Friday, August 9, 2013

Let us not wait for the Mahatma's return, but practice his precepts

Randeep Wadehra

It is neither his birth nor death anniversary, but one feels impelled to invoke Mahatma Gandhi in the context of today’s political happenings. During India’s struggle for independence, there were many political stalwarts, who had contributed to India’s progress towards freedom. Gandhiji was not only the tallest among them but also unique in his approach towards promoting the cause of India’s independence. He never became a member of any political party – not even of the Indian National Congress, which today claims exclusive rights to his legacy. He never aspired for any political office nor craved for material paybacks in any form. He went from one part of the subcontinent to the other with just one purpose – to bring about emotional integration that was so essential for having a united India, post-Independence. He identified with the masses in a manner that no other political leader in India or elsewhere could ever match. No wonder, his mere act of going on a fast would galvanize the entire nation, transcending regional, religious and class divides and send alarm bells ringing in the highest echelons of the British Raj. 

Another striking aspect of Gandhiji’s applied politics was that he never followed the masses but commanded their obedience by dint of sheer moral force. He never succumbed to populism, nor did he appeal to the base instincts of lesser political activists. He blazed a unique trail in the political field by creating an entirely new template for political activism. Today, it has become fashionable to deride the Mahatma for his fasting and pacifism. But fasting was not a tool of blackmail as is being made out by his detractors today. If you look at his five-day fasting after the Chauri Chaura incident, you will realize that he did it as penance because he felt responsible for the violence. He was convinced that his leadership was not strong enough to keep the movement peaceful. Therefore, fasting became an act of self-purification that strengthened his moral fiber as well as his resolve to continue with his pursuit of India’s independence within the larger framework of uprightness, dignity and justice for all. He gave the masses a vision of united India where everybody would live in peace and with self-respect. His Ram Rajya was more a political ideal than a religious shibboleth. In those days, when untouchability was rampant, he dared to break the social taboo. He took on the conservative core of the Hindu society and did what was considered unthinkable in those times. There were other acts too, which irked even his most committed followers. But he never hesitated in practicing them if he was convinced that these promoted common good.  

When India became independent, he was not even present in the national capital where lesser politicians were congregating in their unstated quest for the fishes and loaves of political office. His selfless service to the nation elevated Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from being a mere masterful political strategist to the lofty status of the Mahatma, who had ensured that neither he nor any member of his family ever enjoyed the fruits of political power. He set a benchmark that is yet to be touched by any other politician or social-political activist. The inheritors of his legacy were not his children or grandchildren but the people of India. And how have we, the people of India, guarded and nurtured this legacy?

Familism and nepotism dominate throughout the country. Invariably it is the son or the daughter who succeeds the parent to a political office. Consequently, we have dynasties at the centre as well as the various states. Things have come to such a pass that a politician can dare proclaim to the media, “hum sarkar hain” and there is no sense of outrage even among those sections of the polity who consider themselves more evolved than the commoners. The effete elite of India remain as spineless as ever. They had acquiesced in the propagation of the Raj and now they do the same in perverting Gandhiji’s legacy. As for the political class, let us look at some of its members.

When chips are down even a young and “progressive” leader like Akhilesh Singh Yadav, UP’s present chief minister, becomes chip of the old block. He had raised hopes of a better governed Uttar Pradesh. Young and educated, he was supposedly exposed to the liberal democratic ethos during his stay in Australia. Moreover, he is said to be an environment engineer by qualification and training. A person with such curriculum vitae would normally be expected to back Durga Shakti Nagpal’s action against the sand mafia. Instead, he did the exact opposite. Such thoughtless actions turn chaos into something far more sinister, eventually. We have witnessed how the liquor mafia, epitomized by the slain Ponty Chaddha, had become potent enough to steer all administrative decisions relating to liquor trade in his favor, irrespective of whether it was Mulayam or Mayawati in power. Now, since other mafias too have political godfathers, one can imagine the sort of governance operating in the blighted state of Uttar Pradesh. However, what is true of Uttar Pradesh is also true of other states in the country – without exception. 

Once a politician becomes a prisoner of vested interests, he ceases to be a leader of any consequence, and becomes a timeserver who dares not take any independent initiative relating to even quotidian administrative affairs let alone formulating a comprehensive governance related policy.  Even those politicians who emerge from humble backgrounds, like Mayawati and Lalu Prasad Yadav, succumb to the “hum sarkar hain” syndrome; the trappings of power trap them in the vortex of corruption, crime, and cynical vote bank politics. Arrogance becomes the salient feature of their dealings with the hapless common man – a sure sign of decay in the political ecosystem. Further, it also indicates a huge leadership vacuum in our political space. Consequently, we have petty deal makers as our political leaders, who garner votes in exchange for populist sops. Little do they realize that every such act is weakening the country’s democratic ethos. The contempt that today’s neta is displaying for the common voter is going to return and haunt him and uproot him from his cozy perch atop the heap. 

Great souls like Mahatma Gandhi are once-in-a-millennium phenomenon. It is time for us to revisit his precepts and practices and arrive at a solution to stem the rot.

Published in The Financial World dated 09 August 2013


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