Partition, freedom and democracy

Had Krishna Sobti, the eminent Hindi novelist, not died this January, she would have renovated our appreciation of the truth about freedom and Partition occurring together. We habitually forget this truth each time we learn it. An interview she gave to Partition scholar Alok Bhalla is one among many repositories of the insight she brought to this subject. Through her fiction too, Sobti tested the strength of the social fabric that Partition shook and tried to tear apart. Why it didn’t tear completely is a question she helps us to answer.

Krishna Sobti’s work

Six weeks after her death, a violent conflict broke out between India and Pakistan. The immediate, ostensible causes of the outbreak are terrorism and Kashmir. Real sources lie deeper. Reading Sobti’s works reminds you that the deeper roots of the India-Pakistan conflict can be found in a shared attitude of derision towards the past. Public mood shifts between indifference and disdain for the past. There is little genuine interest in the past or curiosity to figure it out. Politicians feel free and tempted to use the past to manipulate the collective mind.

As the single most important event of our modern history, Partition illustrates the general attitude I am talking about. Across the three nations produced by Partition, there is little consensus over what it means to live with Partition. But there is a shared feeling that Partition is at the heart of many problems and behavioural reflexes. Each country looks at Partition from the perspective that the state apparatus has assiduously developed over time. The term commonly used these days is ‘narrative’. It comes in handy. It is a post-modern invention signalling the decline of interest in objectivity. The relatively better educated politicians often use it tactfully to debunk serious commentary, calling it just another narrative. So, why the different nations that constitute the South Asian region bring sharply divergent perspectives to matters of shared interest is explained in terms of diversity of narratives. Are these narratives incompatible? No one seems curious to find out. Nor is anyone actively conscious that the acceptance of incompatibility means granting permanence to intra-regional conflicts. One clear reason why no one is worried is because a feeling of permanent conflict seems to offer unlimited political capital.

When SAARC was established in 1985, it created the hope that mutual understanding would be pursued as a regional political goal. For all seven members, but especially India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, mutual understanding would have meant recognising the importance of acceptable portraits of the past. Such portraits exist in literature, but historical awareness requires more than a literary portrait. It means providing reliable resources to validate a view about what happened so that we feel more comfortable with where we are in the present. This awareness is crucial to avoid a feeling among the young that they live in a dark, noisy tunnel with no known exits. An ominous uncertainty hangs over the subcontinent, best expressed by the availability of nuclear weapons to end potential conflicts.

Partition’s emotional content

Sobti had hoped that people could now recognise the complications arising out of history. In her interview with Professor Bhalla, she expressed the view that the emotional content of Partition had run out. This is not true. Though seven decades have passed, there is no sign that Partition is devoid of emotional content in India or in Pakistan. In a study of history textbooks used in the two countries, I found that in Pakistan, Partition is presented as unfinished business, while in India it is still viewed as a wound inflicted by Muslims and the British. In both nations, Partition continues to serve as an inflammable memory account. The toll it took on the two nations has not sufficed to cool the coals buried under the ashes of time. Apart from the destruction and violence suffered by common men, women and children on both sides of the border, the post-Partition suspension of reason cost India the life of its greatest leader. That injury has not healed, and the ideological divide it signified continues to grow. Sobti had assumed that the Constitution would unite Indian society around its core values. That did happen to an extent, but words and statements alone don’t safeguard values. Freedom and a sense of fraternity are among the values sculpted into the structure of the Constitution. Truth is not mentioned as such, but one assumes that it has an assured place in the edifice of law.

Truth and war

In this context, it may be useful to recall Mahatma Gandhi’s dual commitments: truth and non-violence. The pairing of truth with non-violence suggests that truth and war are not compatible. This is why the threat of war at election time is not good news for the practice of constitutional democracy. For now, the threat of war seems to have passed, but it could easily be made to linger as a memory relevant for voting day. In this sense, the brief outbreak of armed attacks is an ominous reminder of the fragility of the equilibrium that permits us to practice democracy. In Pakistan, democracy is even more fragile. There, it barely survives under the direct shadow of modern weaponry.

