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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 3, January 7, 2023

Mahatma Gandhi’s Vow of Fearlessness Getting Reflected in Rahul Gandhi’s Appeal to People to Shed Fear | S N Sahu

Saturday 7 January 2023, by S N Sahu

While spearheading Bharat Jod Yatra (BJY) and undertaking the arduous journey on foot from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, Rahul Gandhi, apart from stressing the objectives of BJY, among others, to unify India by countering hatred has been recurrently telling people, "Daro Mat”, (Do not be afraid of ) and act fearlessly to defeat politics of divisiveness and intolerance . He is exhorting lakhs of people spontaneously joining the BJY with abounding enthusiasm that they should get rid of fear. His fervent pleadings in this regard assumes significance in the context of the frightening atmosphere created by the present regime at the Centre and the media narratives woven around Hindu-Muslim binaries for spreading hatred among people and polarising society.

Fearlessness in Interrogating Powers that be and Media

While in Maharashtra leg of the BJY he famously said, “"Never be afraid of anything in your life. If you’re fearless, you won’t hate anyone. Remove fear from your hearts and work for the country. Spread love and brotherhood in the country, not hatred." His fearlessness was amply demonstrated in the manner in which he sharply interrogated Modi regime and its divisive politics and economic policies, exposed Adani and Ambani for multiplying their wealth exponentially after 2014 and made extremely critical remarks on most of the mainstream media which do not highlight people’s issues and, instead, act as channels for causing division among people on the basis of their faith and ways of life.

Fearlessness Part of Eleven Vows of Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi’s repeated call for removal of fear is evocative of Mahatma Gandhi’s eleven vows, one of which was to do away with fear. It is worth recalling those vows : Satya (Truth), Ahimsa (Non-violence), Brahmacharya (Celibacy), Aparigraha (Non-possession), Atreya (Non-stealing), Swadeshi (Use of indigenous resources), Sarva Dharma Sambhav (Equal respect for all religions), Aswad (Control of Palate), Sarir Shram (Physical Labour), Sparsha Bhabna (Against Untouchability) and Sarvatra Bhaya Varjan (Removal of Fear). He explained in detail those vows and in the context of the vow of fearlessness he wrote in February 1916, a year after he came back from South Africa, “I found, throughout my wanderings in India, that India, educated India, is seized with a paralysing fear.” These words of Gandhi sound so contemporary in India of 2023.

He also distressingly noted that people were not opening their lips in public, were scared of declaring their well considered views openly, talked about them secretly within the four walls of their houses and were never willing to say that those were meant for public consumption.

Gandhi made those observations in the backdrop of the British rule generating fear among people to talk publicly and criticise the policies of the colonial regime which obviously was oppressive and exploitative. The “paralysing fear” which he referred to actually gripped people and they were mortally scared of speaking the truth. Gandhi aptly wrote, “We fear consequences, and therefore we are afraid to tell the truth.” He then thoughtfully remarked, “Before we can aspire to the position of understanding what religion is, and before we can aspire to the position of guiding the destinies of India, do you not see that we should adopt this habit of fearlessness?”

His approach anchored in fearlessness remained central to his conviction of non-violently fighting against British rule and achieving independence for India.

It is heartening that on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of our independence, Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Rahul Gandhi during the BJY is also repeatedly emphasising on the ideal of fearlessness and urging people to shed fear and speak truth to power.

Inspiration to Become Fearless

When he was marching in UP he stated that he learnt the lessons for removal of fear from Lord Shiva. His invocation of Shiva in no way compromised his focus on Sarva Dharna Sambhav which he amply demonstrated during his visits to several other shrines such as mosques, churches and Darghas. Even the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, acclaimed for his secular vision and outlook, had invoked Lord Siva when he dedicated to the nation the first atomic reactor, Apsara, in 1957 in Mumbai.

Sitaram Yechury, the CPM leader, during his tenure as a Member of Rajya Sabha, in his speech delivered on the occasion of discussion on Nalanda University Bill in the House referred to the discovery of zero in ancient India and stated that its complementarity was found in infinity. He further stated that according to Tao of Physics the complementarity of zero and infinity was captured in a symbol and that symbol is Nataraj, the dancing Siva. He explained that Natraj is always captured inside a circle which depicts zero of the material world and the dance of Natraj represents the infinity of the cosmos. He was giving that example to drive home the point that the origin of zero and the understanding that its complementarity is found in infinity could be traced to a society in ancient period of India where the values of acceptance and tolerance defined the ways of life and the mind soared high to explore the new frontiers of knowledge. What he wanted to convey was that in the absence of such values sectarianism grows and narrows the outlook. It in turn impedes the pursuit of ideas and knowledge.

Therefore, Rahul Gandhi’s remarks that he learnt to become fearless from Lord Shiva in no way makes him sectarian. In removing his fear he affirms his liberality to appreciate all faiths. Mahatma Gandhi in his article “Crime of Reading Bible” published in Young India on 2nd September 1926 very thoughtfully wrote, “Where there is fear there is no religion.” So, Rahul’s appeal to people to dispense with fear means his earnest pleadings to them to eschew hatred and love all religions. Such a wholesome approach adopted by him while walking on foot during BJY tunes us to the values and vision of freedom struggle which is a vast reservoir of constructive ideas incessantly inspiring generations of people and shaping the destiny of India.

Cautious Optimism Generated by BJY

It is worthwhile to quote another line of Gandhi who said in June 20, 1945, “The fact is that where there is fear, there can be no true love”. In fact a fear stricken person’s mind and nerves get constricted. It results in narrowness and hatred. Such attributes negate the broad outlook and engenders conflict, violence and even bloodshed. The goal set for BJY to unify India by countering hatred is very challenging. It certainly has opened a small window for fresh air for ventilation in the edifice of hatred built over the years. It requires concerted effort and measures to do much more in demolishing that edifice. The willing participation of millions of people in BJY and their support to it makes one feel cautiously optimistic that edifice of hatred could be brought down and India’s unity and composite culture can be salvaged.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan) 

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