Rajmohan Poised to Stir India as Grandpa Did?

BY JAWED NAQVI

THE news that pacifist-scholar Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has joined India’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will further confound political punters. Some of them were already watching the motley group as a dark horse in the arriving parliamentary race. Others were warily seeing in it a spoiler, at least, for the complex arithmetic that drives India’s globally watched contest.

I believe Gandhi’s arrival at the political centre would be welcomed in Pakistan not the least because of the trust and support he seems to already enjoy with a large swathe of its intellectuals and ordinary citizens. As a known activist who works assiduously to improve relations between South Asia’s two most querulous neighbours, Gandhi can bring an additional input as a man of peace, though some have argued that his prescriptions are often romantic and not realistic.

His soft corner for ordinary Pakistanis, though not necessarily for their political or military establishments, (which is exactly the way he regards the politics in India) should not suggest that he has less interest in striking up a friendly conversation with Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, or with Afghanistan or Nepal.

His inclusion in the high-profile AAP campaign could be good news also for Indian involvement with the traumas and struggles dogging people of distant regions across the globe. This Third World camaraderie was an essential asset in Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy. The Mahatma too liked to wade into difficult foreign terrains in pursuit of his pacifist worldview.

For example, he sought rapprochement with a newly born nation in 1947 despite resistance from his Congress colleagues and opposition from right-wing Hindus. It was one of the reasons, though not the only one, which led to his assassination at the hands of a Hindu fanatic at a prayer meeting in Delhi.

The bespectacled grandson is reportedly being primed to blunt the ideology shared by the Mahatma’s killers. Apparently, according to reports, he will contest against Narendra Modi, the right-wing Hindu mascot, in his lair in Gujarat. If that should happen the contest could shape into a defining battle for the country’s ominously poised future as it dangles between its secular promise and full-blown religious fascism.

There is a remarkable similarity that Gandhi shares with AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal: both have origins in NGO-based activities. I have watched Gandhi in Caux, an old retreat in Switzerland, where he has routinely presided each summer as the head of Initiatives for Change, an offshoot of the erstwhile Moral Re-Armament Movement. I shall ignore for the moment charges that the movement once had involvement of the CIA. Kejriwal too has Ford Foundation links.

What would you do if you were caught between three Gandhis and a Modi? Rahul Gandhi’s pointless barbs that his grandmother broke Pakistan into two, shows him up as a woolly-headed and potentially reckless leader. His cousin Varun Gandhi has turned into a bilious Hindutva rabble-rouser. And Modi is not someone to turn to for anything agreeable, politically, culturally.

Gandhi’s interests straddle the fight for justice for occupied Palestine. He has been involved in seeking solutions to a range of violent confrontations in Africa. Global disarmament as well as moral rearmament are his favourite themes. In his 80s, the scholar has a few books to his credit including an authentic biography of his grandfather.

There are problems though. Mahatma Gandhi has been accused of promoting a few wishy-washy ideas ranging from archaic economics to unworkable politics. His grandson too could be critiqued for being too attached to pacifism as panacea to diverse political problems. Reconciliation with and transformation of the enemy by means of self-criticism, for example, seems a key principle that may not have many takers.

Rajmohan Gandhi’s aphorism at an address to African Americans last year offers a clue to his approach to solutions. “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

Yet, AAP’s Gandhi will find his grandfather’s key dictum questioned today that the big businessmen were the trustees of India’s freedom. That flies in the face of reality and recent experience. The Mukesh Ambani saga as well as recent history of corporate plunder and loot runs contrary to the old Gandhian assessment of his community’s philanthropic claims.

His ideas though cannot be dismissed lightly. “We are done with the politicians of India and Pakistan,” the 80-plus professor declared in Karachi this month. “If Pakistan and India want to see better ties, the people need to do more of what they are doing now. We need to meet, talk and be cordial.”

The session where he spoke turned fiery. This is the tough reality he would face between the two countries. A visibly charged-up lady from the audience said: “Yes! I was nine when India and Pakistan split. And I am still waiting for better ties. Will it ever happen in my lifetime?”

And, though these are early days, Kejriwal’s decision to include a renowned peacenik in his political strategy is of a piece with some of the upstart group’s other bold moves. The AAP has cast the net wide by establishing four core principles that will govern its politics. These are: unremitting fight against corruption and against communalism; a rejection of ‘dynastic rule’ and of known criminals in the political mainstream. Gandhi easily fits the bill on all four counts.

-the writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi

-by arrangement with dawn.com