The India-Pakistan hostility is richly intersected by bad memories. It has perennial potential for shaping politics. Moreover, an activated conflict invites everyone to play politics. This kind of politics is necessarily manipulative. It helps to bypass more earthy questions which ought to be central to any election. These are questions like why economic growth offers little relief from unemployment, why the village languishes when the city prospers. One can add many more issues to this list. To call them peace-time issues or to designate them as being secondary in comparison to security will be to surrender to history, that too a history soaked in emotions. It is true that politics is a game played in the shadow of history. However, if it is dominated by history, then democracy can hardly serve the cause of progress, howsoever defined. It will always remain stuck in history.

Krishna Kumar is a former director of the NCERT


Gandhi 150: “Absorb whatever appears good in my life”

  1. Introduction

The stage is all set to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi with great fanfare on October 2, 2019. It is a pleasant moment for a proud nation to pay sincere gratitude and tributes to the Father of the Nation. This is also an occasion to remember his ideals, vision, philosophy, programmes and actions, a moment for an introspection to review critically the journey that we have made so far and pledge ourselves with commitments and determination to fine-tune, customise, and adapt those elements and values as our future destinations and course of actions to work for the reconstruction of a non-violent order in society, nation and the world that should be free from structural violence. This exercise is intended to flag some issues through Gandhi’s lens, based on a brief recapitulation of his writings about what he was observing on his birthday in his lifetime. The question arises: Can we find any insight from those observations during the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi for today?

An attempt is made here to focus on the issues that he had been flagging. Is there any message from those documents for today? In other words, if Gandhi would have been with us today what would have been his way of observing his birthday? I will rely mainly on the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) for this purpose. However, I shall be using other necessary and relevant materials also to put forward my arguments. This exercise is divided into three sections besides the introduction. Section one deals with a brief account of his writings on some occasions during his lifetime. Section two is an attempt to reflect on issues in the light of some glaring facts and analyse them in the present context, underlining as to why Second October is important for us even today. And section three will be an endeavour to draw the imperatives as to what is to be done on the occasion of Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. In other words, if Gandhi would have been alive and very much with us, what should have been his reactions today? How should it (Gandhi Jayanti) be observed throughout the year? Let us begin with the recapitulation, as to how Second October was observed during the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi.

  1. Observing Second October 

Second October has been a historic day in Indian history as it marks the birthday of two great and matchless leaders of this country: Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. This date assumed unprecedented significance since Gandhi got prominence in the freedom struggle against the British colonial rule and has been observed during the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi and thereafter. In order to mark its respect, the grateful nation has been paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi every year on October 2, of course, amidst mixed reactions to the contra-dictory policies, programmes and actions, debatable at length whether these are in the interest of the country if at all when the nation considers to build substantive democracy to which Gandhi dedicated himself and for which he made the sacrifice of his life and blood.

The country observed Gandhi centenary in 1969 with lots of activities and action pro-grammes, including prayers for communal harmony, public lectures, seminars, discussions, policy-reflections and publications. (Radha-krishnan, 1994) Just twentyfive years ago also, we commemorated the one-and-a-quarter century of Gandhi’s birth that he might have lived, as he wished to live that much span of life, to complete some of the important unfinished tasks in his lifetime, if he would not have been assassinated on January 30, 1948 by the elements of ungrateful hatred and reactionary forces and ideology. The nation observed many rituals, but we hardly introspected and made an assessment of our journey so far and our worthiness. (Diwakar, 1994) Later, the centenary of the Hind Swaraj (CWMG, Vol. 10: 6-68), a monumental blueprint of his vision for the reconstruction of the Indian nation, was also reduced to merely a few rituals and academic exercises confined to reprinting and publishing a few documents. The centenary of the Champaran Satyagraha was remembered by highlighting a few resistances and now the one-and-a-half century year of his birth is to begin from October 2, 2018 for the next one year.

