In what seemed a bid by the Sangh Parivar to appropriate Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi early in the just-concluded decade, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, as much as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cannot have enough of the ‘Mahatma’. If someone is a Hindu he will be patriotic and that will be his basic character and nature, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said on 1 January while citing Gandhi’s remarks that his patriotism originated from his “dharma”.
Bhagwat was speaking at an event to release the book titled Making of a Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj, authored by JK Bajaj and MD Srinivas.
Hind Swaraj, a booklet of about 30,000 words written in Gujarati in November 1909, happens to be one creation of Gandhi that his party, the Congress, was acutely embarrassed about. In 1909, while travelling from London to South Africa, Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in one sitting. a manifesto for self-rule that was especially critical of western civilisation, modern education, international trade, and the role of the railways in enslaving populations. Dr Pranjivandas Mehta was the sponsor and reader to whom Gandhi had addressed his sermons in Hind Swaraj.
While this was the closest Gandhi had come to criticising Islamic barbarity, even this pamphlet is apologetic about it, but apparently, this line of thinking suits the RSS. Gandhi added these words to the 1938 edition: “Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mahomedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mahomedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause for quarrelling?” [page 46]
While India was busy celebrating a bunch of upstarts who were campaigning against allegedly rampant corruption in the country, the Sangh Parivar in 2011 began the exercise of appropriating Gandhi, harping on Hind Swaraj in one book launch event after another—perhaps to turn acceptable in circles where the organisation is treated like a pariah. Prime Minister Modi took it forward on coming to power in 2014, apparently to add to the BJP’s core constituency Gandhians and socialists.
Releasing the book, Bhagwat said there is no need for speculation that Sangh is trying to appropriate Gandhiji, that is not the case, no one can appropriate great personalities like him.
Describing the book as an authentic scholarly research document on Gandhi, Mohan Bhagwat said Gandhi had suggested that for him his dharma and patriotism are not different as love for his motherland originates from his spirituality.
Gandhiji had said that his patriotism originated from his dharma, Bhagwat said asserting that dharma does not merely mean religion, it is wider than religion.
“If someone is Hindu he has to be patriotic, that will be his or her basic character and nature. At times you may have to awaken his or her patriotism but he (Hindu) can never be anti-India. But we have to be conscious of the fact that if one loves his country it doesn’t mean land only, it means its people, rivers, culture, traditions and everything,” Bhagwat said.
Mohan Bhagwat underlined that Hinduism believes in the existence of unity. “Difference does not mean separatism and Gandhiji has suggested that Hinduism is the religion of all religions,” Bhagwat said.
Talking about Gandhi’s concept of swaraj, Sangh chief Bhagwat said by it he means not only changing rulers or becoming self-governing, for Gandhi the struggle for swaraj was the reconstruction of society based on civilisational values.
Meanwhile, in the book, the authors have quoted Gandhi as having written to Leo Tolstoy that, my patriotism is patent enough, my love for India is ever growing but it is derived from my religion and is therefore in no sense exclusive.
Giving an overview of the book, Bajaj said it tracked Gandhi’s life from Porbandar to his visit to England and then to South Africa.
Bajaj said there was a time between 1893-94 when Gandhi was pressured by his Muslim employer and his Christian employees to explore converting to their respective religions but he refused.
By 1905, he became a devout Hindu and also gave lectures on Hinduism, Bajaj said. He cited instances that while practising law in South Africa, Gandhi quoted Bhagwad Gita and Mahabhrata in his petitions before the courts.