Remembering Mahatma, under Modi

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will next month lead the 125th anniversary commemorations of Mahatma Gandhi’s eviction from a train’s “whites-only” compartment in South Africa. The incident, seen as the Mahatma’s very first act of civil disobedience in the foreign land where he then worked, went on to inspire him to launch the Satyagraha movement against the British and their discriminatory policies in South Africa and in India.

On the night of June 7, 1893, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer, was thrown off the train’s first class compartment at Pietermaritzburg station for refusing to give up his seat. The incident led him to develop his Satyagraha principles of peaceful resistance.  

The two-day commemoration will commence with an address by Swaraj and other dignitaries to about 500 guests on June 6, Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj, said. The following day about 300 dignitaries, including leading South African politicians, will join Swaraj in a symbolic train ride from Pentrich station to Pietermaritzburg station, where an interactive digital museum, sponsored by the Indian government, will be inaugurated. In 2016, prime minister Modi had undertaken the same historic journey to Pietermaritzburg station and followed it up with a visit to Gandhiji’s Phoenix Settlement. For the June event, the train will be draped with khadi — the hand-woven fabric which became the symbol of resistance by Gandhi against the British rule — specially imported from India. The event — a vision of prime minister Modi — would bind South Africa and India‚ which shared the legacy of Gandhi. It is also a precursor to Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, for which year-long celebrations are being planned in India from October 2.

One can, however, argue upon the point of this grand event abroad when civil liberties right here in Gandhi’s home are being trampled upon on a daily basis, in ways worse than the British. And this by a democratically elected government. Like race and colour, religion is the new tool in the hands of Indian political leaders to flog and divide the people with. In such a scenario, the best tribute to Gandhi, would be by the people — to not bow down to tyranny of desi masters and continue with their individual Satyagrah.  —FC