III. Second October during the Lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi

Going through the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) we may locate as early as 1919 when the Bhagini Samaj observed his 51st birthday in which he was offered a purse with undisclosed funds that he assured would be utilised for amelioration of the condition of Indian women. (CWMG, Vol. 16 : 202) Expressing his gratitude, Gandhi said: “The best way to celebrate my birthday is to absorb whatever appears good in my life.” (CWMG, Vol. 91: 196) However, he did not like any idolatory (that is, pooja or aarti) that were performed on this occasion. (CWMG, Vol. 95: 214) After five years, in 1921 he changed his attire to loin-cloth to identify himself with the millions of agricul-turists by discarding foreign clothes and promoting swadeshi. (CWMG, Vol. 21: 226) On his birthday he also wrote a message to women that the first task of this country was to educate women to safeguard their honour through swadeshi and they should spin to win swaraj. (Ibid., p. 227) Another evidence could be traced back in 1924, when Tagore and Gandhi signed a message (request petition) to the International Opium Conference to be held a month later in Geneva, against growing addiction to narcotic drugs “poisoning of the human race, which can be overcome only by co-operation among nations”. (CWMG,Vol. 25: 220) It is altogether different that India is yet to think of prohibition of intoxicants. Partly it was done in a few States including Gujarat and Bihar, but it is yet to be delivered through effective governance and awareness of the people. Needless to say that it is better than silence but it is yet to become a model to be emulated. I wonder whether India can show its political will and courage to ban intoxicants.

On October 2, 1926 he wrote four routine letters from Sabarmati Ashram, out of which one was to Wai Goraksha Mandal enquiring about the requirement of cotton and level of skills of spinners and their purchasing power. Another letter was addressed to Motibehn Choksi, in which he mentioned that it was Mani’s birthday, when she “took three vows in my presence, not to tell untruth, not to do mischief and to get up at four in the morning. I will watch how long the child can keep her vows.” (CWMG, Vol. 31: 470) Interestingly, he did not mention about his birthday. On another occasion on October 2 in 1928, Gandhi wrote six routine letters to coworkers and friends from the Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati. Gandhi advised Nanakchand to rigorously abandon all luxuries of life before joining the Ashram. (CWMG, Vol. 37: 322-24) There was only one letter on October 2 in 1929 to Chhaganlal advising him to maintain accounts and transparency giving the example of Mr Ireland, a friend of Mr Andrews. (CWMG, Vol. 41: 492-93) On October 2 in 1930, Gandhi was in prison at Yeravda. He wrote six letters: one letter was to Major Martin to allow him to meet a few of his friends for his service without breaking the discipline of prison. Another letter was addressed to Premabehn Kantak, condemning her “action as smacking of idolatry”, yet another letter to Gangabehn Vaidya advising her to serve without attachment and a letter to Balvir Singh telling him that spinning was as important as taking meals. (CWMG, Vol. 44: 191-95) Though these letters were quite personal, he articulated about his ways of life if someone likes to draw inferences.

On October 2, 1931 Gandhi was in London, where he gave an interview to the Jews Chronicle. One must appreciate his courageous expressions on both the occasions. He was critical of Christianity and urged all to “learn the virtue of toleration and charity” while advising “Jews to rid themselves of the causes for such reproach”. (CWMG, Vol. 48: 105-06) In yet another interview to Henry Carter he advocated prohibition of liquor: “The future all-India Legislature would certainly regard it as essential to prohibit the importation, manufacture, or sale of all alcoholic beverages, subject to an exemption which would permit the supply of alcohol for medicinal, scientific and industrial uses… Prohibition must apply equally to distillation in India and to imports of liquor from overseas… National prohibition of opium for use in India is requisite, except insofar as opium is required strictly for medicinal and scientific purposes.” (CWMG, Vol. 48: 106-07) This was perhaps the first birthday of Gandhi which was organised with a luncheon in London by the Independent Labour Party, the Indian National Congress League, and the Gandhi Society at the Westminster Palace rooms. Gandhi reiterated Tilak’s proposition: “Swaraj is our birth right.” He further emphasised: “We do not want the freedom of India, if it is to be bought through the sacrifice of the lives of others—if it is to be bought by spilling the blood of the rulers. But if any sacrifice can be made by the nation, by ourselves, to win that freedom, you will find that we will not hesitate to give a Gangesful of blood to flow in India in order to vindicate the freedom that has been so long delayed …” (CWMG, Vol. 48: 110) The preparation for sacrifice by Indians was best represented by Gandhi in a foreign land as a non-violent freedom fighter. Another reception was organised by the Women’s Indian Association and Saroj Nalini Dutt Memorial Association at King George’s Hall, Central YMCA, where he underlined the role of women in the Salt Satyagraha. (CWMG, Vol. 48: 111-12)

