As far as US is con­cerned, Gandhi is above and be­yond pol­i­tics of In­dia

Delhi Leans On Bapu Amid Ques­tions About J&K, Mi­nori­ties

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Global - Chi­danand.Ra­jghatta

Wash­ing­ton: Ma­hatma Gandhi never vis­ited Amer­ica, but no coun­try out­side In­dia arguably has more Gandhi stat­ues, busts, and memo­ri­als than the US, where he in­flu­enced gen­er­a­tions of politi­cians, pub­lic fig­ures and even busi­ness­men — from Henry Ford to Mar­tin Luther King Jr to Barack Obama.

Few had put US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on this list, but at a re­cent event the Demo­cratic leader dis­closed how her tryst with the Ma­hatma be­gan when she was a lit­tle girl in a Catholic school when she was up­braided by a teacher who snark­ily asked, “Who do you think you are? Ma­hatma Gandhi?” be­cause she was not ap­pro­pri­ately dressed.

“I had no idea who Ma­hatma Gandhi was, so I went to the li­brary… and in the 1950s they had books on Ma­hatma Gandhi for chil­dren… and so be­cause of what that nun said, I be­gan wor­ship­ping at the shrine of Ma­hatma Gandhi,” Pelosi re­called, adding that she car­ried her in­sa­tiable ap­petite for learn­ing more about Gandhi into col­lege, where she pretty much cleaned out all the books on Gandhi from the li­brary. The story did not end there. One day a young woman who was her class­mate came up to her and said, “I see that you have taken out all the books on Gandhi. My fa­ther is the Pak­istani am­bas­sador to the US. I want you to take out the books on Jin­nah.” Ex­cept, Pelosi said, there wasn’t much; only two.

On Wed­nes­day, the for­mi­da­ble trea­sury of Gand­hi­ana in the US will get an­other boost when Pelosi joins In­dia’s ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter S Jais­hankar to open an ex­hi­bi­tion on the Ma­hatma on his150th birth an­niver­sary at the Li­brary of Con­gress, a sto­ried in­sti­tu­tion born 69 years be­fore Gandhi.

From a hand­writ­ten draft of his es­say “A Com­mon Plat­form” ar­gu­ing against un­touch­a­bil­ity and seg­re­ga­tion, to Mar­tin Luther King Jr’s ac­count in Ebony mag­a­zine of his visit to In­dia in 1959 when he re­peat­edly in­voked the in­flu­ence of Gandhi, cu­ra­tors have laid out ex­hibits wor­thy of the last word in ar­chives and the world’s largest li­brary.

It couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time, given that In­dia has come un­der scru­tiny from crit­ics for its pur­ported heavy­hand­ed­ness in the Kash­mir Val­ley, a sub­ject that will come up at a Con­gres­sional hear­ing on Oc­to­ber 22. Crit­ics of In­dia’s ap­proach are gear­ing up to high­light New Delhi’s vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and cur­tail­ment of civil lib­er­ties, even as Jais­hankar has re­peat­edly pointed out that the is­sue is con­fined to only a few places in Kash­mir Val­ley and nor­malcy has been re­stored in most parts of the re­gion.

While Wash­ing­ton’s for­eign pol­icy com­mu­nity has largely ac­cepted In­dia’s po­si­tion, crit­ics re­main. In fact, a New York Times op-ed by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Oc­to­ber 2 led to much heart­burn among many who ar­gued that it was an in­op­por­tune mo­ment to pub­lish such a piece given the events in Kash­mir and the ide­o­log­i­cal in­con­gru­ence be­tween the Ma­hatma and the In­dian right wing that op­posed many of his views. “The most strik­ing thing about this ‘trib­ute’ to Gandhi is what it is silent about: what the Ma­hatma lived for and died for, namely, Hindu-Mus­lim har­mony,” noted Ra­machan­dra Guha, a his­to­rian who has a writ­ten a re­cent bi­og­ra­phy of the Ma­hatma.

But as far as Amer­ica is con­cerned, Gandhi is above and be­yond the pol­i­tics of In­dia. The man who made Time mag­a­zine cover three times and who would have con­sid­ered the LoC (Line of Con­trol) ir­rel­e­vant, is be­ing hon­oured in the most sto­ried ar­chive in the world, the more rel­e­vant LoC — Li­brary of Con­gress.

Getty Im­ages/iStockphot­o

A statue of Ma­hatma Gandhi at Sabar­mathi Ashram, Ahmed­abad

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