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Mainstream, VOL LV No 8 New Delhi February 11, 2017

The Meaning of being Gandhi

Sunday 12 February 2017, by Sandeep Pandey

A controversy erupted recently when Narendra Modi’s photo appeared behind the charkha in a calendar of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission where people are used to seeing Mahatma Gandhi. Some Modi supporters are asking why there was no contro-versy when Modi used broom, also a symbol taken from Gandhi, for his Swachch Bharat campaign. After all, Gandhi spectacles appear on all Swachch Bharat publicity material.

Gandhi has no monopoly over either broom or charkha. Anybody has a right to get themselves photographed with either of these items. And if Narendra Modi has started considering Mahatma as his ideal what can be better than this? He also travelled in the train from which Gandhi was thrown out in South Africa and the famous Phoenix settlement when he visited South Africa last year. Narendra Modi’s mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsewek Sangh, does not have a very kind view of Gandhi and in fact their ideology is responsible for Gandhi’s assassination. If Narendra Modi has understood the importance of Gandhi and can help change the opinion of the RSS about Gandhi, it would indeed be a great thing.

The fact is that if there is one man with whom most people in the world associate India’s identity, it is Gandhi. There are probably more followers of Gautam Buddha but Buddhists and the world don’t view Gautam Buddha as being restricted to India alone. Gandhi has been a source of inspiration for struggles all over the world where the marginalised are fighting the powerful for their basic rights. Some environ-ment movements also draw their inspiration from Gandhi.

But Narendra Modi must understand that just by being photographed with broom and charkha he will not be able to make people start viewing him like Gandhi. Gandhi’s influence on people has been because of the values he represents. The values for which he lived all his life. In Gandhi’s ashrams cleanliness was keenly observed and all people used to clean toilets. People were supposed to wear khadi from the yarn that they spun on the charkha. The philosophy of Swaraj behind the use of the charkha was to use local material to produce items of daily need for people using technology which would provide jobs to people. The global experience has shown that the neoliberal economic policies that Narendra Modi is implementing have increased the gap between the rich and the poor. Gandhi gave importance to local material, Modi is attracted by foreign investment.

But broom and charkha are material items. Gandhi is not known for these items. He has a place in people’s heart because of the values of truth and non-violence that he espoused and the tool of satyagraha that he gave to the world. The path of truth is difficult and long. There is no scope for compromises or short-cuts to achieve success. There is no glamour in this path. One has to appear as s(he) is without resorting to exaggeration. One can’t hide one’s shortcomings.

Non-violence is the natural state for human beings. But human beings use violence to serve their vested interests. Probably every ruler has had to use violence to some degree. But one who believes in non-violence doesn’t terrorise people nor create an atmosphere of fear. S(he) doesn’t talk about war and weapons. Nobody is considered an enemy. The best way to eliminate an enemy is to make friends with her/him. Gandhi’s relationship with the British should be remembered. He did not consider any individual his enemy but resolutely fought the empire. This is why the British also had respect for him.

Gandhi was for Hindu-Muslim unity. But during Narendra Modi’s rule the distance between the two communities has widened. When the Right-wing activists carried out their attacks, the government by not restraining the miscreants extended its support to them. When the country achieved independence Gandhi was trying to douse the communal fire in Noakhali whereas during Narendra Modi’s government in Gujarat communal riots went on unrestrained for three days in 2002. Will Modi accept responsibility for this?

Narendra Modi says he has sacrificed his family life for his public life. But Gandhi showed how one can include family in public life. Even though his family members were opposed to some of his ways, he tried his best to take them along.

Every step of Gandhi was taken keeping in consideration the poor. The policies of the Narendra Modi Government are benefiting the rich more than the poor. In fact, the poor are increasingly feeling more insecure in his regime.

Without making the values espoused by Gandhi part of his life if Modi tries to superficially use Gandhi for enhancement of his image, it will not help. Gandhi had no ambition for political power. He ruled people’s hearts and still continues to do so. People show respect to a person in power only so long as s(he) is in power. Once the person leaves power people tend to forget her/him.

Whatever Gandhi did was part of his holistic view of life. As part of some management thinking we can’t adopt some of his things while leaving out the rest. If Modi wants to be seen as endorsing the philosophy of charkha, he can’t be helping his friend Ambani to set up a defence business venture. If leaders and workers of his party continue to bully people and make inappropriate comments unhindered, Modi can’t be viewed as a world leader.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He was elected to this post at the founding conference of the party at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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