Vinay Lal

14 October 2007

It is no surprise that an instigator of mass murder should also be the master of mendacity. Today’s Times of India reports that Narendra Modi has declared himself a believer in Gandhi’s ideal of ‘Ram Rajya’. ‘Modi quotes Mahatma’, states the paper in a bold headline, adding: ‘Ahead of Polls, Gujarat CM Harps on Virtues of Ram Rajya.’ Modi is quoted as declaring himself persuaded that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals are ‘relevant’; more pointedly, when asked what he meant by ‘Ram Rajya’, Modi replied that Gandhi understood that to signify the ‘welfare state’.

The newspaper’s suggestion that Modi’s professed admiration for Gandhi may be merely an election ploy carries, obviously, more than a hint of truth. But the matter does not rest there. Modi may be no different than many other politicians who have invoked Gandhi’s name, but he is certainly more astute. Most often politicians will declare themselves, at least on October 2nd and January 30th, influenced by Gandhi’s ideas of peace and nonviolence, or at the very least they fall in line and are heard rehearsing the usual pieties about the importance of Gandhi’s message for the world. Yet Modi, in calling forth the phrase ‘Ram Rajya’, has gone much further. He is fully cognizant of the fact that suggestions of adherence to ideals of peace and nonviolence are not calculated to excite much attention, and that Gandhi is more skillfully appropriated by a specific reclamation of such of his ideas as were in consonance with sentiments held widely across India. Modi’s declaration comes in the wake of the controversy over Ram Setu (or, more formally, the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project), and disputes over Ram’s historicity; on the other hand, as Modi is only too well aware, Gandhi not only declared himself a votary of Ram, but increasingly, in the last years of his life, held on to the idea that the India of his dreams would be something of a ‘Ram Rajya’.

That Gandhi’s Ram, by his own admission, had no relation to the Ram worshipped by many Hindus, and certainly no reference to the Ram being championed by the historicists, is something of which little stock is taken. If the likes of Modi invoke Gandhi’s ‘Ram Rajya’, should we conclude, as some have, that Gandhi’s idea of Ram Rajya was inherently flawed, or that Gandhi should have been known that those who are much less scrupulous than him would manipulate his teachings? Modi’s alleged adherence to Gandhi’s ideal of ‘Ram Rajya’ will, in time, be pounced upon by his critics on the left, some of whom have long thought of Gandhi as a Hindu chauvinist while others hold to the view that Gandhi should be held accountable for the misdeeds committed in his name. (Of course, some of the same Marxist critics continue to describe the atrocities of Stalinism, the horrendous excesses of China’s ‘Cultural Revolution’, and numerous other forms of genocidal social engineering committed in the name of bringing around a true Marxist revolution as having no relation whatsoever to the teachings of Marx.) What is palpably true, and something that calls for continued reflection, is that “Gandhi” has become, if he has not been for some time, an empty vessel – and we will pour into it what we choose. Many Gandhis have been fashioned in the public realm; many more have yet to see the light of dawn.