By Ankita Ghosh:
I came across a news report covering a recent exhibition of rare and unreleased photographs unveiled by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and that got me thinking. Is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi worthy of a tribute and more importantly should there be a second opinion about it? Why do we pass judgments/ridicule our freedom fighters or why do we measure them up against each other?
So let’s talk Gandhi. There’s a lot of uninformed opinion for and against him, with a significant body of Indians criticizing and defaming the Mahatma. Men and women – may they rest in peace – who made an independent India possible, took it from an unthinkable idea to a corrugated reality, were really only men, and women. Shaped by the raging times, driven by the desperate need of the hour they were inimitably courageous and fiercely patriotic, but no more than mortal men and women. These were individuals who were corrupt and corruptible but, just as much as they were cognizant and corrigible. These were everyday people like you and I, doing everyday things, only under unacceptable circumstances of complete subjugation within the walls of their very own home.
They say that a movement can only be born in near-exploding crisis; that we cry out in pain and anger only when we’re beaten. It was certainly not easy for them to have been living in the times of sudden and belligerent urgency. They had to make the kind of choices that would build an India or disintegrate it, like a house of cards, before them and they had no way to know how. Tough calls had to be taken and extreme prices paid, insomuch as India’s arrival in the world stage was delayed by a century.
Mahatma Gandhi, who later became the undisputed Father of the Nation, started out as an advocate for equal rights of the governed peoples of Asia and Africa. On the advice of his political mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a young Gandhi made an extensive tour scaling the length and breadth of the country to orient himself with the plight of his people before he joined the Freedom Movement. Gandhi later went on to devise a plan-of-action for the postulates of one of the oldest human civilizations through Satyagraha, gave India her top-drawer identity as a non-violent nation, and helped brand the country in the West. When Gandhi walked, he basically got hundreds and thousands of hitherto uncommitted people walk the mainstream Congress led Indian Freedom Struggle.
Of course Gandhi was flawed. In the Haripura session of the Congress he pitted Pattabhi Sitaramayiya against his political rival Subhash Chandra Bose, and himself admitted that he’d taken it out personally on Bose. Popular criticism of his sanction of the execution of Bhagat Singh, when he could actually save the man, his mad hunger for power that delayed transfer of power are all pretty much known. Some posts on social media pitting him as a womanizer, masquerading as an old man of pure intent, are also commonplace and in very poor taste, it has to be said.
When Tagore called him Mahatma, India needed a leader of that veritable meaning and not a wooden idol that we could put up on a pedestal to worship and later dissect with the vengeance of ungrateful disciples. We needed someone like Gandhi. The influence he had on India’s moral choices was given to him by half a billion of exploited, divided, leaderless and frightened skeptics. The man had the power to direct people to change a country’s destiny and he probably manipulated his way through it, as all men with a sea of possibilities would. Had it not been him, it’d have been someone else, and the country would’ve had simply another story to tell but to make one man responsible for the fate of millions is nothing short of suspecting the might of the millions.
Bapuji was right at times and wrong at others just as my dad is. Don’t we, as ordinary people look for someone to blame our stars on? Isn’t it time to stop making Gods out of men and women and look at them for what they really were?