Mahatma Gandhi’s Legacy

Less well known is the fact that in the year 2000 global readers of the BBC website were asked to comment on who they thought was the greatest man of the millennium. And it was Mahatma Gandhi

Dilip Simeon Delhi

Recently I was asked to write a couple of lectures for students, undergraduates – on the significance of Gandhi, and on communalism. When I began writing the lectures, which were supposed to be written very simply, I realized that I was not being true to the task of trying to bring across something important about that great man to the younger generation, many of whom may have forgotten. And then I decided to tell his story, and I myself began to research something which I had not done for a very long time which is, I simply began to read through Gandhi’s last utterances over the last weeks of his life.

When I did that, I realized that Gandhi was speaking to us across time, the way his ideas are put together, it’s very clear that it’s a conversation. Everything in Gandhi’s Collected Works also, which is available for all of you who take an interest in it…it’s in the form of a conversation, the discourses and dialogues. And I realized that at the tail end of his life he had undertaken a gigantic task and that if we only cared to listen to him, we would see that he said something so important that it resonates even today, and that it would be of great value to us to pay attention.

I realized in short that his last utterances over his last few weeks especially the one particular week I am going to talk about, were in effect his last testament to the people of India and Pakistan. Let me at this stage point out that he said ‘both India and Pakistan are my countries. I am not going to take a passport for going to Pakistan’. So he died at a moment when he was very lonely, and he was a citizen of both countries or of neither country, and there was a lot of ambivalence and ambiguity regarding his life.

Ashish Nandy has written a whole essay on the assassination of Gandhi indicating somewhere that people were fed up of him, large numbers of people maybe wanted him to die. And we are speaking now on the anniversary of his death, or tomorrow will be the anniversary of his death. Until the time when I was a schoolboy, or even later, I remember that on Gandhi Shahadat Divas there would always be a moment’s silence. We would stand up, there would be a siren blown over the city, and we would know this is the time that Gandhi was assassinated. Now we do not know. Perhaps many people do not even know the significance of January the 30th.

Anyway I will try to sum up a few salient events and utterances of Gandhi in the first half of what I am going to say, and then I will try to give you some kind of interpretation of why I see this as his last will and testament in the second part.

He went on fast on the 13th of January 1948. Now this is very very important, this was his last fast: January the 13th 1948 till January the 18th. It was to be his fifteenth fast in public life, but some people have a different calculation about the number of fasts he undertook. But be that as it may, this fast… Many people say that Gandhi went on fast to get 55 crores transferred from India to Pakistan…see he was betraying the country, and so on and so forth…