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  Opinion   Columnists  31 May 2024  Shobhaa De | An open letter to Bapu… as the countdown begins

Shobhaa De | An open letter to Bapu… as the countdown begins

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. You can reach her at: @ShobhaaDe(Instagram) and @DeShobhaa(Twitter).
Published : Jun 1, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jun 1, 2024, 12:05 am IST

Despite contemporary challenges and critiques, Gandhi's principles and influence remain unshakable in the hearts of 1.4 billion Indians

Mahatma Gandhi. (AA File Image)
 Mahatma Gandhi. (AA File Image)

Dear Bapu:


Worry not.

We have not forgotten you and never will. You are alive and well in the hearts of 1.4 billion grateful Indians… because, frankly dude, you never died! So… who cares what a few inconsequential, insecure, unrealistic people think of you, your life, your sacrifices, your wisdom, your dedication, your commitment to the nation? Because, hello… Had you not done what you did, we wouldn’t be here yakking away about your relevance. Dekho na… such an irony! It was your vision and dream to free your people from the yoke of ugly colonisation, and it’s these very people who are asking meaningless questions about you. Batao unko… your position is unshakeable, not just in India’s history, but the world’s. Let them hold their breaths and count votes. Let them behave like votes are no better than tokris of stale, rancid chana-sing. The country’s verdict will be known in a few days. Whichever way it goes, the people of India will have spoken. And, as in the past, the verdict will be respected.

Let’s do a throwback to your own life… how brutally you were assassinated for pushing a political solution that didn’t suit the agenda of a certain organisation. Godse’s bullet didn’t just kill you. It killed the right to differ. It killed dialogue. India went into deep shock. It takes more than seven decades to deal with such a trauma. India was forced to confront violence and hate once again. The dream of a nation celebrating newly-minted freedom with an open, broad-minded, progressive and pro-humanity ideology was crushed. But not entirely! Even though this “defiance” enraged a group of ambitious people, delusional enough to believe they, and they alone, knew “what’s good for India’’. They were, and are, hopelessly wrong.

Every citizen in a democracy enjoys the same right to decide what’s good for the nation - it is to reject hate and divisiveness. To keep the faith and recognise you, dear Bapu, as the true Father of the Nation.  That’s what your legacy represents.  Patriots are patriots. They can’t be categorised by religion.

Haters will hate, Bapu.

It’s nothing but wishful thinking to recast your image. “They” hate the power you have over the country. They resent the love and respect showered on you. They detest you for teaching fellow Indians to place freedom above all else. Hey Ram!!! They exclaim. This man is sowing dangerous thoughts! Denigrate and demote him before it’s too late. This hold over the imagination of billions can’t be manufactured by paid agents who suppress the truth. Aha… your experiments with it (truth) weren’t too successful, were they? So many genuine admirers (throw me into the mix) found those experiments bizarre, unkind, selfish and kinky. Your own family suffered due to your obstinate adherence to weird practices. Your glaring personal flaws are still being harshly dissected! On a kinder note, you also had many emotional demons to slay. It’s easy for detractors to point fingers and defile your reputation. But hey, mainly thanks to you, a jubilant nation woke up to heady, dizzying freedom at midnight. The biggest irony? That very freedom is being blatantly abused today.

If the election results go as predicted, rest assured, your face will disappear from our currency notes. Not that you care. 

Political analysts also predict our great Constitution may get rewritten. What would you have done at this sensitive stage in India’s life? In today’s duniya, it’s unlikely people will respond to clarion calls urging them to join another Dandi March. Had you been around in such an environment, would you also have succumbed and joined the unstable social media bandwagon? Become an “influencer” on Instagram? Hired teams (no, not Prashant Kishor) to manage your X account? Hired even bigger teams to pull others down, tarnish reputations, persecute rivals, jail disruptors, indulge in extreme dramabaazi on a daily basis? Come on, Bapu… you were a pretty shrewd strategist. You knew which buttons to press and when. Your self-awareness was on another level! Imagine the spike in your Insta numbers and the millions of “likes” back in your glory hour when you were “papped” in 1946, walking in London clad in a loincloth! What a masterstroke! Iconic and powerful… a branding triumph like no other.

It's kinda silly and immature to suggest nobody heard of the Mahatma till Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in 1982. Go ahead and laugh, Bapu. Attenborough’s Gandhi was a commercial success precisely because it capitalised on global hero worship of a larger-than-life figure: You!

Attenborough cleverly leveraged your fan base to make a film on your incredible life. That he cast Ben Kingsley to play you can be forgiven! Let’s just thank the late Sir Richard for perpetuating your name. Who knows? The next generation of desi students may be told you never existed. And that Attenborough had created a fictional character called “Gandhi”. By then, all your statues will be removed and your name deleted from textbooks. But the funny thing is, kuch bhi karo, you dear Bapu, with your toothless smile, and skeletal frame, remain an icon.

Chalo… Let’s see how the cookie or dhokla crumbles on June 4. Let’s see if Tarantino or Scorcese will be attracted enough to immortalise our Great Leader soon. Commissioned biographical movies or books with controlled scripts have never succeeded. Editing one’s own life as per a given agenda is a tricky, worthless exercise. But megalomania is an addictive condition without known boundaries. Today’s Indian, armed with a smartphone, isn’t easily fooled by propaganda and false promises. The recent “nobody knows Mahatma Gandhi” bakwas has backfired badly. It’s not just about wearing pettiness on the sleeve, or being peevish. The problem is far larger. There’s a word for it: brainwashing. Making Bapu “gayab” isn’t all that easy… but, good try, guys!

Bapuji… India is on the brink of a major shift. We need you.

Our immediate and distant future will be determined on June 4. At the moment, we’re busy playing Blind Man’s Bluff. I’m thinking of emulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and going away to meditate under a statue, as the numbers roll in.  Non-violence was the dharma you lived by, preached. Maun vrat was another brilliant tactic. Soon, India’s fate will be decided. I am keeping a few garlands on standby. I have chosen your statue to meditate under as the countdown begins.  I’m fervently praying it won’t be the last time that I see you looming over the public square, where you have stood for 50-plus years. May your imposing statue remain exactly where it stands today, for the next fifty….

Tags: 2024 lok sabha elections, mahatama gandhi, indian democracy