Grandson Sees an Attack on Gandhi Legacy ; India's Right Wing Has Cited Mahatma in Attacking Christians
Robert Marquand, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
He is a high-caste Hindu, tall for an Indian, wears a starched white kurta, and speaks with a blend of perfect elucidation and warmth. At age 12 he literally sat at Mohandas Gandhi's feet for months. That's because Rajmohan Gandhi is the grandson of Mr. Gandhi, considered the father of this nation of a billion people, and a 20th-century icon.
Today, in response to a rise of attacks on Christians here, the normally low-profile junior Gandhi is countering recent efforts to use his famous grandfather to partly justify a climate of antipathy against Christians, the 2 percent minority.
In dozens of pamphlets, articles, reprints, and tracts published here by right-wing groups, Mohandas Gandhi seems to view Christianity as a "largely negative" influence in India. In "Gandhi's Open Challenge to Christians," published by the Vishnu Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Gujurat, for example, Gandhi characterizes Christians as caring only about "converting" unsuspecting Hindus to their faith, and "undermining" India.
Such writings and ideas today have wide circulation among both leaders and the rank- and-file nationalist groups called the Sangh Parivar. The literature often presents itself as Gandhi's "real feelings," which he was too polite to say openly.
According to Rajmohan Gandhi, the pamphlets are an "attack on Gandhi's legacy -they do not reflect at all the spirit that Gandhi brought to his relations with Christians.
"These writings are often clever. The same groups opposed Gandhi strongly, persistently, and with great zeal when he was alive. Yet Gandhi carried the Hindu masses," says the younger Gandhi, a philosopher who published a biography of his grandfather, "The Good Boatman," in 1995. "Now, aware of Gandhi's influence, they want to use him to fight their battles by tearing his remarks out of context."
In an interview, Rajmohan Gandhi clarified his grandfather's position on Christians and missionaries. He stressed the importance to Gandhi of a sincere friendship with those trying to find larger truths through their faith -while at the same time pointing out where he felt Christian fell short of their own ideals.
Did Gandhi harbor serious anti-Christian attitudes?
This needs to be corrected. It is a gross misrepresentation of Ghandi's thinking. Only two months before he died, at one of his multireligious prayer meetings where all faiths were invited, he spoke of a village called Kanhai near Delhi. Roman Catholics were being attacked -and Gandhi completely condemned it.
In his own life, Gandhi considered Christianity for himself, but he chose to stay as a Hindu, and he became one of the most famous Hindus ever. But he was always clear on the need to make one's own choice. When Ghandi's son embraced Islam, he didn't say it was a problem. He said I hope he becomes a good Muslim.
We can't understand Gandhi if we don't recognize that individual conscience was everything to him. Again and again, he said that the only tyrant he would bend his knee to was the "still, small voice" within.
How do you feel when Gandhi's writings are used to justify negative views or even attacks?
Hurt. Disturbed. Was there a Hindu leader of recent decades who quoted from the Bible more than Gandhi? Was there a Hindu leader of recent decades who was a better scholar of the Bible? The records we have of numerous interviews Gandhi had with Christian missionaries both Indian and Western, Protestant and Catholic -the dialog was of the most sensitive kind, courteous kind, warm kind.
He was really a friend to the missionaries -unlike these people who now quote him out of context, or misquote him, misuse him, and who are hostile to the missionaries and to Christianity. He was greatly stirred and moved by the lives of many missionaries. …