For all his undoubted administrative achievements and perceptive evolution since 2002, a certain vulnerability of Narendra Modi continues to manifests often, much to the disappointment of his exponentially growing list of admirers who have been attracted by his stellar brand of governance. A continued streak of intolerance will be politically damaging for Modi, who justifiably nurtures national ambition on account of his pivotal role in the spectacular Gujarat growth story. This vulnerability is a possible consequence of Modi’s early schooling in Sangh, an energetic organization of patriots but a hotbed of brazen anti-intellectualism. Nothing else would explain Modi turning out to be a serial offender when it comes to outrageous manner in which scholarly works have been banished in the state of the Gujarat twice over now.
Many a Modi fanboys mount a defense pointing to the fact that book banning in Gujarat is largely a bipartisan project- in fact it’s the opposition Congress which usually initiates a vociferous demand for book banking and political astute Modi takes it to a logical culmination in a jiffy. Equally disingenuous is justifying ban by citing the absolutely shameful record of Congress governments in banning innumerable books for publishing truth adversarial to the family glorification projects or for allegedly being offensive to religious minority sensibilities. But test of true leadership is to resist the impulse of pandering to basal political instincts. Modi has not been impervious to the temptation of succumbing to such instincts on more than one occasion.
BJP Central leadership’s crudely executed decision to unceremoniously expel the erudite Jaswant Singh, after the releases of his controversial book on Jinnah, could be partially explained away in terms of the battle of one-upmanship to demonstrate ideological purity to Nagpur bosess. We are no fans of Jaswant’s history reconstrucionism attempting to recast Jinnah in the mould of liberal constitutionalist. This was a continuation of harebrained, poorly conceptualised and politically catastrophic experiment initiated by Advani in Pakistan, advised as he was by a coterie of delusional political advisers for purportedly effecting an image transformation. A strictly rulebook based case did exist for Jaswant’s punishment – he was not some retired maverick history professor but a key political functionary of party and the book to some extent did negate foundational ideological principles of the party. But clearly no case existed for banning of book in Gujarat. Acts like book banning could not be incongruous in Islamic badlands but surely not in the vibrant state of Gujarat.
Just when one was hoping that that Jinnah book ban was an isolated act of competitive intolerance Modi failed the litmus test once again when Government of Gujarat banned the Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India brilliantly reviewed here by my fellow CRI commentator Dilip Rao. Over the last few years Modi has been vigorously embarking a project on messiahfication of Gandhi perhaps stemming from deep sense of inspiration that he draws from / admiration for a fellow Gujarati. Though we are not great supporters of such state sponsored glorification attempts, it can be argued that such exercises do have some limited utiliy. After all all societies are prone to collective deification of one or two historic figures who provide an inspirational and aspirational value to its members. And it goes to credit of Modi that he sustained this project despite unbridled hostility from the closely knit Gandhi intellectual industry who repulse us with their condescending, holier than thou attitude
By some distance, the greatest Indian of the 20th Century was Mahatma Gandhi. Rescuing the freedom struggle from the tyranny of intellectuals by drawing ideological inspiration and spiritual sustenance from Dharmic traditions of this great land, he truly build a groundswell of grassroots support by his personal austerity and impeccable integrity. He invigorated a civilization that had gone in deep slumber, marauded as it was by bloodthirsty invaders and pillaging imperialists But at another level Gandhi was also a deeply flawed individual. His bizarre experiments revolving around erotic and excreta, his piousness which was a product of a confused syncretism, his maximalist pacifism, his advisory to Jews (subliminal anti-Semitic thread seems to be running in his parivar), his pandering to religious mobilization and perplexing political somersaults all need to be dispassionately scruinised.
Most books on Gandhi are unabashed celebration of life and times(written by family members and Gandhian fanatics). After a long while we have a scholar of considerable eminence addressing the complexities of Gandhi in an nuanced manner. Unfortunately instead of encouraging such examination, Government of Gujarat has displayed an illiberal streak in banning this book. Careful reading of author’s intent also underscores the fact tha this was not part of any larger effort currently afoot in west to justify and provide a moral imperative for the great colonial project by subtly shaming natives and attempting to demonise their heroes
In today’s interconnected world book banning nothing more than an chimerical exercise. It has no value other than perhaps cheering up a constituency of petty partisans. Again it comes as no relief to free speech absolutists like us that the demand for book ban was bipartisan vigorously advocated by the Congress party and Modi merely acceded to the request. We at CRI disapprove of acts like book banning. We wish wisdom dawns on the Gujarat government and ban is lifted.
Image Source: Banned aid republic
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