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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 41

Measuring the Colossus

Friday 5 October 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The Republic of India is now thirtyeight years old. It has weathered many a storm and has come to be recognised as a functioning democracy. The tremendous interest of the voter to exercise his right to vote is taken as proof of the enduring quality of our democracy. From this phenomenon, our Prime Minister seems to have drawn the conclusion that an unlettered electorate has a wider vision, a broader outlook. According to him, literacy, “does more to narrow the vision than it does to widen it”, as he told a Harvard audience last fall.

The prime ministerial profundities apart, the heightened political consciousness of the Indian voter is not because of his being denied the opportunity to be literate, but the gift of political awakening that Gandhi and Nehru left behind as their legacy to this nation. The key-point in Gandhiji’s leadership of the freedom struggle was his confidence and ability to infuse into the common humanity of this far-flung country the sense of fearlessness, the realisation of the massive strength that lay in the unity of this great nation, a unity that could overthrow the foreign rule. Let it not be forgotten that our independence did not come through engineering a revolt of the armed forces, but by awakening the consciousness of our people. Gandhi was the great communicator.

As his successor, Nehru carried forward the same tradition of his master. Tirelessly communicating to the people of India on all issues, national and international, that faced this country. His constant peregrinations throughout the length and breadth of the country were not for mere collecting of votes at the hustings. He communicated to them to awaken them to the need of building a strong, self-reliant nation, to instill into them a scientific outlook, to abjure obscurantism and enrich our old civilisation with the benefits of a modern, rational perspective.

Those great communicators are gone and today there is hardly any communication worth the name between the rulers and the ruled. Hence, the democracy that was set up by the labours of the Constituent Assembly four decades ago, has become debilitated. Our democracy is under siege today assailed from all sides. The monster of communalism the is again raising its head. The propagation of the communal divide strikes at the very root of our democratic tradition and the edifice of democratic functioning. The direct offensive of secessionists has turned a corner of our country into a battle-ground of terrorism and police violence and this is spreading to other areas as well. Caste divisions instead of being obliterated have been sharpened in these forty years. The mass awakening in different regions instead of adhering to the principle of brotherly co-existence is manifesting itself in a distorted form in which rancour and acrimony take precedence over fostering of shared experience and shared benefits. The development process of these forty years has brought about a dehumanising disparity between the impoverished and the affluent. The rich have become richer without the poor getting their share of the national wealth. Politics, as a result, has been polluted with corruption, corroding public life at all levels. The nation is facing today a crisis in its value system.

In this context, one finds significant indicators of the mood of the nation. The overflowing homage spontaneously paid by this nation to the memory of Badshah Khan on his passing away this week is the measure of its unshakable attachment to the legacy of Gandhi. Badshah Khan’s life is one long saga of indomitable courage, which he acquired as the true follower of Gandhi. Like a rock he stood. Independence did not bring him freedom. Thrown to the wolves, as he himself said, with bitter sorrow at the partitioning of our great country, Badshah Khan continued his struggle relentlessly against the military dictators of Pakistan, who defiled his fair land of noble Pakhtoons. His life itself bears testimony to the might and grandeur of Gandhiji’s teaching.

Our perceives today, all over the country, men and women in different walks of life seriously thinking about the state of the nation, about the collapse of values, about the degeneration of politics—“a fen of stagnant waters”. Even wider questions about the future of humanity and our responsibility as the legatee of a rich and continuing civilisation are finding their way into the thought process of the serious sections of our intelligentsia. The signs of an impending intellectual ferment are discernible. And, History enjoins that every great revolutionary upheaval has been preceded by tremendous intellectual upsurge.

It is in this context, one senses an urge for rethinking on Gandhi and his teachings. The radical Left in our national spectrum, while acknowledging Gandhi’s undisputed political leadership, did not pay in the past any serious attention to his totality of thinking, his moral exhortation; in a sense, they ignored Gandhi’s ideological baggage, which was picked up by the pious do-gooders, who abjuring the dynamics of Gandhi’s thought and action, his basic commitment to arouse the unlettered, underprivileged millions, reduced Gandhism into one more sect with its dogmas, mantras and commandments. Today, one notices refreshingly in the Left a groping towards Gandhi, an earnest revaluation of the essence of his work.

As the Republic faces the future with trepidation, as turbulence besieges it from all sides, it has to throw up new leaders, new pathfinders, who can take it to that haven of freedom and prosperity, which indeed it deserves in full measure. Not a copycat Gandhi, not just the surname, but men and women of the heroic mould of Gandhi—that is what this great nation needs today at this critical juncture.

(Mainstream January 26, 1988)

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