Not for nothing was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi called the “Mahatma” in his own lifetime.
Not for nothing was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi called the “Mahatma” in his own lifetime. The accomplishments of Himalayan proportions of this frail Indian born almost 150 years ago remain self-evident to every Indian, except those whose mindspace is corroded by the narrowest social or religious ideas.
This is why the exalted appellation sticks for Gandhi in a very natural way even today and is embraced by India’s young of every class, religion and region. Therefore, it would not have mattered if the government had overlooked holding celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Mahatma’s birth (that falls next year).
Civil society and India’s people, as individuals, would have found their own way to celebrate the life and memory of this extraordinary soul who gave us a humanising and liberating vision of life. Unfortunately, on Tuesday, the government began a year of celebrations in the most distorted and wooden way imaginable.
The Prime Minister penned his thoughts on the Mahatma and the ruling BJP attacked the Congress, the main Opposition party, for falsely claiming Gandhi’s mantle. The apparent reason is that a prominent Congress leader, Shashi Tharoor, has criticised the recent speech of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the United Nations on the ground that this criticism gives succour to Pakistan. On its part, the Congress is indulging in shallow symbolism by holding a meeting of the Congress Working Committee at Gandhi’s ashram at Wardha, near Nagpur.
Ruminating on social life in India, Gandhi said at various times that he saw ending untouchability as the mission of his life. No one worked harder, and with greater courage and dedication, than him to ensure Harijans (Gandhiji’s word for dalits) and Muslims enjoyed the same animus-free social equality in India as other Indians.
The Mahatma opposed the Partition. After the Great Divide emerged, he spoke of himself as belonging to both India and Pakistan. When he was shot dead by a crazed Hindu fanatic who owed allegiance — as is well documented — to the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, both of which tried to create an atmosphere of hatred for Gandhi, India and the world were in the deepest mourning.
The man had given hope to peasants and workers, Hindu and Muslim, caste Hindu and dalit, women and men. Between 1909, when he wrote Hind Swaraj, to 1931, when he moved the resolution at the Karachi Congress which suggested a welfare society if not a fully socialist outlook, he had travelled a long path toward self-realisation and in understanding his people.
Instead of political bickering and propaganda blitzes, as a country we can still launch an inner struggle for genuine communal peace and equal social opportunities for dalits and the tribal people, who are still the poorest of our poor.