India remembers Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary as BJP, Congress spar over his legacy

  • President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Modi led the nation in paying rich tributes to the father of the nation at his memorial in Rajghat

  • The government used the day to stress on cleanliness, the dangers of single-use plastic and the aim of making India open defecation free

  • Sonia Gandhi claimed that the Congress was the only one party that followed the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi and carried on his legacy

New Delhi: His writings, his spoken words and vignettes from his life — Mahatma Gandhi was the refrain in the farthest corners of India on his 150th birth anniversary on Wednesday as tributes poured in and parties jostled to stake claim to his legacy.

From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and from schools big and small to the beaches of Dandi, there were multiple odes to the man whose ideas and ideals were instrumental in shaping India's freedom struggle and post-Independence journey. An outpouring of tributes, marches and commemorative events marked the day that saw customary ceremony and grandstanding but also genuine remembrances of the Mahatma and efforts to understand his profound contribution to society.

 India remembers Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary as BJP, Congress spar over his legacy

Congress President Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi at Rajghat to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. PTI

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Modi led the nation in paying rich tributes to the father of the nation at his memorial in Rajghat.

Observing that Gandhi envisioned Indian nationalism as one that was never narrow or exclusive, Modi proposed what he called the 'Einstein Challenge'. "How do we ensure the ideals of Gandhi are remembered by future generations? I invite thinkers, entrepreneurs and tech leaders to be at the forefront of spreading Gandhi's ideas through innovation," Modi wrote in the New York Times, in an article titled 'Why India and the World Need Gandhi'.

"We pledge to continue working hard to realise his dreams and create a better planet," he said on Twitter.

Modi also travelled to Gujarat to address a gathering in the Sabarmati Ashram. "I'm satisfied that on the occasion of #GandhiAt150, we're witnessing the fulfillment of his dream of 'Swachh Bharat'. I feel lucky that on this occasion when India has successfully stopped open defecation, I'm here at the ashram," Modi wrote in the visitors' book.

Modi also released commemorative Rs 150 coins on occasion of Gandhi's birth anniversary.

At a 'Swachh Bharat Diwas' programme in Ahmedabad, Modi declared that India is now open defecation-free. When he launched the ambitious Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign after becoming the prime minister in 2014, he had announced 2 October, 2019 as the day India will be open defecation free, citing how Gandhi had laid immense stress on cleanliness and wanted the countrymen to pursue it.

Modi said sanitation, conservation of environment and animals were dear to Gandhi. The government used the day to stress on cleanliness, the dangers of single-use plastic and the aim of making India open defecation free.

The celebrations appeared to be a game of one-upmanship between the Congress and the BJP with both organising marches, Gandhi's favourite way of reaching out to the people, in their bid to cash in on his legacy.

BJP president Amit Shah kicked-off a four-month exercise in which party leaders across the country will undertake foot marches and address public events to mark his 150th birth anniversary. Shah asked people to follow Modi's call to shun single-use plastic and said he is the only prime minister who has made cleanliness a mass movement, after Gandhi.

The Congress, which has seen over the years a gradual appropriation of some of its stalwarts by the BJP, launched a counter-drive with its president Sonia Gandhi taking a swipe at the Modi government, saying the Mahatma would have been pained by what has happened in India over the last few years.

In a show of strength, perhaps the first since the Congress' Lok Sabha poll debacle in May, Sonia Gandhi as well as her children, former party chief Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, were out on the streets accompanied by thousands of party workers.

While Rahul Gandhi led a march of party workers to Rajghat, Sonia Gandhi waited at the memorial to address the workers and Priyanka Gandhi was in Lucknow.

She claimed that the Congress was the only one party that followed the path shown by him and carried on his legacy. Those who indulge in the politics of falsehood cannot understand his ideals of truth and selfless service, she said.

Earlier in the morning, Rahul Gandhi fronted a march of party workers from the Delhi Congress office at the Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg to Rajghat. He said he paid tribute to Gandhi, who through his words and deeds, showed us that love for all living beings and non violence is the only way to defeat oppression, bigotry and hatred.

While the BJP called its march 'Sankalp (pledge) Yatra', the Congress named its march, 'Gandhi Sandesh Yatra'.

Numerous events were organised by various government departments, ministries and voluntary organisations to celebrate life and legacy of Gandhi, who also inspired millions of people across the globe, including leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and the Dalai Lama.

Prayer meetings were organised in numerous places connected with Gandhi. In Gujarat, for instance, school students gathered at Hriday Kunj, Gandhi's home at the Sabarmati Ashram, to attend an all-faith prayer meet.

A mega cleanliness drive was organised on the sea beach in Dandi, the place associated with the historic 'Salt Satyagrah' of 1930. In Mumbai, a khadi spinning session and singing of bhajans were among the events organised at Mani Bhavan, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed while in the city.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was at a cleanliness campaign event in Mumbai, organised to mark Gandhiji's birth anniversary. The National Gallery of Modern Art held an exhibition of paintings with themes like Swadeshi, Ahimsa, Truth and Satyagraha.

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Updated Date: Oct 02, 2019 23:48:00 IST