IN­TER­VIEW

Ra­j­mo­han Gandhi is a Re­search Pro­fes­sor at the Cen­ter for South Asian and Mid­dle East­ern Stud­ies, Univer­sity of Illi­nois, U.S.A. A bi­og­ra­pher and grand­son of Ma­hatma Gandhi, he has writ­ten widely on the In­dian in­de­pen­dence move­ment and its lead­ers, Indo-P

Southasia - - Front page - - Ra­j­mo­han Gandhi

SouthAsia speaks to Ra­j­mo­han Gandhi.

To what ex­tent do you see fe­male politi­cians like Jay­alalithaa and Ma­mata Ban­er­jee chang­ing the po­lit­i­cal scene in In­dia?

I don’t know whether it’s pos­si­ble to give a very large mean­ing to this but this is cer­tainly a very wel­come de­vel­op­ment which in­cludes Ma­mata Ban­er­jee in Ben­gal, Jay­alalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Mayawati in UP and Sheila Dixit who is the CM of Delhi. There are some other women politi­cians at the na­tional level as well. This is cer­tainly a very wel­come de­vel­op­ment - it rep­re­sents both di­ver­sity as

sub­stance?

I wish I could say that, that the emer­gence of women politi­cians means that pol­i­tics is much more mean­ing­ful or much more re­al­is­tic and more sin­cere, but I can’t.

Do you be­lieve that women will be more ef­fec­tive in de­liv­er­ing to the peo­ple?

In ev­ery so­ci­ety women can be ex­pected to be more re­al­is­tic and to put the es­sen­tial needs first, so un­doubt­edly their en­try into pol­i­tics would give them enor­mous hope for the fu- stand up to a very pow­er­ful gov­ern­ment. This gives the or­di­nary woman in In­dia great hope for the fu­ture.

Do you see the rise of fe­male politi­cians be­ing repli­cated in the rest of South Asia?

Fe­male politi­cians have been well­known through­out South Asia. Sri Lanka had a woman prime min­is­ter be­fore In­dia had. Then there were Be­nazir Bhutto in Pak­istan and Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. Of course, it has been said, with some truth, that in the case of many of these well as ex­pan­sion of democ­racy, it gives a richer mean­ing to our democ­racy but it is still too early to say that this is a rev­o­lu­tion­ary de­vel­op­ment.

Would you say that In­dian women are play­ing the po­lit­i­cal game dif­fer­ently than men, with less rhetoric and more

ture. Mayawati is a dalit woman and dal­its, par­tic­u­larly dalit women, have been greatly in­spired by her. Sim­i­larly, Jay­alalithaa is a Brah­min and it’s a very cu­ri­ous thing that she leads a po­lit­i­cal party in Tamil Nadu. Ma­mata Ban­ner­jee too hails from a re­mark­able back­ground and has shown the ca­pac­ity to suc­cess­ful women, ei­ther their fathers or their hus­bands played a role.

Here I must men­tion one dis­ap­point­ment in In­dia - the women’s reser­va­tion law un­der which there was a plan to re­serve one-third seats in the lower house for women. Many po­lit­i­cal par­ties have paid lip-ser­vice to this

for the past fif­teen or 20 years but it has not yet come about. Some po­lit­i­cal par­ties are cau­tious be­cause they feel that if one third seats are re­served for women then women from priv­i­leged sec­tions or high castes would hog the ben­e­fits at the ex­pense of low caste vot­ers.

Do over­lap­ping iden­ti­ties in In­dia - Mus­lim women as a mi­nor­ity within a mi­nor­ity - fur­ther im­pede the for­ma­tion of a uni­form base for women?

Un­doubt­edly it does as it di­lutes women’s iden­tity but I think we should be will­ing to take a re­ally broad per­spec­tive. We may say in the­ory that an up­per caste woman will also look af­ter the in­ter­ests of all de­prived sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion but will that al­ways hap­pen? Those who fight, say, for rights of un­touch­ables should also fight for women’s rights and those who fight for Mus­lim mi­nor­ity rights should also fight for women’s rights.

What role has your bi­og­ra­phy of your grand­fa­ther Ma­hatma Gandhi - The Man, His Peo­ple and the Em­pire - played in your life?

I am a his­to­rian but I am also a grand­son of Gand­hiji, so nat­u­rally I have great warmth for him, a strong con­nec­tion. I al­ways re­minded my­self while writ­ing the book that I am, above all, a his­to­rian, I ben­e­fit­ted from the fact that he him­self said many times that truth is the most im­por­tant thing. This aware­ness fa­cil­i­tated my task. Peo­ple have on the whole wel­comed it so I am thank­ful that this rather chal­leng­ing task was some­how com­pleted.

The ideas of satya­graha and ahimsa are a re­cur­ring theme in Gandhi’s life. From a con­tem­po­rary per­spec­tive, how use­ful can this kind of ap­proach be in bring­ing In­dia and Pak­istan to­gether?

Both In­di­ans and Pak­ista­nis feel that they have been wronged by the other. Much of this may be true but it’s not the whole truth. An­other part of the truth is that we too may have taken some wrong steps or even if we said some­thing cor­rectly we may not have said it in the best pos­si­ble way or the most thought­ful way. So, turn­ing the search­light in­wards is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial if we are to build a strong bridge be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. All hu­man be­ings have some evil in­side them, they are im­per­fect but there is also a great deal of wrong in so­ci­ety, in the world as a whole. The African na­tions that were col­o­nized by the African pow­ers may have had sev­eral weak­nesses but that does not mean that im­pe­ri­al­ism was not a prob­lem - it was a huge prob­lem. Gandhi was a ter­rific fighter against im­pe­ri­al­ism but he didn’t say that the In­di­ans should only con­cen­trate on the wrongs that they may have com­mit­ted - so that is only a par­tial ex­pres­sion of Gandhi’s phi­los­o­phy.

There is a text that you pub­lished once ti­tled “Clos­ing the Chap­ters of En­mity” in which as a 16 year old, on hear­ing that Li­aquat Ali Khan had been at­tacked, you said “I hope he gets killed.” Look­ing back now, how would you ex­plain this?

My re­ac­tion was hor­ri­ble, a very stupid re­ac­tion. Later, when I re­flected on it, I re­al­ized that there were two rea­sons for it: one, that I shared the pop­u­lar ill will to­wards Pak­istan as so many In­di­ans and Pak­ista­nis at that point had neg­a­tive views to­wards one an­other but a stronger rea­son for my stupid re­mark was that I was kind of an ado­les­cent, a boy try­ing to be­come a man and I wanted to be a ma­cho man. I thought that such a re­mark would make me seem more manly. Of course it was very stupid - man­li­ness is a much deeper, much greater thing.

Would you say the new gen­er­a­tion of In­di­ans and Pak­ista­nis is mov­ing away from these old prej­u­dices and have a much more con­cil­ia­tory ap­proach to­wards each an­other?

You are ab­so­lutely right, the new gen­er­a­tion is much more will­ing to look at the fu­ture rather than the past, but not ev­ery­body - lo­gon ko bharkaya jaa raha hai. There are many peo­ple who play on fear and a lot of poi­son is be­ing in­jected into our so­ci­ety be­cause some peo­ple see some gain from the pol­i­tics of fear.

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