resurrecting Gandhi helped the government turn it into a "mission".

October 2 became a red letter day under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with the Prime Minister, his cabinet colleagues, senior BJP leaders as well as party caders picking a broom to clean roads and even drains. While the opposition discounted it as a photo-op, one can't dismiss the fact that October 2 slowly but surely became synonymous with the BJP and the NDA.

Congress gifted legacy of Patel, Bose to the BJP

Despite Gandhi being the single-most defining face of the Congress during the British Raj, his legacy was allowed to be neglected by the Congress over years. Mahtama Gandhi was remembered on October 2 through glossy ads by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government or tweets on his death anniversary, but with a political intent -- to target the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP. The Congress has all along maintained Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse received help from the RSS, something both the RSS and the BJP have rubbished many times.

The legacy of Sardar Ballavbhai Patel met even a worse fate. Only when the BJP started to expropriate Patel, the Congress woke from its slumber and realised what the BJP is up to.

First as a "fellow Gujarati" and later as the "unifier", Modi wrested the legacy of Patel, a Congressman, whose dispute with the RSS is well-known. But today with the Statue of Unity standing as the tallest statue of the world, which some Congressmen called 'Made in China', that legacy has been surrendered to the BJP.

The Modi government had already appropriated the legacy of Subhash Chandra Bose by declassifying documents pertaining to him, some of which were particularly embarrassing for the grand old party after it gave disclosed how first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allegedly ordered snooping on Bose's family.

Also, with Chandra Kumar Bose, a descendant of legendry freedom struggle figure Bose, joining the BJP, there were no option left for the Congress but to try undo the damage caused by itself.

And the Gandhi legacy-war

But the Congress knew Mahatma Gandhi was very special and it can't afford to let the BJP appropriate Gandhi, like Patel or Bose. For the Congress, every dig at the BJP reminding it of "Gandhi's India" would no longer be a tool if people start perceiving Gandhi and the BJP in the same tinge. Thus, the Congress launched, belatedly, its fight to reclaim the legacy of the Mahatma a year ago.

As part of the plan to reclaim the Mahatma's legacy, the Congress decided to hold the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting at Wardha, known for his asharm, last autumn. The choice of the venue was deliberate. It's barely few km from Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram where the Mahatma had presided over the last CWC meeting before the launch of 'Quit India' movement in 1942.

Congress media cell head Randeep Surjewala had said: "Batware se mukti ka sangram...Phir se Sevagram."

The Congress top leadership, including then party president Rahul Gandhi, washed their utensils after having meal at the ashram. Though it's a practice at the ashram, initiated by the Mahatma himself, the visuals went viral and the Congress had launched it's counter to reclaim the Mahatma's legacy.

By September 2019, Rahul Gandhi resigned and Sonia Gandhi, his mother, came back as the interim party chief.

At a meeting convened to discuss how to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahtama Gandhi, she was forthright: "The BJP's attempts to appropriate freedom fighters and leaders, like Gandhi, Patel and Ambedkar, is with the sole and tragic aim of misinterpreting their true messages to further their (the BJP and the RSS) nefarious agenda. The Congress must have an agitational agenda, and merely being active on social media is not enough".

From holding padyatras across the country to wearing Gandhi caps and sending RSS cadres like individuals to spread Mahatma's message were some of Sonia Gandhi's recommendation.

The BJP, however, is past the planning stage and is implementing events in run-up to the most important day for the Modi government -- October 2. The party will take out 'padyatras' across the country to spread the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi for 150 hours.

Addressing the party workers in Gandghinagar, BJP chief Amit Shah earlier announced, "On the occasion of 'Gandhi 150', party workers would hold 150-hour padyatras at various levels (booth, district, state) to spread Gandhiji's teachings to the masses".

As part of the "Sewa Saptah", which is being organised in run-up to Modi's birthday, many BJP ministers, including Shah, have already seen with brooms.

The Prime Minister has asked BJP lawmakers to take 150-km padyatra in their constituencies to create the tempo for the big day.

The man whose simple life and message of peace became a powerful statement for the world is long gone, but the legacy of 'Mahatma', is being fought for in the most aggressive manner possible in the power circuit of India.

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