On October 2, 1932 Gandhi wrote 15 routine letters and two telegrams; many of them were personal communications with individual concerns after his weeklong fast when he was imprisoned. (CWMG, Vol. 51: 166-176) He was asked to be released if he pursued only untouchability for the next one year. Although untouchability remained one of the concerns in many of his letters, he did not concede to the condition. “Removal of untouchability is a vital part of my life’s programme, but it is not the sole part of it.” (CWMG, Vol. 51: p. 167) On October 2, 1933 he wrote two personal letters in which he expressed his concern for the letter-writers’ health and also activities and expenditure. (CWMG, Vol. 56: 52) He wrote three letters on October 2, 1934, out of which one letter to Amritlal Thakkar indicates that he was very busy and not able to scrutinise his proposed budget and did not consider wise to sit with Ghanshyam Das to finalise it. (CWMG, Vol. 59: 109-10) There is no record of October 2, 1935 in CWMG. On October 2, 1936 he wrote five personal letters to his co-workers from Segaon. In one of his letters to Mahadev Desai, he informed that Rajendra Babu with others were there with him. (CWMG, Vol. 63: 335-37) On October 2, 1937 he wrote a letter to an economist exhorting the latter “to launch out into one of the villages in the neighbourhood of the city, study how some of the poor handicraftsmen … make their living… with your intelligent perception you will be able to find out that there is much scope for improvement in the method of their work… what I mean by education through handicrafts… for my sole purpose is to seek truth by thought, word and deed.” (CWMG, Vol. 66: 187) On same day he expressed his concerns about untouchability and reiterated the commitments endorsed by the all-India meeting in 1932 to remove all forms of untouchability. (CWMG, Vol. 66: 188-89)

He was in favour of freedom of expression of students: “Students should have the greatest freedom of expression and of opinion. They may openly sympathise with any political party they like.” (CWMG, Vol. 66: 190) He was highly critical of the education system in India in 1937: “…the present mode of education is radically wrong from bottom to top”. (CWMG, Vol. 66: 193) Another writing on October 2, 1937 was a serious note on questions before an educational conference, where Gandhi dealt with the issues of non-transmission of knowledge from an educated few to the masses, waste of taxpayers’ money, irrelevance, language, and learning should be routed through vocation, employment-centric, state support for purchase of product, etc., for primary education and autonomy to self-supported higher education. (CWMG, Vol. 66: 193-95) On October 2, 1940 Gandhi delivered a speech at Wardha: “It is an easy dharma to spin and weave, whereby you can achieve your objective and reach the goal. You are celebrating my birthday not because of my satyagraha, but because of my inseparable connection with khadi. I desire that all villagers, whether young or old, should produce it and wear it.” (CWMG, Vol. 73: 74)

Gandhi was in Sevagram on October 2, 1941, where he wrote nine letters, sent one telegram and delivered one speech at a Gandhi Jayanti meeting, where he said: “I do not value my Jayanti Day, but I call it ‘Charkha Jayanti’.” (CWMG, Vol. 74: 373) He had tremendous power to communicate skilfully to the masses through impersonalised behaviour. He was trying to give the message of liberation to the petty producers and with friendly technology. On October 2, 1944, a correspondent of The Hindu interviewed Gandhi and sought his message on the occasion of his birthday. Gandhi said: “I am not accustomed to giving messages on such occasions. I wanted to live for 125 years… I did not know until a few years ago that I have a birthday.” (CWMG, Vol. 78: 149) The same day he also delivered a speech at a Kasturba Memorial Trust meeting at Sevagram, Wardha, where he received a purse of Rs 80 lakhs. He underlined: “ …for years people all over India had got into the habit of celebrating his birthday according to both the Indian and the Christian calendar. The intervening period between the two dates was also included in the observance. This time, it had become known long before that he intended coming to Sevagram for receiving the purse on October 2.” (CWMG, Vol. 78: 149-50) In his speech he emphasised the necessity to work for women’s empowerment in seven lakh Indian villages. He appealed to women workers to come forward and do away with the enslaved position of women created by men.

