Lage Raho Munnabhai does a good job in giving out Gandhi’s message. Now it’s time to act. Hang on, it’s gonna be a rough ride, says R. Krishna.
After Lage Raho Munnabhai, Gandhi is no longer confined to textbooks or dusty library shelves. He’s everywhere – in the media, and on t-shirts. Heated altercations in crowded local trains are now settled by, “Arre Gandhigiri karo ne”. October 2 was far from solemn – it was vivacious. Like Gandhi, his Jayanti too had undergone a transformation (lekin yeh Jayanti kaun hai?). Gandhiji now seems more like the Bapu at home whom you can occasionally tease without fearing reproach.
While Lage Raho Munnabhai was no doubt an entertaining film, it was just a film. But the media doesn’t think so. They are hell-bent on making Lage Raho Munnabhai a national phenomenon. So much so that, Lage Raho Munnabhai doesn’t seem to have an end, continuing on our TV sets and newspapers. Clearly, the media’s intention is not to educate the public on Gandhi’s ideals. It is lip service meant to titillate the audience.
On October 2nd, Mid Day, in a Gandhi special issue, had a reporter dressed up as Gandhi. “Outside, a group of three men bow down low and salute me. For one moment, I feel like a Mahatma”, writes the reporter. FYI Gandhi didn’t care whether there were people bowing low to him. That’s why he is considered Mahatma.
It’s easy to be seduced by Gandhi’s words, and easier to preach it (politicians especially and now even the media use it to maximum advantage). It’s the follow-up – both in action and intention – that’s the tough part. After all, one can turn the other cheek out of weakness. One can turn the other cheek out of respect for Gandhi. But how many people truly believe that turning the other cheek – and thereby suffering themselves – is actually meant to help the inflictor get over his evil?
Gandhi’s vision stemmed from hands-on work – he described his life as one long experiment. He travelled across India for one year before launching his campaign. Few have a better understanding of India. In Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) – perhaps his most controversial book – Gandhi questions the meaning of Swaraj. Does Swaraj mean having your own navy, army or splendour? “In effect it means this; that we want English rule without the Englishman. You want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English. And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan.” His contemporaries ignored this. Therefore, today though we have independence, the white Ambassador – the symbol of Government might – is to be feared. The white Ambassador still has its glass tinted and drawn up, shutting out the sun, the dust, and anything else that’s unpleasant. To the man on the road, it might well be a British Sahib in that car.
Like his vision Gandhi’s principles too evolved by actual practice. Therefore he went ahead with some actions even at the risk of losing popularity. Not all of his resolutions were passed by the Congress. But Gandhi was a man of convictions. Chandrababu Naidu nowadays carries a plough to his rallies and rides on a cycle. But he does it to gain political mileage. Gandhi travelled third class to experience the suffering of the common man. He stayed put in a Muslim neighbourhood in Calcutta during the 1947 riots. Manmohan Singh (or any other minister) perhaps would have done an aerial survey of affected areas. Gandhi is to be admired more for his actions than principles. And he acted to the benefit of others, even his so-called enemies. The question, “Are Gandhian principles relevant today?” is redundant. Because most so-called Gandhian principles were not new even when he preached them – it was Lord Krishna’s or Jesus Christ’s or John Ruskin’s or Leo Tolstoy’s words. The difference is that Gandhi put these principles into practise – in action and intention.