New Delhi | In ‘Understanding the Founding Fathers’ 81-year-old Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma and erudite scholar and academic, seeks to throw a light on some of the questions surrounding the legacy of the architects of Indian nationhood that have come to assume prominence in the political discourse.
Has the doctrine of ahimsa made India weaker as a country where power or strength is weighed in terms of martial spirit and might? Did Mahatma Gandhi introduce religion into national politics and hence lay the ground for the Partition that was to be the price of freedom after close to two centuries of colonial rule? Would Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel have made a better first prime minister of independent India than Jawaharlal Nehru?
In the book (Aleph, 2016), the author begins by examining the critiques, by two unrelated interrogators, of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — one a spiritual leader in Gujarat’s Anand by the name of Swami Sachidanand, the other, British Marxist historian Perry Anderson, brother of the celebrated historian and political scientist Benedict Anderson and the writer of the book, ‘The Indian Ideology’, in which he makes a mostly negative appraisal of (Mahatma) Gandhi, Nehru, the Indian republic’s ideology and the trajectory of independent India.
But Rajmohan Gandhi’s field of inquiry is not limited to the views of just these two critics. In responding to the charges levelled against the Bapu and the heavyweights of the Indian National Congress who went on to become ministers and lawmakers after independence Nehru, Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, to name a few — Rajmohan Gandhi’s intention also seems to be to set the record straight on the legacy of India’s freedom movement itself as delivered in the life and work of its stalwarts.
But what is the indictment of the Bapu by the swami and Anderson? Rajmohan Gandhi tells us, early on, that the argument of each against the Mahatma effectively cancels the one offered by the other. Thus, while Swami Sachidanand thinks that Mahatma Gandhi failed to protect the interests of the Hindus as India won her freedom, Anderson claims it was him who contributed significantly to the communal problem by injecting a religious imaginary into the national movement, paving the path for the eventual partition of the subcontinent. And that is not the only one.
On the Dalit question, while Sachidanand espouses progressive ideas on their empowerment for full integration into mainstream Hindu society, a cause demonstratively close to the Bapus heart, Anderson feels it was none but the Mahatma who blackmailed (Babasaheb) Ambedkar in 1932 into accepting the Poona Pact which placed Dalits at the mercy of caste Hindus.
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