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Mocking the Mahatma

October 2002
Mocking the Mahatma

As we salute the Mahatma on his 133rd birth anniversary, it is also the time to take a look at the doctrines of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. How true have we been to the man whom we call our ?father?? Has modern India behaved like a respectful son? Sadly no. We have played false with Gandhi, molded his teachings to suit our ends and moved away from his ideals; so much so that if ?Bapu? visited India today, he would have to bury his head in shame and remain a loner in the crowd.

Ironically, we have never faltered in advocating Gandhi?s principles, rather we have sworn by them at every given opportunity. Politicians have been a step ahead and have always been loud and vocal in expressing their adherence to Gandhian thoughts, though they have usually never gone beyond that. Roads, bridges, parks, and schools have been christened after Gandhi - an idea that he hated - even as the boards bearing his name lie covered with dust and contempt. Worse still, his teachings have been openly ignored, often with brute arrogance.

Sadly enough, the worst has happened in Gandhi?s own land, Gujarat. The communal frenzy which swept the state at the beginning of this year severely shook the land of the Mahatma. A new dimension was added to communal violence; it was no more a mad outburst, but as per many reports from independent national and international commissions, a well-planned operation aimed at ethnic cleansing of a minority group. Regardless of blame and finger pointing, suffice it to say that hatred, raw violence and communal frenzy have dominated Gujarat ? in direct contrast to Gandhian philosophies of non-violence and brotherhood. His famous operational motto of ?Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai? (Hindus and Muslims are brothers) has been crudely and blatantly mocked. Where do we go from here? If the lawmakers become lawbreakers, there is little hope for the country.

The cost of ignoring a Mahatma

Gandhi had said that India is a garden with flowers of varied fragrance in the form of different castes, creeds, languages and religions. This unique beauty and wealth comes with a responsibility. We have to be tolerant and kind, to let this garden bloom. Intolerance, however, would destroy one and all. Tragically, India has been indifferent to Bapu?s warning and is flirting with danger, becoming more violent and nakedly communal.

Already Gujarat is suffering from an economic lull and disinvestments from MNCs, which has been traced directly to the riots and continued tensions. The recent attack on the majestic Akshardham temple near Ahmedabad - which is shaping up even as this is being written - continues this saga of mindless violence in the name of religion and revenge. No matter which side of the fence you are, it seems that you have your justification to react violently to destroy the enemy, and they have theirs. ?After all, look what they did to us,? each side seems to be saying. The question that begs an answer is, ?Where will it all end?? Another one of Gandhi?s classic observations comes to mind, ?An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.?

The effect of Mahatma?s message has a bearing all the way up to nationhood and governance. While the ruling BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) remains an elected political party in a democratic India, its very association with communal and divisive forces such as such as the hard-line VHP, RSS, and Bajarang Dal, not only tarnishes the repute of the party, but also that of the nation. It is a tragedy of modern India that the ruling BJP toes the same brash and aggressive tone of fundamentalism. Just as fundamentalist Christians in America hurt its image as a progressive society by insisting on teaching in American public schools the religiously grounded ?creationism? as science - so do fundamentalists in India reduce its repute. Unfortunately, due to the added facet of violence creeping into the Indian religious fundamentalism, such blemish is further intensified.

Gandhi saw the futility of such fundamentalism. ?No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive,? he has said. Such ideology, however, has taken a back seat in today?s India, which seems to have regressed rather than progressed in this realm.

It was Nathuram Godse, a fascist Hindu who assassinated the Mahatma and shamelessly justified his crime by saying it was done to safeguard Hinduism. There cannot be a more poignant tragedy and irony than this. Religious leaders and Statesmen all over the world have said time and again that Mahatma Gandhi was perhaps the truest of all Hindus. He was one of the very few who understood the doctrines and philosophy of the great religion. Godse in an act of madness eliminated the very fountainhead of Hinduism.

Gandhi was a rare human being. As Albert Einstein remarked, ?Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this, in flesh and blood, ever walked on this earth.? His teachings found acceptance across the globe. Martin Luther King?s civil rights campaign and Nelson Mandela?s anti-apartheid movement derived their inspiration from the fight unleashed by this bony man.

Gandhi lived and died for India. He has given us a vision to follow. Striving for peace and incorporating his teachings in our day-to-day life would be the most meaningful tribute to the noble soul whom we call our ?father?. Merely eulogizing him in speeches and on postage stamps would serve no real purpose.

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