By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.
The dark irony is that those who idolise Godse and his mentor VD Savarkar are misappropriating Gandhi’s iconic symbols of wired spectacles and the spinning wheel to masquerade as the Mahatma’s true heirs.
Gandhi sacrificed his life for communal harmony. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and their Bharatiya Janata Party, rose to power using politics of hate and communal divide.
What can be the worst example of the diabolical duplicity of the Modi-Shah government on the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi than the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which is the first aggressive step towards replacing the secular, socialist democratic republic with Fascist Hindu nation?
The stark duplicity of the Modi government appears more glaring when the CAA and the accompanying National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) are touted by the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues as fulfilling Gandhi’s dream of making India a safe heaven for refugees seeking asylum from being persecuted by Islamic nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
That CAA specifies only these three countries, conspicuously leaving out Myanmar, Sri lanka, Tibet and China and lists only Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist and Christians, leaving out Muslim refugees as eligible for Indian citizenship betrays the intention of the Modi government absolutely clear: Polarise the country on communal lines.
Modi, Shah and other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party conveniently hide the fact that Gandhi’s first Satyagraha – nonviolent civil disobedience movement – was against the racist citizenship law of General Smutt’s government of South Africa in 1906. General Smutt had to repeal the law after thousands of people of Asian origin resorted to mass civil disobedience movement by tearing the registration papers.
To justify the new citizenship legislation, they also misquote and twist the statement of Gandhi who, after the partition of India in 1947 had advocated the repatriation of both Hindus and Muslims to Pakistan and India and ensure they enjoyed equal citizenship rights.
The youth, both men and women, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christians, saw through the BJP’s diabolical design behind the new citizenship law and the accompanying administrative measures. The first organized peaceful demonstration against CAA was by the students and faculty members of the Jamia Millia Islamia followed by those of the Aligarh Muslim University.
Reminiscent of the nation-wide nonviolent protest against the infamous Rowlett Act and the British Raj’s ruthless police brutalities to suppress it, the Delhi police and the police in Uttar Pradesh, both directly under Home Minister Amit Shah and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath unleashed a reign of terror on the campuses.
While the youth had the sagacity of adopting the Gandhian path of peaceful protest, the BJP government followed the brutal ways of the British colonial police. The difference between the behaviour of protesting youth and the repressive government could not be more stark.
While youth adoped Gandhian path of peaceful protest, the BJP government followed the brutal ways of the British colonial police
The attempt by the Modi-Yogi governments to create a Hindu-Muslim divide with the propaganda that only Muslims were leading the anti-CAA agitation was foiled by members of all religious communities who joined hands in the widespread protests. True, Muslims, largely women, held 24×7 sit-in protests in scores of cities and small towns, but they received wide support from Hindu, Sikh and Christian men.
In a diabolical move, UP CM Yogi Adityanath unleashed bands of newly recruited ‘police sahayaks’ (constabulary employed on contract) on Muslims in several towns and state capital Lucknow to mercilessly beat up men and children, loot and plunder their households and even sexually brutalize boys after dragging them out from Madrasas (schools). The violence thus perpetrated by the goons was falsely attributed to the people peacefully protesting against the CAA.
Those like social activist-cum-actor Sadaf Jafar, who was exposing the partisan police’s collusion with arsonists by streaming live the video on social media, was arrested and subjected to torture in police custody before sending her to jail.
The exemplary Hindu-Muslim unity seen during the anti-CAA protests had parallels with the Khilafat movement (1919-1924), a century ago, when Mahatma Gandhi had lent support to Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali brothers. The Shaheen Baug sit-in protest largely by Muslim women is also witnessing momentous unity among all religious communities. Sikhs have been running a community kitchen for the Satyagrahis of Shaheen Baug.
The glaring contrast between the followers of Gandhi and those of Godse is also seen in their symbols, style and statements. The Shaheen Baug satyagrahis are waving the national flag and vowing their allegiance to the Indian Constitution, hailing Mahatma Gandhi, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. Modi and Shah supporters are hurling pejorative slogans, slut-shaming women and threatening to shoot who they call ‘Desh ke gaddar’ (traitors of the country).
The present popular anti CAA movement across the country, whose common war cry is ‘Hum ladh ke lenge azadi’ (we will fight to reclaim our freedom), draws inspiration from India’s nonviolent freedom struggle against the British rule led by Mahatma Gandhi. The parallels between the present and the past struggles are far too many.
*Senior Ahmedabad-based journalist, grandson of Mahadev Desai, Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary