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Gandhi is a Historic Figure: Ignored or Exploited

January 30, 2019
Plain English Version

Gandhi on a train in 1940, wearing his trademark glasses and clothing made of homespun cloth. Photo Credit: Dinodia Photos, via Getty Images

Mahatma Gandhi stands with towering figures in history. He is the father of post-colonial India. It now is an India free of the rule of Great Britain.

It was a mild winter day on January 30, 1948. Mohandas K. Gandhi walked slowly across a stately lawn in New Delhi. He was leaning on the shoulders of two young women. A person greeted him and touched his feet. He was an assassin who shot the frail 78-year-old Gandhi three times in the chest.

The place where Gandhi fell to the ground is where he spent his final days.  It has been turned into a memorial to Gandhi’s life. There is no security check or ticket booth to enter. You just walk in off the street. Gandhi would have liked that easy access.

The name of the memorial is the Gandhi Smriti. It is perhaps the best place in India to think about Gandhi’s legacy.

Even seventy years after his assassination, Gandhi’s global influence is still enormous. His reputation as a force for good is intact. He is an example of the good that can happen with peaceful protest.

But he is not such a big hero in India these days.

A professor said, “I am afraid Gandhi has become marginal. In modern India, the two dominant forces hate him.”

Hindu nationalists in India see Gandhi as weak. Nationalists are part of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is the party that governs India. The party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hindu supremacists are angry that Gandhi had sympathy for the country’s Muslim minority. He is often charged with allowing Pakistan to split off from India.

Gandhi is also out of favor with the Dalits. They are a class of Indians at the bottom of India’s Hindu society for centuries.  They are a population of more than 200 million. Gandhi was passionate about the poor, including the Dalits. He wanted them to have better lives.

An expert said critics think Gandhi “was not radical enough. That he was patronizing in his call for Dalit emancipation.”.

But it is also clear that politicians use Gandhi when it suits them.

Gandhi has had his biggest impact on environmental causes. His famous bifocal glasses are a symbol of programs intended to make India cleaner.

His biographer said, “Gandhi is like Churchill, Napoleon, Mao, Lincoln, any great figure. His brand goes up and down. His legacy will be debated endlessly.”

To which of today’s political parties would Gandhi belong? An expert said, “None of the political parties have any claim to Gandhi’s moral legacy. The reasons are  corruption, dynastic politics, religious division.”

One author said the true guardians of Gandhi’s legacy are environmental groups. The groups that try to protect traditional village life. The groups that promote religious harmony.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.

Source: The New York Times January 26, 2019

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