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7 October, 2018 11:15:20 AM

My Gandhi versus yours

Nationalism backed by aggression is BJP’s hallmark. It is never apologetic about the celebration of valour
Kumkum Chadha
My Gandhi versus yours

The BJP Government believes in doing everything in a big way and that too with great fanfare. Once it decides to take ownership of an event, it goes all the way to make the right noises, leaving no stone unturned to make it a gala event and a success. And this is does irrespective of contradictions. For instance, it can celebrate surgical strikes anniversary in the same spirit as it does Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2ndOctober.
To the BJP it matters little that Gandhi believed in non violence while Army valour displayed in surgical strikes is all about a gun battle. Hence ahead of remembering Gandhi this year, the BJP government went ahead and celebrated what it called a 'Parakram Parv',  being organised to mark the second anniversary of the surgical strikes that were carried out by the Indian Army against terror launch pads in Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC) on September 29, 2016.
It may be recalled that the Indian Army carried out "surgical strikes"  on seven terror launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), killing several terrorists. The operation was in response to an attack on the Army camp in Uri by Pakistan-based terrorists, in which 19 Indian soldiers lost their lives.

Several events were  held between September 28 and September 30 to "commemorate the valour of soldiers", as Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said with Prime Minister Narendra Modi actively participating in the celebrations. For starters he inaugurated an exhibition at the military station in Jodhpur, some 250 kilometeres off Pakistan border:  a strategic  location from the point of view of the India armed forces.  Add to this the fact that the Jodhpur airport had played a crucial role during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.

 Politically, Jodhpur is part of the state of Rajasthan which goes to the polls next month and it is crucial for the BJP to retain power here ahead of the general elections in 2019. As of now, it does not seem to be a smooth sail for the saffron party which was at an all time high in 2014.

 Ahead of the surgical strike celebrations, Prime Minister Modi attended an annual conference of top commanders from the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force which deliberated extensively on the external security challenges facing the country, officials said. A range of issues, including the situation along the border with China as well as geo-political power play in the critical sea lanes surrounding India, were discussed in the conference, according to reports adding that a comprehensive review of the anti-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even while criticising Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “using soldiers as a tool to garner votes”, Congress said the 2016 strikes were not the first time that India had carried out such attacks across the Line of Control. Sections of the army was irked  at what they saw as “politicisation of an event” which demands secrecy and should remain low key. Some saw this as BJP’s move to garner votes. But true to its grain, BJP was not  at all defensive. Instead it stated that the celebrations are because “we want to tell the people of India the kind of sacrifice and valour which the Indian army shows.”

Nationalism backed by aggression is BJP’s hallmark. It is never apologetic about the celebration of valour and takes pride in a strong, competent and aggressive defence force and do what it takes to sharpen the country’s response to hostility and enmity from across its borders. Till Modi became Prime Minister he made his and the BJP’s dislike for Pakistan known and never minced words in sending a tough message to Pakistan. It is in the same strain that India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj while speaking at the UN General Assembly recently named and shamed Pakistan from the world platform and publicly accused it for harbouring terrorists: “"In our case, terrorism is bred not in some faraway land, but across our border to the west [Pakistan]. Our neighbour's expertise is not restricted to spawning grounds for terrorism; it is also an expert in trying to mask malevolence with verbal duplicity," she said.

 "The most startling evidence of this duplicity was the fact that Osama bin Laden, the architect and ideologue of 9/11 was given safe haven in Pakistan...What America perhaps could not comprehend was that Osama would get sanctuary in a country that claimed to be America's friend and ally: Pakistan. Eventually, America's intelligence services discovered the truth of this hypocrisy, and its special forces delivered justice. But Pakistan continued to behave as if nothing had happened."

 “Pakistan's commitment to terrorism as an instrument of official policy has not abated one bit. Neither has its belief in hypocrisy. The killers of 9/11 met their fate, but the mastermind of 26/11 Hafiz Saeed still roams the streets of Pakistan with impunity," Swaraj said making it known India’s tough posturing when it came to an errant and unrelenting neighbour.   Pitch this against BJP celebrating Gandhi and lauding his principles and sacrifices on his birth anniversary.

Since he assumed power in 2014, Modi has been promoting Gandhi’s legacy invoking him through several programmes his government has launched including  its  flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India programme launched to mark Gandhi Jayanti in 2014.  The programme has caught the imagination of average Indians and many have committed themselves to it. Modi has also been promoting khadi, a fabric that Gandhi wore, propagated and spun on the  wheel as a symbol of self-reliance. If reports are anything to go by, Modi has given emphasis to the revival of Khadi and as a consequence, the sale of products from Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has seen a quantum jump over the last four years.

However, on the time line, if the BJP government is on a sticky wicket on one, on the other it has scored. While it is being questioned on celebrating surgical strikes in the second year and keeping it low key last year, it has earned kudos for kicking off celebrations of Gandhi’s 150thbirth anniversary a year ahead and using the next year to continue commemorating the father of the Nation. Gandhi Jayanti, Modi has stated, would be special this year as it marks the start of Gandhi ji's 150th birth anniversary celebrations. This is an exceptional tribute to Mahatma Gandhi as birth centenaries of other leaders have been celebrated for one year so far. In keeping with this spirit, India will host the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention this year with countries across the world converging to share  their journey  on sanitation.

Smug at the progress of the government’s cleanliness and sanitation drive, Modi said that four years ago, India’s share in the world’s population that practised open defecation was 60 per cent, which has now come down to below 20 per cent. However, his claim that 90 per cent of the toilets constructed are being used was scoffed by critics because reports have it that despite the government’s and Modi’s personal commitment to the toilets programme, shortage of water and dry taps have led to toilets being used for storage. The Government however claims that constant follow-ups to ensure that cities declared open defecation free “do not fall back on old habits”.

Irrespective of its success quotient, what must be said is that awareness among the people has worked wonders and there is a guilt attached to throwing garbage on the wayside. Also the common man feels he has a stake in keeping the environment, his surroundings and in turn his city clean. BJP linking this to Gandhi has brought about a sense of nationalism, even though there is a long distance to cover.  

 Prime Minister Modi’s giving four Ps for cleanliness translated as Political leadership, Public funding, Partnerships and People’s participation have set the tone even while the Congress is hopping mad and picking holes in Government’s Gandhi overdrive. On its part the Congress wants to showcase the “real Mahatma” to the world and deplore the PM reducing him to a mere symbol of cleanliness. Calling BJP’s tactics as lip service, the Congress message seems to be a replay of 1942 Quit India movement through a “struggle for deliverance from the BJP government, which has become a symbol of corruption, arrogance and exploitation”.

With two national parties, one in the Government and the other the principal Opposition spewing venom at each other and the slugfest between My Gandhi versus yours, the Mahatma could be turning in his grave.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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