When we speak of ‘Living Bridge' between India and the UK, the first name that comes to my mind is Gandhi. Who else could be credited for beginning to build a living bridge but for Gandhi? And today in the 150th year of his birth anniversary, I feel immense pleasure to write this column ‘Living Bridge’ in Asian Voice. The title is borrowed from the phrase coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the most influential, towering and powerful Indian personality of the present time.
In 1893, a young Indian lawyer was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station of South Africa. Why? The reason was that he was an Indian and yet dared to ride in a first class compartment. Yes, he was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is lovingly known as Bapu, Mahatma or Gandhiji. Non-violent and non-cooperative in the style of struggle, but very effective. No hatred, anger or vendetta towards anyone. A unique opponent, any colonial ruler could ever have had in the period when humanity has witnessed scourge of two world wars.
Gandhi was a person whose influence on the world was more than the world’s influence on him. And that influence has also lasted longer than his time in this world. Certainly, a cult-creating personality, inspiration to millions, Gandhi stands today alongside Winston Churchill, in the Parliament Square, London, in what the latter described him as a ‘half-naked fakir’ pose. Interestingly, the statue was made by Philip Jackson based on a photograph of Gandhi standing outside the office of the then UK PM Ramsay MacDonald in 1931.
Gandhi first arrived in England on 27 October 1988 as a student of law at Inner Temple and afterwards visited England four more times to oppose imperial policies and rules, twice from South Africa and twice from India. He had a unique ability to differentiate between persons and politics. Therefore, he commanded respect among many British officers against whom he was protesting for India’s freedom.
He created a long-lasting influence on the world by his practices, policies and life. Today, in the world where differences are rising and lifestyle is becoming more and more unsustainable, Gandhi becomes essentially more relevant. His simplicity, allegiance to truth and method of satyagraha are subjects of interest for academia and politicians alike. His writings, especially ‘An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth' is an important work which should be in the reading list of every literate person. One may agree with him not, but his ability to write about ‘everything’ in an unattached and non-judgemental manner is certainly appreciable.
He is perhaps the most known, most studied and most debated Indian not only in the English society but also the world. Gandhi admitted in his writings that he was influenced by British. But, in turn, no other Indian has ever influenced English people and politics more than him. Period. Truly a living bridge.
(Expressed opinions are personal)