Sagarika Ghose: Hi there, yes today is October 2, the date on which in the year 1869 was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi's message centred around broadly the concepts of satyagraha or struggle for the truth, Khadi, Ahimsa or non violence, village reconstruction and upliftment of Harijans. How far are these ideas and the Gandhian method of struggle relevant today? Tonight on the 143rd birth anniversary of Gandhi we have four people who are in their own way keeping Gandhianism alive and have embarked on their own re-discovery of Gandhi. Joining us tonight, Reema Nanawati, Director, SEWA - Economic and Rural Development, Mahesh Bhatt, Filmmaker, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Author, Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi's Manifesto for the Internet Age, Sarathbabu Elumalai, Entrepreneur, Social Worker and Politician.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, Music of the Spinning Wheel in which you have said that Internet can become the modern avatar of the charkha, it can spread Gandhian ideas, empower individuals to live on his teachings. What kind of the qualities of the Gandhi can the Internet disseminate and reach out to the modern era?
Sudheendra Kulkarni: You know I'll begin with the topic of the discussion, is Gandhi still relevant? It’s like asking is Gautam Buddha still relevant, is Jesus Christ still relevant? Is Prophet Mohammed still relevant? Gandhiji in modern time is a mahatma. Who is a mahatma not only for India but for the world and is going to be relevant today and tomorrow. I tried to study the Internet phenomenon and I realised that the Internet has the potential to reach out what Gandhiji was pursuing through his very humble technological tool the spinning wheel. What were those ideals, those were the universal brotherhood. The Internet has actually converted the world into one family, transcending the barrier of religion, race and geography.
Sagarika Ghose: Distance has collapsed
Sudheendra Kulkarni: Has collapsed. Death of distance, that is the phenomenon of the Internet. Secondly, every day millions of new conversations, new friendships blossoming on the Internet, this is creating a vast constituency fro the world peace. Third, the digital technology has not only the potential to stop but to reverse the huge environmental degradation that has taken place during industrial revolution. So harmony with nature, harmony with man and man, harmony with individual and society, these were the Gandhiji’s ideals that he was trying you convey with the spinning wheel.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you believe that can Internet advance these ideologies?
Sudheendra Kulkarni: Yes. Lastly, the Internet belongs to whom? It belongs to no individual owner. It belongs to entire humanity. It is the most amazing technological tool, which is the most egalitarian the world has seen. Gandhiji’s basic principles were based on equality. And no technology has so far provided the equality opportunity like the Internet. The entire ocean of knowledge is available to the netizens 24x7. That is why I am saying that the Internet can be seen as the avatar of the spinning wheel.
Sagarika Ghose: So the Internet can be seen as the avatar of the spinning wheel. But I’ll come to that later on the show that the Internet also has some short comings, Internet also has hate speech on it, it also has violence speech on it and how does that compare of the Gandhian living. Let me come to Reema Nanawati, how are you keeping alive the Gandhian message of the village reconstruction that was the central move in the Gandhian movement in a time which is rapidly urbanizing. When the urabanisating is the dominant feature in today’s time how can the gap between the rural and urban be bridged? How can the Gandhian dream of rural upliftment be kept alive in the rapidly urbanizing times?
Reema Nanawati: The very fact that you are conducting this show itself shows that Gandhiji is still relevant still this time. And talking SEWA’s experience, I share the experience of the 1.4 millions sisters that we have today out of which 2/3rd live in the rural areas. I think we live Gandhiji day in and day out. At SEWA we come as poor and we strive to achieve what Gandhiji called economic freedom. And I think Gandhiji was a leader and a visionary himself and I think he has given a vision to India which even today which we call inclusion, And Gandhiji told about how do we reach the last mile in the poor villages. And that’s what we do at SEWA that how do we reach the poor in the villages and how do we generate the livelihood opportunities. So when we talk FDI in retail, and in other but this is what Gandhiji had shown that unless you strengthen the rural economy you cannot achieve the growth you want to.
Sagarika Ghose: But Reena Nanawati once again I’ll come to you later in the show. You know Gandhiji did say that India’s salvation lies in unlearning everything she had learned, railway, telegraph, doctors all that have to go and the upper class has to live like a peasant. Now is that message anti0industry and anti-modern? I’ll ask that to our panellists later but first let me get in Mahesh Bhatt, you have gone to Porbandar to launch a campaign to tell the young generation how to live the Gandhian way by non-violence. Let us a little more about what you were trying to do?
Mahesh Bhatt: Well for me Sagarika, it was a pilgrimage, an emotional pilgrimage. It took me 64 years to visit Porbandar, the land of the mahatma, which incidentally was the land where my father was born. And I had to go there to find a new beginning for myself, as they say in the darkest of the night you begin to see. And as Mr Kulkarni said, Gandhiji is as relevant as Gautam Buddha is, as Christ is, as Mohammad is. I mean the Gandhi narratives is the heartbeat of India, you take away the narratives and the India story collapses. You seem to be stumbling and fumbling and you need to get the moral compass right and that moral compass comes from the narratives of the mahatma. My only disagreement with Mr Kulkarni is that we need to separate this Internet age with wisdom. There is see of information coming to our homes but that wisdom that Gandhi had, he was collected. I mean you get this bogus feeling in this Internet age, you seem to be lonely in this Internet age where connectivity is at the tip of your finger. I think what SEWA is doing needs to be intensified, it’s that contact you need, you need to go the rural areas and connect vigorously with the rural areas. Unless you do that you’ll fail Gandhi.
