India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

In­tro­duc­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi at the re­cent di­as­pora event in Hous­ton, Texas, where Vaish­nava Jana To was sung in a med­ley with Amaz­ing Grace, a US Con­gress­man quoted Ma­hatma Gandhi and his def­i­ni­tion of democ­racy—‘some­thing that gives the weak the same chance as the strong.’ The in­vo­ca­tion of the Ma­hatma at the spec­ta­cle de­signed to fe­lic­i­tate the In­dian PM was sub­lim­i­nal—Gandhi was the among the first 20th cen­tury In­di­ans to be known out­side his coun­try.

Long be­fore the un­known Chi­nese cit­i­zen block­ing the path of a tank col­umn in Tianan­men Square, there was Mo­han­das Karam­c­hand Gandhi—the cos­mopoli­tan in­ter­na­tion­al­ist-turned­na­tive na­tion­al­ist, the ‘sedi­tious Mid­dleTem­ple lawyer now pos­ing as a half­naked fakir’, as Win­ston Churchill once sput­tered con­temp­tu­ously—stand­ing up to one of the world’s great­est im­pe­rial pow­ers. In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence in 1947 came largely through

Gandhi’s in­sis­tence on peace­ful, non­vi­o­lent ‘satya­graha’.

Lead­ers of glob­ally op­pressed peo­ples chose his path. From

Martin Luther King

Jr, one of the lead­ing lights of the US Civil Rights Move­ment in the 1960s, to Nel­son Man­dela who fought for the dis­man­tling of apartheid, the last great tool of in­sti­tu­tion­alised colo­nial op­pres­sion, in 1994, they all saw Gandhi as a role model.

His name and like­ness are ev­ery­where—from count­less busts, at least one road in ev­ery In­dian city and all In­dian ban­knotes—the Fa­ther of the Na­tion oc­cu­pies a sa­cred pedestal in our col­lec­tive con­scious­ness. Gandhi was a multi-faceted per­son­al­ity—cu­ri­ous, in­sight­ful, spar­tan, pos­sessed of enor­mous self-be­lief, one of the world’s great­est mass mo­bilis­ers and cer­tainly one of the great­est In­di­ans who has ever lived. His views on ev­ery­thing, from diet, com­mu­nal amity, ab­sti­nence, un­touch­a­bil­ity, clean­li­ness to the econ­omy, are well known. But what rel­e­vance do the views of a leader who lived over 70 years ago in an im­pov­er­ished, pre-in­dus­trial na­tion with a pop­u­la­tion of just over 300 mil­lion have in a ris­ing econ­omy with over 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple?

On his 150th birth an­niver­sary, our spe­cial is­sue, ‘Why the Ma­hatma Still Mat­ters’, cu­rated by Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor Kai Friese, at­tempts to an­swer this. Ten dis­tin­guished writ­ers put the Ma­hatma un­der the scan­ner to tell us why he in­deed mat­ters, per­haps more now than ever be­fore. If Bri­tish Labour MP Bhikhu Parekh ex­am­ines Gandhi’s legacy, his­to­rian Faisal Devji ex­ca­vates crit­i­cism of him in the light of mod­ern move­ments such as fem­i­nism, anti-casteism and racism. There is Ram Ba­hadur Rai ex­am­in­ing the Sangh Pari­var’s chang­ing at­ti­tudes and re­la­tion­ship with Gandhi and Apoor­vanand look­ing at the Hin­dutvist at­tempt to ap­pro­pri­ate him.

Art his­to­rian Jy­otin­dra Jain pre­sents the rise of Gandhi and the rise of na­tion­al­ism through vi­gnettes from his col­lec­tion of Gandhi-themed vin­tage print art. Venu Mad­hav Govindu of the IISc, Ben­galuru, dwells on why Gandhi’s ideas be­long not just to his time but to the ages, while Gandhi scholar Tridip Suhrud out­lines the ma­hatma’s im­por­tance as an ad­vo­cate for the poor and the dis­en­fran­chised. Carnegie Mel­lon pro­fes­sor Nico Slate sheds light on Gandhi the veg­e­tar­ian cam­paigner, as a pre­cur­sor of and model for mod­ern ‘eth­i­cal life­styles’, while jour­nal­ist Sopan Joshi elab­o­rates on the chal­lenges of writ­ing text­books on Gandhi for the school­child­ren of to­day. The Ma­hatma mat­ters in sev­eral ways. For, as his grand­son, the scholar Ra­j­mo­han Gandhi, says, ‘in our world’s post-truth phase where a Don­ald Trump grabs the head­lines, threat­ened mi­nori­ties re­ceive the rough end of the stick and threats to the planet are ig­nored, a Gandhi who has been dead for 70-plus years fre­quently pops up as a re­as­sur­ing sym­bol, the pro­truth de­fender of the rights of mi­nori­ties and of our planet, smil­ingly spin­ning his thread on a wheel.’

There are three el­e­ments of a great legacy—the good deeds the per­son has done, the char­ity peo­ple do in his name and the knowl­edge he leaves be­hind for oth­ers to ben­e­fit from. Mo­han­das Karam­c­hand Gandhi scores on all three counts.

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