The people of India must not fail themselves

I realise we need to turn Gandhiji’s tactics upon ourselves to defeat our own autocrats and dictators, the violence and hate that has taken us over

The people of India must not fail themselves

Sujata Anandan

As I write this on Gandhi Jayanti, I recall my visit to the museum at Checkpoint Charlie soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I had earlier been to museums at Buchenwald and Aushwitz which had been converted as such from Nazi concentration camps, preserving in all their dank,  depressing  ugliness the gas chambers, the bunks, the tin cups and plates of the inmates, the bloodied bandages and, of course, the torture chambers with white-tiled platforms that still had dried blood between the grouts which brought on goosebumps and ran shivers down your back.

Checkpoint Charlie was no different, bar the torture and gas chambers - it had the clothing, other personal effects, photographs and identities (printed on one wall) of the hundreds of people who had tried and either failed or succeeded to cross over from East Germany to West. But what really surprised -  and charmed – me was one whole room in the centre of the museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. The Nazi concentration camps had been turned into museums in all their horror-filled artifacts so that succeeding generations would not forget the evil that men could be capable of. Checkpoint Charlie had Gandhi so that the world may remember what can be accomplished without evil, with goodness and non-violence. 

If I remember correctly, it also had one or two letters that Gandhiji had written to the world leaders of his time and huge photographs on each wall of his Dandi March, his visit to Buckingham Palace (that required real courage – to be dressed in just a loin cloth while the king and his courtiers were in full regalia), pictures of him from his ashrams, spinning a wheel, walking by the river side, marching up the steps of the Viceroy Palace – things that all Indians would be familiar with. One wall, though, apart from the pictures, had a statement from Albert Einstein on Mahatma Gandhi in huge lettering  – ‘generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked this earth’. The phraseology gave me goose bumps as the potency of that came home to me.

When I asked the curator of the museum why Gandhiji should have such pride of place in a house commemorating the breakdown of communism, he looked at me rather pityingly but said quite gently, “Are you not Indian? Do you not know that Gandhi brought down a mighty empire and there is no better means to defeat empires, imperialist or dictatorial, than his means of non-violence and peaceful resistance? His tactics have been used against such regimes all over the world, including the former East Germany, and they are bringing down autocrats like nine pins every day.”

Duly snubbed, I said no more. But today, I realise we need to turn Gandhiji’s tactics upon ourselves to defeat our own autocrats and dictators, the violence and hate that has taken us over, the dark side of Indians that has been brought out by the current regime.

The curator had also pointed me to another of Einstein’s statements -  that things like non-violence and people’s marches, in a violent and dictatorial world, might seem like useless tools that are never effective or work too slowly. But, in reality, on the ground, there is nothing that works quite as swiftly and effectively.

I do not know how many of this generation of Indians know anything about Mahatma Gandhi, the father of their own nation. But more than seventy  years after his assassination by a member of an organisation that is spreading hate across the country, today not just Rahul Gandhi or the Congress but people across the nation, who may not necessarily be Gandhians or even supporters of the Congress, are falling back on his “tactics” as Martin Luther King had put it ('Christ gave us the direction but Gandhi gave us the tactics') and setting off on marches across the country.

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, of course, is garnering tremendous support now even in the BJP-ruled state of Karnataka. From Mumbai on Gandhi Jayanti day, civil society comprising several people’s movements has set out for marches in every district of the country to cover at least 75 kms in each district. Different people will participate or lead the march in the different districts until December 10, which is World Human Rights Day. It will then regroup and march upon New Delhi from five different corners of the country and reach the borders of the national capital on January 24. From January 26, Republic Day, to January 30, Martyrdom Day, the day Gandhiji was assassinated, the five groups will walk to and converge on Rajghat, Gandhiji’s samadhi. The message of all these yatras - and many other smaller ones that are emerging everywhere -  is very clear. Perhaps, the current regime, if it  does not get the message by now,  should go back not very far to the former US president Barak Obama. He had a picture of Mahatma Gandhi in his office put up to remind him that all changes happen by the people and because of the people. Gandhiji was a leader who knew how  to string the people together to defeat a regime that was everything bad in this world -  imperialist, dictatorial,  all powerful, racist and authoritarian.

The younger generation of this country had forgotten the power of the  people – themselves. Like Gandhiji, we now have a few leaders showing us the way and the means, including those involved with the  Samvidhan Bachao Yatra, among them the oldest surviving Gandhian and freedom fighter GG Parikh, who are leaving the comforts of their homes to invoke the spirit of this nation.

The people must not fail themselves. 

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