We must stop praying to Gandhiji, and instead let ourselves discover and pray for his values.

The Deification of the Mahatma
Voices Friday, May 27, 2016 - 11:38

By Neha S

When one scrutinizes the outpouring of hate toward Mahatma Gandhi, it’s easy to see that the abuse arrives from both sides of the Indo-Pakistani border. When it comes to the Pakistanis, and their reason to dislike Gandhi-ji, it is outright: they resent him for he had tried to stop the creation of Pakistan, and essentially did not agree with the idea of Partition. Then you regard those who loathe Gandhi-ji from within the country, often right-wing Hindus, and realize they hate him as he had allowed Partition and ‘tore us apart.’ Of course, the conflicting viewpoints make no sense, as the abhorrence of him due to two opposing reasons could only be called accurate if there were two Gandhis. But perhaps there are. Or, shall we step further and say there are thousands of the Mahatma, millions even?

“The real Gandhi was alive for the Hindus, the Muslims, the Parsis, the Christians and the Untouchables” (M. Chalapathi Rau). Gandhi was incarnate, larger-than-life to the extent that after his death he became a deity. But as Rau had written, he was not God to merely one religion or creed but rather one for the entirety of the nation. When statues of the Mahatma were erected after his death, down crumbled the idea of Mohandas the Man. Every time we refer to him in a deity-like sense, he transcends humanity and becomes God of India: but with what consequence? The consequence that the pantheon of brilliant insights, the hundreds of letters and articles and the actions of Gandhi the man are forgotten, inhaled into the void of godliness.

But what is the fault with that? Figures in history often tend to go down as icons rather than humans, it is natural, is it not? Hitler the monster overshadowed Hitler the orator and artist, Churchill the war-hero outshone Churchill the racist, hence Gandhi the God similarly erases Gandhi the man. But it has had a negative impact on India, the deification of a good man. Politicos, being politicos, managed to transform Gandhi from the God of India to the God of Congress. Hence the mistakes committed by Congress members, the times Congress had faltered and stumbled, any allegation of corruption all contributed to the maligning of Gandhiji’s image. Like Jesus took on the sins of man, Gandhi was forced to carry the sins of India, the sins of Congress, the sins of even Godse.

With the erection of the first statue came years of an idolatry that promoted the Saviour but not the Thinker. As such, with the exception of those who academically seek out his writing, the general public is aware ‘Gandhi freed India’ but unsure what he thought of it, what he felt about self-rule and everything else. Emanating from this is the result that political parties who wish to malign Gandhiji only need to say a negative word about him for the mindset of listeners to swivel from worship to derision. Gandhiji, till his dying breath had acknowledged his humanity, his human flaws, the faults within his nature – so why are those who are to read of him unable to comprehend it? For instance, with Nehru, citizens are aware of his imperious temper and his rumored personal life yet somewhat manage to keep his politics separate from that. This is because Nehru, Bose, Maulana Azad were all seen as humans and politicians, whilst Gandhiji is seen as God. It is easy to turn one away from God yet it is difficult to turn one away from a human friend.

And that is just the deliberate maligning. E.M. Forster had written, in A Passage to India, that “Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one.” As the British who failed to truly understand India, had seen it as a thousand faces, hence unknowable – the Indians who now truly fail to understand Gandhi see him as a thousand faces, succumbing to a hundred ideologies. As the Bible or Quran is twisted in the hands of religious extremists, Gandhiji’s most iconic words are similarly perverted in the hands of political extremists. We now have a million Bapujis, Communist Bapuji, Congress Bapuji, Hindutva Bapuji; with the consequence that the politician and thinker Mohandas, is ephemeral, almost forgotten.

Perhaps the essence of this is that we, as in both Congress and country, should stop merely glorifying Gandhi as God, and let people see him as a man too. In addition to the hundred of statues and roads, promote his writing to the people, let them know of his words and actions rather than a lone messiah to be worshipped. Do not merely ask children to recite “Gandhi is our Father,” like they recite Hail Mary or Ramanama, show them his autobiography, ask them to hear his thoughts and depict Gandhi as an honored man. Instead of forcing worship, tell them his good deeds and let them make friends with him, let them discover their Father. Lead them to shake his hand but let them figure out the relationship. Teach him as one would teach Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Patel, Tilak; obviously on a higher level to them but just as human as they were. Learn of his politics and his philosophy, his struggles and his faults as he himself wrote them, and as others during his time wrote on him. Fantasizing about Gandhiji, and deifying him will never be as palpable and visceral as the human touch of his words. We must stop praying to Gandhiji, and instead let ourselves discover and pray for his values.