This week marks the 55th anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, and his message of peace, religious harmony and social justice is in greater danger today than ever.

The Bush administration seems to be hell-bent on foisting an Iraq war upon the world, contrary to Gandhi’s notion of attempting to find a non-violent solution to even the most intractable of problems.

Were he alive today, Gandhi would have no patience for the unilateralists in Washington who look at war as an answer, not a problem.

His legacy at home has been undermined by the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Anti-Muslim pogroms took place in Gandhi’s home state of Gujarat early last year, which claimed thousands of lives, according to several human-rights groups. The pogroms began after a Muslim mob burned alive nearly 60 Hindus on a train.

I visited Gujarat on election day in mid-December when citizens were to decide the fate of the right-wing state government. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government headed by Narendra Modi was returned to power, even though Modi’s government was complicit in the massacres.

With the growth of right-wing Hindu fundamentalism since the late 1980s, many of India’s minority Muslims and Christians have been targeted. And this trend is not just confined to Gandhi’s home state.

India is currently governed by a coalition headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and some elements of the party foment anti-Muslim sentiment. Gandhi was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, by a Hindu bigot who said Gandhi was too pro-Muslim.

The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party echoes the assassin’s bullet. Right-wing public opinion to this day blames Gandhi for the creation of Pakistan. They claim he was too “soft” on India’s Muslims and that he acquiesced in the demand for a separate Muslim homeland.

Never mind that Gandhi was resolutely opposed to the partition of India and that he worked with a number of Muslim leaders, such as Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the leader of a remarkable nonviolent social-reform movement, in an attempt to prevent it.

The Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t quite know what to do with Gandhi, since it can’t completely disown the “father of the nation” and yet it can’t identify too closely with him. (Even the party that he was associated with, the Congress Party, these days does little more than pay lip service to Gandhi.)

The Bharatiya Janata Party has subverted Gandhi’s message in other ways, too. With the nuclear tests of May 1998, the government decided to make India an overt nuclear power, in spite of Gandhi being so appalled by the atom bomb that he called it “the most diabolical use of science.” India’s nuclear-weapons program has opened the possibility of a nuclear holocaust on the Indian subcontinent in a showdown with Pakistan.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s militant, hard-line attitude seems to have found a kindred spirit in the Bush administration, which has become closer to the Indian government since Sept. 11, while maintaining an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s bugbear, Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s regime in Pakistan.

Shamefully, the United States has been tepid in its response to the Gujarat anti-Muslim campaign. The European Union, by contrast, compared the Gujarat situation to apartheid and said that it bore similarities to Nazi Germany of the 1930s.

Gandhi would not have stood for this.

The U.S. government and the Indian government could save a lot of innocent lives if they only listened to this man who died 55 years ago.

Amitabh Pal is the editor of the Progressive Media Project. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; Web site:

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to KRT subscribers. Knight Ridder/Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Knight Ridder/Tribune or its editors.

(c) 2003, Amitabh Pal

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services

AP-NY-01-31-03 0609EST

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