On October 2, 1945 Gandhi was in Poona. He sent an express telegram to Professor Tan Yun-Shan expressing “good wishes to all in China. Love.” (CWMG, Vol. 81: 301) He wrote fourteen letters to co-workers enquiring their wellbeing, advising them to participate in Prabhatpheri, taking care of their health first, study later, not to write in English and asked Prabhavati to see him in Calcutta, etc. (CWMG, Vol. 81: 301-07) On October 2, 1946 Gandhi was in Delhi where he wrote one telegram, five letters and one speech at a prayer meeting. (CWMG, Vol. 85: 410-13) Writing to M.W.H. De Silva, the Ceylon representative to India, he acknowledged his “cheque for the cause of untouchabilty” and wished him for his success to bring the two countries closer. He never liked a person who did not work and advised a co-worker to acquire the ability by doing work and forbade eating without work. The prayer speech was on the situation of Goa, where he expressed his pain on the arrest of Dr Lohia, although he acknowledged the difference of opinion between them. He was of the considered view: “Goa is as much a part of India as Kashmir or any other State. It is intolerable that Dr Lohia should be treated as a foreigner and denied the right of entry into Goa.” (CWMG, Vol. 85: 413) Hence his difference of opinion with fellow political workers did not come in the way of his decision. However, this remained debatable in the case of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

On October 2, 1947 he was in Delhi. He had discussions with a doctor about medical science and he also delivered a speech at a prayer meeting, which began with the inherent unity of religions and plurality of services for humanity. He was professionally committed to communal harmony. (CWMG, Vol. 89: 473-75) But in the syndrome of flared communal hatred, he expressed his grief and mental agony oblivious of the occasion of his birthday. In his words: “Today is my birthday. I do not celebrate my birthday in the usual way. I would say that on this day we must fast, spin and pray. That, in my view, is the most appropriate way of celebrating one’s birthday. For me, today is the day of mourning. I am surprised and also ashamed that I am still alive. I am the same person, whose word was honoured by the millions of this country. But today nobody listens to me… In such a situation, what place do I have in India and what is the point of my being alive? I have now stopped thinking about living for 125 years. I have stopped thinking in terms of 100 or even 90 years. I am entering my 79th year today; but even that pains me… If you really want to celebrate my birthday, it is your duty not to let anyone be possessed by madness and if there is any anger in your hearts you must remove it.” (CWMG, Vol. 89: 275) This was his last birthday while he was alive. How can the Government of India glorify the mob lynchers and and celebrate today on his 150th birth anniversary? The country has to come forward and express itself on such activities.

  1. Is Second October Still Important?

 It is an opportunity to scrutinise the objectives of remembering Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. It appears to me that the blueprint of the Hind Swaraj is before us as a reference point, if at all we are serious to reflect upon it. The tasks that Gandhi visualised towards social reconstruction to create a non-violent society are still unfinished. So long the country does not attain that goal, Second October remains a day to renew our determination. Invariably with a few exceptions, Gandhi was not celebrating his birthday during his lifetime. Of course he was writing necessary telegrams, routine letters, enquiring his co-workers’ wellbeing, safeguarding the honour and promoting the education and leadership of women, advocating prohibition of intoxicants, removal of untouch-ability, working for communal harmony, spinning, swadeshi and swaraj. Just after independence, he was shattered and disillusioned by the impact of the experiences of communal strife and his ineffe-ctiveness to prevent the killings. Although reactionary forces of the fanatic Hindu ideology assassinated Gandhi but the grateful nation continued to remember him.

