Modi Can Never Be an Ambassador of Mahatma Gandhi's Philosophy, Says Congress' Seva Dal Head

© AP Photo / Manish SwarupA statue of Mahatma Gandhi overlooks the Indian parliament building (File)
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi overlooks the Indian parliament building (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Indian freedom fighter and global icon for non-violence Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi, was an ex-chief of Seva Dal, a volunteer organisation that played a prominent role in the country’s anti-colonial struggle. Gandhi once described Seva Dal as the “soul” of India's Congress party.
Founded in 1923, the Seva Dal is an Indian volunteer organisation that espouses the Gandhian philosophy of non-violent struggle, inclusive nationalism, swarajya (independence and self-restraint), and religious equality.
It is the oldest frontal organisation of India’s federal opposition Congress party.

“Gandhi used to say that every city and every village in India must have means to be economically self-sufficient. Every individual must have the strength to be independent. We are trying to do exactly the same with the help of our volunteers”, says Lalji Desai, the chief organiser of Seva Dal.

In 2018, Seva Dal was overhauled to reaffirm the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi to the Indian public and take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as its ideological parental organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS website states that its goal is to “attain a Hindu nation". It calls itself a cultural organisation with no political motives. The Seva Dal chief says that RSS' ideology directly contradicts Gandhi's political and religious ideals.
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He reveals that Seva Dal has plans to build a volunteer base of one million by 2023, which would mark the organisation's centenary. Currently, its volunteers number around 370,000 and are located in every state of India.
On the occasion on Mahatma Gandhi's 152nd birth anniversary, Sputnik talked to Seva Dal's chief organiser Lalji Desai about various issues.
Sputnik: What is the role of Seva Dal in taking Gandhian ideals to the people at large?
Lalji Desai: Gandhi represents the inclusive heritage of India. I won’t say that there hasn’t been anything wrong about our Indian civilisation in the thousands of years of its existence. But all the good things about every religion, be them in Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism among others, are represented by Gandhi.

Gandhi proclaimed in one of his writings that “his life is the biggest message” to humanity. The world can be a better place if one follows in his footsteps. Gandhi’s Hinduism saw all religions as being equal.

We, as an organisation, are playing our part in spreading Gandhi’s message of inclusivity, compassion, love, simplicity and non-violent struggle, to name a few.
We will struggle against any wrongdoing in any part of the country, even if it has to be against Congress-led governments. We will unite all Indians -- Hindus, Muslims and others, behind the national flag.
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I have been to 52 countries and I must note that I haven’t seen a leader who is more well-known than Mahatma Gandhi.
Sputnik: Is Gandhi still respected in India, especially given the growing popular support for the Hindu nationalist ideology since the first federal election victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014?
Lalji Desai: The RSS staunchly advocates the political ideology of Hindu nationalism. RSS’ version of nationalism excludes Indian citizens just because they don’t share the same religion. We, on the other hand, talk about patriotism.
We have adopted many of the principles actively advocated by Gandhi in his lifetime, be it non-violent struggle to overcome injustice, advocating religious and economic equality. How many of these does the RSS espouse? None.
Creating a religious or other rift in society is easy, but bringing people together is much more difficult.
"Woh dande se todenge, hum jhande se jodenge" ("if they divide using power, we will unite people under the national flag") is our new slogan.
Gandhi brought the entire nation (then undivided India comprising modern day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), irrespective of religion or culture, together and united their efforts to non-violently challenge the British colonial government. And what has the RSS done except advocating for a Hindu nation?
Gandhi was a firm believer of women's empowerment. But look at the structure of the RSS. There is not a single woman among 45 members who form the leadership council of the RSS. All of them belong to the higher caste of the Hindu religious hierarchy.
Sputnik: Do you feel like Gandhi’s legacy has been appropriated by the BJP? Do people still associate him with Congress? And what do you think of Prime Minister Modi’s admiration of Gandhi?
Desai: I think Narendra bhai (brother Narendra Modi) can and will never be an ambassador of Gandhi, no matter how hard he tries. How could [he as] one person respect both Gandhi and Nathuram Godse (Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin who was a member of the RSS before being expelled)?

I would argue that RSS and the BJP now realise that they can’t continue winning elections in the country by continuously following in the footsteps of their Hindu nationalist icons such as Veer Savarkar (the political ideologue credited with popularising Hindu nationalism in India) and Godse".

They need Gandhi’s name to further their political ambitions and be respected globally. They can’t praise Gandhi’s killer publicly. Indians and others would just take offence at extolling Godse.
However, I also feel that they would continue to secretly admire people like Godse, at the same time carry on with their double-faced behaviour of praising Gandhi in public.
And not only Gandhi, they are trying to appropriate the legacy of other ex-Congress leaders Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (freedom fighter and independent India’s first federal home minister) and Subhash Chandra Bose (freedom fighter), and other leaders.
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The political career of Modi reflects that his ideology of Hindu nationalism fundamentally challenges the basic tenets of Gandhian philosophy.
His alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots (court has absolved Modi of any culpability during the then Hindu-Muslim violence) show that Modi can never be compared to Gandhi.
On the other hand, Gandhi famously fasted as a means of protest against Hindu-Muslim violence or caste-based discrimination.
Whatever the BJP does, they don’t have any other option but to admire Gandhi. His legacy is too deeply ingrained in the fabric of our culture.
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