Mahesh Chaturvedi, who dresses up like Mahatma Gandhi, reads a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, on a metro train in New Delhi (Photo: Reuters)
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RainbowMan: It’s Not About What Does or Doesn’t Make Gandhi Great

They say, a herd is only as fast as its slowest member. A predator always attacks the last animal in the herd. This helps improve the health of the herd by weeding out the weakest. Now think of social evils as predators and our society as a herd. Socially and economically disadvantaged people always suffer more than those who are more in control of their lives and finances.

But we are (supposedly) evolved animals. We cannot leave this lot behind, so that they can be weeded out of our lives. We cannot wish poverty and misery away, just because its unsightly existence contaminates the beauty of the landscape we want to paint for ourselves. We have to empower those who are challenged, because we are human. And, Gandhi, both note-wala and Rajkumar Hirani-wala taught us this.

Sanjay Dutt and Dilip Prabhavalkar in Lage Raho Munnabhai
Sanjay Dutt and Dilip Prabhavalkar in Lage Raho Munnabhai

Over the last few years we have seen a lot of Gandhi bashing, especially on social media. The man, has today become a hugely polarizing figure. You either love him or hate him.

Often the people who are expressing their support or disdain for Gandhi are people born way after independence. I’m not saying young people don’t have the right to have an opinion. I’m merely saying that please base your opinion on facts and not incendiary forwards on messaging services. Don’t base your opinions on hearsay.

And don’t vilify Gandhi just because you find the methods of other freedom fighters more effective. I have deep respect for Vallabh Bhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and Lala Lajpath Rai. They saw a problem and did everything in their power o fix it. They took decisive action and should be lauded for it. While their methods might have differed from Gandhi, at the end of the day, they all wanted the same thing – an independent India.

Snow falls on a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on a winter morning in the Ariana Parc outside the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva (Photo: Reuters)
Snow falls on a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on a winter morning in the Ariana Parc outside the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva (Photo: Reuters)

While we may debate the efficacy of Gandhi’s methods till the cows (yeah! Both the holy and unholy ones) come home, it doesn’t change the fact that he taught us how to solve problems with compassion instead of coercion. The socio-political landscape has evolved since independence, but the more things change, the more they remain the same. The bigger question is what can you and I do to make things better? Gandhi, Patel, Bose and Rai are all dead, but we are alive - what can we do for India?

Lighting candles doesn’t help and lynching people is the sign of a psychiatric disease. Remember, you win because you focus on winning and not on defeating your enemies. Think constructively. Draw a longer line and the line next to it will automatically appear shorter.

We have to find ways to uphold the law without breaking it. While many of us think politics is a bad word, we must strive to remain politically relevant in order to be socially effective.

School children dressed as Mahatma Gandhi take part in a march to mark the birth anniversary of Gandhi in Delhi (Photo: Reuters)
School children dressed as Mahatma Gandhi take part in a march to mark the birth anniversary of Gandhi in Delhi (Photo: Reuters)

If politicians cultivate vote banks, it is because they need them. They need us and we need them. There is a system and it is rotten, but you cannot change it from the outside. Why not use this to your advantage and build yourself and like minded people into a powerful vote bank. A vote bank of the compassionate, a vote bank of the humane. There is strength in numbers and with enough people by your side you can transform this vote bank into a powerful lobby aimed at socio-cultural reforms.

Ready solutions? Well, maybe there are some, but I am yet to find it. Guess, you have to find your own way.

I think I may not have it in me today to actively join politics and fight an election. But I know I can tend to a stray dog howling in pain on the side of the road. I know I can sensitize people by speaking about sexualities that they haven’t heard of. I know I don’t have to be a woman or transperson to respect one and fight for her or hir rights and neither do I need to think every man is an abuser, as I know the goodness as much the fallacies of my own gender.

I know that cops and journalists work hard, so I restrain myself from acting like a judgmental prick and deriding them all the time. I also know that I must ask why my tax money is being used to determine if the meat in somebody’s refrigerator is beef or not instead of finding out who killed the man. It is upsetting to read between the lines that this comes out of religious hatred rather than love for any religion, that this is born out of hatred and not love for animals. Gandhi said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged the way its animals are treated”. But this battle is not fought on grounds of compassion. If it was, the more humble goat would have also been loved.

So, to all of you wondering what does or doesn’t make Gandhi great, I have one question… what are you going to do to become great yourself? Start small, keep it simple, but make it happen. Do something meaningful with your life. Your herd needs you. Come on!

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘RainbowMan’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)