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Monday, 10 October 2011

The woes of being a Mahatma

The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone.

— MK Gandhi, Young India, April 21, 1927

Bapu could have w­ritten this to the new Mahatma am­ong us, ‘Mahatma’ Hazare nee ‘Anna’. On October 2 this year, coincidently or I believe not really, the Gram Sabha of Ralegan Siddhi passed a resolution that henceforth, the man they affectionately ca­lled ‘Anna’ will be called ‘Mahatma’. An­na Hazare pro­mptly refused to accept the honorific and as­k­ed that he be allowed to remain an ‘ordinary’ hu­man be­ing, and I would like to believe he was honest.

Bapu considered the title ‘Mahatma’ a burden. He wr­o­te reams to repudiate the honorific. “I would support any movement to drop altogether the use of the word ‘Mahatma’ before my name. My simple name sounds sw­eet without the adjective. The latter often stinks as wh­en it is applied to promote violence or untruth,” he wrote in Harijan on October 15, 1938.

Today, we see all sorts insincerely invoking his name to gain legitimacy and respe­ctability. Narendra Modi la­unched his campaign for pr­ime minister’s post with a farce he called Sadbhavana, Bapu would have cringed to see his photographs used as a backdrop on Narendra Mo­di’s stage and on the stage of the farce enacted by the Congress leaders on the road outside Sabarmati Ashram to co­unter Modi’s 5 star farce.

Bapu would have also cri­nged seeing his photograph as a backdrop on Anna Hazare’s stage at Ramleela Maidan, as day after day An­n­a roared that the corrupt s­h­ould be hanged and the tr­aitors done away with. Anna admirably managed to keep the emotions of his supporters in check for the entire period of his agitation and ensured there was no violence, but his speeches and utterances were extremely violent, from a stage where the backdrop was a large picture of Bapu.

Since April, when Anna first sat on a fast at Jantar Mantar to force the Government to act on the Jan Lok Pal Bill, he inspired people and became an iconic figure, those who manage him very assiduously built him up into an iconic figure and right from then there began comparisons with Bapu. In recent times, Anna comes closest to personifying the image of Bapu; that I agree. Since April, there ha­ve been whispers of ‘Aaj ka Gandhi’ and a campaign has been launched to turn him into a modern day Messiah, Mahatma, ably assisted by the media.

By August, he had been christened the ‘Naya Gandhi’ and slogans were raised c­o­mparing him to a tornado, which would sweep corruption away and annihilate the corrupt. ‘Anna nahi ye Aandhi hai, Aaj ka Gandhi hai’. Sounded very good but those who coined this slogan seem to be too overawed by Bapu and Indira Gandhi because she was the first Indian leader to be called a tornado, ‘Indira Nahi ye Aandhi hai!’ was a favourite slogan of her sycophants in Congress. An­n­a’s managers definitely ca­n’t claim to be original.

To me what is distasteful is the fact that ever since An­na launched his movement or, truly speaking, Anna’s supporters usurped the anti corruption segment for him, they have forced him to run a race, a race with a dead man — MK Gandhi.

At every step, comparisons have been made with Bapu, culminating in the pe­ople of Ralengansiddhi ano­inting him Mahatma on October 2, Bapu’s 142nd birth anniversary. It feels as if they are desperate to fast track An­na’s ascent to be placed on par with Bapu.

They and Anna will be better off reading and understanding what Bapu had to say about these kind of comparisons and ambitions of fol­lowers to aggrandise their leaders: “In the majority of cases addresses presented to me contain adjectives which I am ill able to carry. Their use can do good neither to the writers, nor to me. They unnecessarily humiliate me, for I have to confess that I do not deserve them. When th­ey are deserved, their use is superfluous. It cannot add to the st­rength of the qualities possessed by me. They may, if I am not on my guard, easily turn my head.”(Young In­dia: May 21, 1925.)

I hope Anna reads this, it is a warning Bapu left behind for all those who strove to be or on whom ‘Mahatmaship’ was forced.

I conclude with Bapu’s words from Young India, da­ted January 12, 1930: ‘Th­ank God, my much vau­nted Mahatmaship has never fo­oled me.”

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma

Gandhi Foundation)


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