Amit Shah's 'chatur baniya' remark betrays saffron brigade's insecurity about lacking 'iconic' leaders

When consumerism replaces idealism as the collective motto of a society, a 'Mahatma' becomes a "chaturbaniya". And when winning an election replaces the fight against colonialism, bigotry and inequality as the hallmark of heroism, a party president becomes the 'Shah' of  India and a 'Gandhi' just the butt of insensitive, uncouth remarks.

Albert Einstein was right when he said of Mahatma Gandhi: "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

That generation of politicians is upon us. They can scarcely believe such a man could have ever walked in flesh and blood upon the ungrateful land of this country.

File image of BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

File image of BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

Two days ago, when BJP president Amit Shah called Gandhi a 'chatur baniya' at a gathering of the Chhattisgarh elite, the big surprise was not his choice of words. Considering the BJP's background, ideological predilection and its alma mater's – the Sangh Parivar's – uneasy equation with Gandhi's legacy, such denigrating descriptions are expected and understandable.


What's surprising is the complete nonchalance with which many Indians now accept such monikers for the Mahatma; the utter disinterest in standing up for the Father of the Nation, fighting for his legacy.

This is not the place to recount Gandhi's virtues or his contribution to the idea of India. Across the world, he is revered as a noble soul who denounced violence in every form and turned the power of human will and resistance into mass weapons.

As the world burns in fires of terrorism, xenophobia and violence, every day we long for a messenger of peace who could turn the tide towards principles of love, kindness and compassion – the founding ideals of humanity. The Mahatma's denigration, in many ways, is a rejection of whatever is good and noble in all of us.

The BJP's problem is that it doesn't know how to come to terms with Gandhi's legacy. In its politics of symbolism, it tries to subconsciously embrace his ideals – of course, without accepting it boldly – but it simultaneously holds a grudge against the Mahatma for representing some of the very ideals it detests. It is this very dilemma that leads some of its leaders to praise his assassin Nathuram Godse at home and eulogise Gandhi in South Africa – a chatur (clever) political play best described by the 'moonh main Ram, bagal main Nathuram' philosophy.

As argued by Firstpost earlier, six decades after Gandhi's assassination, we find ourselves in a very strange place: the prime minister hails many of Gandhi’s ideals, though he has conveniently split Gandhi into two: good Mahatma and bad politician; the RSS is backing the BJP’s claim to Sardar Patel’s legacy and Narendra Modi plans to build a gigantic statue of the leader; the Hindu Mahasabha is petitioning the government to install Godse's statues across India, while BJP parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj argues that he should be called a patriot.

Consider the irony of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan sitting on a "peace fast" as a defining symbol of the BJP's dichotomous relation with Gandhi. Chouhan sat on a fast – a gruelling self-sacrifice Gandhi made many a times to bring the British to their knees and stop Indians from killing each other – to restore "peace" after his own police force had fired on protesting farmers, using it as a tool to put the moral blame for the incident on others (read the Congress and farmers).


Contrast this with Gandhi's five-day fast after the violence at Chauri Chaura as a form of penitence for his moral and political failure to stop his peaceful movement from turning violent. It is primarily because Chouhan's "fast" lacked the moral force and legitimacy of Gandhi, that he had to wind it up just a day into the televised tamasha.

The BJP's other problem is that it has nobody from its own stables to compare with the Mahatma.

Its ideological fathers, Guru Golwalkar or KB Hedgewar, may be the ruling deities of the Sangh, but outside its haloed precincts in Nagpur, not many identify with their ideology or politics. Its other hero, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, is a controversial subject with his history of seeking clemency from the British and charges of involvement in the Mahatma's assassination.

Among its post-Independence icons, LK Advani is on the sideline,  marginalised by his own protégées, left alone to defend the charge that he planned the demolition of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya – ironically, a claim that one presumed the militant Hindutva-wadis would have worn as a badge of honour.

So, belittling India's icons gives the saffron brigade a false sense of equality. By pulling them into its own swamp, it gets the satisfaction of having at least tried to make its own past bearable and more respectable, even if it means disrespecting the only post-Independence Indian to have become a global hero.

Einstein would have scarcely believed the metamorphosis of a Mahatma into a chatur baniya.


Published Date: Jun 12, 2017 03:26 pm | Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 03:26 pm


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