Everyone wants a piece of Mahatma Gandhi

Oct 01, 2018, 06:57 IST | Dharmendra Jore

the Congress seems desperate to re-appropriate the Mahatma; the Sevagram Ashram trustees indicate what lies ahead for the party by saying no to the Congress jamboree even as the BJP tries to claim its share of Gandhigiri

Everyone wants a piece of Mahatma Gandhi

In a new awakening, the Congress seems desperate to re-appropriate the Mahatma; the Sevagram Ashram trustees indicate what lies ahead for the party by saying no to the Congress jamboree even as the BJP tries to claim its share of Gandhigiri with a four-month programme, and turning Sevagram into a world-class heritage site

A sedate Sevagram Ashram does not get much attention from the outside world. A home for many years to Mahatma Gandhi, the place is revered by Gandhians. The command control of the Gandhian thought-inspired actions is moderately populated by people who take pride in the fact that their dwelling has a place of eminence in India's history of the freedom struggle. They do, however, wonder why Sevagram has never been treated as a world class heritage site that needed to be projected as one of India’s biggest gifts to the world.

Curious tourists do visit the ashram, but the footfall here does not match that at the Mahatma’s Sabarmati Ashram because the governments in Maharashtra, the Congress-led ones in particular, did not appropriate the heritage space the way the Gandhians wanted. The ashram and other institutes in Sevagram and Wardha, which heralded a change in rural and urban areas – a nation-building concept -- by way of their training modules in education, agriculture, khadi-making, swadeshi movement (make in India), rural governance and urban civic management, were treated as useless creations; they were ignored and left to fend for themselves.

The government infrastructure in Sevagram continues to be substandard even as the ashram and associated institutes make efforts on their own to make their neighbourhood people-friendly. Visitors feel it is a heritage space that needs extraordinary ideation, serious effort and major funds for conserving and showcasing it to the world. The previous Congress government had taken up a project to develop the Sevagram-Wardha-Pavnar precinct, but inaction on all fronts brought the project to a premature end.

In news for wrong reasons
There was a decade when unified India would look to Sevagram for the Mahatma’s announcements. Many decisions on important matters and movements were taken by the Mahatma here.

Now, the place is in the news for all wrong reasons. The Congress was denied permission to give ‘marching orders’ to the Modi government on October 2, the Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary, from inside the ashram. Citing a pre-independence resolution, the trustees have told the Congress that no political events are allowed there. And, then came the rift in the Gandhian family. The Congress-supporting Gandhians blamed the refusal on the BJP-backers in the movement, particularly a section led by a senior office-bearer of the ashram’s management. Early this year, the inclusion of a senior Gandhian from the Sevagram ashram on the Modi government-controlled national panel had evoked a sharp reaction from fellow Gandhians.

Seems strange? One may think how could a section of Gandhians support the BJP, a party which the Congress links with ideological masters of the Mahatma’s killers? Does this mean that certain Gandhians do not accept the Congress in its current form, and find the Modi-led Gandhi-loving BJP as an alternative to the party that has been saying that the Mahatma cannot be skimmed off the Congress?

Some answers lie in the Congress’s history. The persons, now accused of joining hands with the BJP, hold a grudge against the Congress because the party had not only ill-treated the Gandhian institutes, which were shut for allegedly receiving foreign funding during the emergency, but it had also put some Gandhians in prison under MISA. One such Gandhian holds a senior position in the ashram’s current management.

BJP vs Congress
Even as the Congress has been allowed to hold a working committee meeting of Rahul Gandhi, his mother Sonia, former PM Manmohan Singh and 100 others – outside the ashram at one of the Gandhian institutes, the BJP has also got going in the name of the Mahatma. Maharashtra’s BJP government has reformed the Congress-ideated project which hadn’t taken off then under the Sevagram Development Plan. The state and Centre have sanctioned a huge amount for the project to transform the place into a world class heritage memorial.

A segment of the project will be unveiled on October 2, the day the Congress president and his mother will address party seniors and the Congress-loving janata, asking them to bring Modi down from his pedestal. In the morning, the BJP would have started a state-wide Mahatma Gandhi Swachhta-Samvad Padayatra (cleanliness-communication march) in the 288 Assembly segments. The yatra will last till January 30, the Mahatma’s death anniversary.

Conceptualised to reach out to at least 900 out of 1,800 voting booths ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s Gandhi Yatra will see the ministers, MPs and legislators impress upon the voters how their party has been implementing the Mahatma’s vision of ‘Swadeshi’ through ‘Make in India, Make in Maharashtra’ and ‘Swachh Bharat’ missions.

It is now nothing but a battle for owning a copyright to the father of the nation. Good that the name Mahatma Gandhi still remains relevant to the country that dreams of rolling into a better tomorrow. But, it would have been best if the Mahatma's thoughts, too, were taken as seriously.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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