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This refers to your cover story on Gandhi & Dissent (October 7). In his essay, The Man Who Saw Mahatma’s Fangs, Aakash Singh Rathore takes a long, hard look at Mahatma Gandhi’s relationship with Dr B.R. Ambedkar. There were irreconcilable differences between Gandhi and Ambedkar—two of the major makers of modern India—both in their goals and in their methods. The most fundamental of the differences were over what untouchability really means, its place in the caste system and how it can be eradicated. It was perhaps their different backgrounds and commitments that took them on different paths in the struggle against internal and external oppression.Gandhi was a champion of inherited Hindu traditions, including caste as the key organising principle of social life, and believed it was possible to overcome untouchability, which he saw as a sin, without carrying out what Ambedkar called “the annihilation of caste”. Although Ambedkar had initially sought a place of religious and social equality within the Hindu fold for his people—India’s most oppressed people, the Dalits—two decades of struggle convinced him that there can never equality among Hindus as inequality is the foundation of Hinduism, which cannot exist without the caste system. Hence the chairperson of the drafting committee of the Constitution of India went on to embrace Buddhism, not long before he died. More than six decades later, Hindu society remains caste-bound and Dalits are brutalised across the country, even lynched with impunity. Ambedkar’s call for social justice has a lot more takers today, and many more would say that his idea of a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity is more relevant today than ever before.The tragedy from Ambedkar’s point of view was that as a political opponent of Gandhi and the Congress, he had to make common cause with the British in order to fight for his people. This gave many non-Dalits who wanted to protect their caste privileges a point to make for vilifying the great fighter of the oppressed. All said and done, both Gandhi and Ambedkar would be forever immortal in Indian minds as father figures of the country and commemorated for their contributions to making India what it is today.
Sripad Rao, Bangalore
Pre- and post-1947 Indian history is rather replete with inaccuracies. The British being adept at this is understandable, but the legacy being carried forward by Indian historians is galling. Democracy and dissent were alien to the Indian National Congress, and it’s the same even today. Even before we learn our alphabet, we are thoroughly brainwashed to believe that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were the main, if not the only, architects of our freedom. Pooh-poohing this belief, Clement Attlee, the then British PM, had stated that his government was forced to grant independence to India as the Indian Army anticipated retribution from the people at the end of World War II, besides the threat posed by the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose. The older Winston Churchill was contemptuous and described Gandhi’s modus operandi as mere blackmail and humbug. What could have happened if Gandhi had lived another 5-10 years? Well, with his fasts as a formidable weapon and his trusted lieutenant as PM, the balkanisation of the country was a distinct possibility. To cite one example, the Nizam’s Hyderabad would perhaps have been redesignated as South Pakistan.
Ashok Raipet, Secunderabad
Your issue commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi is marvellous and deserves to be preserved as a collector’s item. You have brought out varied aspects of Gandhi’s principles and philosophy as well as his relationships with his comrades as well as his own children. With regard the title “Mahatma”, legend has it that Rabindranath Tagore was so deeply influenced by Gandhi’s ideas during the early 1910s that he decided the man must be a great soul, and used the word Mahatma to publicly praise him on March 6, 1915. It is believed that Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915 at the request of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. His contribution to the Indian freedom movement cannot be measured in words. Along with other freedom fighters, he compelled the British to leave India. His words and thought-provoking ideas were the source of inspiration for millions of Indians. That’s why we call him “Father of the Nation”, though there is no evidence to show that the title was ever officially conferred on him. It is an honorific given to a person considered to be the driving force behind the establishment of a nation. According to some sources, Subhas Chandra Bose used this term for Gandhi in a radio address from Singapore in 1944. And, while announcing his assassination, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “The father of the nation…is no more.”
S.R. Kaundinya, Bangalore
Dissent, free speech and the freedom to criticise, or choose, with confidence and without fear are all under strain in India today. In the name of democracy, we are being subjected to majoritarian tyranny. In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote, “In judging myself, I shall try to be as harsh as truth, as I want others also to be.” Many of India’s misinformation campaigns are run by political parties with their nationwide cyber-armies; they target not only political opponents, but also religious minorities and dissenting individuals, with propaganda rooted in domestic divisions and prejudices. The consequences of such targeted misinformation are extreme, from death threats to actual murders. In the context of the altered perceptions in this “New India”, our opinions on who are the heroes and who the villains are imprecise. Suppressing criticism or discouraging dissent is like living in a Potemkin world in which the only people who prosper are sycophants. The protracted skirmishes in Hong Kong, for example, is one of the results of China’s efforts to build a “model society” where criticism of the government or its acts is not tolerated, while majoritarian homogeneity is encouraged. Surely, we do not want our nation to follow such a model.
H.N. Ramakrishna, Bangalore
The Gandhi@150 is a collector’s delight, a treasure trove of vintage stuff on the man considered to be the greatest since Buddha. It also presents a narrative that should be devoutly treasured. Today we live in an atmosphere that very unpleasantly takes us to the text of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. A note of dissent is seen as seditious these days. How would Gandhiji have reacted to the citizenship amendment bill if he were alive today?
Dharamshala Lalit Mohan Sharma
In his essay Periyar, an Acolyte to Antagonist (October 7), P.A. Krishnan suggests that there is no scholarly biography of EVR. In fact, there are quite a few: E.V. Ramasamy Naicker: A Study of the Influence of a Personality in Contemporary South India by Anita Diehl, 1977; The Political Career of E.V. Ramasamy Naicker by E.S. Viswanthan, 1983; The Non-Brahmin Millennium by V. Geeta and S.V. Rajadurai, 1998; and The Political Biography of E.V. Ramasamy by Bala Jayaraman, 2013. There are biographies in Tamil too, which I am not listing.
S. Theodore Baskaran, Bangalore
Higher fines could really make our roads safer if every traffic cop found inspiration in Gandhi.
Santosh Kumar Bisht, Saharanpur
I salute Dorris Francis (‘Only the Poor Will Suffer, Not the Rich’, September 30). What a spirited way to pay homage to a departed soul! Just so that her daughter’s soul may rest in peace, Dorris Francis has chosen to bear the vehicular cacophony, chaos and pollution by volunteering to work at the very spot where her child was killed in a road accident. Not many examples are found where, in the face of inconsolable grief, one embraces service to mankind.
Vimal Thaker, On E-Mail
This refers to your cover story The Signal Turns an Angry Red (September 30). All the boxed interviews were against hike in fines. The increase in fines has led to riders suddenly abiding by traffic laws and getting proper papers from the RTO. If a single death is prevented, is it not worth it? How can we sympathise with a poor drunk driver on a vehicle costing Rs 10,000 if he hurts any one, rich or poor? A hefty fine is a permanent deterrent and will go a long way in reducing traffic accidents and casualties.
S.K. Tyagi, Meerut
The public is groaning under the numerous taxes that the rapacious government has imposed on them. Every year, some new unheard-of tax under some lame section is imposed. No wonder people try to evade it as far as possible. Now it has come to light that the government is paying the income taxes of ministers and certain high-flying secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh from the public exchequer thanks to insidious laws laid down by these states. This is an absolute travesty of justice and amounts to looting of the public’s money. They are the real blood-sucking parasites of the nation and they being subsidised by the public of India. How is it that the highest authorities like the President, Supreme Court and others in the corridors of power are turning a blind eye to such blatant illegalities? In the light of such skulduggery, it is time to review the Constitution and make sure that such misdeeds are not done under the guise of democracy. Media should also highlight this blatant thievery.
Shanmugam Mudaliar, Pune
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