India remembers Gandhi

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New Delhi: It was time again Tuesday to remember that greatest icon of peace. On Mahatma Gandhi’s 143rd birth anniversary, millions enjoyed a holiday but thousands also flocked to places dedicated to his memory to pay tribute to the man who spearheaded India’s bloodless struggle for freedom from British rule and left a legacy of amity and ‘ahimsa’ as eternal as time.

As the nation’s leadership gathered at his memorial Raj Ghat for the annual remembrance, ceremonies were held across the country to mark the day, observed as Gandhi Jayanti.

The symbolism of the day, also marked as the International Day of Non-Violence, was lost on nobody with many, from filmmakers to politicians, starting new ventures and making new promises.

Activist Arvind Kejriwal chose the day to launch his political party in the national capital. With a picture of Gandhi in the backdrop, Kejriwal, wearing a Gandhi cap with the slogan “Mein hoon aam admi, mujhe chahiye Janlokpal” (I am common man, I want Jan Lokpal) printed on it, kicked off his party by vowing to fight against corruption.

In Mumbai, where 120 inmates of Arthur Road prison took an oath to create an India of their dreams, the first look of the film “Freedom” was unveiled by director Vivek Agnihotri.

There were plenty of ceremonial functions.

The centrepiece of the formal observance was Raj Ghat, where Gandhi was cremated after being felled by an assassin’s bullet on Jan 30, 1948. His last words “Hey Ram”, forgiving even in death, are inscribed on a black stone slab.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani were among those who gathered to remember the father of the nation.

Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite ‘bhajans’ like “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” and “Vaishnav Jana To” were played and an all-religion prayer conducted in memory of the father of the nation.

It was also the 108th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The leadership paid floral tributes to both in the Central Hall of Parliament. The Prime Minister, Congress president, Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and a host of MPs and ministers were in attendance.

Away from the formal rituals, observed year after year, there were also those who tried to get a grip on the man, who went from being Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to simply the Mahatma, or the great soul — deified in every corner of India but with his ideology of Gandhism to a large extent confined within pages of textbooks.

At Raj Ghat, for instance, they gathered to understand the mystique of the man, described as a half naked fakir by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

From young professionals to college students, from families to foreign tourists, they walked around the complex trying to soak it all in.

“We need a nationwide revolution against corruption – a revolution based on Gandhian principles,” said Krishan Kumar, a 44-year-old shop owner from Daryaganj in Old Delhi.

Agreed Dave Lyneta, a 38-year-old Canadian.

“I’ve read Gandhi’s biography twice. If only more people around the world followed his principles, there would be no 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan wars,” he said.

For Khizar Hayat, 22, studying at the Jamia Millia Islamia here, an introduction to Gandhi through his Class 9 textbook was the beginning of his journey towards knowledge.

“My devotion towards him grew over the years. I’m trying to imbibe his teachings in the way I live my life or treat others. I used to be violent till a couple of years ago. But I have learnt to control my emotions and more importantly, channelise my aggression in a positive way,” Hayat said.

Gandhi was born on this day in Porbandar in Gujarat in 1869. All of 143 years later, some lessons are still ones that need to be learnt.