Inconvenient truth: How Gujarat forgot Gandhi

Mint will be running a series of articles on the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi.

Tridip Suhrud, a Gandhian scholar in this piece writes how Gujarat and city of Ahmedabad forgot Gandhi:

One of the great gifts of Gandhi to the city was the imagination of the public sphere. The primary imperative for such a space is that it has to be a space of equality. The public sphere, by its very nature, has to be an equal space, an ethical space, a just space. And Gandhi would add two more imperatives—it has to be a virtuous space and a non-violent space.

But the public sphere is not just a well-defined, bounded space, with or without structures. Public sphere is also an imagination, a possibility, and an aspiration. Thus any space, literally any space, including a prison, could become a public sphere. Public sphere is composed of individuals as political subjects, and it is this human subjectivity that informs the nature of the public sphere. Hence, cultivation of a public sphere is, in essence, a cultivation of our subjectivities. Gandhi’s Ashrams were founded in the belief and hope that it is possible to create and foster human subjectivity that recognizes the fundamental equality of all human beings and, possibly, all life forms. The public sphere, if it wishes to be equal, has to be non-rapacious, non-injurious, and opposed to the vivisection of humans and other life forms.

What we hold dear in the city, the institutions that we are proud of, are all creations of an idea of trusteeship that is fundamental to the creation of the public sphere, as public institutions are fundamental to any idea of citizenship. The CEPT, the NID, the Ahmedabad Education Society, the L D Institute of Indology, the IIM, ATIRA and even Sabarmati Ashram and the Gujarat Vidyapith are creations of an idea and practice of trusteeship that is unique to this city, as no other city in modern India has created such a diverse range of institutions based on the simple commitment of public institutions.

In a year which marks the 150th year of Gandhi’s birth, many of the institutions that he established are also celebrating—or will do soon—their centenaries. Between ritualized remembrance and memorialization, these institutions search—not vigorously—for a new purpose. They perhaps know that khadi—the livery of freedom—has also become an instrument of exclusion and insult; that self-volition is subject to subsidy. Ahmedabad remains a city which has a great capacity to laugh and forget, perhaps best illustrated by autorickshaw drivers who faithfully take a young legal scholar, wanting to visit Bapu’s ashram, to Asaram Bapu’s ashram.

The concept of an ashram, with all its limitations and quirks (do not forget that Gandhi’s personal secretary Mahadev Desai called it a menagerie), was one of modern India’s greatest experiments in fostering equality. In principle and in practice, it excluded no one; recognized no boundaries of caste, religion, and gender; all residents eschewed private wealth and personal inheritance; and each person performed bodily labour. Gandhi’s ashram was a microcosm of the public sphere he desired. Yet, the ashram and related institutions had a calling that was different from that of the city, and this autonomy was crucial to fulfilling its purpose without being mired in the everydayness of the industrial city.


Lot more will be written on several aspects of Gandhi…

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