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Rajmohan Gandhi appears to be banking on collective amnesia by criticising Modi for Bofors references

“Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.” Thus wrote author George Orwell while evaluating Mahatma Gandhi’s life and thought after his assassination. At the end of the essay, he expresses his feeling of “aesthetic distaste” for the Father of the Nation and yet appreciates the “clean smell” Gandhi left behind – so unlike his contemporaries in politics.

Given the esteem in which Gandhi was held, particularly after his assassination, Orwell’s essay on him is quite blunt and unkind. Orwell knew it too well that history was beyond emotions and would ruthlessly ferret out the truth if not told by dead men. Gandhi, an “apostle of truth” in every sense of the term, had no reason to be afraid of history. He first said god was truth, and later found that truth itself was his god.

Rare would be a man who can live up to this ideal. Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, a scholar-turned-politician, is not an exception. Though there is no doubt about his profound scholarship, his adherence to truth appears suspect, going by the article he has written in The Indian Express on 7 May. Rajmohan Gandhi was not only economical with the truth, but also distorted history to suit his thesis.

 Rajmohan Gandhi appears to be banking on collective amnesia by criticising Modi for Bofors references

File image of Rajmohan Gandhi. AFP

Rajmohan Gandhi essentially said that prime minister Narendra Modi’s remarks during an election rally last week, terming former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi as “bhrashtachari no 1”, touched a new nadir in political discourse. To buttress this claim, the scholar has to show how the election discourse in earlier times was more courteous. For this, he claims that when he himself fought the Lok Sabha elections against Rajiv Gandhi from Amethi in 1989, he did not malign his opponent’s name by mentioning his alleged role in the Bofors scandal.

This is rather surprising. The historic 1989 elections were fought on the single issue of corruption in high places. There were serious charges of cuts and kickbacks in a deal to purchase Bofors guns. For the first time, a prime minister’s name was not only dragged in a scandal, but there was clinching evidence to prove involvement of people close to him. Rajiv’s key colleague VP Singh – once his finance and defence minister – had quit the party to demand action against the corrupt. On this single demand, Singh has floated his own outfit, Janata Dal, and Rajmohan Gandhi was a Janata Dal candidate. Given this background, is it conceivable that Singh’s own candidate against Rajiv did not talk of Bofors, corruption and allegations against Rajiv?

Perhaps Rajmohan Gandhi is relying on collective amnesia of the intelligentsia to further his point that Modi has committed a cardinal sin in calling the departed leader the top-most corrupt politician in Indian history. His semantics is intended to distort a history which I had witnessed unfolding as a reporter.

Even the campaign in Amethi was built around corruption. Rajmohan Gandhi was equally collusive as his spin doctors in coining the slogan of “Asli Gandhi versus Nakli Gandhi” (the real Gandhi versus the fake Gandhi) to underline the distinction between him and Rajiv Gandhi. As a reporter covering the election, one could recall loudspeakers playing a song sung by Bhojpuri singer Baleshwar: “Saala jhooth bolela, kali Dilli ka chhora saala jhooth bolela” (He speaks lies, the lad from black Delhi speaks lies).” In Amethi, Sanjay Singh, an accused in the Syed Modi murder case, had launched an extremely acerbic campaign against Rajiv Gandhi and endeared himself to Rajmohan Gandhi. In the constituency as well as across the entire Uttar Pradesh, dummies of Bofors guns were paraded around to remind people of the most important issue before them.

All that was part of a no-holds-barred campaign. Talking to journalists at the Meera Bai state guesthouse where Rajmohan Gandhi used to often put up, he did not appear to be giving a clean chit to Rajiv Gandhi on the corruption case. He was as much party to the campaign against Rajiv Gandhi as his leader back then, VP Singh.

As final evidence, consider the reportage published in the Los Angeles Times of the epic Battle of 1989. This is what the grandson of the Father of the Nation told the villagers of Amethi, according to Mark Fineman of that prestigious newspaper.

“The values that Mahatma Gandhi stood for have been flouted… The values that Jawaharlal Nehru stood for also have been flouted. And it is Nehru’s own grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, who has done this to us. … If we are to attain these ideals, Rajiv Gandhi must go. He has hurt the honour of the nation by his involvement in corruption. He has hurt the democratic institutions. He has gathered power in his own hands.”

The tone and tenor of his criticism of Rajiv may indeed differ from the tone and tenor of Modi in his criticism of Rajiv – but that would not change facts – especially the one about hurting the honour of the nation.

Rajmohan Gandhi is entitled to choose his political proclivities at his convenience. As Mahatma Gandhi had no fetish about being consistent in his public life, Rajmohan too could be upfront about it. But unlike the Mahatma, Rajmohan Gandhi is a scholar, not a saint.

The same LA Times report quotes him as telling the voters, “I do not compare myself to my grandfather. He was a saint and a revolutionary, and I am just an ordinary man. But I have chosen to walk his road.” If he has not changed his choice, he should try harder.

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Updated Date: May 07, 2019 18:03:29 IST