“Dear Gandhiji, I (would) like to apologise to you…we have failed you. Violence is all I see when I open my eyes…,” reads a letter written to Mahatma Gandhi by a student of the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, as part of a contest hosted by the University to mark Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. This student is not alone in wailing over the tragic events unfolding in India. Seventy-two years after Gandhi-led struggle made India a free nation, the country is struggling to come together as Indians.
The ground reality exposes a nation probably as divided as it was during the partition. The country is in the throes of deteriorating distrust between communities. The poison of communalism is seeping deeper. We need Gandhi -- who walked barefoot, village after village, in Naokhali district of then East Bengal in the hostile atmosphere created by riots -- to make people take a pledge not to lynch others. His ideology of nationalism is being replaced with sectarian ideologies like Hindu nationalism or cultural nationalism. Fanaticism of Nathuram Godse is finding more acceptance than the inclusive ideology of Gandhiji. What more proof one needs than the election of a person who eulogized Godse to the Parliament?
Gandhi was a staunch Hindu. But his Hinduism was not the Hindutva being propagated by the Sangh Parivar. In his religion, there was enough space for other religions. He believed that his religion cannot be the religion of the rest of the Indians. At a time when the concept of ‘one-nation-one-religion-one-language….’ formula is indirectly pushed forward, Gandhi’s relevance is indisputable. His Vaikom Satyagraha in Kerala was meant to ensure the entry of Dalits into the Shiva temple which was barred for them. We are in an era where many worshipping places are still not opened for all. Dalits face social boycott and untouchability against which Gandhi spent his whole life.
Gandhi’s life should continue to light many lamps. The foremost quality he brought forward was courage; it was his courage that helped him not to succumb to a mighty foreign power. Things are on the reverse gear now. People are made to live in fear of ‘desi’ authorities, something Gandhi would have condemned with the contempt it deserves. He believed in ‘purpose-over-personalities’ mantra as the moving spirit behind freedom movement. Ironically, it has been reversed to make ‘personalities-over-purpose’ to suit the power-hungry leaders. We swear by democracy, but what people experience on the ground is nothing but soft dictatorship.
Gandhi never wanted his house to be walled in on all sides and the windows to be stuffed. He believed in listening to diverse opinions and respecting opposite views. But the contrary is happening with walls closed and opinions suppressed. In ode to Gandhi, Albert Einstein said: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” His words are coming true in his own country where people are relegating him to the backburner. This dangerous trend is more visible now with apparent efforts to bring others in the reckoning as the father of the nation. But, for the world Gandhi is still an inspiring leader.(Published on 07th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 41)