Is Gandhi (ian) relevant today?

Ninglun Hanghal *

 Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi Ashram) in Ahmedabad
Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi Ashram) in Ahmedabad : From Author's blog -

On 2nd October 2016, I happened to visit Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi Ashram) in Ahmedabad. I was feeling sort of anxious, not sure of what it would be like to see the place where Gandhiji, the father of the Nation had actually lived, ‘practiced what he preached’, and carried out one of the greatest revolutions in history. It was from here that Gandhi took out the Salt Satyagraha – Dandi March in 1930 and many other key decisions and actions were taken.

The three wheeler that took me stopped at an entrance. I had expected a symbolic gate or at least some ‘guard’ or a huge entrance sort of. I even thought there would be some kind of a frisking / checking. There was none.

At a mere glance, there is no indication that it is an important historical place. It was like any other recreational spaces in a city. The Ashram was on a roadside, on the banks of Sabarmati river. Anyone, everyone, visitors just went in. There was no formality.

I went looking around, like any other ‘tourist’ or a visitor to the Ashram. There were very few actual ‘foreign tourist’ most visitors were from different places of India. There were a few children gathering, chanting prayers and singing bhajan.

It was in the afternoon that people started gathering at the Upasana in the Ashram where a meeting/ observance of the day was being organized. Most of them Gandhians, elderly and definitely not young. There was music and speeches.

The cottages, the museum that adorned the Ashram were well maintained, neat and clean.

These are basically the remains of Gandhiji and his followers. From the huge collection and chronicles of Gandhi and his activities, one gets to know and see insights into Gandhiji led movement – his ideology, his teachings. Moreover, a library cum – archives; books, mementos were displayed and sold in one corner of the Ashram. This, I believe is the main source of income that runs and manages the Ashram.

The Sabarmati Ashram indeed has a lot of visitors, perhaps mainly as the day was his birth anniversary. Families, students, youths, foreigners. No doubt, it is still a happening place.

The stark reality though is that this Ashram is more like a “photo studio” a setting for taking pictures.

It indeed appears like a place where people come for a memorial family photographs or a student’s memorial visit. All the more as everyone has a mobile phone, people posed not only in front of the cottages or the kunj, but inside, such as where Gandhi was supposed to be spinning the Chakra etc. One would actually sit on the mat and imitate Gandhi for a photo-op.

Of course, it is indeed momentous and memorable to take a picture in such historically significant place. It felt a bit odd to see people just come, pose, take pictures, and move on. Every visitor, not only a few – both young and old. No one seemed interested to observe or see or understand those symbolic remains.

It was also a bit confusing. I was perplexed and bit puzzled too.

The famous meeting between the Nagas ( NNC) and Mahatma Gandhi came into my mind. What did Gandhi actually say to the Nagas ? What does Gandhi really mean when he said Nagas are ‘Independent’?

Later, I remember reading the book by Nirmal Nibedon “The Night of The Guerrillas” where the Author had reproduced the actual conversation between the Naga delegates and Gandhi. Gandhi had said “As I can see, you are all slaves. From where do you get your clothes?” “What of your food?’.

It slowly dawns on me what Gandhi was trying to explain, in the simplest form of what independence /freedom is – as an individual and as a collective people. It was believed that had Gandhi been alive a little longer it could have changed the course of Naga history.

Indeed, not only the Nagas but the whole of north-east India. That, Gandhi did not live long enough to carry out his ‘promise’. What is that “promise”? This promise according to popular understanding appears to be a statement given by Gandhi to the Naga delegates on Independence and Freedom! where he was quoted in Nibedon’s book to have said that “why wait for 16thAugust? you can be independent today”

Gandhi continued “You have opened a very large subject – independent. If you say you will be independent of the whole world – you can’t do it. I am independent in my own home. But if I become independent of Delhi – I will be crush to atoms. I have not stored food, I have to get it from Delhi. I have to get vegetables”

Gandhi said “ You are in Asia. As I can see, you are all slaves. I am not. From where do you get your clothes? Will you go naked if foreigners do not give you cloths?” Gandhi had said to the Naga delegates, “You cannot be in complete isolation”.

On one hand, I wonder, does the Nagas, or north-east India at large actually internalised what Gandhi had said to them? what is independence and what does being independent mean?

Gandhi is a living example. Sabarmati Ashram stands as a witness to it and the collection of his works, his famous quotes are all enough to give us a guiding principles of what freedom and being independent is and what it mean. Unfortunately, though all this serves as mere backdrop for photo album today. Or so it seems.

Is Gandhi ( ian) still relevant today? many argued the times and situation is different now.

Given the context of today, particularly in north-east India, perhaps there is need to re-contextualize and re-interpret Gandhi’s philosophy and ideology.

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer’s works can be seen at
This article was webcasted on October 05, 2018.

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