It is Mahatma Gandhi’s 148th Birth Anniversary today. Let us not confine Mahatma Gandhi to cleanliness only. We need to think of his thoughts, philosophy and try to implement them. It is not easy but it is more relevant today than ever. Everyone will remember him today and pay tributes but they will forget him the next day. President Ram Nath Kovind will be visiting Porbandar where an apostle of peace was born.
Gandhi could influence highly intelligent people through his simplicity, action, and clarity of thoughts. He behaved equally with everyone. He never made difference between various kinds of people. He was the same Gandhi to everyone.
He was for social justice and against the oppressive caste system. In the struggle, under his leadership, huge number of Dalits participated. The womens’ participation was amazing. People from minority communities and backward castes, too, participated in big number. They all were on the roads demanding freedom. Gandhi brought various communities together and always gave importance to the working class.
BJP President Amit Shah in June referred to Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘chatur bania’. The reference was to Gandhi’s mercantile caste to which he was born. Surely, Mahatma Gandhi never liked someone referring to him on the basis of his caste. He was against the caste system. One example can make this point clear. In March 1922, Gandhi was arrested under sedition charges. The Magistrate asked him to identify himself by his caste or profession, as was the practice of that time. Gandhi did not identify himself as Bania. Gandhi replied he was a ‘farmer and weaver’.
Gandhi encouraged inter-caste marriages. He was of the opinion that India cannot move forward with caste system. He made a significant statement in Patna on April 24, 1947. He said that for some time he had ‘made it a rule... to be present or give his blessings’ only for a wedding between a Dalit and a non-Dalit. Such kind of decision was not easy then and not easy today. Gandhi said this nine months before Nathuram Godse assassinated him on January 30, 1948. Today we have become part of a global village and through its impact caste system has weakened though still, it exists. Dalits are brutally murdered and harassed even in ‘progressive’ states like Maharashtra, Gujarat. The decision of Mahatma to remain present or give blessings only for a wedding between Dalit and a non-Dalit was difficult even for Gandhi. But he did it because he sincerely believed in it. His life’s mission was that there should not be a difference between what you preach and what you do.
Mahatma Gandhi was concerned about the future of Congress even after Independence. He always wanted the leadership of Congress to remain in the hands of progressive young leaders. He was of the opinion that young leaders can understand the aspirations of the youngsters more effectively. After Independence in November 1947, Mahatma Gandhi suggested young Jayaprakash Narayan for Congress President. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel did not agree with Mahatma’s suggestion and opposed the name of JP Nehru and Patel won.
After Gandhi-Irwin pact in 1931, a journalist asked him whether he (Gandhi) would like to be the PM of the future government. Gandhi was clear even then and it can be seen in his response. He said, “No. It will be reserved for younger minds and stouter hearts.” His commitment was seen in his action even in 1929 when even though he was voted as a President of Congress he declined the role of that post. Instead, he proposed name of forty-year-old Jawaharlal Nehru. Ultimately, Nehru became the party President.
Those who say Gandhi wanted to disband Congress after Independence and turn it into a Lok Sevak Sangh refer to an article written by Gandhi which appeared in Harijan (February 2, 1948) after his assassination. He said in the article the Congress has outlived its use. But, in the same issue Gandhi said in a statement, “Indian National Congress,which is the oldest national political organization and which has after many battles fought her non-violent way to freedom cannot be allowed to die. It can only die with the nation.” This makes it clear that Gandhi wanted Congress to play a major role in Independent India.
Gandhi was above everything. He was a true human being and a global guru. He practised what he preached. Gandhi inspired Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousufzai and many others. His philosophy of non-violence, tolerance is universal and more relevant today in a world full of hatred and violence.