Is he relevant today?

Gandhi, Which Gandhi ?

By Poonam I Kaushish

“What do you think of Gandhi? You mean Pappu,” dismissed a 25-year old disparagingly. “Not at all he’s ‘hot dude,” shot back a 16-year old. “Silly, I am not talking of Rahul, but the strange old man we read about in history and get a chuutti from school,” giggled an 8-year old. “The one they call the Mahatma, incidentally what did he do?”
That my fellow countrymen, is what Gen X thinks of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi who we reverently address as Father of the Nation. Alas, he has been buried in the dustbin of history and aired every 2 October, like on Sunday for his annual ‘autumn cleaning’. A ritualistic visit to Rajghat, singing his favourite hymns with our leaders pledging to follow in his footsteps. Sic. Obeisance paid, duty over its back to business of democracy and rule by law.
Questionably, does our polity honestly believe in Gandhi? Adhere to his values? Forget it. All busy riding the crest of popularity of coming from Gandhi’s land and his erstwhile Gandhigiri to reap a political harvest.
Undeniably, we have come a long way from what Gandhi espoused 75 years ago. Today, he has been reduced to intellectual indulgence whereby his ideals are forgotten and much of what he stood for remembered selectively or misunderstood. All busy pontificating on his philosophy — peace, non-violence and empowerment. Never mind if it’s at odds in a criminal-politico era where violence is the rhetoric of the times.
Look around and see how far removed we are from Bapu’s vision of India. Many are unaware Gandhi opposed the Westminster model of Government we follow as it implied existence of two classes, rulers and ruled. The British Parliament was a “sterile woman” because it could not do anything with finality. Nor could MPs act on their own but had to obey their Parties whip, reducing them to rubber stamps. It is unfortunate that post Independence India did not heed his advice.
He also wanted to disband the Congress party as it consisted of “selected leaders” who were going to rule over people like the British, and replace it with Lok Seva Sangh. Primarily as rot was setting into the Party which would capitalize on the freedom struggle in which the entire nation had participated. Today, he has been proved right as the Party is a mere caricature of itself reduced to just 53 of 543 MPs in Lok Sabha.
Depressingly, nowhere does ideology, principles or policies even rhetorically figure in our netagans’ vocabulary. In the past, leaders used to camouflage their intentions in ideological garbage. Today, even that fig leaf or verbosity has been discarded. Instead, we are doled out pious platitudes and inane speeches to paint a halo round their heads. The fire and zeal of Gandhi’s “do-or-die” slogan died an early death, replaced by a rent-a-crowd show of strength. Might is right, after all. What else can one expect from our paper tigers?
“The truth I proclaim is as old as the hills,” said Gandhi. Alas, he did not visualize hills could be decimated and truth erased, replaced with one lakshya: “gaddi rakho, paisa pakro”. Power and money at any cost. The country and its democracy can go to hell. The recent guard change in Bihar, Maharashtra and earlier Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh tells all. So much for upholding his tenet of holding offices lightly, not tightly!
Ironically, we are far removed from his ideas of simple living and high thinking, sense of right and wrong and value system. Bluntly, a natural reaction from a politically, socially and morally bankrupt nation as a debased and pulverized people stand by as mute spectators. If ahimsa cast a Mahatma’s halo around him universally, himsa has become the universal truth for our society.
India is very angry. Peoples’ angst and frustration has morphsized into gheraos, road rage, shoe-cides and slaps directed at leaders. Thanks to the daily aggravation of being bin bijli aur paani, sky rocketing prices, unemployment, ghooskhori, increasing polarisation between different castes and creed and in-your-face behavior of our political mai-baaps.
Whereby, Gandhi’s teachings are reduced to mere straws that fly in the political wind, courtesy our parochial leaders. Said he, “Ministers should not live as ‘sahib log’ or use private work facilities provided by the Government for official duties.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yesterday’s princes have made way for neo-Maharajas, Ministers and MPs who see themselves as winners, replete with power trappings that go with it. All in the crippling morass of a jee huzoor feudal mindset. And we call ourselves a democracy!
All suffering from Acute Orwellian syndrome of “some are more equal than others”. Their hierarchy of status gauged by gun-totting commandos surrounding them, jumping traffic lights and causing accidents. Funny isn’t it that they need protection from their janata they assiduously swear to represent and serve.
Ironically, even as Modi extols his colleagues to follow Gandhi, though Deen Dayal Upadhya is the current hot favourite, both their beliefs converged in giving up conspicuous consumption as “money does not grow on trees…return to simplicity, efficiency and commitment to national goals hold the key to self reliance!” His brave words taunt the seven-star mesmerizing celebrations every anniversary of the BJP-led NDA Government.
Contrast this with the harsh reality of half of India’s 1.3 billion people not having enough to eat with over 700 million living below poverty line. And nearly one million dying every year due to inadequate healthcare facilities and one in every five children is malnourished. True, Modi has shifted his politics and is busy projecting his Government as pro-poor. But fighting malnutrition is a pre-requisite for building human capital. Bluntly, ‘broken society’ describes what one sees around.
Besides, with abject paucity around, who has time for Gandhi. The struggle for roti, kapada aur makaan is what matters. Besides, it is easy to be complacent than retaliate, shrugged off as ki pharak painda hai.
The worst thing is nobody seems to care. The middle class has too many problems of its own to be bothered about the poor, the poor are getting angrier and desperate, the rich, as always, don’t care as money and rip-off cultures are all pervasive. It’s all about being successful.
Besides, ‘feel-good’ has been the holy grail of the Establishment. It’s almost a national conspiracy, let’s ignore the warts and bad things, focus only on those glitzy speeches and idolise success. Bringing things to such a ludicrous pass that Gandhi seems an alien from a different planet. Succinctly, he is revered as a saint and Indians today are more bothered about survival.
In sum, what should one say of our polity that swears by Gandhi but doesn’t heed his thoughts in his autobiography “Experiments With Truth”. Instead, practices the seven sins he abhorred: Politics without principles; wealth without work; commerce without morality; education without character; pleasure without conscience; science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. Our experiments with untruth! —— INFA