Millennium Post

Who was the real Mahatma?

There is a point in the hyper-reactive accusation and intolerance of any view other than held by the super active supporters of the ongoing movement against corruption that draws its strength and energy from everyday research and undercover work leading to accusations of sample corruption against the high and mighty and the people related to them, much of which may be true, but then it dissipatedly thrives more on the perception of corruption in the minds of common men and on the generated hatred for them as a result than on the foundation of any actual trial and punishment taking place in a court of law, or at least on the basis of any tangible proof. The harbingers of such good movements, often eulogised by enthusiastic part-time columnists who often compare them with none other than the father of the nation himself, will soon be available in many versions of the Bapu.

A Gandhi with political ambition, a Gandhi quoting hapless characters from the Mahabharata to draw almost libelous, ludicrous parallels of important people who respectably matter in modern day India, a Gandhi vociferous and fiery, a Gandhi less intellectual and less spiritual, and of course a Gandhi much less committed than the description of the life of Gandhi in a Class V history text book.

Headlines get hit, quotable quotes get manufactured and some prominence is gained by people on both sides – people eulogised and people eulogising.

As a Gandhi fan deals with his confusion of the purported shower of euphemistic titles and sub-titles available in free distribution in our country these days, there comes a shocker, which again is linked to none other than the father of the nation himself. A news tells us that Mahatma Gandhi cannot be accorded the ‘ father of the nation’ title by the government as the Article 18(1) of our constitution does not permit any titles except educational and military ones. The saddening information that Bapu will always remain a mere euphemistic substitute for his name came via an RTI application filed by a Class VI student Aishwarya who is alleged to have been too patriotic in her zeal that she precariously grew intellectually matured enough to move the then President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to issue a notification declaring Mahatma Gandhi as ‘father of the nation’.

If this is to be believed, then shame on the millions of grown up, scholarly Bapu fan, and on the very many demagogues, pedagogues and good activist-avatars who draw crowds in his name and make nice points or whatever they are.

No other great man has been the recipient of the amount of accolades and criticism by intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals in his own country the way Mahatma Gandhi has received; he has been on a receiving spree of bouquets and brickbats by his fellow, wise countrymen over successive generations. Given his many versions coming out like the different avatars of Lord Vishnu in
, a time will come when an ordinary Indian or that typical aam-aadmi who is fighting corruption will confuse to acknowledge the real Bapu and would rather identify him with his versions, comparing his role with their big and small, memorable or forgettable contributions.

The eternal enigma which relates to the man who is euphemistically said to have driven the English out of the boundaries of the country with a long walking stick alone, and of course with his spiritually imbued intellectual approach to handling a difficult situation such as heading the country’s freedom movement to the point of culmination, will always remain unsolved. Was it his spirituality or legal acumen, leadership quality or intellectual caliber, simple living or high thinking or both, his ordinary loin cloth and half naked fakir body, or his excellent English that actually did the trick for him, and of course for the nation? A generation drives itself into a mass frenzy and follows him to the point of getting their skulls bashed, losing jobs and getting incarcerated in a dingy jail cell; the awe-struck empire gapes with eyes and mouth wide open at the charisma of one man and the phenomena of his mass following with non-violent zeal.

Result: freedom gained. Result: the phenomenon is yet to be understood. And we ask what did he actually do?

What is wrong with our people is that they have substituted that overdose of frenzy with an easygoing measure of drowse that exhilarates nerves when one is on the safe side of things feeling high.

An activist who wants to see a particular evil shunted out from the society wants to play it safe, like lighting fire on the extended thread of a dangerous fire cracker from a distance, that too with the help of a barge pole of 22 yards long. If a little sparkle comes zooming out at him, lo moves the pole in self-defence, hitting heads. The hyperbole here is for the recurrent counter-reactions that cross civility. Gandhi could be anybody, but intolerant of another’s point of view.

The latest Gandhi bashing in a scholarly way has come from Perry Anderson, a Marxist scholar and historian, who now had time to write about India after having written about the US, Russia, Brazil and China all his life. He tells us in his book, The Indian Ideology that the Indians are committing intellectual blunder by sentimentalising Gandhi, and that we may respect him if we must, but that is it. Never sentimentalise him, he advises.

His main scholarly accusation against Mahatma Gandhi is that Gandhi, without being aware, had kind of done great damage to the freedom movement by suffusing it with Hindu piety that probably led to the partition of the country. By Hindu piety we may infer Gandhi’s own brand of spiritualism which actually was a suffused mixture of committed but simple, religiously led public life, which was his political simplicity of secular version. Decades ago during a university debate on Mahatma Gandhi, my professor had explained to me this complex question of the problem of understanding the inseparable role of religion in politics, or of politics in religion for that matter, in the simplest possible language. He told me that whereas Gandhiji spiritualised politics, the versions of the same concoction available in the political market these days is a highly inflammable assortment of politicised religion. The Eastern philosophy says that when the pupil is ready, the master comes in.

The master came to the generation who was ready and when it was time; if the pupil now does not follow his teaching, the fault lies with him who is not ready yet for the challenges of his time. Given our understanding of Mahatma Gandhi, weeding out corruption from our society will take a hell lot more time, for sure.

Gurbir Singh works with the Information and Public Relations Department of Odisha. The views expressed are his own.
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