Brand Modi row: Gandhi's legacy lives beyond history, diary or calendar

When reactions are based on some vaguely compiled "ready reckoner" of reactions, it is bound to fall flat on slight scrutiny. On 12 January when the news of alleged replacement of Mahatma Gandhi's picture from the 2017 wall calendar and table diary published by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) surfaced, strong reactions filled social media and television screens.

Most of them were kneejerk; completely bereft of any attempt to understand how Gandhi would have reacted to this "blasphemy".

 Brand Modi row: Gandhis legacy lives beyond history, diary or calendar

A file image of Mahatma Gandhi. Getty Images

In 2014 when a public interest litigation(PIL) came up before the Karnataka High Court seeking direction to tell the Ministry of Home Affairs to consider Mahatma Gandhi for Bharat Ratna, the bench hearing the petition observed: "Why this atrocity on our Father of the Nation. He is above all...and does not require a certificate."

Let us ask this question with some true intent: does Gandhi's importance really needs a certificate or in this case a picture on a calendar or a diary.

Amidst the shrillness of arguments that sees a conspiracy of "replacing Gandhi" by removing his picture from a calendar, a question that needs to be asked repeatedly is: whether Gandhi's existence is so fragile and superficial that it can be decimated by a change of picture or even a change of guards.

Here, we are talking about a man whose greatness was acknowledged by the "greats" whom the world can forget only by risking its own existence. Here we need to remember what George Orwell and Albert Einstein said about Gandhi.

In 1931, Einstein wrote a letter to Gandhi, which is just a small template of the greatness of the man; whom we think can be replaced from our collective memory by replacing his picture on a calendar.

Einstein wrote:

Respected Mr Gandhi!

I use the presence of your friend in our home to send you these lines. You have shown through your works, that it is possible to succeed without violence even with those who have not discarded the method of violence. We may hope that your example will spread beyond the borders of your country, and will help to establish an international authority, respected by all, that will take decisions and replace war conflicts.

With sincere admiration,
Yours A Einstein.

I hope that I will be able to meet you face to face someday.

Gandhi replied:

Dear Friend,

I was delighted to have your beautiful letter sent through Sundaram. It is a great consolation to me that the work I am doing finds favour in your sight. I do indeed wish that we could meet face to face and that too in India at my Ashram.

MK Gandhi.

In 1949, George Orwell published an essay titled Reflections on Gandhi, in which he wrote:

Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases. In Gandhi’s case the questions one feels inclined to ask are: to what extent was Gandhi moved by vanity — by the consciousness of himself as a humble, naked old man, sitting on a praying mat and shaking empires by sheer spiritual power — and to what extent did he compromise his own principles by entering politics, which of their nature are inseparable from coercion and fraud? To give a definite answer one would have to study Gandhi’s acts and writings in immense detail, for his whole life was a sort of pilgrimage in which every act was significant.

Apart from the fact that Gandhi remains a towering historical figure, existing beyond time and space, his writing reflects something novel; his distaste for "overarching institutions" that separates the human being from his inner self. And it could be a party built over the years with sheer hard work or the human body that is a source of "lust and evil".

It is well-known fact that Gandhi wanted to dissolve the Congress after Independence. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Volume 90) clearly states: "Though split into two, India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, ie, as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine had outlived its use".

Further, for Gandhi human body was "with its lusts and sins" an evil, not a good. A complete severance from it was the only way to secure "perfect deliverance".

These examples tell a story of a man who was in the quest of dismantling every bit of "self" and annihilate any hint of narcissism that comes from loving the "self" and what it creates.

Ironically, we made him part of all that he detested most, and among it, the most important were self-glorification and god worship.

As Firstpost reported earlier, on Saturday, Haryana minister Anil Vij, adding his bit to the absurdity of the debate said that "Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a bigger brand name than Mahatma Gandhi for khadi".

What is disturbing in Vij's comment was not the comparison but an attempt to make Gandhi a "brand".

The statement made by the Haryana minister will keep the controversy alive. The apologist of Gandhi's legacy will cry foul and in the pursuit of scoring some political brownie points from this incident will conveniently forget that here we are talking about a man who lives beyond the pages of history, diaries and calendar.

Updated Date: Jan 14, 2017 18:20:55 IST