Mocking The Mahatma
By Anshul Kumar Pandey *
The story of Gandhi’s legacy post India’s Independence is a sad story of the public desecration of a man’s principles.
More than six and a half decades after Independence, India’s ruling establishment, comprising of Gandhi’s grand vehicle of political campaigning, The Congress, seems to have forgotten the basic principles for which the father of nation laid down his life.
Every year, on the eve of Gandhi’s birth anniversary, yard high advertisements sponsored by different ministries of the government appear in national dailies, making them less of a newspaper and more of a poorly designed extended greeting card. Not only the Congress, but parties of every hue and color, jump on the tribute bandwagon and leave no stone unturned to profess their love and devotion for the Mahatma. It is quite a costly way to profess love for a person living or dead, as these ads cost a lot of money.
For example, the newspaper that I subscribe to, The Hindustan Times, carried nine color display ads from various state and central government agencies this year on the eve of the Mahatma’s birth anniversary. The smallest ad was on Page 18 and was sponsored by the Congress government of Haryana and measured 400 sq cms (25 X 16 cm). The running rate for a color display ad in The Hindustan Times, as a leading classifieds agency informs me, is Rs 800 per sq cms. That brings the cost of the smallest ad published in the newspaper to Rs 3,20,000. Now these newspapers have different editions for different cities. So multiply the cost of this smallest ad by at least 36 (Nine for the total number of ads and again four for at least four different editions in India’s four major metropolitan cities). The total cost comes around to be something like Rs 1,15,00,000 or to overly simplify it, a little over Rs one crore.
Now The Hindustan Times isn’t the only newspaper that is circulated widely in India. A cursory Google check informs me that there are at least thirty mainstream newspapers having circulation in lakhs and which receive ads from the government. These newspapers have their own rates for displaying color ads. If one was to sit down and calculate the amount spent on advertising one’s devotion to Gandhi, one would realize that the figure easily runs into tens, if not hundreds of crores. This is a mammoth amount to spend in a country in which more than 800 million people live below rupees 20 a day and whose Economist Prime Minister has lately taken to instilling fiscal sense into the nation’s politics. Mind you, I have not taken into account the different private and publicly owned magazines and government publications in which these ads appear in dozens.
It is ironic that a man, who discarded all his clothes except a hand woven khadi loincloth upon seeing the condition of India’s wretched millions, should have such filthy amount spent on him out of the public exchequer on his birth anniversary every year.
The Civil Society’s Affection
It isn’t as if it is only the government or state agencies which are guilty of making a joke of Gandhi’s teachings. The newfound phenomenon of India’s gullible middle class last year was the “second Gandhi”, namely, anti corruption crusader Anna Hazare. Hazare is a man now publicly known for his professed fetish to hunger strikes.
The “Civil Society” (the term is a piece of phrase coining genius, for those who oppose the “civil society” are by definition “barbarians”), in its apparent hurry to introduce a swooping legislation which would “ban” all types of corruption, kicked Gandhi’s concept of Satyagrah out of the window and instead, used his carefully crafted and skillfully implemented doctrine of public fasts to undermine the little democracy we had left in this nation of ours.
For Gandhi, a person who opposed even the messiah of the lower castes and untouchables Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, at the cost of tarnishing his own repute in that community to justify his principle of the means justifying the ends, this glittering humiliation from the self appointed representatives of the civil society must have squeezed a desperate cry of anguish even from the entombed remains of his dead body. To have compared Anna Hazare with Gandhi is a logical fallacy of the supreme kind.
Gone also were Gandhi’s principles of compromising on inessential items to promote resolution, as the civil society tag team stuck on its demand of bringing their version of Ombudsman bill in the parliament and nothing else. The main issue of removing corruption, sandwiched between two stubborn parties adamant on their stands, soon took a backseat. After the movement failed to yield any concrete results, the “Team Anna” split and it was time to invoke Gandhi again.
On the 2nd of this month, Gandhi’s Birth anniversary, Arvind Kejriwal, the brain behind the anti corruption movement, launched his own political party. The symbolism was evident, Gandhi’s principles were not.
