Our nation’s beloved Bapu is in the news again, thanks to Joseph Lelyveld's controversial book about him and Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption in a true Gandhian style. While the latter refers to Satyagraha and non-violence, the former raises some questions about Bapu’s personal life and alludes to some of his controversial views.
Since two-thirds of our country’s population is under 35 years and hence the future of our country, it merits discussion to understand what the Gen Y, as they are popularly called, thinks about the Mahatma? Or perhaps, do they even bother to think about the man who led our country to freedom?
For the Gen Y, the name ‘Gandhi’ is more associated with Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi than Mahatma Gandhi. Not because the third ‘Gandhi’ is not great but, because the first two are more relevant to this age. Most of the young people must have heard about Mahatma Gandhi through their grandparents or read about him in History books. But, t
he major recall value is likely to come thanks to the Bollywood blockbuster, ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’.
It is safe to assume that almost everybody in India would be aware of Mahatma Gandhi. And, many would not know much about him except for the fact that he was a great freedom fighter who believed in non-violence. What was his value system, what were his principles, what were his other achievements etc would not be known to many. If this seems like an exaggeration, one can watch any youth based reality show to understand the level of general awareness of many of our urban teenagers or people in their early twenties. If many from amongst the urban youth, who have access to the best of education, are not fully aware of Indian history, then one can imagine the levels of awareness of the urban poor or rural youth.
It is the duty of the senior members of our society, especially the politicians to ensure that the future generations know about the great contributions of our freedom fighters and other leaders. So, what do they do to ensure this? Ban a book that talks about some controversial issues related to Mahatma Gandhi? Is this the right thing to do?
First, by banning the book, the politicians have curbed the very freedom of speech or expression that Bapu himself propagated. Second, they have increased the probability of people reading the book. How many people in India would have read yet another book about Gandhiji when hundreds of other books have low levels of readership? By banning the book, the politicians have provided free publicity to the book. Moreover, even if one does not read the book, everybody who reads news would read about those very controversial issues that the politicians wanted to hide. In an effort to score brownie points, the politicians have done more disservice to Bapu than Joseph Lelyveld’s book could have possibly done.
Now that certain controversial issues have come to the fore, it is worth discussing them. First, there are some references to his personal life. Irrespective of whether they are true or not, it is nobody’s business. What matters is what Bapu did for our country and what his teachings were.
Second, there are some discussions about him being a racist, more so from the critics of the book. There are only two possibilities. Either they are true, or false. If false, then there is no issue. But if true then one should praise Bapu even more for having overcome his regressive ideas as is evident by his later life. To err is human and if Gandhiji did something like this in his early life, then it is no great sin. In the times that he lived in, to have such racist ideas is no surprise. Plus, a youth is a reflection of his society. It is only when one matures that one realizes the true self. If Gandhiji overcame this trait of his, then it is even more commendable.
Veteran social activist Anna Hazare is doing some great service to Gandhiji at a time when his integrity is being questioned by some. He is spreading word about non-violence and Satyagraha as propagated by Gandhiji. The same great service was done by the movie Lage Raho Munnabhai. This is what matters to Gen Y and this is what they remember about him. This generation, unlike their predecessors, believes in ‘live and let live’. What Gandhiji did in his personal life is of no concern to them and rightly so.
There is a history in everybody’s life but the purpose of history is to learn from it to help us guide through perilous times. Gandhiji has been labelled as the ‘father of our nation’ for much bigger reasons than what he did in his personal life. This is precisely what the Gen Y should learn from.
Gandhiji had once said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Thus, what the generations that shall lead our country in future think about Gandhiji, is very crucial.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)