From a dignified lawyer to a non-violent force against the British colonisation of India, Mahatma Gandhi has reflected a zeal that the country needed for its independence. The freedom that we breathe in today is the result of the perseverance of Bapu, and history will keep reiterating the stories of his greatness, his strength and his ideology. For his excellent approach towards diplomacy and the non-violent struggle against the British, he is known all across the world as a symbol of peace. Even a famous spanish series like Money Heist take him as an example, when they tell the thieves to act opposite to Gandhi (“Don’t try to be Gandhi!”) Mahatma Gandhi is not just a name, he is the embodiment of Indian culture and most importantly, humanitarian values.
But in the 151st year of his birth, it is time to look at global politics and think, can there be a Mahatma in 2020? Or is there someone who is trying the best to be like one in the public glare? All the qualities that Mahatma Gandhi harboured in his years of educational practice and in political movements of India are exemplary. He was honest, truthful, punctual, above his needs and desires, wore dhoti made from the cotton threads he himself spun on the wheel, and kept the needs of the nation above his. Trying to associate his name with that of Gandhi, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented the ‘Bhagavad Gita, According to Gandhi’ on his 151st birthday. From ‘Make in India’ to ‘Mann Ki Baat’, the Prime Minister has often used the mediums used by the Mahatma to reach out to the people of India and promote the Indian culture. But, can following the similar ways be enough to be acknowledged by the world as a Mahatma? Probably, not.
Gandhi dreamt of a country where social distinctions were morphed and the age-old caste system rooted in the society in the name of religion, were abolished. His ideas were of making India a global and spiritual leader, but not before the upliftment of those who live on the fringes of the society. The values of justice, non-violence and satyagraha are a culture of resistance and humanity in India, because of the implementations by Mahatma Gandhi. His idea was to make policies that cater to the last person in the line of society and also advocated social equality in the country. He believed that the country came first, before any personal gain or faith. But today, Indian politics is largely about the promotion of personal propaganda, shrouded in the veil of nationalism. These anti-democratic ideas are resonated in the speeches of India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi who tries hard to associate himself with the image of Gandhi, but his approach varies greatly.
While Gandhi advocated the rights of every citizen of the country, recently the TIME Magazine has called out the selective politics of Modi and said that he rules as if no other community exists in secular India. The India of Gandhi’s dreams is not the one we are witnessing in 2020, as caste-based violence is on the rise, women are not safe on the streets, communal riots are being instigated by the leading politicians, unemployment and price rise in the market is making the poor, poorer, the farmers are protesting against anti-farmer bills, the opposition is being gagged and the secular structure of the democracy and freedom of speech and expression is in grave danger under the Modi regime. This is not the India envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, 73 years after independence. To him, the rule of the land was basic humanity, respect, and brotherhood, but in the race of asserting cultural dominance of the majority population, India is losing out on its core values established by the great Mahatma.
His 151st birthday must be a reminder of what we were to be and what we have become, a day to cherish the struggles of a common man and understand that if you have faith in your ideas, great establishments will bow down to you, just like the British did to the Mahatma. Simply following someone’s path will never make you great, but your deeds will. And the firm belief in your ideas comes with education, knowledge, and respect for humanity, that most political leaders in India lack. Today, PM Narendra Modi tries to establish a legacy as that of Gandhi but he forgets that his politics has no place for rationality and education as Gandhi had. Gandhi promoted equality on humanitarian values, respected science and knowledge with his own education as a barrister, and set an example with his own life, before expecting others to do something. In true sense, Gandhi was a social scientist who analysed people and talked of their welfare. But Modi only knows how to build his image. From giving false speeches to allotting tasks like banging utensils to the countrymen during a deadly pandemic, Modi has tried his best to reach out to the people in all the useless ways. The real way to make your place in the hearts of people and in the pages of history is only by good deeds, as done by Mahatma Gandhi and several great people all around the world. Be it Einstein or Edison, they all are considered to be great for their contribution to society, for bringing a change in the world with their ideas and for making everyone’s lives better. They are the Mahatmas in actual sense, but what about a far-right political leader with no actual qualification or understanding of even the basic principles of the Indian constitution? Such a man will only believe in theatrics, advocate one religion and spread hate against others for his vote bank politics but it can only take him a little distance.
The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind remembered Mahatma Gandhi by saying, “On the occasion of the 151st anniversary of our Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, I pay homage to him on behalf of our grateful nation. His life story empowers and strengthens the weaker sections of the society. His message of truth, non-violence and love paves the way for the welfare of the world by bringing about harmony and equality in the society. His values were as relevant yesterday as are today and will remain so in the future.” He also added that Bapu’s teachings are the core values of the Narendra Modi government. But the practical implications suggest otherwise.
The manifestation of this value is not at all visible in the Modi government today. The whole nation is a boiling pot with rage where the students are protesting over anti-constitutional laws, farmers are protesting over an assault of their livelihood, youth is protesting over no jobs in the country, and migrant labourers are walking hundreds of kilometres to reach home amidst a pandemic. The Gandhian values of democracy, inclusivity and humanity before politics would have never enabled this autocratic government in India. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “I think of the poor of India every time that I draw a thread on the wheel [of ‘charkha’/ spinning wheel].” This is a testament to the social class he wished to promote and always think of, before policymaking.
Today, India, and the world at large, stands at a place where capitalism has taken over the socialist ideals of Gandhi. Every war that Gandhi fought against racism, casteism, communalism, derogatory speeches, lack of humanity, all are the reality of 2020, while the political leaders are failing at following the Gandhian principles and only want to showcase themselves as great Mahatmas. All you need is education, knowledge, awareness, humanity and the desire to work for the welfare of mankind, be it through science or art, and you can be a Mahatma too, in your sense. This is now time to take Gandhi out of his symbolic representation of truth and non-violence and imbibe his principles in our practices to re-establish social justice and faith in humanity, so that one can be a Mahatma in 2020, with its real essence and not in a mimicry.