Thursday, May 6, 2021

Gandhi for our times

Prof. Ayyagari Prasannakumar’s excellent talk

‘Gandhi for our times’ was the topic on which Prof. A. Prasannakumar of Vizag spoke on 07 April 2021 in a zoom meeting arranged by a Kakinada organization.  I have heard the whole speech on Saturday. I am trying to inform the readers of some points which interested me. It was an excellent presentation of Gandhi to the present generation.

The points that are made here appear to be disjointed. I have picked up a point here and a point there. Readers should bear with me. Gandhi and Nehru had disagreements on many issues. Once Gandhi wrote to Jawaharlal saying  that since there are difference of opinion they cannot work together anymore and it would be better to part ways. Nehru’s reply was moving. He wrote back to Gandhi, “Bapu, I can never  live without you and what am I, Bapu, without you?”

Bringing Dalits out of misery

Bringing Dalits out of misery was the task first taken up by Gandhi. Ambedkar, the Dalit messiah, came into play much later. Gandhi spoke about his dream of making Chakraiah, a Dalit follower,  the president of India. This he said  when Chakraiah died prematurely. Gandhi told Rajendra Prasad later that if an opportunity is given to him, he would make a Dalit girl the president of India under whom Nehru, Patel and others have to work. Eradication of untouchability was Gandhi’s first mission.

Gandhi was very particular about Hindu-Muslim unity. His first and the last fast were aimed at achieving unity among the Hindus and the Muslims. Both Gandhi and Nehru agreed that religions became part of the traditions and cultures. Nehru wrote that the two religions that came from inside the country, Hinduism and Buddhism represent assimilation and compassion respectively. Of the two religions that came from outside, the Christianity stands for service and charity while Islam means social equality. Gandhi used to emphasize that the majority has a responsibility to take care of the minorities. He also made it very clear that the Indians are one whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians or any other religion.

What was Gandhi’s role in modern India?

Somebody asked an interesting question. While Ambedkar gave the Constitution, Nehru was the architect of democracy, Patel brought about integration by merging  562 princely states into the union,  Abul Kalam Azad brought the Muslims into the mainstream and we got all the ideas about parliamentary democracy from the West,  what was Gandhi’s role in laying foundation for modern India? The answer was given brilliantly by famous political scientist Sir Ernest Barker (whose books on Plato, Aristotle and other political thinkers are considered masterly works) who said Gandhi was the bridge between Indian tradition and Western values.

Martin Luther King on Gandhi

Gandhi’s achievement was to send the British out honourably. Martin Luther King (Jr) said, “Without raising a gun, without uttering a curse word, he sent the British out of India.” Satyagraha is not just a passive resistance. It is fight for truth and fight for dharma. About American president Abraham Lincoln it was said that the longer he is dead the more relevant he would be. It applies equally to Gandhiji as well, said Prof. Prasannakumar.

Where was Gandhi when India was celebrating its independence and Nehru was delivering his historic speech, Tryst with Destiny? He was in Kolkata working for peace between warring Hindu and Muslim communities. Rajaji said Gandhiji’s greatest achievement in his life was to douse the fires in Kolkata. Louis  Mount Batten, the last viceroy and Governor – General of India,  said when 55 thousand soldiers were struggling in Punjab to maintain law and order, Gandhi alone worked like one-man army and succeeded in establishing peace in Kolkata.

Nehru, Patel, Rajaji

Gandhi loved both Nehru and Sardar Patel. Between the two, he preferred Nehru. He once commented that Nehru is talker and Patel is doer and one should be careful with the latter. Nehru was considered Gandhi’s heart, Rajaji (Chakravarti Rajagopalachari) his head and Patel his hand (action). Sarvepalli Radhkrishnan wrote a book on Gandhi. He was preparing to publish another book for which he got messages  from famous persons across the world. George Bernard Shaw wrote Gandhi was the second greatest man in the world, humorously implying that he (Shaw) was the first greatest man. When Radhakrishnan approached  Gandhi in December 1947, and asked him to give a message for the book which would be released on his birthday on 2 October 1948, the Mahatma told Radhakrishnan that he is his Krishna and  he himself is Arjuna who is in the battlefield  and it is for Krishna to give a message to Arjuna, a la Bhagavad Gita.

Harsh on  enslavement of women

Prof. Prasannakumar had spoken about Gandhi’s interaction with Pattabhi Seetharamaiah and Konda Venkatappayya. He said a couple of interesting things about  Gandhi’s Andhra connection. Gandhi toured Andhra region in Madras province extensively. He visited Machilipatnam, Rajahmundry, Kakinada and Visakhapatnam beside many other towns and villages. When he was in Kakinada and Rajahmundry, he spoke harshly about Jogini system and the ruthless enslavement of women by men. However, in his Machilipatnam sojourn he found everything in order. He saw that the women were respected and the Dalits were treated well. When Gandhi commented that everything is fine and there is need for him to be there, Pattabhi told Gandhi that since they had prior information about his visit they organized everything the way he liked.

The letter written by Konda Venkatappayya, the freedom fighter he respected most, disturbed Gandhi very much. Venkatappayya  informed Gandhi that the Congress rulers started indulging in corrupt practices within a month of getting independence.

Waltair is a beauty spot

Prof. Prasannakumar narrated an incident when Gandhi visited Waltair. Gandhi considered Waltair, Visakhapatnam, a simple, peaceful place, a beauty spot of India. After alighting the train Gandhi mingled with those who came to receive him and was walking with them when Mohammad Ali, a tall colleague, who was accompanying Gandhi, shouted to inform that he was arrested by the police. Gandhi jocularly said “You are lucky, Mohammad Ali, in getting arrested in Waltair, a beautiful place in the entire country and a sanatorium to take rest.”

Gandhi said Andhras had captivated him with their tradition of respecting women, keeping away from alcohol and maintaining inter-faith harmony. In his list of preferences, Bihar occupied the first place with all its struggles and sacrifices and Andhra the second.  

Why is Gandhi relevant today?

Religious fundamentalism is ruling the roost in all countries. Gandhi sacrificed his life for inter-faith harmony.  It is an age of consumerism. Gandhi always asked the people to consume according to the need and not the greed. The third important thing, according to him, was the need to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. In market economy the gap is ever growing. He forewarned about technology enslaving people. Mobile has become a constant companion of human beings 24 X 7.  That is why Gandhi is more relevant today than ever before, concluded Prof. Prasannakumar.   

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