BJP's ambiguity on Anantkumar Hegde exposes its divergence from Mahatma Gandhi's legacy
The ruling party is now caught in a cleft stick. It has show-caused Hegde and asked him to apologise, which he hasn’t done yet. It has been forced to do this because it wants desperately to appropriate Gandhiand his legacy, as all other parties want to do as well. Hegde’s criticism of Gandhi doesn’t sit well with this project.
The BJP is now caught in a cleft stick. It has show-caused Hegde and asked him to apologise. It has been forced to do this because it wants desperately to appropriate Gandhiand his legacy, as all other parties want to do as well
Hegde’s criticism of Gandhi doesn’t sit well with this project. Nor does the admiration for Godse expressed by a number of high-profile BJP leaders, including Hegde and Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur
The fundamental problem is that the BJP’s ideology doesn’t meet Gandhi’s even tangentially. They inhabit different planets
On 1 February, Anantkumar Hegde, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha member from Uttar Kannada, Karnataka, made controversial statements about the country’s freedom movement and about the man who initiated its mass phase in 1917 with the Champaran Satyagraha, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. His party sent him a show-cause notice for his pains.
Referring to the freedom movement, Hegde, at an event in Bengaluru, reportedly said that it was drama. Freedom fighters had "asked the British how they should fight for freedom" and that the struggle was an 'adjustment, understanding'. He also compared the movement, incomprehensibly, to a T20 cricket.
As for Gandhi, Hegde's barbs were slanted and indirect. "If you ask them how we won freedom, they say 'Through upavasa (fasting)'. So, the British got frustrated and gave us freedom. My blood boils when I read history. Such people become Mahatma in our country."
There is no clarity on who these ‘they’ and ‘them’ are. Hegde went on to sing a paean to VD Savarkar: "This is a nation that has shastra (weapons) and shaastra (knowledge). If anyone personified it, it was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar." Par for the course, you should think. But that wasn’t how things panned out initially.
The party brass was reported to have been ‘unhappy and upset’ by Hegde’s remarks, never mind the fact that he is a serial offender when it comes to making utterly inappropriate, sometimes incendiary, statements. As mentioned he was served a show-cause notice.
The party has changed its tune since. But before we get to that, it must be noted that many Opposition parties have asked the BJP to clarify its stand on Gandhi and have demanded an apology from Hegde. On the face of it, he doesn’t really have any reason to apologise. He was voicing an opinion and articulating a particular reading of history. He has every right to do so. There is no law that compels a historian, politician or citizen to profess a singular, received wisdom of what the character of the freedom struggle was, or what Gandhi’s role in it was. The fact that Hegde’s reading is not anchored in fact, is another matter altogether.
After Independence, for instance, the communists used to say, 'Yeh aazaadi jhoota hai (This freedom is a sham).' That was a legitimate view, as well. The whole point of constitutional democracy is the freedom to express diverse, disparate and contrarian views. In the aftermath of Independence, the leadership enshrined this freedom and defended it, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar and others.
So far, so good.
However, the effect of the show-cause notice and the party's reprimand was diluted in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday to the point that it became totally anodyne. Hegde skipped the day's proceedings, even though he was in Delhi. It was left to party colleague and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi to defend Hegde from the concerted attack mounted by the Opposition. "They are unnecessarily making an issue. The concerned member (sic) has clarified and we have told him to express regret," Joshi said, as opposition parties raised slogans that characterised the BJP as Nathuram Godse’s party, keeping in mind that Hegde is a stated admirer of Gandhi’s assassin.
The burden of Hegde's clarification was that he hadn't mentioned any party, Gandhi or anyone else, which seems to be true. He also said all media reports of his speech were false, which seems to be untrue, given that a large number of papers reported the same thing.
In an attempt to counter the Opposition, Joshi claimed, somewhat risibly, that the BJP was the ‘true bhakt and follower of Gandhi’: "We are the real followers of Gandhi. These are the followers of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi." He claimed that BJP MPs had undertaken padayatras of 150 km each to mark Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.
Herein lies the rub. The ruling party is now caught in a cleft stick. It has show-caused Hegde and asked him to apologise, which he hasn’t done yet. It has been forced to do this because it wants desperately to appropriate Gandhiand his legacy, as all other parties want to do as well. Hegde’s criticism of Gandhi doesn’t sit well with this project. Nor does the admiration for Godse expressed by a number of high-profile BJP leaders, including Hegde and Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur.
At the same time, the BJP’s untroubled Lok Sabha majority has only strengthened the widening streak of self-perceived infallibility that the party has suffered from, especially over the past five-plus years. Thus, it is unwilling to publicly admit that Hegde’s opinions are ‘heretical’ and cannot be countenanced, which would logically lead to distancing itself from the MP. That exposure of a chink is not admissible. The BJP is always right, other parties are responsible for everything that goes wrong. Thus, the contortions in Parliament.
The fundamental problem is that the BJP’s ideology doesn’t meet Gandhi’s even tangentially. They inhabit different planets. Let me take a recent example. On Monday, Union Human Resources Development Minister Prakash Javadekar called Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a "terrorist". "You had yourself said that you are an anarchist and there is not much difference between an anarchist and a terrorist."
To begin with, the premise. Someone ought to tell the minister that there is a huge gulf between an anarchist and a terrorist. By most readings, Gandhi, with his accent on the autarchic and autonomous village community as the basic unit of governance and his opposition to the overarching state, was an anarchist. Not even Anantkumar Hegde would call Gandhi a terrorist.
Javadekar’s statement may be dismissed as election rhetoric or a simple gaffe, but the fact is that the BJP does not practise any of the principles Gandhi preached, many of which he practised as well. You have to give him that, whether you agree with the principles themselves. Non-violence is not, for instance, very high on the party’s list of priorities. The larger principle of Satyagraha, too, does not seem to find a reflection in the BJP’s political project.
Conversely, the BJP’s pursuit of a majoritarian agenda and the pride of place it affords to the creation of a Hindu rashtra has no resonance in Gandhi’s political thought or practice. His use of the Ramrajya metaphor was unfortunate, but it did not betoken a theocracy. It was a metaphor. The BJP’s sectarianism is also at odds with everything Gandhi stood for. Even critics will have to admit that his energies were always bent at healing rifts and schisms, though they may not agree with specific nostrums.
Thus, when the BJP shilly-shallies on Hegde, yet claims to be the true inheritor of Gandhi’s mantle, the rhetoric sounds preposterous.
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