A simple man and a great leader

Print edition : February 13, 2004

"GENERATIONS to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." Who said this? Albert Einstein, of course. When? In 1939, when Gandhiji turned 70. Was this all Einstein said? No. He said much more. Here is the full quotation.

A leader of his people, unsupported by any outward authority: a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force, a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot, a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior.

Fifty-six years after his assassination how does Mahatma Gandhi stand up to critical scrutiny. Quite obviously, many aspects of Gandhiji's life and programme have been overtaken by time. Aspects of his personal life were always beyond the reach of ordinary mortals in the contemporary world.

But when we come to the ethical, moral and spiritual aspects of Gandhiji's life and work, he towers over everybody else. His life is an affirmation of the superiority of the human person over all the political, economic and social mechanisms, which so often oppress and torment us. His moral vision will never be diminished. The tenor of his life and its refinement cannot but be admired. For nearly two generations, Gandhi held India and the world spellbound. He profoundly affected the content and goal of the Independence movement. Not only did he advocate but he insisted on uprightness, right aims, controlled polite speech, right conduct, austere living. There is no doubt that he quickened our conscience and the moral fibre of our people. He captured the imagination of the world. Gandhiji has intense personal magnetism. He changed the mindset of millions. He remains the touchstone by which we judge the stature of other great men. On this date (January 31) we should contemplate and learn from his life and example.

What we are witnessing today in slow motion is the sustained and unceremonial effacement of the values and ideals that made India unique. There is much shallow talk about "Shining India", and the "feel good factor". Which shining India are we talking about? Over 250 million people in our country live in abject poverty. Who is talking about the feel good factor - a hedonistic 10 per cent. The moral tone of our community is waning and the value system that we inherited from Gandhiji and Nehru is not only being perverted but crippled. Self-advancing, disproportionate wealth are celebrated not simplicity or restraint. Our enterprising middle class do not challenge the view that we exist only as economic units, ruled by the profit-and-loss ledger. I bow my head before Gandhi not only for his achievement but much more for what he attempted.

THE general elections are now a few weeks away. These elections, the first in the new century and the new millennium, will perhaps define the contours of our future polity and the content and substance of our democracy. The battle lines are drawn. It is bhai chara (brotherhood), harmony on the one hand. Bigotry, religious fanaticism and discord on the other. The democratic process is being used by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organisations to employ the democratic ladder to gain power and then like Hitler destroy that ladder.

Fortunately, the innate wisdom of the Indian people is unlikely to oblige the BJP and co. The much tom-tommed feel good factor has already lost its shine. Unfortunately for them, questions are being asked for which the BJP's oversmart spin doctors are unable to find convincing answers. India cannot be run by quick-fixes. It is, therefore, essential for us all to join together to ensure that the BJP does not endanger our democracy to suit its nefarious purposes.

THREE deaths have saddened me. Nissim Ezekiel was a considerable poet and a man of letters. I got to know him when he was editing Quest, a literary magazine. I wrote my first article, on R.K. Narayan, for Quest in 1956. I had not seen Nissim for many years but kept track of his activities. He was 79.

K.B. Lall was an eminent member of the ICS. He died in New Delhi at the age of 88. He occupied the highest posts in the civil and foreign services. He was endowed with a sharp intellect and an ideal temperament for a civil servant. His most prominent chela is Mani Shankar Aiyar, M.P., who wrote a moving tribute to him in the Indian Express.

Ramakrishna Hegde was a sophisticated and decent politician. I saw much of him during the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit held in Bangalore in November 1986. He was then Chief Minister. Subsequently, I saw him from time to time. Lately he seemed to have lost his way politically, but his contribution to state and national politics was very considerable. At one time there was serious talk of his becoming Prime Minister. He will be sorely missed by us all. He was in his 78th year.

A letter from the Editor


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Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

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