Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Gandhi has alas been ritualised and rendered largely irrelevant by pious Gandhians who have frozen him in time, reduced him to an ism and have failed to relate his essential truths to contemporary issues

Reflections on Gandhi and Gandhi

Gandhi has been ritualised and frozen. Yet he was a dynamic force. Change is good. Parties need to nurture younger cadres and hear new voices.

By B G Verghese

Sahara Times, 2006

Years ago there was a famous Shankar cartoon depicting Gandhi striding along briskly, staff in hand, behind a ragged crowd. The caption read: “There go my people. And I must hurry to follow them. For I am their leader”! One must be prepared to follow to be able to lead. This does not mean following the fool multitude. What it implies is the need to understand the problems of the people, articulate their aspirations but yet guide and mentor them to work for a larger purpose. It was to understand and empathise with his people that the Mahatma adopted the dhoti and chadar, which was all they could afford and, for the most part, needed to wear.

One was reminded of Gandhi on January 30, Martyrs Day, when ritual homage was paid to his memory. Few remember the values he stood for; fewer seem to care. One also could not but recall his concept of leadership a few days prior to that event with sundry Congressmen, not all of them necessarily young, clamouring for Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to high party office during the AICC’s Hyderabad session. 

Gandhi has alas been ritualised and rendered largely irrelevant by pious Gandhians who have frozen him in time, reduced him to an ism and have failed to relate his essential truths to contemporary issues and distil an agenda for action. Yet India and the world need Gandhi in our midst today. People abroad have sought to reach out to him more creatively than most of us in India.

Gandhi was dynamic and moved with the times, always ready to reinterpret and adapt, even disown, yesterday’s verities in facing current realities. The khadi and village industries movement was developed by him as a strategy to put idle hands to work and achieve mass production through production by the masses. The charkha was only a symbol, not an end product in itself as it has become, at odds with technology and modern management and marketing techniques with backward and forward linkages. Few realise that the KVIC controls the largest retail chain in India which, imaginatively used, could be made a vehicle for rural transformation.

The discovery by corporate houses of a huge market in rural India and the e-chaupal illustrates something of the potential waiting to be tapped. Kamla Chaudhury, a management guru touched by Gandhi, sadly passed away recently. She spent her last years thinking of how to spark a latrine movement to improve sanitation, bestow dignity in the underprivileged, deliver gender justice and promote better health. Barring Bindeshwar Pathak of the Saulabh Shauchalya and bhangi mukti movement and some older Gandhians in the Sabarmati Ashram, where are the Gandhians in all of this ? 

Surely it is time for the country to rethink what Gandhi should mean to us over and beyond the stereotyped observance of October 2 and January 30. And have Congresspersons become so forgetful of their heritage as to be unable to rise above thinking about the loaves and fishes of office, often for personal pelf and power, rather than for service to the nation?

Fortunately Rahul Gandhi conducted himself admirably in stating politely, yet firmly, that he is no neta and has much to learn before aspiring to a leadership thrust upon him by sycophants. Indeed, he has to mature and earn his place in the Party.      

The notion that young MPs, MLAs or Party workers have no role to play unless they are in “office” must be rubbished.  Legislators must learn to know and serve their constituencies and to specialise in matters on which they can bring inquiring minds to bear. Asking Questions and participating in debates and in the proceedings of various parliamentary committees are important responsibilities. It is then for them to lobby for policies and programmes within the Party, in Parliament and within the Government and to build public opinion to further these causes. This does not require ministerial or party positions or all manner of official paraphernalia.

All Parties must also nurture younger cadres by enabling them to make their views known in internal fora or by writing papers which are then given due consideration. There is no reason why youthful members should not be given ministerial office if their talents so warrant. However, it is a   pity that Deputy Ministers have virtually disappeared and all the greater regret that the practice of appointing parliamentary secretaries to assist senior minister has been altogether abandoned. These positions carried no perks but offered a valuable training ground to garner political experience and opportunity to prove one’s mettle.

Dr Manmohan Singh could do well to consider reintroducing this system but without having the need to consult with coalition partners in terms of numbers, the persons selected and the ministries to which they might be attached as in the case of Ministers – a pernicious spoils system that has weakened the position of the prime minister in recent coalitional politics. Nor should it be necessary to pump up MPs through such devices as the MP Local Area Development Fund, which randomly fragments budget allocations a the district level in accordance with individual whim and fancy and has created a market for patronage in place of service and the true cultivation of constituencies. The recent exposure of misuse of these funds only underlines the point.

It would also be desirable for political parties and citizen groups to try and build up constituency committees that could monitor party activity at the grassroots level and serve as a sieve at the time of selection of electoral candidates. It might not be possible to replicate the American primaries; but some method of screening would be useful in keeping out candidates with dubious records seeking a parliamentary launch pad. 

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