Verdict: Does Gandhigiri work?

CNN-IBN, October 02, 2006

DEBATING GANDHI: The Verdict’s audience discusses whether the Mahatma is still relevant.

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Lage Raho Munnabhai, the Bollywood blockbuster has reinvented Mahatma Gandhi for an entirely new generation of Indians. Munnabhai shows the way on screen, but can Gandhigiri work in real life?
How do old Gandhians see Gandhiji in today’s India? The youth see Gandhi as a feel-good brand but do they really connect to Gandhi’s idealism.
CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, engaged the audience in this debate on Gandhi and Gandhigiri.
A poll conducted some time ago found that 68 per cent said Gandhi’s ideals can work in real life India today, 19 per cent said they can’t work and 16 per cent were undecided.
The majority of people believed that Gandhigiri can work, but can it really?
• Medha Patkar, convener of the Narmada Bacho Andolan.
• Priya Dutt, Congress MP from Mumbai and the sister of actor Sanjay Dutt, who played Munnabhai.
• Vikram Savarkar, former president of the All India Hindu Mahasabha and nephew of freedom fighter Veer Savarkar, who was an opponent of Mahatma Gandhi.
• Ad-guru Alyque Padamasee, who played Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi.
• Social activist Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.
• Actor Dilip Prabhavalkar, who played Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai.
Dilip Prabhavalkar, who played Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai, believes Gandhigiri can work. “I read Gandhi once again before portraying the role and usually the role shouldn’t affect the actor, but here the preparation you do for your role may affect and influence you sometime. So I think Gandhigiri may give motivation,” he said. “I was honest but it has started affecting me. I’m more honest now.”
“Gandhigiri is one kind of adaptation of Gandhism that is shown in films, but what one must start with is Gandhi’s own values and ideals. That whole ideology may not have a patent and you may select part of it,” said Medha Patkar, convener of the Narmada Bacho Andolan and an activist who uses Satyagraha in her protest movements.
Brand Gandhi?
We have to be cautious though. Patkar warned that if Gandhigiri becomes just “marketing of Gandhi’s values, then it will not work.” If one takes that precaution, then Gandhigiri will be an innovative of looking at the world around and Gandhi himself.
Ad-guru Alyque Padamasee believes that Gandhigiri can work, but his view differed from Patkar’s. He said one cannot escape marketing in today’s world and selling Gandhi as a feel-good brand to the young generation isn’t wrong if it can promote the Mahatma’s ideals.
“Everything today is marketing. Whether it’s soap, whether it’s the idea of peace, whether it’s Mother Teresa. Whatever you’re doing is all marketing because marketing is just a part of communications,” said Padamasee, who played Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Gandhi.
Padamasee believed that the Mahatma himself was a great marketing man and a great communicator.
“Gandhiji was fantastic at communicating; he was he was a communications guru. I consider him my guru in communication. He was a man without any media but was able to spread his message throughout India because he knew what event marketing was all about. That was the Dandi Salt March; he knew what the fast unto death was all about,” said Padamsee.
In Lucknow, protesters picketing a liquor shop gave roses to their opponents like in the film. They were arrested and beaten up. How can we then believe that Gandhigiri can work?
Is Gandhi relevant anymore?
Padamsee saw no reason to be disheartened. “What happened to the Satyagrahis? Were they not beaten up?” he said.
That’s impractical, said Vikram Savarkar, former president of the All India Hindu Mahasabha.
“It doesn’t work at all. I believe that Gandhiji’s ideology—Gandhivad, or in today’s language Gandhigiri, will not be of any use either in the past, present and neither the future,” said Savarkar.
But hadn’t history proved that Hindutva has lost and Gandhigiri has won. Savarkar, nephew of freedom fighter Veer Savarkar, strongly disagreed.
“In democratic methods, the majority wins and loses over the minority. What is being called marketing, we call it advertising. The position of Hindu Mahasabha from 1937 to 1944 was opposition to the Congress.”
The debate whether in 2007 Gandhi would become more relevant than Hindutvadi forces has not been settled. “When there is talk about telecast and advertisement, I talk about ideology. You people believe that Gandhiji was the Father of the nation. I don’t believe in that. He can be called the Father of Pakistan but not of Hindustan,” said Savarkar.
Patkar strongly disagreed with his statement. “Even if (Veer) Savarkar were here today, I don’t think he would have agreed to what Vikram is saying. Even he regarded Gandhi in high esteem. Hindutvadis may have killed Gandhi but they couldn’t have killed his ideology,” said Patkar.
“Gandhi’s ideals have spread all over the world. That is the real globalisation—of values, of principles, of humanity and human values and rights.”
“Gandhiji was beneficial to Hindustan, even to Hindustan’s enemy. But he was destructive to Hindus and their community,” said Savarkar.
Politics today
That was a controversial view, but even if we disagree with it, can Gandhi work in the age of corrupt politicians? Does Gandhi have any relevance in politics today?
Mumbai MP Priya Dutt believes Gandhi is still relevant. Dutt agreed that there is no morality in politics, but Gandhi gives moral courage to fight the system.
“It’s just one person who can make that difference. You can’t change things overnight. But that one person who can stand up and make that difference will make a mark and it has been proven,” said Dutt, whose brother Sanjay plays Munnabhai in the film.
Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, tried to enter politics but was not successful. He believes that “just being a great grandson is not enough to launch a career in politics.”
