Swachh Bharat: How Modi cleverly hijacked Gandhi's legacy from Congress

On 2 October, 2014 Narendra Modi virtually hijacked Mahatma Gandhi’s inheritance from the Congress Party. Ironically when Modi went on doing it with élan, telling the world about his intentions, the Congress couldn’t find words to oppose it. More so, it was done by a man (Modi) whom the Congress love to hate and propagated to be an anti-thesis of the Gandhian philosophy. But then Modi has completely outwitted them.

Sanjay Singh October 03, 2014 07:10:28 IST
Swachh Bharat: How Modi cleverly hijacked Gandhi's legacy from Congress

For once, it didn't really matter whether Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Manmohan Singh et al paid a visit to Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi. In any case that used to be just an annual pho-op ritual.

On 2 October, 2014 Narendra Modi virtually hijacked Mahatma Gandhi’s inheritance from the Congress Party. Ironically when Modi went on doing it with élan, telling the world about his intentions, the Congress couldn’t find words to oppose it. More so, it was done by a man (Modi) whom the Congress love to hate and propagated to be an anti-thesis of the Gandhian philosophy. But then Modi has completely outwitted them.

Swachh Bharat How Modi cleverly hijacked Gandhis legacy from Congress

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Swachh Bharat campaign. PIB

Gandhi was a man of the masses. After a long time Modi took him out of government files, the ritualistic Rajghat homage and routine Vigyan Bhawan seminars to take him back to the masses – launching a national campaign for clean India, 'Swachh Bharat'.

To make it national, beyond the narrow confines of political lines, he invited Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, with whom he has shared a unique love-hat relationship, along with eight others namely Goa governor Mridula Sinha, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, actors Kamal Haasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan, industrialist Anil Ambani and the team of popular TV serial Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma, on social media to make it go viral. Actor Amir Khan, who had earlier piloted Clean India and picked up other social issues in his Satyamev Jayate, was on the podium for the launch of this mission.

Before Modi set his foot in Delhi, he had firmly and successfully appropriated Sardar Patel, a neglected Congress icon. During his election campaign, he talked passionately about another Congress icon, Lal Bahadur Shastri. Today when the Congress party conveniently forgot Shastri, Modi remembered him during his speech at the launch of the Clean Indian campaign. Shastri shared his birthday with Gandhi but his birthdays have largely gone un-noticed.

On 27 May, the very first day when Modi stepped inside South Bloc to assume office of Prime Minister, he saw Gandhi’s picture kept in the middle of a book shelf and walked up to that, bowed his head and stood briefly. That snap shot released through the PMO twitter handle had become the picture of the day and one of most about talked things.

A fortnight back, he took Chinese President Xi Jinping to Mahatma Gandhi’s Samarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. He made the Chinese president spend some time there and spin the charkha. Modi was seen enthusiastically narrating details of Gandhi and the Ashram. He spoke at length about Gandhi at Madison Square Garden before a highly responsive packed crowd of Indian-Americans. He also knew that back home the event was being telecast live. The words that he said there -- "Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of an India which was not only free but also clean and developed. Mahatma Gandhi secured freedom for Mother India. Now it is our duty to serve Mother India by keeping the country neat and clean" -- became the opening sentence of the Swachh Bharat pledge that he administrated at majestic Rajpath.

Modi has drawn the time line to dedicate a clean India to Mahatma Gandhi in 2019, his 150th birth anniversary. Incidentally, Modi would be seeking re-election for return to power in same year. Gandhi could, ironically be BJP’s campaign theme, if not on the poster. The Congress may have a tough time responding to that and will be better advised to start working on that from now.

By commemorating Gandhi’s birthday at a large scale and in style with a vision of making clean India a mass movement, individual and societal, Modi has put Congress leadership, Rahul and Sonia in a difficult spot. He has come out with a smarter idea to counter Modi’s attempt to snatch Mahatma’s legacy from the Grand Old Party.

Modi did something similar with Teachers Day, to mark birth anniversary of Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, and took it to a different level appealing to the impressionable younger generation to look for national political icons beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family.

On both the occasions, what was most noticeable, was his conscious effort to reach out to children, build a new bonding with them. If on 5 September he interacted directly with them, talking leisurely about his own childhood and pranks that he played, on 2 October he didn’t mind over staying in the Balmiki Basti interacting with school children, signing autographs to them on whatever, they could fetch, mostly on caps provided by the organisers, note pad, loose sheet. He had done same thing on 15 August at Red Fort parade ground when he walked up to them to spend time with them, chatting, signing autographs.

Then today after the main function was over, he marched on for a long distance with school children following him. That long march was not on schedule but Modi marched on, so did the babudom and the kinds. It was a nightmarish moment for security agencies. But Modi was enjoying it all.

Chacha Nehru’s stories have withered away with time. In any case there is not much really, which is told to the children about Jawahar Lal Nehru’s affection to children, meriting him to be called Chacha (uncle). Modi has flamboyantly walked to take up he place of the new friendly uncle. It’s his style of telling young kids that they don’t need to wait for Nehru’s birthday on 14 November to celebrate Bal Divas.

Modi launched Clean India drive from Balmiki Basti (schedule caste locality) in the national capital, to symbolically send a message that he cared for not just for safai but also Safai Karamcharis. Gandhi cared for Harijans and Congress had got them as a solid social constituency in inheritance. Rise of Bahujan Samaj Party and other variants of Dalit politics based parties in other states took away that constituency from Congress. By picking up a broom in Balmiki Basti and inaugurating a public convenience complex there, Modi is attempting to tell this politically sensitive community that he was there to work for them.

Modi and vast mass of his support base picking up a broom has left Aam Admi Party confused – has he popularised AAP symbol or has submerged it under his persona?

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