John Bond
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13 March, 2018

Rajmohan Gandhi was interviewed on the BBC TV News Channel this month about his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated 70 years ago. ‘A leading light of India’s independence movement from the British, his creed of non violence influenced generations of world leaders,’ said his interviewer, Clive Myrie. ‘His grandson himself has been an advocate and activist for human rights, and the author of books exploring his grandfather’s legacy.’

They began by discussing populist leaders such as Donald Trump. ‘Gandhi was not a populist,’ pointed out Professor Gandhi. ‘He was willing to speak to his people frankly and when they went wrong he spoke bluntly. Trump is exciting his base. Gandhi incited his people to fight injustice. He asked his people to fight for the weak. He did not ask them to bully the weak. That is the opposite of Trump.

‘He was for the common person. He was not just fighting for India’s independence, he was tackling the high and low in Indian society. We have opinions about our neighbouring groups but we don’t have knowledge about them. Gandhi wanted people to be respectful to each other. But he also said that if there is injustice, fight against it!’

What would Gandhi have said about Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister? ‘I appreciate your hard work, but you are not repudiating those who bully the weak,’ responded Professor Gandhi. ‘India is a country where not only the strong should feel proud, the minorities should feel proud, the so-called untouchables should feel proud. That is not happening today. When Nehru was Prime Minister many things were unsatisfactory, but the weak did feel India was their country. The state was tilted to the poor. Sadly, that is not the case today.’

‘What went wrong?’ asked his interviewer. ‘The Congress Party became comfortable and corrupt in many ways. So people lost trust in it. There were also global trends. In the USA immigrants are blamed when things don’t go right, in many Muslim countries non-Muslims are blamed. In India Hindu nationalists blame the Muslims, the Christians.’

They discussed the 1947 Partition of India, which Mahatma Gandhi had strongly opposed. ‘Nobody says that Partition should be reversed,’ said Professor Gandhi. ‘But the extreme measure of Partition showed that the leaders and people of India, and the leaders and people of Britain, were not able to create an honourable compromise which would have satisfied people’s aspirations. However there are still many Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India, and those minorities must have their rights.

‘Your grandfather sought to make common cause through non-violence,’ Clive Myrie pointed out. ‘Can that approach withstand the shock of the far right?’ ‘It has to,’ responded Professor Gandhi. ‘People get angry and want to blame. But surely that is not the way the world is meant to be. The examples of Hitler and fascist Italy warn us about what happens when the far right takes over. When things are difficult and we are tempted to blame others for the mess we are in, we all have to accept responsibility. We cannot afford to let the powerful coerce the weak.’

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