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Focus off Mahatma

Coomi Kapoor | BLOG BYTES<br> Who is the better known Gandhi today? The Father of the Nation or descendants of the Congress first family whose members have ruled India for most of the last half century?

Written by Coomi Kapoor | February 3, 2009 1:06:13 pm

Who is the better known Gandhi today? The Father of the Nation or descendants of the Congress first family whose members have ruled India for most of the last half century?

Mahatma Gandhi’s 61st death anniversary last Friday merited a minor mention in the media. There was no front page photograph in Delhi’s newspapers of the prayer meeting at Rajghat. On TV channels,reports of Rahul Gandhi taking an oath to fight terrorism quite overshadowed commemorative programmes for the Mahatma. With the Nehru-Gandhi family prayer meets at the samadhis it is a different story. Apart from the Gandhi family,all the senior leaders in the government,and a whole lot of junior members as well,make sure to mark their presence. Naturally the media focuses on the event.

A few months back at Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad I met a group of tiny tots being taken on a tour. Curious,I posed the question,”Who was Gandhiji?” to the kindergarten kids. Most just giggled and said they didn’t know,while the teacher looked embarrassed. One of the few who ventured a response was a child who said “Indira Gandhi”. Another piped in,”Indira Gandhi,Rajiv Gandhi,Sonia Gandhi”. If this is the lack of knowledge in Bapu’s home state and among children in a secular school,who clearly belonged to the upper middle class,I wonder what it is like in the rest of the country.

You only have to compare the daily scene at one Safdarjung Road,the home where Indira Gandhi lived as Prime Minister and where she was shot,to Tees January Marg,the former Birla residence,where Gandhiji was assassinated,to know the answer. Outside one Safdarjung Road there is a fleet of tourist buses and hoards of visitors. At Birla House you can count the numbers who enter the compound on your fingers. The few exhibits in glass covers look dusty and uncared for.

Delhi is littered with memorials for the Gandhi family. There is the Indira Gandhi airport,Rajiv Gandhi Chowk,Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar,Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan,Indira Gandhi National University,Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts,Indira Gandhi peace award,Rajiv Gandhi Foundation,Indira Nagar,Sanjay Nagar and many more. True there is a road named after the Mahatma in the Capital known as M G Road. But no one walking on the road seems aware of what the initials stand for. One passerby explained helpfully that it was the Meherauli Gurgoan Road and I was walking in the totally opposite direction.

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