Baha'i News -- Mahatma Gandhi remembered by millions of Indians

Mahatma Gandhi remembered by millions of Indians


NEW DELHI: Over five decades after his death, Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest apostle of peace to some and a wily faddist politician to others.

But as the nation celebrates his 133rd birth anniversary Wednesday, few can deny the unmatched reverence and awe that Gandhi continues to evoke not only in millions of Indians but across the world.

It was this spirit that led people from various parts of the country to Gandhi's serene memorial complex Rajghat on the banks of river Yamuna to pay homage to the man who led the battle for India's freedom through a non-violent campaign and made communal harmony his mission.

"People are coming in droves to pay respect at the Gandhi memorial," said N. Vasudevan, a devout Gandhi follower who looks after the memorial.

"The crowds are much more than last year, possible because of concern over communal tensions and violence."

Vasudevan was among some 3,000 Gandhi followers, schoolchildren and spiritual leaders who took out a rally at Rajghat, invoking Gandhian principles against incidents such as this year's communal violence in Gujarat and terror attacks both in Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir.

Rajghat was where Gandhi, known and loved by millions of Indians as "Bapu" and revered as the father of the nation, was cremated after his assassination in January 1948, a few months after Indian independence.

But heavy VIP security barred common people an entry in the morning, and they crowded across the road waiting their chance for a communion with Gandhi.

"It is unfortunate that a man who moved among the masses and lived and breathed like a commoner has to be shielded so much," remarked a disgruntled follower across the road, waiting his chance to get in.

The perfume of incense sticks and Rose petals wafted in the light morning breeze as top leaders, including President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, paid their respects at the polished granite memorial bearing the eternal flame.

A moving recital of interfaith prayers began at 8 a.m. with a soulful Buddhist chant, followed by prayers in Baha'i, Christian, Hindu, Islam, Jain, Jewish, Parsi and Sikh, an ode to Gandhi, who said man's need for prayer was as great as his need for bread.

A reading from the Gita, one of the holiest of Hindu texts, was followed by a rendition of Gandhi's favourite songs. The crowd also listened to Gandhi's thoughts, penned on several birthdays that he spent in solemn contemplation.

Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and opposition leader Sonia Gandhi were among the others who attended the function. Sonia Gandhi stayed throughout the one-hour function. The last to arrive was Kalam, in a casual shirt and trousers, who caused a flutter among the gathered schoolchildren as they tried to get a closer look at him. Kalam, the third Muslim president of India, has often talked about recurring images in his mind of Gandhi walking barefoot in undivided Bengal to prevent Hindu-Muslim riots when India attained freedom in 1947.

Cynics also regret the "marketing" of the saleable commodity called Gandhi.

"He is being used by websites, politicians, peaceniks, even on banknotes. But few really know what he did and stood for," said Iqbal Habib Durrani, a college student.

Gandhi's birth anniversary is a national holiday marked by a host of pledges made by the government. Schools, shops and business establishments remain closed and even Indian missions abroad observe the day with due respect.

But according to analyst N. Bhaskara Rao, it is wrong to observe Gandhi's birthday as a gazetted holiday. "He should be remembered throughout the year, and not one special day used by political parties."

Said Sunita, 12, a student of the Mahila Sarvodaya Vidyalaya School that visited Rajghat: "He is a symbol of peace and unity that the nation will remember for all times."

For a man who once said he would live to be 125 years of age, such immortality is only natural.

©Copyright 2002, NewIndPress (India)

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