Gandhian ideals seem to have been overshadowed in modern times when they can still steer not just India but the world out of chaos
One could look at celebrations of an icon in two ways. The first, literally to remember his significance in our lives and follow the tokenism of saluting that in an exalted moment of nostalgic pride, then getting on with free time a national holiday guarantees. The second is about measuring ourselves up to our past heritage and coming to terms with what we have forgotten and renewing our intended pledge to live up to it. Either way, Gandhi Jayanti these days has been reduced to nothing but a value education class whose students are eagerly waiting for the period bell. Fact is, the “father of the nation” is but another moniker for smart sells, one that now even has derivatives like “father of the country,” a me-too reflection of our only global brand in the contemporary world with politicians and thinkers across the world deifying him. His ideals and schemes are selectively chosen and quoted to suit individual goals and ambition. But as a national conscience and our spiritual core, Gandhi has long been forgotten. If anything, we are happy to confine him in the role of a spiritualist, whose quotes we read and mouth, but seldom have the will or good intention to live with. In fact, the idea of India as it exists today is an antithesis of his vision. One may disagree with his politics, which again needs to be seen in the complex context and predicaments of his time and his attempt at reconciling extremes. And since he wasn’t able to heal hatred, it lurks as a ghost in our DNA. But to outrightly confine him to that periscope in the reordered history of our times is not just myopic but evasive. For Gandhi was a practicalist, not a halo. One who had a scientific temper, which he blended with the tradition he knew. One who was a realist and knew India needed its own template, simply because we have a civilisational strength to do that. What are the United Nations (UN) millennial goals if not Gandhian — sustainable growth, resource mobilisation, clean and environment-friendly development and social equity? Most important, his pilot projects showed that it was all possible by anybody. He always wanted to demystify himself, mindful about coming down to the level of the common man and elevating the latter in the process. If anything, we keep on mythologising him, for it absolves us of all responsibility of assuming charge.
Democracy, he said, “necessarily means a conflict of will and ideas, involving sometimes a war to the knife between different ideas.” That binary doesn’t exist anymore, the spirit of inquiry subjugated to a majoritarian will. “Freedom of a nation cannot be won by solitary acts of heroism though they may be of the true type, never by heroism so called.” Heroism today is about imposed iconisation and muscular triumphalism in public life. And, of course, amid the noise of the “one India” narrative, everybody has forgotten Gandhiji’s definition of nationalism as it should be: “My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all-embracing and I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or exploitation of other nationalities.” So while we pursue our Swachh Bharat goals, follow the tenets of yoga and reinvent khadi, we need to reorient our thinking to his karma yoga, one that is the essence of the Bhagwad Gita. His non-violence was never passive but revolutionary, one that birthed many mass movements and was the precursor of all the candlelight vigils and protest rallies; he knew no weapons or suppression would work against the strongest tool: People. It would be a mistake to consider Gandhi as anti-industry or anti-technology. In fact, he was against industrial systems that harmed the environment and entrenched a classist social order and would actually have gone very well with the cleaner and flat-planing digital technologies of today. He advocated economically viability and encouraged local production and consumption, much before “Make in India” became a slogan. His rural empowerment was not about dole but encouraged farmers to think like any other producer of goods and engage in direct selling through cooperatives. He encouraged the use of farm waste as manure and emphasised food security. Agriculture, to him, was agri-business, enough to be the bedrock for local self-development and devolution of power to the panchayats. Be it micro-finance or self-help groups, it was Gandhi who planted the seeds. And he codified the dignity of labour, doing every chore himself. His idea of purna swaraj or true freedom was that of inclusive growth that was only possible when you had freedom from hunger, unemployment, fear and hatred. Ideals become heartless idols when we just put a face to them. Let us practise what we preach unthinkingly on this day.
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 | Pioneer
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