Who carries the legacy of Gandhi in 21st century India?

When the country is celebrating 150th year of Gandhiji’s birth, it is the time to rethink Gandhi and his legacy.


By Swadesh Singh


"When it was decided to organise a lecture every month on the date of Gandhiji’s arrest in 1922, then, delivering the first lecture Dr KB Hedgewar requested the activists to follow Gandhiji's life because his life was his message.”


This statement was given by RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat at a recent gathering for the launch of a book on Mahatma Gandhi at Keerti Mandap of Gandhi Smriti at 30 January Marg, New Delhi.


Is it a mere coincidence that the top leader of the RSS was speaking about the relevance of Gandhi at a place where he was assassinated? Is there, perhaps, something more to this simple anecdote that is not obvious? Or is there something here that we have never understood or that we were never allowed to understand?


Since the formation of modern Indian state, the narrative was set in a manner where Gandhiji was established as the de facto ‘Father Of The Nation’ who was above question and whose legacy was being carried ahead by the Nehru-Gandhi family members. On the other side, the assassin of Gandhiji was unilaterally associated with the RSS. The net result being that RSS was portrayed as the ultimate anti-thesis to Gandhiji and his ideas.


When the country is celebrating 150th year of Gandhiji’s birth, it is the time to rethink Gandhi and his legacy. It is time to ask ourselves  -  Who are the people and organization(s) carrying forward the legacy of Gandhi in the 21st century.


Gandhi imagined an ideal state which he called ‘Ram Rajya’. He believed in the idea of Swadeshi where indigenous industries are promoted and the country becomes self-reliant. He came to believe in the idea of Antyodaya after reading “Unto the Last” by John Ruskin which advocates the welfare of the last man in the queue.Gandhiji was a staunch supporter of social harmony (Samrasata) between different sections of the society. His views on social reforms were not radical and doable like dining together (Sah Bhoj) and intercaste marriage.He focused on Sewa (Social Service) for external and internal cleaning and purity. He asked people to clean toilets, weave their own clothes and perform other chores.He took many innovative initiatives for social reform and political mobilisation. He came up with new tools and techniques with new symbolism which is a necessary condition for any new movement. He was spiritual to the core and lived a life of Karm Yogi who has denounced material life but worked for a collective cause.He started three mass movements wherein he appealed to the people to join in. He inspired a whole generation to work for the cause of nation-building.


Gandhiji was an unapologetic Hindu who used to chant Ram Dhun in his Prarthna Sabhas. He used Hindu symbols and philosophical teachings as a tool in his political mobilisation. He himself led the life of a seer and was popularly addressed as ‘Mahatma’ – one who is considered a great soul in Indian society.  He said that honesty is not always the best policy but it should be an integral part of life.He was the leader who promoted the ‘Bhartiya view of life’ - a system of living that was totally indigenous and rooted in Indian culture. He supported the idea of Gram Swaraj, cottage industry and decentralised economy.He believed that austerity and integrity of highest level should be maintained in public life. And, finally he advocated the abolition of Congress Party and formation of an organisation that should work for the welfare of common people and should be known as Lok Sewak Sangh.


So which organization represents this grand legacy of Gandhiji in the present time and performs on the above said parameters?The Socialist Party led by Jayprakash Narayan believed in the ideology of Sarvodaya and claimed to be the true disciple of Gandhiji after his demise. However, after the generation of JP, Lohia and Narendra Dev, the party followers got diverted and their socialist politics took another direction.The Communists never believed in the ideas of Gandhiji, either in word or spirit. Recently, well-known Marxist economist Prabhat Patnayak did, however, come up with a new thesis advocating Gandhi for the future generation and survival of the India and the world.Congress activists and leadership today are more worried about the future of the party, ideology and leaders. Gandhi does find space in their office portraits but not in their ideology, organisation and political mobilisation.


Looking at the policy, program, symbols and belief system of Gandhi, we find that the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) is an organisation that practises the same belief system, uses the same symbols and practices faith in the same value system that was propagated by Gandhiji.The policies, programs and ideological nuances of Gandhiji are being used by the RSS to reach common people and mobilise them for a larger cause. Ram Rajya, Swadeshi, Antyodaya, Samrasta, use of cultural symbols in mass-movements, sewa, integrity of workers, leaders practicing the life of a sanyasi, are some of the examples that could be cited to support this.


There are certain departures also where RSS is not in agreement with Gandhiji. Such as Gandhiji’s understanding of Hindu-Muslim unity. He believed that the stressed equation between the two communities was a recent problem that could be resolved with some bargains on the table. This was the reason why he tried to appease leaders like Ali brothers. He bargained and appeased them by lending his support to the Caliphat movement in Turkey. However, Gandhiji, who had theoretical and practical solutions for every problem, was left clueless after the Direct Action of 1946 by the Muslim League. He had not imagined an anarchical situation of this scale. The RSS’s understanding seems to be different on these issues.


Despite this, in totality we find that the RSS, which believes in the fundamental unity of India like Gandhiji, is an organisation that continues to carry forward the legacy on his 150th birth year.


(Author teaches Political Science in Delhi University)


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