Mahatma Gandhi receives a donation in a train compartment. Acharya Kripalani and Radhakrishna Bajaj are looking through the window. Credit: Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence are synonymous. During India’s struggle for independence from British rule, Gandhi taught the world how to stand up for one’s rights and achieve victory over a formidable enemy without resorting to violence. 

He left behind an ideal that is increasingly becoming a fading memory in view of the rising tide of nationalist hate and bigotry.

Soon after India won its independence, Gandhi was killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist affiliated with the group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It was a tragedy that deprived a newly independent country of a needed moral compass at its most vulnerable point. The RSS was banned in the aftermath of Gandhi’s killing in January 1948.

Fast forward 70 years, and India looks more like Godse’s than Gandhi’s.

The BJP, a political offshoot of the RSS, is in power. Current prime minister Narendra Modi is an RSS member and its former regional parcharak (director). 

Modi, along with his coterie of RSS affiliated colleagues, has seen to it that Gandhi’s dream of a peaceful and nonviolent India is decimated beyond repair. 

Gandhi has been killed again and again in the last 70 years with Godse being venerated and now even worshiped by some. The rising intolerance, violence, and discrimination against minorities and the so-called “lower castes” has reached a crescendo. 

Rabid nationalism, coupled with unbridled hate against minorities and an unquestioning and fawning media, has reduced India to a shadow of its glorious, tolerant past when giants like Gandhi walked on its hallowed land.

As the Minnesota Indian American community celebrates Gandhi’s birth 150 years ago, it is not without a sense of trepidation and concern about the human rights situation in India. The RSS chief recently described India as a Hindu nation. Many lawmakers from the ruling party BJP openly support Gandhi’s killer, Godse.

This is a huge cause for concern for the local Minnesota Indian Muslim community. 

Besides the extremely horrific human rights situation in Kashmir, which has been under an inhumane lockdown for the past two months, the community is also very concerned about a discriminatory proposal to give citizenship to all non-Muslim refugees and build “detention centers” for hundreds of thousands of people declared “non-citizens.”

India is at a crossroads. The cancer of hate and bigotry is striking at the roots of its very foundation. The country stands at a point where it has to choose between Gandhi or Godse. The stakes have never been higher for the soul of the nation.

Zafar Siddiqui is an Indian American who lives in Blaine. He is a co-founder of The Supporters of the Human Rights in India (SHRI).