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Who's the real 'Chatur Baniya'?

By Amulya Ganguli
August 19, 2017 11:02 IST

'Even if the BJP's hope of a Congress-mukt Bharat is realised, it will still have to contend with Mr Gandhi's god-like status in the foreseeable future,' says Amulya Ganguli.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

BJP chief Amit Shah's smart alecky quip about the Mahatma being a chatur bania (wily trader) is not in the same league as Sarojini Naidu's cheeky description of the Father of the Nation as Mickey Mouse because of his large ears.

While Naidu's was the witticism of a friend, Shah belongs to the camp which believes that Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse's intention was good, but his methods were wrong.

As the then RSS chief Rajendra Singh (1922-2003) once explained (external link), 'usne acche uddeshya ke liye galat method istemal kiya.'

However, even after using a galat method, Godse remains a patriot in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar as BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj said before his party shut him up for being politically incorrect at a time when the BJP is feeling its way through the cultural labyrinth of Indian society.

Arguably, therefore, Amit Shah's wisecrack is neither a good-humoured dig nor a back-handed compliment to a chatur saint/politician.

However, he is not alone in his denigration of the person about whom Einstein said that 'generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this, in flesh and blood, walked upon the earth'.

Lord Wavell, the last but one British viceroy, characterised Gandhi as an 'extremely shrewd, obstinate, domineering, double-tongued, single-minded politician; and there is little true saintliness in him' while the writer Nirad C Chaudhuri described Gandhi as a person who 'had the capacity for prevarication of a Hindu bania and a Hindu guru combined'.

But these are the criticisms of neutrals who had nothing to gain from their disparagement of a national figure. But it isn't only that the BJP president does not belong to this category, his own past can also deny him the privilege of being an honest critic.

Moreover, a number of blogs doing the rounds in the cyber world confirms that Rajendra Singh and Sakshi Maharaj were merely articulating the views prevalent in the saffron brotherhood about Gandhi.

One of the blogs, entitled Rangeela Gandhi, accuses the Mahatma of sexual escapades while another carries the heading, Gandhism -- A deceitful philosophy used by charlatan and frauds.

It says that 'one wonders how Mr Gandhi with his pious platitudes and tokenism which seldom gave the concrete solution to any problem was able to exercise such a popularity among the masses of India to enjoy a god-like status. The puzzle was that how this instant saintly acts crash course was so readily lapped up by the bovine millions to ultimately go to their doom of losing one-third of their country and yet have the audacity of calling it independence'.

While the similarity between the last sentence and the Communist slogan of yeh azadi jhooti hai in the late 1940s draws attention to the fascism-Communism likenesses, what is noteworthy in the present context is how the Mahatma continues to rile the saffron camp even seven decades after his death.

Amit Shah drew satisfaction from the Congress's travails which, he believes, will lead to the fulfilment of Gandhi's advice for turning the party into a Lok Sevak Sangh.

But even if the BJP's hope of a Congress-mukt Bharat is realised, it will still have to contend with Mr Gandhi's god-like status in the foreseeable future.

Amulya Ganguli