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On the theft of M. K.Gandhi's ashes

M. K. Gandhi has been murdered — again. Once, on Jan 30, 1948, when an extremist Hindu Nathuram Godse pumped bullets into Gandhi’s emaciated, well-oiled body in Birla house, New Delhi. And again, on Oct 2, (the 150th anniversary of his birth) when someone broke into Bapu Bhavan in Rewa (Madhya Pradesh) and stole an urn containing Gandhi’s ashes. Photographs of him were defaced with the word ‘traitor’. Sainthood comes at a price: serpents lurk within the marigolds.

In 1948, Gandhi incensed Hindu extremists by adopting a stance of conciliation with the new state of Pakistan, whose birth he had struggled to stifle. He persuaded a reluctant prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to release Rs 55 crores owed to Pakistan. He expressed a determination to visit Pakistan, a suggestion Quaid-i-Azam accepted despite his qualms. Gandhi, it is said, dreamed the night before his death of walking to Pakistan.

This bias proved too much for his assassin. Godse, in his final appeal to the Punjab High Court, declared: ‘Gandhi is being referred to as the Father of the Nation. But if that is so, he had failed his paternal duty inasmuch as he has acted very treacherously to the nation by his consenting to the partitioning of it. I stoutly maintain that Gandhi has failed in his duty. He has proved to be the Father of Pakistan.’

The commemoration of Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary across India proved too much for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which, it is suspected, decided that once was not enough. A second human desecration was necessary. Could the trigger have been prime minister Imran Khan’s extempore reference during his speech at the UNGA to “the great Mahatma Gandhi”?

Again, mercifully, Muslims and Pakistan cannot be held culpable. In January 1948, even before Lord Mountbatten (then governor-general of India) knew the identity or the religion of the assassin, he exploded before a frenzied agitator: “You fool, don’t you know it was a Hindu!” He knew there would have been a bloodbath, had the assassin been a Muslim. All India Radio broadcast that evening made the unequivocal announcement: “His assassin was a Hindu.”

Since then, the RSS has found other targets: L.K. Advani for daring to praise the secular Quaid as ‘a great man’; Jaswant Singh for daring to write a faintly adulatory biography of the Quaid; and now seven million Kashmiris for daring to be Muslims.

The oil-rich Arabs, despite God’s munificence, have not thought it prudent to support just causes outside their own gilded palaces. The fate of Bosnians, Iraqis, Yemenis, now the Kashmiris, and predictably other Muslims in India are more safely observed on news channels.

Anyone who can lose no sleep over the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi is unlikely to fret over the carnage of anonymous innocents. The customers of Saudi oil have swallowed the Saudi crown prince’s admission: “It happened on my watch. Therefore I am responsible.” It is as close to a confession as anyone will extract out of him.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman knows something about extractions. Under his watch, over 500 Saudi billionaires were arrested in an anti-corruption drive. They were kept in suites in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, where many were allegedly water-boarded (sand might have been cheaper), and tortured. The Saudi government hoped to retrieve $800 billion of assets. In the end, it had to settle for about $100bn, and a fractured reputation.

Here in Pakistan, inspired by the Saudis, the National Accountability Bureau chairman has contended recently before an audience of apprehensive businessmen at a Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry forum that, had NAB the same powers as the Saudi authorities, he would recover all the looted money within ‘three weeks’. The dilatory Saudis had taken four weeks in their shakedown.

Such declarations do little to reinforce confidence in the government and its fig-leaf policies. How seriously should one take meetings between disgruntled industrialists and the army chief and then the prime minister when one member of the former ‘22 families’ sits on the government’s side with his brother-in-law opposite, among the disaffected? Kurukshetra was being replayed in Islamabad, with warring cousins confronting each other.

The prime minister and the army chief are visiting China, yet again. The Chinese expect acceleration in the CPEC projects. We need Chinese help on new projects, including an ambitious 7,100 MW hydropower plant at Bunji (Gilgit-Baltistan). We are also asking the Chinese to take-over the defunct Russian-supplied Pakistan Steel Mills. That is like Dickens’s Miss Havisham offering her withered hand in marriage to a myopic suitor.

The Chinese are no fools. They may support us beyond justifiable endurance, but their progress over the past 70 years did not come from the begging bowl.

Churchill once called Gandhi a half-naked fakir. What must the Chinese call us when we importune them, again and again?




[DAWN, 10.10.19] 

10 October 2019
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