In an era of globalisation and social media prominence, each day a new hero is born but have we forgotten our past heroes? The South Asia Centre at the London School of Economics brought onboard experts from the field of research and media to reflect on the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi recently.
With co-host Sanam Arora, Chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK and Dr Nilanjan Sarkar, Deputy Director and Development Manager at the South Asia Centre, the panel reclaimed Gandhi’s place in this universe and his future as an icon.
Across four oceans and seven continents, Gandhi is known to all mankind. There are no paths where Gandhi’s spirit hasn’t travelled. Faisal Devji, Reader in Indian History at the University of Oxford said, “Buddha and Gandhi are the two world figures of Ahimsa (Non-violence).”
Historian of modern India and a former Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mridula Mukherjee recollected a past conversation with a taxi driver in Brazil: “You come from the land of Gandhi. Gandhi stands for all of us poor people.”
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She went on to point out how the “institutions working with poor are named after Gandhi”.
To the Middle East: The Egyptian uprising at Tahrir Square on 5th January 2011 had embodied Gandhi’s non-violent resistance.
With the UK preparing for the upcoming COP26, with International Organisations and private corporation now chasing to achieve sustainable development goals for we have seen the harmful effects of climate change. We must not neglect that Gandhi was the first to pass on the baton to us in this relay. Reiterating Gandhi’s words: “The world cannot bear the burden that we are imposing on it.”
At grassroots level
Let us tackle the big question here: Has Gandhi been historicised? Mukherjee substantiated the presence of Gandhian rituals at several recent protests in India.
On the contrary, Journalist and Founder of The Deshbhakt Akash claimed a narrative modification through misinterpretation and “whitewashing the younger generation as to who the Father of the Indian Nation is”, with strings controlled by agenda-driven algorithms.
The damage he explained can be reversed by “institution driven backing and by revival of archival material, pictures, quotes and small video clips to make Gandhi cool again.”
Breaking it down: A secular pluralistic and inclusive India. As a symbol of secularism in the country, Devji interpreted Gandhi’s thoughts on reclaiming sovereignty “by emphasising on social relationships outside the realm of the state irrespective of castes, religions and gender”.
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Mukherjee encouraged a fusion of cultures by citing Gandhi: “Hind Swaraj (Indian independence) is the rule of all people and of justice.”
Considering Gandhian economics in the rapidly developing scenario of today’s world where technology is at the core, Devji describes it as “limiting production, consumption and therefore being environmentally sensitive in thought and practice”.
He added: “In Gandhi’s time the vast majority of Indians were poor, so the poor should be at the forefront of all economic planning.”
While Mukherjee specified that Gandhi was against large industries which displaced labour, depriving the poor of a living.
On an endnote, Mukherjee reflected, “since we have not achieved the India of Gandhi’s dreams, he remains very relevant.”
*Info: South Asia Centre