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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Getting 'Gandhi' off our backs!

Samanvaya Freedom Lecture last evening witnessed a brief moment of ugliness. I am not sure whether this is getting to be common and accepted these days. During the interaction session an elderly man came up to the dias and claimed that 'Gandhi did not get us Independence, it was Hitler who got it for us', and went on to call Gandhiji names and finally ended with, 'its time we got Gandhi off our backs'. One could see that he was sincere in his belief of what he was saying, if there are many such, we are really in a sorry condition. Though I briefly responded to this person at the platform itself, realized that this could be a problem much larger.

Such intense Gandhi bashing is a great way of retaining him 'on our backs' and perhaps bashing is a political and social compulsion to some groups and organizations because of their orientation and policies.

There are sophisticated variations of the same feeling, 'humanizing gandhi', 'criticing Gandhi', etc. which may have scholarly needs, but, when combined with the mass marketing hype and mindless media spread only highlight the easily excitable parts and leave and broadcast them widely. One recalls what happened to the attempts of Rajmohan Gandhi in writing his voluminous Gandhi book where just that one instance of Sarala Devi excited the mass media.

Then there is the quick content fix for the mass media, I witnessed recently two different mass media displays / presentations on Gandhi both of which did not have anything more than what our 8th standard text book says on him. With about a 100 publications in his name every year, it seems pitiable that the visual media that chockes our public spaces increasingly cannot dig up more information that that.

But, is 'getting Gandhi off our back really a problem of the people of this country?', I think know. Gandhi has become a benchmark and occupies our popular idiom far too much for us to get rid of him that easily. He is used in day to day to connote anything to do with truth and peace. In Chennai, 'gandhi kanakku' or 'account it on Gandhi' is rather popular saying for any money that is not to be returned. I don't know what is the history of this term, but, it is normally connoted with giving for charity or public good! Similarly, 'don't sound like you are a Gandhi' is a popular say among students that means 'be pretentious of truthfulness', 'in this land of gandhi...' is used as  a social commentary by everyone from supreme court judge to news paper columnist and increasingly bloggers, recently the ex-CM of Karnataka surprised everyone by stating on the floor of the state assembly that in the current political environment it would be difficult for 'Gandhi to survive...'!

Gandhi is only a popular term today for a set of values that are of higher order. As long as there is a memory of Gandhi and a natural aspiration towards these higher values, I think we will continue to invoke him in our discourse. Truth and Non-Violence have not yet become too alien to the Indian public, they still aspire for it and there is a constant urge to find the truth and protests are still stage in non-violent manner in various parts apart from constructive non-violence being practised by the majority who rarely make it to the popular media. Getting rid of him should only affect those who either burden themselves with his persona too much or who have migrated too far from the life of the majority and seek to build their lives around values that are contrary to the majority, perhaps then the strong contra becomes unbearable.

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