Eons ago, I was in college when Mahatma Gandhi's birth centenary rolled around and campuses went into a whirl of Gandhi related events; not quite unlike the drumming up of the Gandhigiri frenzy of today.
Unfortunately for my college, I took a contrary view. Taking a cue from the space mania of those times, I declared at one public speaking contest that perhaps Gandhi mania should be packed off into space for sometime, to give the economy a chance to get out of the corruption, dharna, public sector, strike syndrome then inflicted on our generation.
At this point of time, I cannot remember how we connected these four to the Father of the Nation phenomena; no doubt, fertile collegiate minds must have done so; but I do remember the shocked expressions of the convenors of the event, who communicated their indignant trauma to the college management, which was conveyed to yours truly by a Vice Principal hard put to keep a straight face when he asked 'How did you manage to articulate such a thought in such a gathering?' He was particular to inform me that that was his private thought, not that of the suitably chastened college management!!
Well, it seems that Gandhi mania, lying dormant for a long while (though not quite in outer space) has been revived. How much on account of the recent spate of films and how much as a reaction to the prevailing international mania for violence at the drop of any proverbial hat is of course an open question.
The concept of Gandhigiri, enunciated in Munnabhai Laage Raho, is an interesting one. How successful will it actually prove to be in the age when India is marching forward full speed, led by our industrial biggies with the rest trailing behind and the majority hard put to stay anywhere in that march, remains to be seen.
What is Gandhigiri? Perhaps the most popular expression of it is the Jaddoo ki Jhappi which was actually patented in Munnabhai MBBS, the precursor to Munnabhai Lage Raho. In a world increasingly addicted to flying kisses brushing past cheeks, touch-me-not and hands off, even within families, the concept of a warm, close hug is very very heartwarming; even psychiatrists have accepted that the human touch is needed to make a connection; that it is the touch of the mother which is the most effective one for any baby.
The Jadoo ki Jhappi has moved on to simplistic solutions to many every day problems, most of which center around making the decision maker guilty about taking a wrong decision. One hears of streams of stories of how some expression of Gandhigiri has worked for ordinary citizens: students have presented dozens of roses to teachers to avoid extra tough tests or marking, or for restitution of some sort, tenants to landlords and vice versa, or the aam admi tackling officialdom with roses etc.
No doubt, rose mania has certainly meant good news for the flower sellers and cultivators. But picture these scenarios: students trooping into a staff room for flowers for stern professor would most probably mean even colleagues adding their pressure on the stern teacher; a huge assembly of poor people handing out marigolds or roses to a block level official may impact some local scheme mired in corruption, at least until the local bigwig or contractor makes his presence re-felt. How varied would be the response to say upper caste petitioners and those from the scheduled castes or tribals?
For that matter, can anyone imagine any top or even mid-level babu or neta returning the expensive mithai ka dabba or bouquet without pocketing the attached bulky envelope sent by King Capital in favor of accepting the single roses handed to him by ordinary constituents who may be losing their land to some new industry or project? Would those roses actually instigate him into conceiving of some proposal to ensure that the aam admi also got some tangible benefits out of the gigantic investment which is going to earn humongous returns for the industrial biggie?
Had that been so, would we have seen such blood and gore in West Bengal over an SEZ?
Massive peace rallies have been organized not only in India but across the world. They happened even in the run up to the Iraq war. Did anyone seriously envisage President Bush overlooking his personal stake, financial and political, in the Iraq war to heed to popular non-violent demands? Will any politician worth his salt overlook re-election factors in favor of the 'public good'?
Isn't that what Gandhigiri is all about? The public good? Non violent solutions to everyday and extra ordinary problems which face the individual, the community, society at large, humanity?
Media and marketing driven Gandhigiri bears an excellent gloss; brings good cheer to the young people who are the flavor of the season in India Shining and Incredible India@60.
But what of Gandhi himself? Gandhi My Father exposed a clay chip through the travails of his son. What about his political heir, Jawaharlal Nehru and his desperation to be prime minister? Where was the Gandhigiri in staving off the partition, its blood and gore?
At that time the flavor of Gandhigiri prevalent meant that one 'loved' the British, at home in India and when they quit India. Went a long way to winning an international statesman image for Nehru. But once his Guru was gone, the new Prime Minister went the Big Industry way of those times, married his Fabian Socialism to the foundations of the Public Sector and the Big Dams.
In our times, a 'formidable world leader' professed to be a disciple of Gandhi: Nelson Mandela. After an initial stint of violent protest against apartheid, he chose to sit out decades in a South African prison, knowing full well that his violent campaign was in the able hands of his wife Winnie who fought in the streets and in the international media, not unlike the wooing of the international media by our Nehrus and Gandhis in the run up to Independence.
Once Winnie managed to bring Nelson out of prison, Mandela's Gandhigiri led to reconciliation with the perpetrators of apartheid and divorce from the 'violent' Winnie, followed by prime time romance at a ripe old age which precluded him taking on the 'onerous' task of overseeing South Africa for too long. How much attractive the charms of flying in and out of world capitals, waving to crowds and spouting speeches!!
And for the others? For Gandhigiri to become more than an optimist' fad, it is vital that the leaders of every Gandhigiri campaign work out the economic benefits that can accrue to the oppressor by taking a peaceful path. Otherwise the campaign will meet a dead end.
Will Bush stop his preparations for the next war designed to send arms and ammunitions makers laughing all the way to their banks, unless he sees some much bigger profit from stopping another war which will tear yet another country asunder with yet another Partition. And our home grown netas?