Gandhi had been busy in mobilising the individual, society and nation to achieve the goal for which he dedicated his life. Unfortunately, caste and communal riots continued even after his death in different parts of the country. Even his home State, Gujarat, suffered from communal violence in 1969, when the country was remembering him on the occasion of his birth centenary. It again haunted that State in 1985, 2002 and 2006. Riots in Mumbai, Bangalore, Bhagalpur, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Bhiwandi, mob lynching in Una, and many other places have been taking place. Growing trust deficits are a matter of concern. Extra-constitutional forces are active in such a way that the Supreme Court has had to intervene against mob lynching. Masses, who remain ignorant of their material conditions of living and contradictions therein, join the fray as per their traditional beliefs and passions.

As early as on August 27, 1925, Gandhi wrote in Young India that “Idleness is the great cause, the root of all evil, and if that root can be destroyed, most of the evils can be remedied without further effort”. (CWMG, Vol. 28: 123) The country must recall what Gandhi said: “If there are riots in India today, the cause is to be found in idleness and unemployment. If every-one ate what he earned by the sweat of his brow, if they had to work eight hours a day for their livelihood, no one would have even a minute to spare.” (CWMG, Vol. 88: 213) He further emphasised: “If we give work to the people, they do not indulge in killing.” (CWMG, Vol. 89: 488) Are we ready to listen to Gandhi’s message for the remedies? The Government of India has been paying merely lip-service and remained indifferent and least concerned on issues of growing unemployment. According to an estimate, six to eight million new youth workforce is being added annually. (Mundle, 2017) Recently it has turned a deaf ear to such an extent that it has decided not to publish data on employment generation, as the government felt embarrassed on account of the visibly declining employment generation.

‘Swadeshi in every sense’ was another important message from Gandhi for eradication of poverty and attaining swaraj. For him swadeshi was an inclusive growth model, and patriotism, which demands sacrifices. It was a tool for satyagraha and emancipation for moral regeneration. (Diwakar, 2009) Instead of focusing on swadeshi in production and distribution so as to help import substitution and self-reliance, Make in India, market-led growth, globalisation and foreign direct investment (FDI) were made the order of the so-called development, which is basically anti-swadeshi in spirit and action. Charkha and spinning were a techno-cultural symbol which he felt constituted the basis for swadeshi. Even the defence and multi-brand retails were not spared from FDI which of course creates a few highly skilled employment avenues but destroys major opportunities of employment in informal sectors, and therefore there is a net loss of employment. (Josheph et al. 2008) Despite having such informed evidences the country has been pushed for FDI in multi-brand retail.

Gandhi had special consideration for the empowerment of women, safeguarding their values and dignity. India recently passed an Act for the redressal of Nirbhaya, but the Act and governance remain a serious challenge for the safety of women. The heinous crime of gang rape of girls continues unabated. Shelter homes are not safe for women and the girl child. Education in general and women in particular was the utmost concern of Gandhiji. He expected that the state would ensure free and compulsory school education to everyone. There is information from different States that the elementary schools in the public sector are being closed. Privatisation of multi-layered education system is the order of the day and the state is withdrawing from its responsibilities.

Students in universities are not allowed freedom of expression. Rohith Vemula ended his life amidst discrimination. Najib is yet to return to the Jawaharlal Nehru University for his studies. The state has become so weak and overpowered by extra-constitutional elements that its intelligence agency has failed to locate Najib. Kanhaiya was put behind bars without any substantial charge. The university has become a place to demonstrate instead of efforts to inculcate patriotism. Still the Government of India feels proud to remember Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary!

Gandhi, in the first place, did not like to observe his birthday. If at all it was to be observed, he was very specific about the way it should be observed. And one of the ways to observe his birthday was to identify himself with the poor. He left his normal dress and adopted loin-cloth as his attire to get identified with the poor agriculturists. He wrote: “The dress of the millions of agriculturists in India is really only the loin-cloth and nothing more. I have seen it with my own eyes wherever I have gone.” (CWMG, Vol. 21: 226) He was concerned of the poor and suggested a talisman for policymakers. “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contem-plate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.” (CWMG, Vol. 96: 311, 427 Note)

Our policymakers seldom recall this talisman while formulating policies. The Government of India adopted demonetisation without any proper preparation and left the poor people of the country at their destiny for digital divide, exclusion and sufferings in complete disregard of the professional competence of the Reserve Bank of India. (Diwakar, 2017a) Goods and Services Taxes were imposed for realising one nation one market one tax without proper preparation and the small businesses and petty traders suffered and they are yet to recover from the trauma of demonetisation. However, no voice has yet been raised in favour of one nation one education and health services. Still the country feels proud of celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi!

