GANDHI’S LEGACY

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Shougat Das­gupta

Pe­ri­od­i­cally, usu­ally around Oc­to­ber 2, we ask our­selves if the ideas and ideals of Ma­hatma Gandhi re­main rel­e­vant to con­tem­po­rary In­dia. Is our coun­try one he would be proud to live in along­side us? Do we care? His grand­son, Ra­j­mo­han Gandhi (also the grand­son of C. Ra­jagopalachari), pur­ports to tell us why Gandhi still mat­ters—which is the ti­tle of his new book, mainly a col­lec­tion of eight lec­tures he de­liv­ered at Michi­gan State Univer­sity.

“From both sides of bit­ter di­vides,” writes the au­thor, a bi­og­ra­pher and aca­demic, “politi­cians con­tinue to in­voke Gandhi. Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi does so all the time even as op­po­nents charge Modi with driv­ing nails into Gandhi’s age-old cof­fin.” In­vok­ing Gandhi is, of course, all that our politi­cians do, when they wish to serve up pab­u­lum about com­pas­sion for the poor and down­trod­den.

Just last month, Modi in­voked Gandhi at a cel­e­bra­tion of the 100th an­niver­sary of the Cham­paran Satya­graha, of­fer­ing the Swachh Bharat ‘move­ment’ as a trib­ute to the man who once said san­i­ta­tion is more im­por­tant than po­lit­i­cal free­dom. The suc­cess of Swachh Bharat, Modi said, would be “the true trib­ute to Bapu”, as if cleanliness were the most es­sen­tial of Gandhi’s prin­ci­ples. Gandhi—Ra­j­mo­han, that is—re­minds us of some other prin­ci­ples, chief among which is re­sis­tance to bul­ly­ing. “[A] Hindu Rash­tra...,” Ra­j­mo­han writes, “would cer­tainly de­mol­ish a ma­jor pil­lar of Gandhi’s legacy.”

We have a “con­sti­tu­tional com­mit­ment”, Ra­machan­dra Guha said in a BBC in­ter­view some years ago, “to lin­guis­tic plu­ral­ism and di­ver­sity”. In these lec­tures, Ra­j­mo­han makes again his case that his grand­fa­ther’s “in­ten­tion with Hind Swaraj was less to ini­ti­ate a de­bate over moder­nity or tech­nol­ogy and more to ini­ti­ate a de­bate over Em­pire, vi­o­lence and satya­graha”. Surely the Ma­hatma’s dis­dain for dom­i­nance is why he still mat­ters, why he re­mains our na­tional lodestar.

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