Avik Chattopadhyay: Peddling Gandhi, piece by piece!

04 Oct,2019

By Avik Chattopadhyay


On October 2, I decided to drive around a large part of ‘Lutyen’s Delhi’ to see what all was happening on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. After all, MKG, or Bapu, as most have been taught to call him as, is actually one of the biggest brands the world has ever seen!


Personalities, typically as brands, do not claim to have very long shelf lives. Most of them get consigned to being mere ‘celebrities’. The moment the generation they belong to hand over the mantle to the next, their popularity wanes into the pages of Wikipedia. The personalities that actually transcend generations become true ‘icons’. The world has its share of a few truly global icons…those whom people from almost every corner of the world…from Pondicherry to Polynesia and Reykjavic to Ross Island…recognise, associate and have a clear opinion of.


MKG, Gandhi, Bapu or Mahatma is one such icon.

Right from Einstein being in awe of him, Churchill being in despise, Netaji being in admiration and Mandela being in following, the world just cannot ignore Gandhi or have enough of him.


Like any truly iconic brand, there are specific words that are always associated with the man – non-violence, freedom fighter and Indian. Even though I personally do not put Gandhi on a pedestal like most of India does, I cannot deny the respect, admiration and awe for one of the world’s most disruptive and impressionable politicians.


So here I was driving down Tughlak Road and Akbar Road and Janpath looking at all the banners, billboards and decorations that were put up commemorating 150 years of the man. There were billboards put up by the Congress party carrying quotes of Gandhi flanked by photos of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. There were banners strung up by fringe parties like LJP with the sole objective of associating with the man. And, to top it all, there was an article by our Prime Minister that appeared, of all places, in The New York Times, espousing the need for ‘Gandhi’ today. Concurrently, Swarajya magazine, an RSS publication carried a story titled ‘Dismantling sainthood’ and stating that it was actually Ambedkar and not Gandhi who was the true father of the nation! And our dear friend Mr Trump had already called Mr Modi the “father of the country”.


So, like any successful and enduring brand, everybody wants to appropriate it for purely personal benefit and mileage. While one political party, thinking of Gandhi as their personal property, takes his cap, the other, not wanting to be out done, takes his spectacles. While another organisation believes that by dragging the brand down is the only way to challenge it! No one, interestingly, is really interested in his beliefs on nationhood, social inclusion and governance. For those are not very convenient values to imbibe and live by. They are uncomfortable for a few and a tough act to follow for the others. Picking up symbols or pieces of the man, as per individual convenience, needs only marketing spends and a 24×7 social media team.


In fact, each precious principle of life and governance that the man preached and practised has been systematically and cruelly consigned to paragraphs in history books and state-dinner speeches. The “half-naked fakir” is now a caricature of half-truths… conjured up for political agendas that are actually chalk and cheese. While one uses him for building toilets, the other uses him for appeasement. Both with equal levels of disrespect and disregard for the values the man stood for. Churchill would be mighty pleased!


Gandhi as a brand and a concept belongs to the nation. In fact, to the world. So, on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary, why can all political parties not forget their ideological differences and come together to commemorate the man and his operating principles? Why can Gandhi not belong to the entire nation for once, instead of being torn apart into pieces by various vested interests? Why does Gandhi have to be the preserve of only a few and not the resolve of millions? Are we so mentally stunted as a nation that we cannot have some common iconic brands that can rise above ideological and political differences and represent us as a nation? Is this the millstone around an iconic brand? Is this the price a brand has to pay for being true to itself for generations? I wonder if Simon Bolivar is carved up the same way as we conveniently carve up Gandhi into pieces. Or is Mandela? Or is Lincoln?


While travelling in the metro one day I asked a young person wearing a Che t-shirt if he knew who the man was. “He is a rock star” came the reply. Hope I die before the day kids wear Gandhi t-shirts because “the old man looks cool”!


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