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Thursday, January 29, 1998 Published at 19:04 GMT


The lost legacy of Mahatma Gandhi
image: [ For years after his death public criticism was unthinkable ]
For years after his death public criticism was unthinkable

Friday, January 30, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Indian Independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Regarded by many Indians as the Father of the Nation, he is still venerated for his leadership and his philosophy. But recently his leadership skills and ideology have been increasingly questioned. Alastair Lawson of the BBC's South Asia Region has this assessment of Gandhi's legacy.

[ image: Martin Luther King:
Martin Luther King: "We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk"
Mahatma Gandhi is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. His major political goal - and eventual achievement - was to rid India of British rule by a campaign of non-violence.

It is argued that Gandhian principles played a part in inspiring similar movements throughout the world, removing dictators over the last 15 years in countries as far apart as the Philippines and Poland, while providing the inspiration for the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.

BBC Delhi correspondent Mike Wooldridge reports on Gandhi's legacy (1'50")
Yet today India seems to be distancing itself from some of Gandhi's principles. Economic reforms have turned the country into more of a consumer society, exacerbating differences in wealth between the middle classes and the rural poor, whose cause Gandhi constantly championed.

[ image: 50 years on: India's poor are still struggling]
50 years on: India's poor are still struggling
Furthermore, his teaching on fasting and the alleged peculiarities of his sex life have been constantly under scrutiny in the numerous biographies that have come out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of India's independence.

Even Mahatma Gandhi's supporters concede that the passage of time has led to ignorance and misunderstanding about who he was and what he stood for. They argue that recent Indian governments have neglected his vision and example, while some right- and left-wing activists in the country have made no secret of their contempt for his ideals.

Bombarded from left and right

Some left-wingers in India have argued that his religious politics led to the alienation of India's Muslim community, which ultimately led to the break-up of the country and the formation of Pakistan.

[ image: Kalyan Singh questioned Gandhi's status as Father of the Nation]
Kalyan Singh questioned Gandhi's status as Father of the Nation
Similarly, some right-wing Indian politicians also blame Gandhi for the partition of India and Pakistan, but they argue that it came about because he was too eager to 'appease' the Muslim community.

Furthermore, some on the Indian left have accused him of having a patronising attitude towards lower caste Indian people. This criticism comes even though he spent much of his life fighting for their emancipation.

[ image: Gopal Godse, brother of Gandhi's killer, says he does not regret that Mahatma Ghandi died.]
Gopal Godse, brother of Gandhi's killer, says he does not regret that Mahatma Ghandi died.
It is typified by Mayawati, a leader of the left of centre Bahujan Samaj Party - or BSP - who in the past has complained that Gandhi was too slow in coming to terms with the injustices of the caste system.

If some on the left consider Gandhi not to have been quick enough in embracing religious equality, some right-wing Hindu nationalists have found his emphasis on religious equality unacceptable.

At least one senior member of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Kalyan Singh, has openly questioned his title as Father of the Nation.

The Mahatma's words fall on deaf ears

Professor Ravinder Kumar, a Gandhi expert and director of the Nehru Museum in New Delhi, argues that in some respects Gandhian principles in India have been completely ignored.

[ image: Gandhi's great grandson scattered his ashes last year]
Gandhi's great grandson scattered his ashes last year
He points out that the tensions between India's different religious and social communities is still as noticeable today as it was when Gandhi came to the forefront of Indian politics in the 1920s.

Then, as now, the communal tension which he so deplored was present.

Professor Kumar says that most Indians still regard Gandhi, along with Buddha, to be one of the towering figures of Indian history. He says Gandhi's legacy to India is a multiparty democracy that for the most part functions peacefully in comparison to many other Asian countries that are far smaller.

Furthermore, he says that nearly everything Gandhi wrote and taught about prayer, service, non-violence, economic justice and humility still retains a relevance in today's world.


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