Mahatma Gandhi: Has He Been Reduced to A Symbol Only?

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Dr MEHNAZ NAJMI | Caravan Daily

WE Indians love to follow and celebrate symbols, ideals, idols and even myths. Mahatma Gandhi is one of the first idols our political elite gifted after independence, as there was a dearth of native heroes, who were accepted and approved by all.

Gandhi proved to be the best bet for it as he led the movement for freedom, spoke about the ideals of truth and nonviolence, tried to forge an amicable Hindu-Muslim relationship, and provided a blueprint of economic development which was different from the Western paradigm of industrialization and modernization.

Gandhi stopped Hindus from further dividing into caste factions and brought together people of all religions under the larger umbrella of Congress. If for a change, we sit and think on a neutral ground, What if the government (Congress party) had not created hype around his personality by celebrating his birthday, death day or renaming roads in his name, he might have been a forgotten figure in history.

Late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri also shares his birthday with Gandhi, but hardly anyone remembers him or prayer meetings are called for him on the scale Gandhi Jayanti is celebrated. Gandhi seems to have bewitched pro-government academicians which are evident from tomes written by them or perhaps they were asked to create such kind of history which could turn him into a Mahatama, as history is also word of might. From Currency to Parliament to court houses to Police Station to Government offices, Gandhi’s picture is everywhere. It has been argued that history is word of might and ideals are made by the government to make people behave in herd manner and guide them to voting booths.

The famous ideals of truth and non-violence were adopted from Buddhism and Jainism, opposed to the fact that they are commonly attributed to him. He called Dalits as Harijan and created new idea of reform within Hinduism and claimed to provide them dignity through it, on which Ambedkar raised objection, later on he was forced to take his demands back by Gandhi through the use of Fast unto death. Tagore too questioned his non-cooperation movement and Charkha cult as self interest and an attempt to isolate India from world. Tagore never forgave him for keeping a generation away from education to prove his point against the British.

Gandhi hardly questioned the abuse of native Indian Zamindars with which the Indian landless workers and peasants were suffering. Swami Sahajanand, Bihar’s foremost peasant leader, writes in his memoir that Gandhi turned his gaze away from the exploitative ways of zamindars. He supported the ideals of nonviolence and went on to the extreme that even death is appreciable if you die supporting your point, without getting into violence or harming other person, leaving aside the controversies on his experiment with truth.

Despite all the allegations on Gandhi, what makes him relevant today are the same ideals he is criticized upon! He imagined and wished peace for mankind and has emerged as an international Indian hero, who emphasized on importance of pious means for achieving an end. Not only Indian National Congress but the ruling BJP despite RSS and support for Nathuram Godse’s ideology has accepted him as an ideal. Last year Gandhi Jayanti was declared as day for Swachta Abhiyan by PM Modi.

The question that arises is that the flag bearers of Gandhism really believe in the ideals he suggested or are they just manipulating his name to further their selfish purpose? In 2002 when riots broke out in Gujarat, the Sabarmati Ashram closed its doors. Late Asghar Ali Engineer wrote that Sabarmati Ashram should have been the principal sanctuary for victims fleeing the murderous marauders.

We have witnessed the rise of Anna Hazare, the so-called Gandhian and his rise to power where he played a pivotal role in overthrowing the Congress government in centre and Delhi State. He too used the means of Satyagraha and peaceful means to protest against corruption charges on previous government. Was he really following the Gandhian ideals or was playing hand in glove with opposition parties? Where has he vanished? Why is he not raising the voice against the atrocities committed on farmers, Dalits and minorities?

Similarly, Rahul Gandhi, who wears Khadi like Gandhi and speaks at length on his Gandhian ideals, leaves no stone unturned to prove his leanings towards Hindutva by proclaiming himself as Janeudhari Pandit or ParshuRam Vanshaj.  For the sake of ideology, if we go by it then Gandhi stood for Vasudhev Kutumbkam and imagined a Ramrajya where Sarva Dharma Sambhava philosophy shall prevail.

In Gandhi’s sacred country people are murdered on rumors and government/opposition remain silent. Women are raped and girls are attacked on roads and nobody reacts. Peasants and working class is suffering at the hands of bourgeoisie. People are not allowed to enter the religious places because of their caste. Value of human life and dignity has reached to the level zero. Importance of means has lost its meaning and every wrong is celebrated to achieve the ends. On his birth anniversary, shouldn’t we pause and ask the question to us and to our representatives is that what you have learned from Gandhi? Has Gandhi now reduced to a symbol only or was he just a symbol which was used to create mass hysteria and to crush the real issues and ideals of India?

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