SEEMA MUSTAFA | 29 DECEMBER, 2019
Anti-CAA Protests Are Unprecedented And Herald Change : Rajmohan Gandhi
Gandhi Cannot Help Us, We Have to Help Ourselves
Rajmohan Gandhi, the 83 year old grandson of Gandhi, was in Mysuru to attend a large meeting on Media and Democracy. People swarmed around him, for a photograph, a handshake or just a smile as he spoke out against communalism, for democracy, and the need to restore the values that had guided the freedom struggle and framed the Constitution of India. In a quick interview with Seema Mustafa, Rajmohan Gandhi ---sprightly and ascetic---was hopeful that the people’s resistance to the Citizenship Amendment Act would bring a change. Excerpts:
Q. You have been witnessing the protests and demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act, would you compare it to anything india might have witnessed since 1947?
A. The geographical breadth of what is happening north to south east to west is really quite remarkable. Quite unprecedented i would say. And these protests have been sustained. It is not as if some very well known national leader or some popular national party has given a call, it all seems to be very spontaneous, in many cases youth driven actions and movement, that also is fairly unprecedented. And the courage involved, the defiance involved in the face of brutality and threats of revenge. Both in its range and sweep and its courage this is I think unprecedented for decades.
Q. The response of the government has been rather brutal would you say…?
A. I don’t have access to detailed information from place to place, I only know what I have gathered from the media to the extent that the media is airing all this. Clearly there has been considerable brutality, the fact that police has chosen to act in the dark hours, the night, the number of people being killed, 20 plus now, that is a very serious situation. The excuse trotted out is of some kind of crossfire between different groups of protestors is--- well the onus is entirely on the government. Prima facie we have to assume that all those killed in police firing. This also shows that the government has been ready to be ruthless and brutal. The comment of (Yogi) Adityanath about revenge is extraordinary, never heard of a government taking revenge on its people. People go wrong yes they need to be brought to book but the announcement of revenge shows the pathetic attitude of the powers that be.
Q. Why do you think the has CAA has had this response not only from the targeted groups of Muslims but across the board?
A. Yes this is a very heartening development and the only way I can understand it is to think that Modi-Shah, BJP government can receive the benefit of the doubt up to a time but not for ever and ever and ever. So I think for a long time a good section of the Hindu mind gave the benefit of the doubt despite evidence that this benefit was not deserved. Even so people were inclined to give it but I think when CAA happened and the clear discrimination, clear exclusion and the repeated reiteration of the fact that they were being excluded finally brought home to many people that this is going too far. Till now many Hindus who were supporting the BJP government still believed that a Hindu society and a Hindu setup would not really be intolerant and pick Muslims for legal unequal treatment. Society was often flawed and unequal and people closed their eyes to the reality of inequality but the open espousal that lawfully we would exclude people was too much for many Hindus to accept.
Q. So where do you think all this will finally take us to good democracy ...?
A. I don't know whether we will see a rapid return to democracy. But when Nitish Kumar, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal, people like that speak in such direct terms of the wrongness of the NRC (National Register of Citizens) and the wrongness of the Citizenship Amendment Act that suggests that something more than merely transient has happened. I would like to believe that and I think there are many reasons to believe that significant sections of the people have concluded that these people are really going too far, departing from the cherished principles of the Constitution, or their understanding of what they thought Hindu leadership would do or would not do.
Q. Did you think that you would see such times?
A. There were certainly signs that things could go this way and along with many I hoped that others would see the signs and make adjustments and prevent this. It looked possible in 2014--- but then Balakot and Pulwama was very cleverly used. The total deployment of television channels and the social media is also something I was afraid could happen but did not know it could be implemented in such a successful way. It was not a shock but it was not a great surprise either. It was profoundly troubling but then as a student of history I know similar things had happened in different parts of the world, there was no reason it would not happen to India and it has happened to India. It is too early to say whether the signs of life and resistance from a fairly broad range will strengthen and there would be a long term set back to this bulldozer but the last few days have definitely given reason to many people to hope and possibly to even expect that change might take place.
Q. India needs a Gandhi as there is no leader of any stature now, how do you think he would have reacted to the situation today he been alive. I know it is an unfair question…
A. I think it is an unfair question. And also a natural question. Most of us should realise it reveals a certain lack of responsibility on our part when we want someone like Gandhi to come and help us out. The notion that Gandhi was a kind of miracle worker, that he could do anything has gone deep into peoples mind…
Q. Maybe out of desperation...
A. But you know some remarkable things did happen. So people think that Gandhi can resolve any kind of situation. But that is not true. In any case why should we not accept our own responsibility. The question is not what Gandhi would advise us to do, we should use our hearts and minds to understand what we should do. Speaking as Hindu which I have no problem doing I think the Hindus have to accept that the fond notion that Hindus don’t hate has to be seriously questioned. The dislike for, in many cases the hatred for, contempt towards Muslims has been a very real part of the Hindu psyche for some time and the tragic effects of that have manifested themselves and many Hindus are now recoiling from that. I hope that enough Hindus will frontally face that dislike and negative feelings towards Muslims, have been a reality, and of course a destructive reality because we have to live together. This is the.largest single factor in bringing the BJP to power and keeping it in power. We have to recognise that this negative feeling exists to see how absurd it is, how illogical it is so as to remove it…