Centre’s Agenda Is To Erase Gandhian Footprints From Indian Societies : Kumar Prashant

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{Kumar Prashant of Gandhi Peace Foundation is a noted Gandhian ideologue. In this exclusive interview to the Samaja, the ardent believer of Gandhian philosophy talked about Gandhi-150, politics, emergency and Odisha. He bemoaned the steady erosion of principles and values advocated by the Mahatma, the apostle of peace.}

Excerpts:

(What are the objectives of an initiative under ‘Gandhi 150’, which will mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in 2019?)

Kumar- Gandhian legacy and values of non-violence and truth are in public domain. But these have been reduced to theory, confined to pages of history books. But few people have been practicing it. Our endeavour is now is to engage, connect and discuss with people, who still respect and adore Gandhi and Gandhian ideologies.

The great man had a special liking towards Odisha. He made about seven trips to Odisha. In 1931, while camping at Puri, Gandhiji once said that if Odisha prohibited consumption of alcohol and got rid from idleness, then nobody could stop Odisha’s growth and development.  And even today, it seems this is relevant. Although I have visited many places in Odisha, but never found anything specific from any Gandhian organisations to resolve these social epidemic.

So far, we are able to make organisations stand out at seven districts out of 30 districts of Odisha. We want to reach out every district of Odisha before October 2, 2018. It seems we could not have started better than this.

If the beginning is good, the end must be perfect. I hope we will be effective in coming days. And you have mentioned about laziness and alcohol consumption.  I don’t consider that people of Odisha are lazier then rest of the country.  So does, alcohol consumption is rampant throughout the country, it is not limited to Odisha. If we enable to spread the light of hope, courage and aspiration then definitely people will leave idleness and stand with us.  Always Odisha had been in the forefront of Gandhian movements during pre-independence era, however, what may be the reason that today nobody stands with us although the same land, air, water still exist. Because today we are living in a overly pessimistic environment. If we work enough, we can shape the world with Gandhi’s desires.  This optimistic approach is today’s need.

(Why Odisha does not have a centre of Gandhi Peace Foundation?)

Kumar- We have closed approximately two hundred existing centres across the country because of lack of resources and man power.  Today, there are only 12 centres left in the country.  Therefore, it is not fair to blame Odisha, for not having a centre of Gandhi Peace Foundation.  But now we are trying hard to revive some of the defunct centres

(Even today people learn, discuss and spread Gandhian thoughts and philosophies, why are not they aspiring to join with Gandhian institutions?)

Kumar- Once upon a time Gandhian thoughts were tempting because Gandhiji gave practical shape to the principles and ideals, which he preached.  Our actions do not match with our words. We say that Gandhian ideology is the only remedy for the entire problem facing the nation and the whole world. People don’t trust words, they want actions. We have to show them the importance of Gandhi by solving problems with Gandhian principles.

(Most of the years after independence, India was ruled by Gandhi’s party that is Congress, which still claims that they carry the legacy of Gandhi.)

Kumar- I would like to clear up the common misconceptions about the people who think that today’s Congress is Gandhi’s Congress.

The party that ruled decades after independence had never been a party of Gandhi. Gandhi left Congress way back in 1920s. But Congress party then firmly believed that only Gandhi could resist British rule through non-violent mass movements.  Therefore, Congress members always stuck with Mahatma Gandhi. And he successfully organized mass struggles and paved the way for independence of India. No prime minister had ever taken Mahatma Gandhi’s name as many as PM Modi has taken so far. In his every speech, he utters about Gandhi’s idea but works just opposite of what Gandhi had envisioned. In this line even earlier governments were managed to fool Indians and make them believed that they were walking with Gandhi’s philosophies. So, one should not conclude that India was once ruled with Gandhian principles during Congress days.

(Is there any difference between the working style of head of the states of earlier governments and present one on Gandhi’s context?)

Kumar- Earlier governments were apathetic towards Gandhian approaches, but they used to respect Gandhi. However, present government seems to have a systematic agenda to erase Gandhian footprints from the Indian societies. Our fight against earlier governments was different from present one. I spent eighteen months in the prison during Emergency period in 1975-77. In addition, today the way government functions, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.

(Do you think country is facing ‘undeclared Emergency’?)

Kumar- It is inappropriate to say that country is facing emergency. Fundamental rights are not suspended. There is no mass arrest and putting the people behind bars. But there persists fear and paranoia. Orchestrated mob lynching is an aspect of Emergency, although we cannot generalize it as Emergency with false equivalence. It is also difficult to compare between present government and 1975-77 state-imposed Emergency. So, it is better to talk about how to control the present day situations rather than being rhetoric.

(In the run-up with 150th birthday celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, government sets up a committee to organize at national and international level, and implement desired objectives. But why aren’t Gandhian organizations including Gandhi Peace Foundation included in the committee?)

Kumar- I am not the right person to answer this question; government must have a reason for it. During centenary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, government granted resources and Gandhian organizations organized successfully nationally and globally. Jay Prakash Narayan and others travelled throughout the world and propagated Gandhism effectively. It was an exemplary instance of corporative work between government and non-government organizations.   As time changed and the government’s attitudes changed a little, during 125th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi partly government organized few functions and partly we organized few ones. This time government thinks that they should not keep relationship between few renowned Gandhians and noted public figures. They have not included us in any committee. They also have never ever engaged with us; I think a dialogue without purpose is also meaningless.

(Is it true that Gandhian organizations stay away from government-sponsored celebrations because present government’s ideology is driven by Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and Nathuram Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi, once associated it?)

Kumar- We are yet to decide anything such yet. If government draws up blueprints and lay down the guidelines of celebrations, then we are ready to sit with them for a better cause.

(There is news that Gandhian organizations are planning to celebrate Gandhi-150 with Congress?)

It is nothing but a rumour. No Congressman has contacted us regarding celebration of Gandhi-150. But if Congress thinks itself as a pan Indian party, who ruled decades in the country, had direct relationship with Mahatma Gandhi, should celebrate Gandhi-150 at a large level.

(There are few Gandhians, who are working with Central government as well as with Gandhian organizations. What do you think about them?)

Kumar- I am not authorized to talk about others. But they are not well acquainted with the severity of the present situations at grassroots level of society. One cannot call them just opportunists; they should not have deviated from the ideals and principles. During Emergency, many Gandhians betrayed the country; even today, we are witnessing it. Emergency was imposed to capture the power for a long by a dictator; present day’s politics is to destroy the core idea of India.

(What do you expect from Naveen Patnaik-led Odisha government? Last April, there were communal clashes in Bhadrak district? What should be the role of Gandhian organizations to bring normalcy wherever tension erupts?)

Kumar- I hope that Odisha government lives up to our expectations, although I am personally disappointed with some of the stands taken by the governments in recent times.  We are working hard to keep communal harmony of the country. A centre of Gandhi peace foundation will be formed at Bhadrak to tackle such situations in future.

(Tribes and dalits constitute a significant portion of population in Odisha. How is Gandhi relevant today to their struggle for equality and justice?)

Kumar- Gandhism provides platforms for all – tribal, dalits, etc. – to use Gandhian methods to struggle and achieve rights.

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