New Delhi: India celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi with energy, photo opportunities and a lot of homilies so characteristic of the times we live in. As usual, rose petals were strewn on the Gandhi Samadhi at Raj Ghat, important dignitaries sat crossed-legged on the mattresses covered with spotlessly white bed sheets and sang: Vaishnav jan te tene kahiye. Thousands of Gandhi statues/busts were garlanded all over the country; peace walks and harmony rallies were undertaken; several TV channels ran special programmes devoted to Safai Abhiyan, Ayushman Bharat etc. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, trying to end open defecation, various inclusive schemes bringing the poor and marginalised citizens in the mainstream, banning single use plastics and trying to usher in ease of living are laudable initiatives for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves appreciation as he does for his op-ed in the New York Times, underlining Gandhi’s continuing relevance today.
So, if Gandhi was in India today, what will he feel? Overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and affection and respect expressed towards him? Feel disoriented by the sight of skyscrapers, airports, expressways, flyovers, metros, shopping malls, golf courses, roads jam-packed with various sizes and models of cars, colonies named Manhattan, Maliboo, Cambridge; new hotels, swanky villas and pent houses and their billionaire occupants? Won’t he be elated to see this transformation of India so different from what he had left behind? Won’t he feel somewhat out of place—an Outsider?
But is this the Gandhigiri all about? Two weapons with which he shook and eventually brought on its knees the biggest colonial empire ever in which sun never sat were Satya and Ahimsa. To him Truth and God were synonymous. And he wasn’t prepared to give up nonviolence even at the risk of his own life. Regrettably, today, everyone is pedalling half truth and manufacturing post truth. To tweak Amitabh Bachchan’s dialogue: Sach wahi hai, Jo hum kahate hein! As for the violence, we resort to it at the filmiest of an excuse and in the cruellest manner.
We never get tired of claiming what a peace loving and tolerant nation we are, but the visuals of cow vigilantism; mob lynching and merciless beating of the Dalits suspected of cow slaughter or entry in a temple in some parts of India splashed over all over the world tell a story totally different from the most positive narrative about India that Modi so painstakingly articulates on his trips abroad. When 70 years after independence, untouchability is still practiced in hundreds of villages, there are around 4 million bonded labourers, child labour, female infanticide, honour killings, dowry deaths aren’t figment of imagination but bitter facts and the NCRB mentions over 47,000 officially registered cases of attacks on the Dalits every year, won’t Gandhi’s head hang in shame? Won’t he think that his message of non-violence has totally evaporated? The communal riots in Delhi (1984), Bombay (1992/93) Gujarat (2002) in which thousands of innocent people lost their lives were negation of what the Mahatma stood for.
Gandhi insisted that noble goals should be pursued by noble means, but in today’s cut throat competition, everyone wants to succeed by hook or crook. The majority of Indians have embraced Deng Xiaoping’s mantra: so long as the cat catches the rat, it doesn’t matter whether it is white or black!
How many politicians pay any heed to Gandhi’s seven sins which vitiate and corrode the entire social and political fabric of our country? He talked of simple living and high thinking and partaking only as much as we need rather than grabbing with devouring greed. Are there any takers of his sage advice?
He exhorted to wipe the tears off the cheeks of the poor. Yes, millions of poor have been brought above the poverty line and many have benefited from numerous inclusive, people friendly schemes but millions of poor still stand in the queue and find themselves at the receiving end and treated harshly and unjustly; justice for the poor is a day dream.
Swachh Bharat is a laudable initiative and has contributed a lot to create a cleaner and healthier environment. But driven by an urge to show big results, exaggeration of the achievements is widespread. If one drives in a car from Delhi to Lucknow, at the outskirt of every city on the route, one is greeted with piles of stinking, rotting garbage unloaded just along the road. Why go that far, in Ghazipur in Delhi, there stands the infamous garbage mountain which is tipped to overtake the height of Taj Mahal by 2022! It speaks volumes about the importance and priority of daily collection and disposal of garbage by the successive governments of the NCR.
Gandhiji said: my life is my message. How many politicians have the courage to say that in public today? If they follow Gandhi, why don’t they let their parties be brought under the RTI; it will introduce an element of transparency and truthfulness in financial dealings of the parties. Will Gandhiji be glad by the current state of the criminalisation of politics and politicisation of civil services?
We sing Vaishnav jan te..,but do we feel “parai pir’ (pain and anguish) ? Will Gandhiji feel flattered by the reports of mob lynching or self-proclaimed Gau Rakshaks taking law in their hands and killing individuals suspected of cow smuggling or storing/eating beef?
Many academics, scholars and politicians believe that Gandhian non-violent ways would have failed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria as today’s indoctrinated terrorists neither have a conscience nor a heart which he could have appealed to and changed. Could his ahimsa approach work against the Naxals or the terrorists in the Kashmir valley? May be, Gandhian methods can be used and produce results even today, but we need a Gandhi. Do we have one?
While remembering Gandhi today, can’t we imbibe, at least, one thought in our lives?
Ishwar Alalh Tero Naam,
Sabko Sanmati De bhagwan!
(Surendra Kumar was India’s Ambassador to Libya, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea & High Commissioner of India to Kenya, Swaziland and Malta).