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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 44 New Delhi October 19, 2019

Should Jewar International Airport be named after Gandhi?

Sunday 20 October 2019

by Prem Singh

Yesterday (October 1, 2019) I had the opportunity to share a car ride with Virendra Kumar Barnwal who is the author of Hind Swaraj: Nav-Sabhyata Vimarsh. We both were en route to the South Campus of Delhi University where he was invited to address the audience on the topic ‘Gandhi and Literature’. On the way the discussion inter-alia turned towards the Jewar International Airport. Barnwalji proposed the renaming of the airport after the Mahatma to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary. He urged me to try something towards this. I am in no position to do anything in such matters. Therefore, I am putting this proposal in the public domain for further discussion and for intellectual solicitations.

Since the time of the proposal of the Rajnath Singh Government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh in 2001, this international airport has been embroiled in dispute. According to the proposal, there was a plan to develop the two runways in the first phase and then four runways in the later phase. As of now, the only airport which boasts of having eight runways in the world is in Chicago, USA. There are only five-six runway airports in the world, of which four are in the US. The fifth one is in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. At the time of the initial proposal for Jewar International Airport, the infrastructure construction company, GMR Group, had objected to the proposal saying that there could not be a second international airport within 150 km of the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) which has three runways. The company argued that it is not advisable for traffic as well as for revenue purposes. Objections were also raised citing certain environmental issues. In 2012, the Akhilesh Yadav Government of the Samajwadi Party (SP) rejected the proposal to build an international airport at Jewar and instead an action was initiated to build the same at Agra. The BJP Government, formed in 2014 at the Centre, decided to build the airport on 2200 acres of land in Jewar itself. The acquisition of farmers’ land for this huge project was completed hastily. The project will be constructed under the Public-Private Partner-ship (PPP) model.

International and national airports around the world, including India, are primarily known as sites for sale of world-famous liquor and other luxury consumer goods, besides flights. The way the ruling class of India has gone berserk with conspicuous consumption which almost invariably includes everything grand and luxurious, it will not let any stone unturned in making this airport a biggest market for alcohol and consumer goods. Gandhi considered alcohol as a contaminator of both body and soul. He, in his life and thoughts, had advocated village-self rule (gram-swaraj) and accordingly a simple and economical life. He did not travel in airplanes. Therefore some people may say that it would not be appropriate to name such a place after Gandhi. Their spirit is right in its place. But they should come out of the emotions and see that this is a period of high boom of the governmental Gandhism (sarakari gandhivad). The governmental Gandhism has entered an unprecedented new phase under the RSS/BJP rule. The priestly Gandhism (mathi gandhvad) seems to be lagging behind governmental Gandhism. The heretic Gandhism (kujat gandhivad) is not in a position to challenge this phenomenon decisively. (These three types of Gandhisms are articulated by Dr Rammanohar Lohia, who used to consider himself as a heretic Gandhian.)

In such a situation, governmental Gandhism has to flourish. The goal of governmental Gandhism is to make Gandhi a part of the ongoing consumerist-capitalist system so that even the victims of this system should accept that Gandhi is a man of the ruling class, not of them. Naming the Jewar International Airport after Gandhi will speed up that goal. Further, it will become an effective and permanent means of selling Gandhi at international forums.

If the ruling class wants to name this airport after Gandhi, it can present it to the world as a window into his philosophy, struggle and, at the same time, simplicity. It can be developed to such an airport in the world where people should be introduced to the entire contribution of Gandhi instead of alcohol and consumer goods. A well-thought-out plan can be delineated for this novel venture. Although this enterprise of the ruling class will come under the purview of governmental Gandhism, it would hardly think in this direction!

The author, a former Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, teaches Hindi in the University of Delhi.

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