Killing Gandhi again: How the essence of a Spartan leader is downplayed by glam projects

“Whenever you see color, think of us,” the paint company Jenson and Nicholson has run their advertising campaign with this slogan for years. It commercializes the idea of ​​the synonymy of the company with color, the main characteristic of its products.

Likewise, whenever one thinks of Mahatma Gandhi, the central idea that crosses the mind is that of non-violence, disobedience, peace and austerity, that is to say the concepts alone, in combination of one or two, or all together.

Gandhi is not a God who cannot be criticized. And, there were many in his lifetime who disagreed with his choice of peaceful means, his strategy to arm self-denial, to fight a brutal colonial regime.

One can dispute Gandhi’s introduction of personal religiosity into public life and political vocabulary, especially in a multi-faith country with its history of religious conflicts. The list of disagreements with his political strategies and socio-political perspective can be long and deep.

But at no time can you question your choice of simplicity in your personal life. Anyone who makes the image of Gandhi and his heritage less austere and brightens his memory, touches the heart of Gandhianism.

The sanctity of Gandhian austerity faces a threat in the Rs 1,246 crore Sabarmati ashram refurbishment project, currently being pursued with the intention of converting the Spartan memorial into a ‘world class’ monument that will attract more tourists.

This non-Gandhian pursuit marks another major step in the commodification of Gandhi, underway for decades, even during his lifetime. What, however, makes the difference of this project, it is the political benefits that it has, and to be part of a policy of appropriation and makeover of this regime.

This is very disturbing, as it comes close to the metamorphosis of Jalianwala Bagh where the monument’s dark antiquity has been compromised at the altar of the desire to make it tourist-friendly and visually appealing. Moreover, this regime’s predilection for grandeur and opulence is well known and visible in every action, from the riverside walks in Ahmedabad and Varanasi to the statue of Sardar Patel, a project pursued with the intention of ‘get into the record books and create a “wow” factor.

Because details on how the company (the same one contacted for the waterfront project in Ahmedabad and Central Vista) intends to renovate the Sabarmati ashram are not available, concerns will persist if murals Bollywood-style designs will adorn the space known for its simplicity, just as they jump off the once spooky lane leading to the Jalianwala Bagh.

The essence of Gandhi

There are two sites that illustrate the essence of Gandhi, the life he lived and how he died. The Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad is where Gandhi lived for over a decade during the years of forming nationalist sentiment into a mass movement. It was from this site that Gandhi embarked on the Dandi March, which in addition to setting people on fire and becoming the launching pad for the civil disobedience movement, also ensured worldwide notoriety for the struggle. anti-colonialism of the Indian people.

The second site is Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi, where he lived his last days and was assassinated. While the Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhi never returned after leaving for Dandi, is the place where the Gandhian moral compass of the national movement was set, Lutyens’ home in Delhi is the place that recalls the expanse of the hatred he aroused. through its inclusive activities.

The sanctity of these two memorials must be preserved if Gandhi is to be understood by future generations.

Although he personally advocated a pre-modern way of life to identify with the majority of Indians of the time, Gandhi did not shy away from the tools of modernity if they advanced his political activities. The Dandi March was rooted in ancient religious and moral tenets, but he made himself readily available to reporters who flocked from different parts of the world and conveyed his words using modern technology. Gandhi spun the charkha, but enabled the modern camera to record still images and newsreel movies. Image creation is a global phenomenon and every public leader has created a profile. But he never lost sight of the ideas that needed to be conveyed.

Plus, Gandhi didn’t believe in makeovers – his loincloth length didn’t shorten, or otherwise, as happens very often with personal styles now (readers will know what I mean).

Additionally, Gandhi strongly resisted becoming an iconic display item. After his visit to England in the loincloth for the Round Table Conference, he canceled his trip to the United States because he feared that he would be “exploited, ridiculed and misinterpreted” after having already been part of the popular American cultural lexicon.

Appropriation of nationalist icons

From 2014, the appropriation of nationalist political icons was an integral strategy of this regime. In the absence of nationalists in its fold, it was necessary to project those who already existed as theirs. But each of them, from Gandhi to Patel and Shastri, has been shaped to fit the regime’s political narrative.

No explanation has been provided as to how the glorification of Nathuram Godse by members of the regime (including ministers and lawmakers) continues alongside the empty talk from the top of the country. In addition, Patel is defended for his role in the integration of princely states and the Somnath temple initiative, but no mention is made of how he forced the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS to operate in the parameters of a written constitution.

Like several other projects, the Samarmati redevelopment project was skillfully launched in 2019, on the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. It would have been completed by now without the pandemic. The political message in motivating the plan was the same – previous governments have done “little” to safeguard nationalist legacies unless they have “family” ties. The project reinforced the tactic of hanging on to the Gandhi brand.

According to details available in media reports, major parts of Ahmedabad, including the Ashram Road artery, will be overthrown just as the Rajpath was in Delhi. This is how the signatures of the leaders are now inscribed on architectural structures and cities.

The fanfare with which Chinese Premier Xi Jinping was escorted around the Sabarmati ashram when Prime Minister Narendra Modi felt he could turn differences with China to India’s advantage, provided a taste of what was on the anvil.

Whether it is the statue of Sardar Patel, Jalianwala Bagh, or the Somnath temple, which now has a promenade by the sea, the objective has been to reduce each of these places into picnic spots. -nique and selfie. Tourism can be promoted, but not by compromising sobriety.

Gandhi was a personality with multiple messages. But the concern now is whether the full spectrum of lessons that his memory holds will be preserved by a Unitarian regime. This fear is not unfounded. On March 12 of this year, Modi launched the Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav, celebrations for the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, but only highlighted the facets of Gandhian education that matched his political focus. current: autonomy and self-confidence.

In the official speech, no mention is ever made of the Gandhian methods of protest in contemporary India, whether against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the three agricultural laws. Moreover, there is never any mention of Gandhi’s opposition to draconian laws like sedition which continue to be used with unprecedented regularity.

It is true that all nationalist monuments can be given a facelift to some extent. But turning them into real shopping centers or (retrograde) art galleries distorts the past. It’s also an easy escape – the regime can’t (or won’t) enlighten people’s lives, so “controlled” sites are flipped to give a false sense of progress and development.

Importantly, Gandhi never went to the United States. In 1931 he declared that his long journey would only be worth it if Americans were “willing to listen to my message rather than see me as a curiosity.”

The Sabarmati ashram makeover would be fitting if those behind its renovation remember his words. Is it too much to ask for the days of his birth and death?

The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets to @NilanjanUdwin

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