I was horrified, shattered and dismayed when Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate in the poll fray against senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh for the Bhopal parliamentary seat, went into the assertive mode and told mediapersons that Nathuram Godse, who had assassinated Mahatma Gandhi by shooting three bullets in his chest when he was holding his morning prayer on 30 january 1948, was a patriot.
While talking to a former bureaucrat on Friday morning, I had expressed my reaction saying that just as I would not forgive Godse, I shall never forgive Sadhvi Pragya for her mindset and views on a coward and depraved person, who had shot the Mahatma in such a cold-blooded manner.
After she was censured and rebuked by her party bosses, Sadhvi Pragya was quick to apologise for her Godse remark. The apology notwithstanding, nation’s ire is going to haunt her the entire life. Even Prime Minister Narenda Modi is raging on this count. He said in a televised interview that even though she had tendered an apology, he would never forgive her.
Sadhvi Pragya, immediately after filing her nomination from Bhopal, had said that Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), who was killed in action during the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, had died as a result of her curse.
Sadhvi Pragya, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case (6 persons were killed and over a 100 others were injured when a bomb attached to a motorcycle was blasted in Malegaon town in Maharashtra in September 2008), was granted bail in 2017 by the Bombay High Court on the ground that prima facie no case was made out against her. The contention of the BJP that has fielded her from Bhopal is that Sadhvi Pragya was roped in a false case and tortured by the Maharasthra ATS at the behest of the Congress party when it was in power. This was done only to appease the minority vote bank by masterminding the conspiracy to raise the bogey of “Hindu terror”.
Politics, charges, counter-charges aside, there is a miniscule section of Indians, ingrained for successive generations with sectarian views, that thinks that Godse was a nationalist who was forced to eliminate Mahatma Gandhi as he was chiefly responsible for India’s partition and creation of Pakistan that left in its wake mayhem, mass-slaughter and displacement of millions.
Those with such rabid views have continued to shut their eyes and fail to appreciate the life and role of Mahatma Gandhi, who had led the Freedom Movement from the front and was a symbol of peace, amity, brotherhood and communal unity.
All through his life, Mahatma Gandhi, who led the Freedom Movement from the front, preached “ahimsa” (non-violence) and fought an unceasing battle against the scourge of untouchability and the caste system. He was of the view that the economic status of the vast majority of those living in the countryside could be improved only by strengthening the village economy and his perception was that it was possible to lift the village economy by developing and supporting the growth of villages and small-scale industries. Mahatma Gandhi had his priorities as far as the country’s welfare and progress was concerned. He had sharp differences with Jawaharlal Nehru, who was all out to pursue a policy focused entirely on speedy industrial development.
Gandhi felt that if the country was to go solely for industrial development, majority of the people would end up suffering from poverty, illiteracy and lack of even the basic amenities. He did not want to compromise the interests of the vast majority of successive generations of Indians by taking a path that promised a quantum leap in terms of industrial growth but was also a recipe for the worst as it was destined to open the floodgates that he knew would drown a large part of the value system of the Indian society. He knew the pitfalls and was against people chasing materialistic goals. His big caution was that human greed will become the order of the day and there would be reckless exploitation of natural resources to meet the growing demand for energy and goods – most of it from the ever expanding urban centres.
When the British had announced the Communal Award in 1932 as a tool to divide and rule India, Mahatma Gandhi treated this as an attack on Indian society. Protesting against the decision by the then British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald to give separate electorates to Dalits for electing members of provincial assemblies, Ganhiji went on a hunger strike and opposed the provision of a separate electorate. Babasahab Bhimrao Ambedkar, on the contrary, was pressing for separate electorate for Dalits but Mahatma Gandhi was steadfast in his stand that the Hindu society would get divided if this was allowed. In this backdrop, the Poona Pact was signed between Babasahab Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi on 24 September 1932. This agreement provided for separate constituencies but not electorates for the Dalits.
As per the terms of the Poona pact, the system of seat reservation for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) was to come to end in 10 years. This provision was incorporated in the Constitution after Independence. But the irony is that the 10 year clause has been ignored by political parties of all hues and colours that treat the Dalits as a vote bank and in the process reservation of seats for SCs and STs in State Assemblies and Parliament continues without end.
During the last 70 years since Independence, we all know that the country has made tremendous progress in the field of science and technology, space research, and the nuclear arena. The country has also become a leading industrial power. But all this has been at a great cost. While the rich have become richer, the poor have continued to languish in utter poverty. Social inequality in India is a huge curse and it is a pity that our planners have failed to prioritise strategies and have ignored the development related needs of the countryside. As a result, there has been a constant influx of people from the villages to the cities in search of employment. In the process, while our cities have grown at a chaotic pace, most villages have remained devoid of even the basic facilities.
Even today, Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy and vision would provide a solution to all that ails the nation and the World combating the scourge of terror -compounded and aggravated by religious radicalisation.