Saturday, January 29, 2011

Their names liveth forever more

If you visit any of the memorials to those who fell in the First World War, you'll find five simple words on most of them - "Their names liveth forever more". A tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of their country.

Today is Martyr's Day in India, the day 63 years ago when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Its a day when the nation is supposed to honour those who laid down their lives for it. Its by and large a forgotten date - just look at today's newspaper to see if there's any mention of it at all. Well , passage of time dims memories. After all the last real war that India fought was in 1971 - well before most readers of this blog were born.

Last year I posted this on this day. Today a few words on the greatest of the nation's martyrs - Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi is largely a forgotten man in India today. A few platitudes and he is conveniently brushed aside as belonging to the ancient past. But we would do well to ponder on the legacy he left for all of us, if only we would, or could, grasp it.

Its not just that he led India's independence. Is not just that he waged war on the cursed caste system that inflicts Indian society. Its not just that he advocated the path of non violence. Its the primacy he placed on values in politics.

He unflailingly acted for what he believed was right. Both the means and the end had to be Right - Right with a capital R. Morals were supreme ; everything else was subordinate. If during any of his movements, there was any violence at all, he called it off. When India gained independence on the night of August 14th, he wasn't celebrating in Delhi - he was in Calcutta holding the peace between Hindus and Muslims single handedly in that city. He argued for handing over a proportion of India's wealth to Pakistan on partition - the stand that ultimately cost him his life.

Today's politics , world over, is a far cry from those of Gandhi. With the possible exception of Nelson Mandela, there isn't a single leader who comes close. Does it have to be so ??

Yes its about elections. Yes its about making money. Yes its about power. But after that what ? Most leaders crave for immortality. Their place in history. What better way to achieve that than to be of high character. Of being known to have done the right thing, no matter what. Of being truly a man of principles and values. And if you think you can't win elections that way, you are wrong. Either Gandhi or Mandela, in their days, would have won any election in any country hands down.

Back to Martyr's Day. Today is a day when we say a prayer for those who laid down their lives for the country. They are mostly forgotten, except by their loved ones. But its on their fallen shoulders that we stand today. May their names live forever more, in at least the collective conscience of the nation.