But Rahul Gandhi, the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, has been successful in politics. “I think that is the difference. I think people believe that if you are truly Gandhi’s descendant then got to prove yourself in being able to show that you can live by those values and unless you can do that, merely having a famous surname or a lineage is not enough to get you votes,” said Tushar.
Patkar and Padamsee didn’t agree with the coinage Gandhigiri. Patkar said it sounded like a “mixture” of Gandhian values that seems attractive but may not go a long way.
Padamsee said Gandhigiri risked being associated with terms like “dadagiri and chamchagiri”. “Gandhi was an inspirational force. And when you have an inspirational force, it doesn’t matter whether it works or not.”
Mere symbolism
But how can you have a mass movement when Gandhi has been to stamps and statues. Priya Dutt admitted that the Congress had reduced Gandhi to a cutout figure and there was no point in having more statues.
Padamsee though believed that Gandhiji makes a “great statue and statues are supposed to inspire people. But I don’t think that’s the end of the thing. What the man stood for is more important.”
Vikram Savarkar said statues or stamps didn’t matter, as “Gandhiji’s ideology wasn’t even successful at a time when he lived. He was a worshipper of truth and non-violence but he spoke the biggest the lie in the world. In 1945, he promised the citizens of India that the country will not be divided.”
“The new generation should know their history. Gandhi spoke this lie that when the Congress came to power, he accepted the partition,” said Savarkar.
Padamsee admitted that Gandhism was alive today not because of his ideals but his projection. “When I was acting in the film Gandhi as Jinnah, I asked my 12-year-old daughter to see the movie and she said, “Oh, come on Dad, it’s about that boring old man”.
I said, ‘How dare you say that about the father of the nation, you go see the movie.’ She went to see it with her friends and when she came out she said, ‘Dad, you never told me Gandhi was such a great man.’”
Gandhism vs terrorism
Even if Gandhi is relevant today, can his ideals be used to fight terrorists who have AK-47s? What about state terrorism?
“State terrorism is more difficult to fights than other kinds of terrorism, so Gandhism really means new economics and politics, a new lifestyle. But if he is marketed then it’s most unfortunate,” said Patkar.
“I think if Gandhi was here today, he would change with time,” said Dutt.
Moditva might work now but Gandhigiri will finally win. “For the time being, Moditva dominates but in the long run, it will be Gandhism. Gandhism is more like a natural cure with no side effects, which is the easier road to take, but a longer one,” said Tushar. [Moditva refers to the communal politics of Gujarat Chief Minister Modi]
A member of the audience wanted to know from Vikram Savarkar why was he against Gandhi, who had inspired so many people.
“None of Gandhi’s ideals appeal to me. Historically, it’s wrong to think that it is because of Gandhi that we achieved independence. It was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the soldiers who won us independence,” said Savarkar.
Patkar disagreed and believed that Gandhi is much more relevant today, because now “we have to stop our politicians from selling our country.”
As an audience member said: “Only if everyone follows Gandhigiri, Gandhism will work.”
Film and real life hero
“What everyone enjoyed in the movie is not just Gandhigiri, but the dialogues because it was entertaining. Gandhigiri might work in real life but it’s uncertain and will take a lot of time,” said another audience member.
“I believe Gandhi was able to change society because he used mass movements. It’s because of the mass media and Bollywood that people are inspired today. Not just with Munnabhai, but with Rang De Basanti too. How the Jessica Lal case was reopened? Mass movements and mass media can work with dedicated people like Medha Patkar,” said Padamsee.
Priya Dutt said she did have had moral courage and there were many like her. “I would not compromise on my beliefs. There are people like me. But people seem to have lost hope. They need to believe in themselves.”
“If Gandhism is used against an establishment, it can work because it has certain norms and rules. But in the case of terrorists it may not work because they themselves have no norms and rules,” said a member of the audience.
Tushar Gandhi replied to that saying that “Bush’s war against terror is not working either. We can’t discard non-violence just because it doesn’t work against a suicide-bomber.”
An audience member said that it was futile to adopt Gandhigiri, as “it’s going to fade away once the movie becomes old.”
Dilip Prabhavalkar, who believes that the movie changed his life, didn’t share that view. “Let’s give the modern version of Gandhigiri a chance. Let’s see if it works,” he said.
Gandhigiri is a choice we have to make, said Tushar Gandhi. “Satyagraha is not just a concept against a power. It applies in our day to day life,” he said.
“If someone gives someone a rose and still gets beaten up and the media picks it up it will change people. One of the reasons Gandhigiri is not working is because it is not treated as a religion, every day,” said Padamsee.
Savarkar didn’t agree. “In reality, the reason why Gandhigiri cannot work because in today’s time to fight terrorism, we need tit-for-tat. Godsegiri might take dominance,” he said. [Godse was Gandhi’s assassin]
Patkar believed Gandhi has to be given a chance. “Gandhigiri cannot be a market product. You have to stand up and fight despite obstacles that might can come your way,” she said.
Audience poll: 56 per cent say Gandhigiri can work. 40 per cent say it won’t. 4 percent are undecided.
Nationwide poll: 48 percent say yes. 52 percent say no.

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