“Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
These were Albert Einstein’s words for Mahatma Gandhi. Call it the great scientist’s clairvoyance, but he foresaw that one day Gandhi Ji would become the forgotten Mahatma in his land.
Now that we are celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary with the world (read: for the world), it’s also true that a few of us are obsessed with erasing his legacy. Talk about hypocrisy.
It’s not as if India is a new country. It’s a civilization with a 5000-year-old history. However, our modern history starts from the post-independence era, whose father is Mahatma Gandhi.
History holds that the honorific of “Father of the Nation” was given to Mahatma Gandhi first by Rabindra Nath Tagore. Rabindranath Tagore was the one who gave the title of Mahatma to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Mahatma means a soul that is supreme and pure. The year was 1915 and the date was 6th March. Rabindranath Tagore gave the name of Mahatma to the father of our nation. Later, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during his address on the Singapore Radio on 6 July 1944 addressed Gandhi as Mahatma and after that, on 28 April 1947, he was again referred with the title by Sarojini Naidu at a conference.
But this is all history. The present says something else.
Fast forward to today, the young generation doesn’t want to regard him as India’s father – a trend that gained momentum with the political ascendency of the RSS-controlled Sangh Parivar organisations, including the BJP.
So, when the United States President Donald Trump calls Prime Minister Narendra Modi the “Father of India”, disregarding that we already have one “father” – it shouldn’t come as a shocker as most of the Right win Youth don’t consider Gandhi Ji as the country’s father.
Remember how last month Amruta Fadnavis, wife of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, also called PM Modi the “father of the nation” while wishing him on his birthday?
We can bear with Donald Trump’s ignorance – for he isn’t and was never a part of India to understand the struggles and efforts that Mahatma Gandhi put in making India free from the British raj. And he must be living under a rock as he doesn’t know that India’s father’s statue is just 1.2 miles away from his White House residence.
But what about Indians? Are they forgetting history too?
As they say, “A prophet is respected everywhere except in his hometown”.
Jesus Christ was rejected in his hometown. And even Sai baba was denounced by the villagers of Shirdi as a madman. Similarly, for Indians Mahatma Gandhi may not be a hero. But for the rest of the world, there is no global brand bigger than him. No matter where you go in the world, Mahatma Gandhi is what defines India. He is the identity of India.
Let’s hark back to 5 December 1931, when Mahatma Gandhi was returning from the Second Round Table Conference in London and en route to visit Romain Rolland in Geneva. He stopped at Paris and got rapturous public reception.
And it was the same year when the Time magazine put him on its cover and named him “Man of the Year”.
So, when he reached Paris, hundreds of people mobbed the entrance of the Magic City Hall as they wanted to catch a glimpse of the bespectacled man – the Spiritual Messenger of India who became a renowned international icon after the 1930 Salt March.
Later, this man inspired many global leaders and continues to do so. Be it Martin Luther King who said that he owes his operational technique to Mahatma Gandhi or Steve Jobs who titled him as the Person of the Century – he left an indelible impression on the world as a whole.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Gandhi’s magnificent example of personal sacrifice and dedication in the face of oppression was one of his many legacies to our country and to the world. He showed us that it was necessary to brave imprisonment if truth and justice were to triumph over evil. The values of tolerance, mutual respect and unity for which he stood and acted had a profound influence on our liberation movement, and on my own thinking. They inspire us today in our efforts of reconciliation and nation-building.”
And the former President of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh once said, “I and others may be revolutionaries but we are disciples of Mahatma Gandhi, directly or indirectly, nothing more nothing less.”
Such is the aura of Mahatma Gandhi that the former US president Barack Obama had his photo on the wall of his Senate office.
Mahatma Gandhi has moved millions. And for the world, India means Gandhi. It’s evident with the fact that almost every Madame Tussauds museum has Mahatma Gandhi’s statue. In fact, his memorials can be found in virtually every part of the world.
From Spain’s Burgos to South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg, from the Roma Street Parkland in Brisbane and Parramatta in Sydney, Australia to Tavistock Square and Parliament Square in London – Gandhi can be seen everywhere.
And the fact that his statue stands tall opposite the Palace of Westminster, which houses the UK Parliament says a lot about the man. For he was one of the strongest opponents of the British government. But through his faith in peace, non-violence, and forgiveness, his legacy is now being celebrated even in the UK. And what a celebration it is!
Coming to the USA (a country he never visited), there are over two dozen statues of the Mahatma. Some of these memorials and statues include the ones in New York City’s Union Square Park, Atlanta’s Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.’s Massachusetts Avenue and California’s San Francisco. Besides, the country also has more than a dozen societies and associations related to Mahatma Gandhi.
In addition, around 250 stamps bearing Mahatma Gandhi’s image have been issued from 80 different countries across the world.
And in 2007, the United Nations declared 2 October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, as the International Day of Non-Violence. Imagine the power of the Gandhian Philosophy.
Nobody can replace a “Father”
Just like America will always be known by its founding fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, irrespective of presidents like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump changing the country’s dynamics, similarly India will be known by the founding fathers of the Indian republic: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, B. R. Ambedkar, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel.
These are the icons who have a permanent place in changing the history of India, and nothing can change that.
Remember that political personalities gain popularity for the work they do. It’s not a new phenomenon. Over 40 years back, we heard proclamations like “India is Indira. Indira is India.” Today, people of the same country hail Narendra Modi. He enjoys the admiration that Indira enjoyed over four decades ago.
But one must not forget that in the fleeting sands of politics, nothing is permanent.
Political leaders may come and go. Political parties may lose their sheen over time. But the leaders who steered independent India in the path of progress, can never and will never be replaced.
Mahatma Gandhi will remain Mahatma Gandhi even after 1000 years, no matter what.
Yes, he wasn’t the only leader who struggled for India’s freedom. Hundreds, if not thousands, of freedom fighters participated in the Indian Independence Movement that was spearheaded by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. But Mahatma Gandhi became the bulwark against the breakdown of the country – something that India needed the most at that time.
Just like a father, who nurtures his children, Mahatma Gandhi nurtured the people of his country in the pre-independence era – giving them the spiritual strength that they needed.
Just like a father plays a vital role in inculcating good values in his children, Mahatma Gandhi taught the values of forgiveness, fearlessness, and righteousness to us Indians.
And just like a father cares about his children’s well-being, without caring for his gains, Mahatma Gandhi too sacrificed the power to rule the nation after independence, even though several other leaders from the Indian Independence Movement gained important political positions in the Indian republic.
The popularity of a simple man who changed the world with his message and acts of peace and non-violence is inspiring as it is. Forgetting his sacrifices to the point of discrediting him as the nation’s father is morally obtuse.
Now as the world has geared up to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, India should first focus on giving him the respect he deserves. For the world, he may be a 20th-century prophet and an apostle of peace. For India, he is all this and much more. But first, he is the country’s “father”. And let’s not change that.