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Gandhi’s Spectacles & Vision


Jun 1, 2004
Gandhi’s Spectacles & Vision “Let’s not put him on a pedestal”

So, it took a liquor baron, Vijay Mallya “noted for his flamboyant life style”, to rescue Mahatma Gandhi’s rimmed round glasses which, the Bapu of the nation claimed, “gave me the vision to free India”.

Mallya paid $1.8 million of his booze profits for the winning bid to save the nation’s honour at a New York auction for the round-rimmed spectacles, leather sandals, a pocket watch, a plate and a bowl, so that these national heritage items can be returned to India. One wonders what the father of the nation, with his khaddar-weaving charkha and preaching a simple and honest life of prohibition, would have thought of such a rescue mission by one living lavishly on a fortune made from liquor sales!

Or for that matter, how would the great Bapu have viewed the Indian scene through those glasses as it unfolded into the post independence decades ? What happened to his ideology of “ahimsa” (non violence) and simple and honest living in peace, harmony and love?

A leader writer comments, “We have put his ideas of non-violence and simple living, along with his personal belongings in museums, which some of us visit only on October 2.” (The Tribune)). And writes another, ““While New Delhi’s problem may be solved with the return of the auctioned items, it is difficult to understand the brouhaha over the possessions of a man who never cared much for them. The items will, most likely, become saintly relics used to deepen the cult of veneration for the man known as the Father of the Nation.” (The Times of India) The same leader concludes, “Some Gandhian policies clearly can’t work. He was against industry, for example, yet a billion Indians cannot be fed and clothed on agriculture alone. Let us not put Gandhi on a pedestal.”

So, not much appreciation here for the spectacle of the rescue of Bapu’s spectacles etc from an American auction! Is it possible that the realization is dawning on a vast majority of Indians that Bapu’s vision of the real world was flawed?

There is no denying that the fragile Mahatma was a towering figure in Indian politics in the first half of the 20th century venerated by the Indian masses. Once he discarded his western clothes – or any clothes for that matter, except for the barest minimum – he pursued his ambition single mindedly and regardless of the consequences. The British rulers faced a new type of nationwide challenge of passive resistance, not encountered before in the history of the empire. It may be argued that the original idea of using non-violence and non-cooperation against foreign rule came from Sikh ideology through the Namdhari movement of Baba Ram Singh. However, only someone like Gandhi, to whom the majority community related as one of their own, could have spread the movement nationwide.

Whilst Gandhi’s objective of liberating India was shared by other freedom movements, he showed no inclination to set up a united front which made use of the best talent available. He had no vision of the real needs of the sub-continent in the second half of the 20th century nor the challenges the country would face in the 21st century. With his vast following and strong desire to remain in the limelight, he was reluctant to bring in younger men and women more in touch with the real world, and who had clearer views about India’s real economic and political leadership needs. The Mahatma left a legacy of doom, division and much blood-shed in the decades to follow. In fact, he saw the creation of Pakistan and himself became a victim of violence. He became the father of a divided nation with insecure borders following the division of the sub-continent into Pakistan and Hindutva dominated Hindustan. India remained an underdeveloped country for many decades after independence until the industrial and trade policies were revised under more enlightened and practical lead associated with Dr Manmohan Singh.

The root causes for the division of the Indian sub-continent can be traced back to the Hindutva language and not so subtle introduction of Brahmanical Hinduism (behind which lay the Hindutva agenda) in the early days of the Indian National Congress. Muslim League, with own objective of an Islamic state, was the direct creation of such provocations with which Mahatma Gandhi and his predecessor, Gangadhar Tilak, were associated.

As for relegating the great Mahatma’s heritage to museums only, a recent pre-Lok Sabha election advertisement is an admission of the failure of Bapu Gandhi’s free India on many fronts. Quite pointedly it urges Indians to vote against, “chalta hai” attitude, short cuts in queues, cheating in exams, “kharcha pani” in offices, powerless inquiry commissions, powerful vote banks, religion in politics and politics in religion, illegal constructions, legal loopholes etc. In year 2009, this list gives some pointers to Bapu Gandhi’s real legacy.

Yet, one cannot but be thoroughly impressed by scholarly presentations on economic, social, political and constitutional issues in the Indian media. In-depth discourses on religious ideas, ideals and traditions by “kathakars” mesmerize huge audiences. However, back to work and it is business as usual! Hypocrisy in daily lives also seems to be part of Indian heritage.

Perhaps the father of the Indian nation should have worn different far-sighted spectacles which not only gave him the vision to free India, but also practical ideas relevant to post independence India.