So what does Gandhi mean to the world, to India and specially to us, who are born in India and brought up to almost worship him. We tagged him with the prefix ‘Mahatma’ with has mythic and religious symbolism.
And there lies the problem. We have such a wonderful way to consign a life to a figure to be worshipped on the mantle piece and thereby distancing ourselves from him . No longer do we feel the pangs of guilt of not being able to imbibe values of another human being simply because, after all, he/she are no longer human beings but Gods to be worshipped, aren’t they ?
After all, just think of the massive corrupt deals being made in rooms and offices where a huge picture of Gandhiji hangs from the wall.
I have struggled a lot to distance myself from the word Mahatma. Not easy when the greatest heroes in my eductaion system were Bapuji and Chacha Nehru. I have got over Chacha Nehru as I have grown up. Recognizing the incongruity of Panchsheel and Bandung Conference by studying the dictatorial lives of his comrades like Sukarno of Indonesia and Nasser of Egypt. And wondered on what basis Nehru chose his non – aligned friends.
The more I learn about the Partition of India, the more I realize that Chacha Nehru too, was as complicit in that horrendous event as was Jinnah. It was after all, the battle to be the first Prime Minister of India that laid the tragedy of partition at the feet of personal ambition. The huge public sector projects that ultimately were doomed to be hot beds of inefficiency and corruption. The tragedy of the War with China that Chacha Nehru refused to face up to, despite repeated warnings form his military chiefs. Refusing to believe that his charisma and diplomatic skills were not enough to prevent China from dealing a devastating blow to India’s ill equipped armed forces at the cost of thousand of lives. Of soldiers sent directly to battle to a terrain and weather that would need months of training to exist in.
So many soldiers just froze to death in their bunkers.
Yet Chacha Nehru did have vision. And used the force of his personality to get his way. He did see India in its modern traditions long before anyone else did. He did foresee the need for education and formed the IIT’s that gave rise to the beginnings of pride in being Indian in the modern world and made the world suddenly wake up to modern India. India and the world saw Nehru as India, and India as Nehru.
The problem was Chacha Nehru too, saw Nehru as India and India as Nehru. Something his daughter inherited to devastating effect.
It has been less easy for me to drop the mantle of hero worshipping Gandhiji. Yes there are stories of him sleeping naked with his nieces. Stories I think are exaggerations. Yes he was a mule of man. Obstinate to a fault. Like all men like him, including Nelson Mandela, who’s obstinacy destroyed their immediate family.
Yet it was this obstinacy that that brought the British down to their knees. Of course the British were wounded and limping after the war and could no longer hold on to a huge colony like India if it rebelled. But Gandhi used yet unknown tools of political warfare to ferment one of the most famous freedom struggles in the world.
It is said that no one understood the roots of India more than Gandhi. That’s absolutely true. But no one understood the roots of the great British Empire and world politics more than Gandhi. I will never forget the picture of Gandhi entering the British Parliament in his white Dhoti in a sea of black suits and very British dresses. Being applauded by the very people he was causing Indians to rebel against.
Gandhi has the sharpest political mind of the modern history because he understood the value of myth. He created a mythology that was Gandhi in the world of politics that was mysterious, unfathomable and unshakable. In his own lifetime. That in itself was amazing.
To Indians he created a figure that came right out of the roots of India’s culture. The worship of sacrifice. Of ‘Tyag’. He became the epitome of ‘Tyag’, the giving up of all worldly addictions, material or personal. Whether he deliberately created himself into that myth, or he deeply believed in those values will always be a mystery. Thats what Myths are.
Yes. Gandhi was once a bit of a Anglophile. You can tell by the way he dressed before he gave up Western clothes. He aspired to be at the bar at London. You can tell by the way he wrote his letters, even signing himself off as ‘your sincere friend’ to Hitler! I will never work out why he did that.
Yes there is a really amazing picture of a very young Gandhi, proudly posing in the clothes of a British soldier as he serves in the British army in the medical corps during the Boer War. Yes, it is possible that the Gandhi the world knows was born of a personal feeling of insult and humiliation by the British in South Africa, that ultimately led to a wider national and international perspective. But that’s the story of all great revolutionaries and freedom fighters.
But try as hard as I can I cannot easily shake of Gandhiji as one the greatest human beings that lived in the 20th century. And a man (not the picture on the mantlepiece) that needs to be studied, understood and learnt from. His perspective and knowledge on India economics are now abundantly clear to us from the mistakes we have made in the last 65 years. Gandhiji always insisted that true India lived in its villages and that economic prosperity and wealth should grow from grass roots by encouraging enterprise and innovation in those grass roots levels.
And today as India struggles to come to terms with its vast inequalities and the world writes reams of books on ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and economic planners struggle with how to encompass 700 million people into the new economic order, it will be well worth today, the day of Gandiji’s birth, or Gandhiji Jayanti, to stand up and say :
Gandhiji warned us so.