Writing a letter to Agatha Harrison on August 15, 1947 Gandhi said: “You know my way of celebrating the great events, such as today’s, is to … pray… must be accompanied by a fast… then as a mark of identification with the poor and dedication there must be spinning.” (CWMG, Vol. 89: 43) It is sad to record that amidst many achievements India has reached such a horrifying condition that farmers are in despair and forced to embrace policies that drive them to death for want of minimum funds to meet their agricultural debts and ensure their survival. The death-toll has been escalating to more than three lakhs. It amounts to genocide. (Diwakar, 2017b) Parliament made laws to enhance the salary and perks of its members automatically in five years but workers of the country have to wait for recommendations of the institutions to be constituted after every ten years. Instead of mourning, the country is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of the great soul who left his attire to lead the life of a common poor agriculturist of the country! The nation is to be reminded that he was clear in his mind that political independence was just symbolic. Real freedom was yet to come. Gandhi wrote: “Unless poverty and unemployment are wiped out from India, I would not agree that we have attained freedom. Real wealth does not consist of jewellery and money, but in providing for proper food, clothes, education, and creating healthy conditions of living for every one of us. A country can be called prosperous and free only when its citizens can easily earn enough to meet their needs.“ (CWMG, Vol. 87: 463) This is the opportunity to work out plans to proceed towards real and greater freedom.

  1. If Gandhi were Alive Today!

It is important for the nation to introspect through the life of Gandhi, which was his message, the vision of a non-violent social order in the Hind Swaraj, and later through his Collected Works about his concerns for agenda and programmes of social reconstruction, the challenges which have compounded by many folds now. If Gandhi were alive today, he would have updated his constructive programmes. He was all for swadeshi and therefore would have mobilised people against FDI in general and in multi-brand retail in particular. He would have gone to fast for the causes of safeguarding the honour of women. And also for the removal of untouchability. We are in a democracy where Kalburgi, Pansare, Bhansali, Gauri Lankesh etc. are not allowed to enjoy their constitutional freedom of expression. Akhlaq was not allowed to eat, Pahlu Khan, Junaid and many others were in the list of those who lost their lives in mob lynching. In case of the unfortunate and inhuman incidents of mob lynching at Una, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Kathua, and others, Gandhi must have made his presence felt in the country before humanity. Those who are working for the people to become their voice are being targeted. It should not be forgotten that when the country was celebrating its freedom, Gandhi was in Calcutta to tackle the communal strife. That too not for the first time. When there was communal tension in Bihar, he was there for communal harmony. Later Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan alias Badshah Khan or Frontier Gandhi also joined. He was the last man to accept communal tension and sit idle. We can imagine his agony and pain when he did not want to live further if he could not stop communal strife. When there were differences of opinion, Gandhi engaged the people in dialogue.

We need to remember that Gandhi drafted a constitution for the Congress and advocated the formation of a Lok Sevak Sangh (CWMG, Vol. 90: 526-28), which is in his Last Will, as he was assassinated. Gandhi would have gone for satyagraha against his own government. His ultimate goal was to establish village republics ensuring ‘ascendancy of civil over military power’ for the democratic progress of India. He provided a sketch of extensive structure for the Lok Sevak Sangh from village onwards. Hopefully, the country will take calls on these concerns of Gandhi. The modern state may not do it because it has gone into the trap of uncritical industrialisation but the countrymen must come forward and make a promise on these serious concerns that Gandhi had made even on the last day before he was assassinated. In the era of privatisation of education he would have worked for an employment-centric school education system. Those who are enjoying power would hardly be serious about these processes of empowering the people. Gandhi was the articulate voice of the last person in the last rung of society; it is they who have to come forward for resolution of the contradictions compounding every day, none else.

Let us utilise Gandhi’s 150th birth anni-versary year as an opportunity to rebuild this country for realising substantive democracy where the voices of those in the last rungs of society, the common, deprived and excluded, are heard, where they can participate in national building free of fear, coercion, discrimination and exploitation, a society of nonviolent order for which Gandhi laid down his life.


