Periodically, usually around October 2, we ask ourselves if the ideas and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi remain relevant to contemporary India. Is our country one he would be proud to live in alongside us? Do we care? His grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi (also the grandson of C. Rajagopalachari), purports to tell us why Gandhi still matters—which is the title of his new book, mainly a collection of eight lectures he delivered at Michigan State University.
“From both sides of bitter divides,” writes the author, a biographer and academic, “politicians continue to invoke Gandhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi does so all the time even as opponents charge Modi with driving nails into Gandhi’s age-old coffin.” Invoking Gandhi is, of course, all that our politicians do, when they wish to serve up pabulum about compassion for the poor and downtrodden.
Just last month, Modi invoked Gandhi at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Champaran Satyagraha, offering the Swachh Bharat ‘movement’ as a tribute to the man who once said sanitation is more important than political freedom. The success of Swachh Bharat, Modi said, would be “the true tribute to Bapu”, as if cleanliness were the most essential of Gandhi’s principles. Gandhi—Rajmohan, that is—reminds us of some other principles, chief among which is resistance to bullying. “[A] Hindu Rashtra...,” Rajmohan writes, “would certainly demolish a major pillar of Gandhi’s legacy.”
We have a “constitutional commitment”, Ramachandra Guha said in a BBC interview some years ago, “to linguistic pluralism and diversity”. In these lectures, Rajmohan makes again his case that his grandfather’s “intention with Hind Swaraj was less to initiate a debate over modernity or technology and more to initiate a debate over Empire, violence and satyagraha”. Surely the Mahatma’s disdain for dominance is why he still matters, why he remains our national lodestar.