Sagarika Ghose: Right. I am going to get you to respond to what Mahesh Bhatt is saying, perhaps Internet is complete opposite to what Gandhi was saying, Internet is not about people to people living contact. Let me in fact also get in Sarathbabu Elumalai, he is just 32 years of age, you were brought up by your mother who was an Angdwadi worker, you are an IIM graduate, you are MTV youth icon, you are CNN-IBN youth icon, I might add, you have now started the food services for the poor and how does Gandhi talk to you, how does Gandhi’s message relate to you?
Sarathbabu Elumalai: As you know I come from a slum and I went to the best institute in the country, so for me you know it was like when I was 27 I realised that nearly 30 per cent of the Indian population is below poverty line. So I just thought we need to do something and his one message that you be the change you want to see in the world so I thought I should start a company and give employment to the poor people but I was two years into the company I realised that we need a lot of changes in our politics, we don’t have the leaders that we had 30 years back. So I thought let me go for the forefront and contest election and you know people said you got into the business we got inspired to become business people, so I thought let me become a politician and let them become politician because you know it is our country and we cannot let give it back and you know that was the single most problem that you be the change what you want to see changed in the world.
Sagarika Ghose: So Gandhi for you become be the change you want to see. But are we looking at the romanticised notion of the Gandhi because he in fact was complex political figure was assailed by the critics. I want to get to you about the criticism about the relation between the Hindu nationalism and Gandhi. Now you are part of the BJP, the shadow of Nathuram Godse has loomed over the Hindu nationalism and Gandhi. Do you believe the time has come for the broad stream nationalism to build bridges with Mahatma Gandhi? Because this has not been the relationship which has been harmonious.
Sudheendra Kulkarni: To the greatest tragedy that has happened in the modern history and in the Hinduism is that the fact that a Hindu fanatic assassinated the greatest Hindu in the modern history.
Sagarika Ghose: You consider him as the greatest Hindu?
Sudheendra Kulkarni: Greatest Hindu, greatest human in the human history but this fanatic in the Hindu society that ended Mahatma’s life is a blot on our society and there is a need for all Hindus to introspect why this happened. And true Hinduism means respect for all faiths. Gandhiji’s entire life was respect for all faiths, harmony for all communities. The kind of association he showed even with those who criticised him is astounding. That is the true democratic spirit that is the true religious spirit. See the spiritual core of Gandhiji is something that we are missing. You know everything that he persuaded was guided by a moral, ethical light. Of course he was a complex figure but he evolved with time. You know just you mentioned that some of his early writings criticised modern industry but railways etc changed. He was deeply scientific in everything he persuade, you know he said everything in the world can be converted. He was a romantic scientist. His research in dietetic, his research in nutrition. That is why he appeals to all the great scientific minds. How else can you explain the fact that Albert Einstein…
Sagarika Ghose: But are we romanticising Gandhi
Sudheendra Kulkarni: No.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me also read out the critique about Gandhi by BR Ambedkar, let me put this to you and Mahesh Bhatt. Ambedkar writes, examine the Gandhian attitude to strike, Gandhian attitude for caste, Gandhian attitude to doctoring. Gandhian philosophy has nothing to do but with the well to do and leisure class. Mahesh Bhat let me put this are we looking at a romanticised Gandhi, a feel good Gandhi, he was seen by many as a conflictual figure.
Mahesh Bhatt: Sagarika, human beings need heroes, we are seeking heroes and we put up faith in that hero to look for a larger meaning in this meaningless existence. Gandhi himself said that he should not be compared with those glorious movement that has been chosen. In fact I remember my friend Krishnamurthy was attacked for getting a temple in his name, Gandhi was the first person to get that temple shut down. I think he was not trying to be a god while he was living but there is a human need for gods that is the kind of country we are. I agree with Ambedkar’s perspective but as they opposite of a profound truth is not a lie but a equally profound truth. It’s true to have multiple perspective what Mr Kulkarni was talking about, but it’s really heartening to see the conviction how Mr Kulkarni coming from the BJP speaks about the mahatma. I wish the emotional surge that he gives through this interview kind of goes to every individual in his party and maybe India will turn over a new leaf then.
Sagarika Ghose: If BJP embarks on that rediscovery of the Gandhi in the way you certainly have is very touching. Reema Nanawati, has the economy overtaken Gandhi, as you speak that Gandhi speaks about the upliftment of the villages, in a way utopian message because it is the era of industry, economy, people there villages, what does Gandhi has to say about the industrial class, about the people seeking jobs, about the people leaving their villages? Surely the economy has made the Gandhi’s economic message redundant?
Reema Nanawati: I will not fully agree to that because Gandhi was a leader and today our country is facing a leadership crisis and therefore I think Gandhi’s messages, principles, ideals… look at the amount of corruption that we are seeing. His message of true, peace still hold very relevant even today no matter what path we chose for economy but his message still hold true for the country and I am very confident that unless we understand these values we will be pushed behind. Look at what is happening is Kashmir, look at Assam our sisters there still hold true on the Gandhian principles, they still feel that we all are equal. So that’s the vision that we need.
Sagarika Ghose: Sarathbabu Elumalai, do you believe that a young person like you share the enormous sacrifices that Gandhi made. Can a young person in today’s time make those kinds of sacrifices?
Sarathbabu Elumalai: Definitely they should make, lots of youngsters should make those sacrifices. If you see our country, two per cent of the entire country is holding 80 per cent of the wealth even reforms, economic reforms has been taken by the country so how much of that wealth is missed by the country. So today we need people who live simply, we need people who don’t get into business after coming into politics.
Sagarika Ghose: You do need that sacrifice and the end of greed.