  1. Diwakar, D.M. (2017a): ‘Political Economy of Demonetisation: Whether Demonetisation or Digital Divide?’, Jharkhand Journal of Development and Management Studies, Vol. 15, No.2, June, pp. 7257-7268.
  2. ……(2017b): ‘Challenges of Deepening Agrarian Crises in India’, Social Science Abstracts, Vol. 41, 41st Annual Social Science Congress, 2017, pp. 375-393.
  3. ……(2009): ‘Contemporary Crises and Hind Swaraj: Does Swadeshi Provide an Answer?’, Journal of Gandhian Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 42-68.
  4. ……(1994): ‘Are We Worthy of Celebrating Gandhi Jayanti?’, Mainstream, Vol. 32, No. 46, October 1,1994, pp. 11-15.
  5. Gandhi, M.K., (1966-94): Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Navjivan Trust, Ahmedabad, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi.
  6. Joseph, M., et al., (2008): ‘Impact of Organised Sector Retailing on the Unorganised Sector’, Working Paper No. 222, ICRIER, New Delhi.
  7. Mundle, S. (2017): ‘Employment Education and State’, Working Paper Series No.188, NIPFP, New Delhi.
  8. Radhakrishnan, S. (1994): Mahatma Gandhi 100 Years (ed.), Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, Reprint 2009.

The author is a Professor of Economics and former Director, A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna. His e-mail is: dmdiwakar[at]


If Gandhi were alive, he would have gone into shock, say freedom fighters feted in Patna

Raj Yogendra Veer Swami, 93, is a freedom fighter from Karnataka. He still remembers the trials and travails of the freedom movement and how Mahatma Gandhi shaped a movement to uproot the mighty British Empire.

Today, however, he is convinced that had Gandhi been alive, he would have been defamed and made to regret his life dedicated to the freedom of India. “The zeal to serve the people has disappeared in today’s breed of political leaders. Gandhi could not give shape to independent India, but had he been alive today, he would have gone into shock and dismay,” said Swami, while talking to HT on the sidelines of the felicitation function.

Another freedom fighter Dr Prahlad Prajapati, 92, a resident of Kusinagar (Uttar Pradesh), felt that Bapu’s dream of uniform education could not be realised due to apparent division in the education system. “Only children of high-profile people get elitist education, while wards of the poor remain illiterate,” said Prajapati, who participated in the Quit India movement on August 8-9, 1942. He had also suffered a bullet injury on August 14, 1942 when four of his associates, including Ram Chandra Prajapati, were killed while unfurling the Indian flag at Basantpur in Gorakhpur.

He also lamented that even in free India, he was deprived of benefits given to freedom fighters. “The political class has forgotten the pain of freedom movement,” he added.

Avinash Chandra Shastri, 92, from Phagwara in Punjab said that whatever Gandhi wrote in his book ‘Indian in Dreams’ remained in pages of the book only. “Gandhiji wanted river of milk to flow, but liquor started flowing in the country, though prohibition was later initiated in Gujarat and other states. Education is improving, but not the way Gandhiji wanted it to,” he said.

M Satyanarayan, 89, from Telangana said that while everyone basked in the glory of freedom, nobody had time to ponder over the price of freedom. “On her return from Russia in 1972, the late Indira Gandhi thought of giving pension to freedom fighters. Not before that,” he added

Narayan Burman, 92, from Assam said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was striving to realise Bapu’s dreams. “There is need for a movement to take the nation towards Gandhian philosophy, which has cure for all ills plaguing the society. The increasing void between the rich and the poor needs to be bridged,” said Burman, who was arrested in Pandu while burning foreign clothes.

Many freedom fighters like Lajpat Rai Yadav (97) whose five sons are IAS officers and many grandsons IPS officers, Ram Pilla, Bhartiya Choudhary and Subhadra Kumari Khemka, felt that Bapu’s relevance was felt more today than ever before.

“He wanted to wipe the tears of the last man in the society. Today, the problems have confounded so much that we are still struggling with the basics,” he added.