As the ‘Quit India’ movement began from Sevagram, there couldn’t have been a more fitting place to hold the CWC meeting than this.
Since 2014, Narendra Modi has made one thing very clear- Congress does not have a monopoly over two historic figures pivotal for India’s independence: Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel. Be it invoking Mahatma Gandhi for Swachha Bharat Abhiyaan or the tallest statue of Sardar Patel. The push for claiming these two historic leaders has been so aggressive that it has left the Congress-the grand old party of the country flummoxed. The Jawaharlal Nehru vs Sardar Patel debate has already created fire. On the other hand, Prime minister Narendra Modi doesn’t miss even a single opportunity to invoke Mahatma Gandhi against Congress. In February this year, replying to the debate in the Rajya Sabha Prime Minister Narendra Modi unleashed a tirade against the Congress. Reasserting his dream of Congress-Mukt Bharat, PM Modi said that BJP was only following Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of ‘Congress Mukt’ Bharat.
However, as the nation is just three months away from stepping into the next election year, Congress- the oldest party in India is planning to reclaim Gandhi from BJP and from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has time and again cornered Prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP accusing them of hate politics. He has also invoked the principles of love and acceptance by Mahatma Gandhi to address the public. After a respectable show of Congress in Gujarat Assembly Election, Rahul Gandhi invoked Mahatma Gandhi and said that Gujaratis upheld the message of love given by the Mahatma and defeated the anger, abuse, and lies. “In three months Gujaratis gave me a lot of love. They taught me to respond to lies, threats, abuse, money and muscle power with love and brotherhood. Gujaratis have taught Modi that his anger will be defeated with love. This was also the message of Gandhiji,” he said. Even at the Congress plenary session this year, Rahul Gandhi vowed to bring back the Congress of Gandhi-Nehru’s time.
The 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was thus a golden opportunity both the parties did not want to miss. While BJP planned nation-wide celebrations including PM Modi’s trademark ‘Swachha Bharat Abhiyan’ drive on a grand scale, Congress, on the other hand, tried to claim the aspect of simplicity from Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. By holding the Congress Working Committee meeting at Sevagram Congress took one step further in reclaiming Gandhi from the BJP. However, we must first know why Sevagram is so significant when it comes to remembering Mahatma Gandhi.
Sevagram and Mahatma Gandhi:
Situated in Maharashtra’s Wardha, Sevagram Ashram was not only a significant part of Mahatma Gandhi’s life but also continues to reverberate the essence of his ideologies. The story of how Mahatma Gandhi set up Sevagram Ashram and spent considerable years of his life is also interesting.
It was around 1930 that Mahatma Gandhi started a padyatra from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi for Salt Satyagraha. He decided not to return to Sabarmati till India attained full Independence. During the Dandi March, he was imprisoned for more than two years. Upon his release, he decided to travel throughout India to create awareness in masses about the independence movement gaining ground in the country. Once, he decided to stop at a village in Central India and make it his headquarter. That is how the conception of Sevagram came into being for the first time.
Mahatma Gandhi came to Wardha in 1934, following the invitation of his follower and prominent industrialist Jamnalal Bajaj. He stayed in Jamnalal Bajaj’s bungalow ‘Bajajwadi’ and also in the prayer room of Mahila Ashram for some time. At the crack of the dawn on April 30, 1936, Gandhiji declared that Sevagram (which was then known as Shegaon) would be his new home.
The newly renamed Sevagram lacked many basic infrastructural facilities including post office or telegraph. The letters used to be brought from Wardha. In 1940, he, therefore, decided to rename Shegaon as Sevagram, which literally means ‘Village of service’. Mahatma Gandhi’s mere presence transformed the place from a small village to a source of inspiration to millions. Many decisions on important national matters and movements were taken at Sevagram. It became the central place for a number of institutions for nation building activities devised by Gandhiji to suit the inherent strength of this country.
In spite of many practical difficulties, Gandhiji decided to settle here. Though initially, he had thought of staying alone along with Kasturba Gandhi, the pressure of work necessitated more colleagues and soon Sevagram Ashram became a full-fledged institution. Mahatma Gandhi set up his ashram on the outskirts of the village which has a population of around 1,000. The 300-acres of land for the ashram was made available by Jamnalal Bajaj. Small hut-like accommodations built in the ashram for the followers and visitors were same as the one of Gandhiji’s.
He spent his time spinning, writing, meeting visitors from across the country and abroad in this cottages. It is said that he spent as many as six years of his lives in this ashram with his devotees. The defining movement of India’s freedom struggle against the British, “Quit India” movement too was born at Sevagram. What later turned out to be India’s coup de grace was adopted at the Congress Working Committee meeting in Wardha. The CWC accepted Mahatma Gandhi’s proposal to launch the Quit India movement.
Why Congress chose Sevagram?
As the ‘Quit India’ movement began from Sevagram, the place also resonated with India’s independence struggle, up to some level. Thus, there couldn’t have been a more fitting place to hold the CWC meeting than this. The Congress has often equated the BJP rule with that of the British rule and held it responsible for the atmosphere of corruption, fear, intolerance, and violence in the country. The CWC resolution has drawn parallels between the Indian freedom struggle and said a “new freedom struggle is the need of the hour”. It even took a dig at Modi government saying that appropriation of Mahatma Gandhi may be expedient for the BJP for their electoral gains, however, it is important to imbibe his values and ideologies.
To counter BJP, the Congress instead of opting for grand celebrations, went with the simple theme. As the Sevagram Ashram represents the simplicity of life advocated by Mahatma Gandhi in every way, it was the perfect venue for Congress. To give a more strong message, the Congress leaders including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh even washed their own plates.
Sevagram holds significance for another crucial historical event. It was at the Laxminarayan Temple in Wardha where the Dalits were first allowed to worship. Since Congress launched its offensive against the Modi govt, Rahul Gandhi has upheld Dalit atrocities and accused the government of apathy towards the community.
Will Congress be able to culminate another ‘Quit India’ like movement against Modi government? Only time will tell whether the Sevagram CWC meet will turn the fortunes in favour of Congress.