We have grown up revering our Mahatma from our childhood. Generations have grown up under the spiritual umbrella of this saintly figure. We learned to cherish Gandhiji above all other leaders known to us. A spiritual maverick to his contemporaries, an enduring enigma to political pundits and an eye-sore to shallow communalists and political pragmatists, he remains an unmatched landmark in the authentic art of ‘making the impossible possible’.
Yet revering a national and epochal icon need not mean that we understand the Father of our nation. Reverence sans understanding is like building mansions on sandy foundations. If and when the winds shake it, it is likely to collapse. Such a prospect stares us in the face today as never before. Hence the need to re-visit the Gandhiji landscape in our shared psyche. The need of the hour is not to revere the Mahatma habitually, but to understand him and his vision for India.
Icons like Bapuji are a rarity on planet earth. You can count them on your finger-tips: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela; but who else? Undoubtedly Gandhiji stands towering above this immortal few.
I remember one telling example of how the world views Gandhiji. When I went to attend an international conference in the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg a few years ago, I saw posters lining the corridors with the picture of Gandhiji on them. Curious, I scanned the posters and realized that they were announcing the launch of a book on Johannesburg, subtitled The Birthplace of Satyagraha. No doubt, they take pride in their association with Gandhiji. The city of Pietermaritzburg where Gandhi was ejected from a first-class train in 1893, likewise, hosts a commemorative statue of Gandhi. It was unveiled during the 2003 Cricket World Cup by the Indian team led by Saurav Ganguly.
The United Kingdom issued a series of stamps commemorating the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi. In the UK, there are several prominent statues of Gandhi, most notably two in London: one in Tavistock Square near University College London where he studied law and another in Parliament Square. 30thJanuary is commemorated there as the "National Gandhi Remembrance Day." What a change of heart for a country that ruled us for more than a century!
In the US, there are statues of Gandhi in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and several other cities. Gandhi statues dot prominent locations in almost all the major countries of the world, which is an incredible honour.
There have been approximately 250 stamps issued bearing Gandhi's image from 80 different countries worldwide. There are at least a hundred monuments commemorating Gandhiji in different countries of the world. Thus Gandhiji symbolizes soul-force to the whole world even to this day. We too have MG Roads in almost every city/town and numerous Gandhi statues too.
But do we still value our Mahatma?
This year marks the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma. Apart from some formal mention here and there, it is obvious that the celebration is low-key. There appears to be a deliberate move to stymie the importance of the father of the nation. If that is true, it is a grievous mistake. It is not only a disservice to the nation, but also the height of ingratitude. No nation can forget the pangs of its birth, much less the ones who nursed it out of the deep recesses of slavery and poverty. It is filial ingratitude, to say the least.
Is Gandhiji only a serendipitous phenomenon, or is he worth much more? The fact of the matter is that we do not seek to understand the significance and uniqueness of this great soul. He is more than a freedom fighter. He is not even a revolutionary in the classical sense. He has not been a rabble-rouser or a great orator. In fact he doesn’t fit into any of our familiar stereotypes. He is Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela combined. He has had the mass appeal of the American heroes and the long saga of suffering of the African icon.
Gandhiji therefore is not a political iconoclast or a charismatic leader. He has been beyond and above all these. His strength was in his absolute commitment to truth and purity of purpose. He understood truth as a divine force, a meeting point of the divine and the human, time and eternity. Non-violence was not just a creed or dogma for him, it was a saintly vision based on his belief that when truth is your armour, there is nothing to fear. Satyagraha literally means holding on to truth. The triumph of truth was his main article of faith; but he did not believe in the supernatural triumph of truth. He believed that truth triumphs through human action in which clarity, courage and accountability to God were essential ingredients. Such a course of action demanded extreme patience. At a time when truth is manufactured on the assembly-lines of political expediency, we find it increasingly difficult to believe that Gandhiji is still the father of this nation.
Gandhiji lived a selfless life on the sheer strength of ‘character and soul force’. He was assassinated because he could not be tamed. His frail physique carried a tremendous will-power and moral conviction that stood up against the might of the British Empire. His voice could be stilled, but his silence has become more eloquent than his voice. His life still remains his message, a life of simplicity clothed in truth and non-violence. His life and testimony have become part of the history of our species. His voice is heeded with respect by the world. Bapu’s legacy lives on; and, as Nehru said in Bapuji’s funeral speech, this light will continue to illumine our life till the end of history.
(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi Email: email@example.com)
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