The Violence of the state
The most appalling degradation has been of the Gandhian principle of Non Violence. If one was to start enumerating examples, the list could go on and on. The Indian state, which was born out of the womb of a non violent movement, has rapidly transformed into the most mercenary like violent nation. Violence of every kind, be it psychological or physical or emotional or whatever, has become a daily offering of the state machinery to its citizens. Domains of minutest interest and daily public life have now transformed into a battleground between the state and its citizens with both the sides exerting its utmost pressure to pull the rope on their side in this never ending tug of war.
I must cite the recent example of the crackdown by state machinery on the anti-Kudankulam nuclear plant protesters. The people of Idinthakarai, a village situated on the coastal banks on Tamil Nadu and near Kudankulam nuclear plant, have, for the past several months, sustained and carried forward their protest against the plant based on safety concerns. 13 year old schoolboy Vignesh has been among the many protesters who have been joining marches, speaking to the media and walking long distances to make people aware of their plight. When asked by the media about the whole movement, Vignesh gave a lengthy answer, a part of which I cannot resist but reproduce.
“My brother says that if we decide we can harm all the people who come to suppress us. We have all the sharp tools and strong oars with us that can kill and maim humans. But for over a year we have been hearing about peace and ahimsa. I love the word Ahimsa. It carries all the meaning of love and care, share and concern for a fellow human being and all of life. When I think of that word, I see the smiling picture of Gandhiji with a small child that I have seen in a newspaper. It is so easy to be violent and abusive. On September 10th, when the Police chased us on the beach with lathis and tear gas, some of us threw our precious footwear at them. Some threw the beach sand just to ward them away. Not one person took even a stick or picked up a stone. That day I understood the true meaning of Ahimsa. I really felt like a child gently learning to walk watched by a loving parent. I felt the hands of restraint of our dear leaders leading us to the safe haven of peace and love, however pained and injured we were.” (1)
Vignesh made these remarks after his brothers had been arrested, abused, physically tortured and beaten black and blue by the local police authorities. One cannot help but wonder that if such principles can be understood by young children of Vignesh’s age, then surely, to not understand and undermine Gandhi’s principles in his name would be to display an IQ level less than that of a normal school going boy.
Towards Another Anniversary
While the obsession with defiling Gandhi’s teachings by draining the public exchequer remains, one can only hope to see the Indian polity mature and follow true democratic principles in a Gandhian spirit. By advocating Gandhian principles, one does not wish to convey a blanket application of Gandhian teachings. This point was made succinctly by Frank Moraes, the former editor of The Times of India, who, writing ten years after Gandhi’s death, reflected on his legacy in Nehruvian India in an article in Foreign Affairs:
"IN times of crisis and difficulty," I asked Nehru recently, "do you inquire of yourself, 'What would Gandhi have done?" Nehru reflected a moment before he replied. "It's a difficult question but I'll answer it frankly. In moments of crisis, political or personal, I do think of Gandhi but for a somewhat selfish reason. I think of him because I would like to recapture his serenity of mind, the calmness of spirit with which he used to face a crisis. But if you ask me, do I consciously inquire of myself, 'What would Gandhi have done?' well--no."
It was an honest answer and typical of the man. Here was Gandhi's heir whom the Mahatma in his own lifetime had named as his successor confessing that not in every moment of crisis did he turn instinctively for inspiration to the Master.
"And yet," Nehru went on, "Gandhi typified the spirit of India in a curious and characteristic way. He had the same strong core of tradition and thought to which he remained loyal. But outside that he could adjust himself and his views to the impact of others. He was resilient and flexible. He would bend but he would not break."
As I listened to Nehru I felt that that was probably how the Mahatma would have liked it, for Gandhi had never insisted that his followers should live in the image of himself. True, he was an exacting taskmaster who expected and insisted on scrupulous adherence to certain standards of conduct, of discipline and rectitude. But even within the idiosyncrasies of his own personal mode of life Gandhi was prepared to make concessions to others, whether in the way of diet, tobacco, tea or celibacy. It was one reason why he attracted such diverse individuals as the exuberantly extroverted Sarojini Naidu on the one hand and the saintly but astringent Vinoba Bhave on the other.” (2)
…. One wishes to see a little, even if tokenish, change in the attitude and work of the ruling establishment.