The Mahatma's message

Published : Oct 24, 2003 00:00 IST

OCTOBER 2, 2003 was the 134th birth anniversary of Gandhiji. The customary and routine functions were held at Rajghat and Gandhi Smrithi in Delhi and in other parts of India. It is one of the great ironies of our times that the body of the apostle on non-violence was carried to the cremation ground on a gun carrier. Be that as it may, what one has to ask is, does Gandhiji live in the hearts and minds of our people? Outside India, he is, of course, held in the highest esteem and the moral grandeur of his life is widely recognised, if not emulated.

I have recently been reading what Martin Luther King Junior (1929-1968) wrote about the Mahatma. In 1987, I had gone to Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States to the Gandhi Memorial Centre, which is run by Correta King, the widow of Martin Luther King. She presented me a copy of A Testament of Hope - The Essential Writing of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1964, soon after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's death, I wrote to King to contribute an article on Nehru for a book I was editing. He agreed, but the article did not arrive for several months. The Legacy of Nehru was published by John Day Company in May 1965. In the meanwhile, King Jr. was put in jail in Selma. I had given up hope. Then fate intervened. From the jail, he sent his Nehru tribute. It added immensely to the value of the book. In early December 1964, I met King for the first and last time. He was on his way to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was a practising Gandhian. He put his Gandhianism to practical use in a courageous and dramatic way and changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement in America. He wrote:

"After reading Rauschenbusch I turned to a serious study of the social and ethical theories of the great philosophers. During this period I had almost despaired of the power of love in solving social problems. The `turn the other cheek' philosophy and the `love your enemies' philosophy are only valid, I felt, when individuals are in conflict with other individuals. When racial groups and nations are in conflict a more realistic approach is necessary. Then I came upon the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. As I read his works, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of non-violent resistance. The whole Gandhian concept of satyagraha (satya is truth which equals love, and graham is force; satyagraha thus means truth-force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my scepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of non-violence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. At this time, however, I had a merely intellectual understanding and appreciation of the position, with no firm determination to organise it in a socially effective situation."

WHENEVER the Prime Minister goes abroad, I exercise a self-imposed veto - no criticism while he is out of India, no sparing him when he is back home. We followed Vajpayee's passage to the United Nations with keen interest. Our media - electronic and print - portrayed the visit as an outstanding success. Even some of the normally balanced editors accompanying the Prime Minister went over-board on his performance in New York. The undiluted truth is that the Indian Prime Minister made no impact at all on the all-powerful American television and press. The contrast with the lamentable General Pervez Musharraf was all too evident. The General is media savvy. Vajpayee used to be. He once upon a time chose words and phrases (in Hindi) that took wing. Now we no longer see the brio, the flair, the lan, the passion, the controlled indignation. He is in his late seventies and it shows. The spark is gone.

His protective coterie made two errors in New York. 1. Made him reply to Musharraf. 2. Protected him from the American Media. Nothing pleases the Pakistanis more than the Indian Prime Minister responding to the unbridled verbal over-kill of the President of Pakistan. Ignore and see the result. Indifference has its uses; it deflates, it infuriates the Pakistanis. P.V. Narasimha Rao and I.K. Gujral paid no heed to what Pakistan said in the U.N. General Assembly. That made our Pakistani friends very restive.

We all know that Vajpayee thinks in Hindi, not in English. If I were advising him, I would ask him to speak in Hindi, not in English. If I were advising him, I would ask him to speak in Hindi at all his press conferences abroad. The Chinese leaders do so, so also do many Arabs - speak in their language. And Putin. An A Class interpreter is all Vajpayee needs. Media protectionism is not the wisest thing to resort to in today's world. After all he spoke in Hindi in the general debate in the U.N. Plenary Hall. By shielding him, his spin-doctor does him injustice and ill serves him. Media diplomacy is an art form. It is a fact of life. Dodging it won't do - not for an Indian Prime Minister.

EDWARD SAID'S death at 67 has evoked worldwide tributes. He was an unusual Palestinian Christian. He earned the wrath of both Israelis and Palestinians by his outspokenness. He was articulate, brilliant and through his writings enriched the Republic of Letters. Some years ago he gave a lecture at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. He spoke extempore for an hour and had the audience spellbound. It was a privilege to have been a part of his audience.

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