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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Mahatma Gandhi's fading dream

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC correspondent in Porbandar

House where Gandhi was born
Many of Gandhi's dreams have disappeared

India's hard line deputy prime minister LK Advani has just begun the second phase of a general election campaign road show from the tiny seaport of Porbandar on India's west coast.

Porbandar is famous for being the birthplace of India's independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Campaign managers in Mr Advani's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are quick to stress that the choice of Porbandar as the first point of the east-west leg of Mr Advani's road show is deliberate.

"As Gandhiji was the father of our nation, Mr Advani wants to begin this phase of his campaign by paying respects at his place of birth as well as recalling his sacrifices and ideals which won us independence," local BJP leader Babubhai Bokadia says.

But nearly 135 years after his birth, Gandhi's world view of non-violence and economic self-reliance lies buried in the place of his birth.

Narottam Liladar
Non-violence may have delivered for us in the past but it is completely useless today
Narottam Liladhar

Off a narrow, crowded lane in an older part of Porbandar, is the house in which Mahatma Gandhi was born - its simple interiors are in marked contrast with the large, grand shrine built alongside to preserve his memory.

The guest book reveals that Mr Advani is a frequent visitor, as are several leading Indian politicians and officials.

But in the busy streets outside, the reverence is markedly absent.

"His ideas were very lofty and completely impractical," says Narottam Liladhar, who owns a tiny shop in the nearby market square.

"The world does not recognise anything other than strength and power. Non-violence may have delivered for us in the past but it is completely useless today."

'Little effect'

Two doors down the road is Pratapbhai Ranija's jewellery store, which has been with his family for nearly 100 years.

Now in his sixties, Mr Ranija was a young boy when Gandhi was alive and led India to freedom from colonial rule.

"He certainly did a lot for us back then," the jeweller says, as he polishes a gold ring.

"But his ideals were only appropriate at the time. Non-violence got rid of the British but it will have very little effect in today's world.

"With all the terrorism one sees and with the tension that flares up often on our borders we cannot sit back and do nothing. We have to protect ourselves."

Shadow of fear

Although this rhetoric is generally absent from the election campaign in Gujarat, a more sinister version was played out in the state not so long ago with disastrous consequences.

Gandhi's economic vision was only appropriate for his time
Babubhai Bokadia

Yusuf Sheikh lives close to Porbandar's market square, in the shadow of one of the city's mosques.

Mr Sheikh moved to Porbandar from Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad, two years ago when the state was hit with some of the worst religious riots in Indian in decades.

More than 1000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in riots sparked off by an attack on a train in the town of Godhra. That attack was blamed on a Muslim mob and left 59 Hindus dead.

"Less than 24 hours after Godhra, my street was burning," he recalls.

"Houses were razed, young Hindu men walked around the street with swords and knives in their hands, shouting to us to leave or be killed.

"My wife and I packed our bags and left with our four children. We moved here with our relatives and we have no plans to go back.

"Gandhi spoke of non-violence and brotherhood. There was none of that sentiment that day and I do not believe there is any in Gujarat today."

Economic dream

But there is another facet of Gandhi's vision which has disappeared from the land of his birth.

He believed in economic self-reliance, with the village as the centre of economic production.

That ideal appears to have disappeared in the smoke that belches out of the cement and soda-ash factories that dot Porbandar.

Just little over 100 kilometres down the coast in Jamnagar is Asia's largest oil refinery, owned and operated by one of the country's leading business houses, Reliance Industries.

Gandhi shrine
Porbandar is famous for being Gandhi's birthplace

Gujarat prides itself for being one of India's most industrialised and economically powerful states and few are apologetic for having abandoned the goal of self-reliance.

"Gandhi's economic vision was only appropriate for his time," says the BJP's Babubhai Bokadia.

"If we follow it now we will be left behind. No-one can be self-sufficient anymore. The world is linked economically whether we like it or not."

Not surprisingly, these thoughts are echoed by his rival, Vithalbhai Radadiya of the Congress Party.

"Why should our villages be left behind? Villagers are consumers too.

"Mahatma Gandhi's vision has to be modernised and taken forward."

India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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