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October 23, 2019

Gandhi’s Grandson Discusses the Mahatma’s Legacy and Hindu Nationalism in Today’s India

Rajmohan Gandhi, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, visited Georgetown to speak about the legacy of his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi and the current political climate in India.

Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi
Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi

The event recognized the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth and reflected on his life and work.

“Had it not been for Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts during the last two years of his life, India would not have become a nation for all with fundamental rights and equal protection for everyone,” Gandhi said.

The event was sponsored by the India Initiative, and Gandhi’s visit was sponsored by the Indian American Muslim Council and Hindus for Human Rights.

Honoring His Grandfather's Legacy

Dr. Gandhi opened his talk by describing his dream for a free India that included equality
for all. Gandhiji’s vision for a secular India encompassed a nation with any and even no faiths, and his idea of Hinduism has embedded in it the ideals of non-violence, forgiveness and equality.

However, Dr. Gandhi said that in recent times, this dream has been challenged by an alternative vision in which supremacy and doublespeak has replaced hierarchy and honesty. He described that the current socio-political temperament in India has drawn global concern, for growing nationalism and a waning secular identity threaten the pillars of Indian democracy, freedom, and justice.

Dr. Gandhi described changing rules of crime and punishment, which justify lynch mobs and consider religious and caste violence to be righteous and heroic. Still, he remains optimistic.

“Nationalism’s surge will end,” said Gandhi. “In my own lifetime I have seen the departures of imperialism, apartheid, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Oppressions will end and liberty and equality will again be honoured.”

Gandhi insists that the true value of the Mahatma’s legacy is not his reputation but  the values of equality, truth, and accountability in government institutions. He spoke passionately of the importance of freedom of speech and equal protection for all and urged people to stand against the rise of nationalism.

Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi speaks with India Initiative Director Irfan Nooruddin about nationalism
Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi speaks with India Initiative Director Irfan Nooruddin about nationalism

India Today

Dr. Gandhi reminded listeners that Kashmir has the world’s highest presence of soldiers per capita. He said that after the abrogation of articles 35A and 370, the state has been effectively silenced and cut-off from the rest of the nation, with curfews and bans on public meetings and discussions. Article 370 previously granted Kashmir special status and limited the power of the central government to foreign affairs and defense, and article 35A related to residency and land-ownership of non-residents.

Gandhi pointed to hypocrisy in the Modi administration, which has ignored growing
violence despite praising Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy.

“Narendra Modi is an admired leader in today’s India,” Gandhi said. “His silence before intimidation, before cruelty, before lynching will define Narendra Modi in history.”

Days after praising Mahatma Gandhi and his dreams for a world free of violence and hate, Modi announced that the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest honor, would be awarded to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Savarkar was a contemporary of Gandhi’s who formulated Hindutva philosophy and has been accused of being part of the plans to assassinate the Mahatma.

Calling for people to work to make changes in their own communities, Gandhi insistedthat local changes can lead to national ones and spoke to the importance of learning from past struggles for liberty and building solidarity between communities.

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