Every year, India opens its eyes to a special morning in its life as a nation. As the day progresses, it starts unfolding – a bevy of celebrities, mainly political, arriving at his memorial, the Rajghat (in Delhi, India); offerings of wreaths and flowers at the Samadhi; a prayer session dominated by his favourite hymns, especially, ‘raghupati raghav raja ram…,’ and ‘vaishnav jan to tene kahiye…,’ sung by top rank musicians; a live telecast for the benefit of those who can’t make it to the spot, and so on.
A compact programme is organized to pay homage to the immortal soul, the ‘Father of the Nation.’ Everything following a perfect pattern year after year, like a tradition, virtually a ritual, in the manner of a canned event. And then, everything seems to roll back, for another year.
Right after, someone, a celebrity or an intellectual, an academician or a senior journalist, manning a talk show on some renowned TV channel, lobs up a nagging question – ‘Relevance of Gandhi in contemporary India.’
That is one question many intellectuals and academicians are too fond of asking, year after year. What amazes me most is that in all these years, they have not been able to find a convincing answer to that question. To me, Gandhi has always been and will be relevant not only for modern India but the entire world. Here is why –
First and foremost, you may recall the unforgettable humiliating scene at a South Africa railway platform, where MK Gandhi, the lawyer, was thrown out of a first class railway coach. The reason? Dark skinned passengers were not allowed in the first class. Now think of it, there must have been thousands of Indians who got thrown for the same reason, but MK Gandhi was the only one to have stood up against the evil of apartheid. He raised his voice in a strong enough manner, which gradually became a roar and shook up the mighty empire.
Before he joined the freedom struggle in India, Gandhi ji had been a successful lawyer in SA for almost 17 years. He belonged to the elite there. He could have easily spent his life there quite comfortably, rather luxuriously all along. But he gave up all that. Why? To fight against the British rule , to struggle for freedom of India with the only weapons, truth and non-violence. Was that not unique in itself?
Once in India, Gandhiji adopted a life-style of utter simplicity, like that of the poorest of the poor. Wearing just a dhoti for dress. He wanted nothing for himself. Only that man can give to others who does not want anything for himself. Gandhi ji happened to be one of those rare souls. Despite giving away all he had, for the sake of the people, Gandhi ji never desired for a chair or position for himself. Rather, he chose to live the life of an ascetic, a saint.
However, this year looked like somewhat different. Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, decided to celebrate the day as the stepping stone for a Swachh Bharat. (Clean India).
Cleanliness, as we all know, was very close to Gandhi ji’s heart. He considered it more important than even freedom from foreign rule. It was an integral part of his life-style and he would go to any extent to ensure cleanliness all around. Gandhi ji made himself and his disciples do all their sanitary jobs themselves. No wonder, his Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad easily ranked among the cleanest campuses in the country. Now, Prime Minister Modi seeks to revive that Gandhian tradition, to involve each one of us in the cleanliness acts on a regular basis.
Modi ji has once again brought Gandhi ji back amongst us. He has picked up Gandhi ji’s stress on cleanliness and sought to bring it back as part of our lifestyle, to usher in – a healthier India. The massive campaign was initiated on the Gandhi Jayanti (anniversary) day, October 2, 2014, with Modi ji picking up a broom at Valmiki Basti, the palce where Gandhi ji had once stayed.
At the Valmiki Basti, the Prime Minister exhorted children to become “Swachhta Senanis” He also appealed to the countrymen to fulfil Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Clean India. In order to popularize the mission fast, he sought the support of nine public figures, celebrities, to contribute to the Swachh Bharat and share their experience on social media.”
Modi ji administered the Swachhta Shapath (Cleanliness Pledge) to the large assembled gathering and said that it was our social responsibility as citizens of India to help fulfil Gandhiji`s vision of Clean India, by his 150th birth anniversary in 2019. It was heartening to see states also coming forward and join the mission to cover their own areas.
So, therein lies Gandhi ji’s relevance. If we follow his vision in crucial matters like health and hygiene, social reform etc., we can still benefit from his wisdom and experiences. We can feel his very presence amongst us for a long time to come.