Let’s face it, the Father of the Nation is now a commodity and in the true character of a commodity, requires expenditure for maintenance. While declaring the outright ban on the creation of political memorials on public property and the subsequent withdrawal of government largesse from all political memorials except Mahatma Gandhi’s, Jagmohan in his former life as the urban development minister unconsciously undid the good work on the first decision by the second decision.
Perhaps as a logical corollary, in July of 2007, when London auction house Christie’s was preparing to put certain of Gandhiji’s letters, rumoured to be his last, under the hammer, the Indian government swung into action to acquire them. Much in the style in which Jaswant Singh bought back the IC-814 hostages from Kandahar, no one will ever know how much money exchanged hands. Not speaking about money in public as part of our age-old tahzeeb, or courtesy, is commendable, but not having systems to control and record large sums of money flowing out of the country is indeed worrisome. In downmarket lingo, the matter is settled. No questions asked.
Economics and accounts can only value a person monetarily. And when that person’s memory requires to be maintained posthumously out of the taxpayer’s pocket, without the benefit of large trusts or endowments having been created in his lifetime, an economic resuscitation plan becomes imperative. Silly of me, people would say, how can a dead man who roamed around in two pieces of cloth be expected to add to the gross domestic product of India? Well, any system of national accounting operates on the principle of double entry and it is expected that expenditure on one count would be adjusted by revenue from some other count. If anyone from Navjivan Trust is reading this article, I am glad that Gandhiji always preached non-violence of the highest order! However, the economic futility of the activities carried out in its premises makes it clear that it cannot sustain the maintenance of a commodity that Gandhiji has become.
It is commonplace to see cricketers, Sania Mirza and cinestars more on adverts and hoardings than in their respective workplaces, the former often earning them many multiples of their income from the profession. However, private enterprise in India has never found, to quote Winston Churchill, “the half naked fakir” glamorous enough to sell any commodity. However, while walking though the maze and bustle that Bank station in Central London is, I chanced upon a hoarding featuring Gandhiji in his loincloth and trademark stick with the tag line: “Unexpected viewpoints. Radical thinking. Inspiration.” The company that had put up the advertisement was purporting to market its expertise in the financial services industry with Gandhiji as its mascot. And if deal awards and surveys which people in this industry swear by are anything to go by, this institution is laughing all the way to the bank.
My proposal is twofold: Let us abandon this shame and openly talk about money (at least this way we will account for it properly!) and let us acknowledge that Mahatma Gandhi is a commodity, which requires expenditure and, therefore, must earn revenue. Once we agree on these two principles, we can appoint the McKinseys of the world to prepare glossy reports on the disinvestment of the Indian government stake in the Gandhi brand and the expected remuneration that it would yield. History has taught us that public memory is short and enforced public memory shorter.
Therefore, if we as a nation are serious about preserving Gandhiji’s memory, we must have a plan for it to sustain itself without taxpayers having to grudgingly part with cash for it. He referred to his ideal state as one of “enlightened anarchy in which each person will become his own ruler”. If we respect him, we owe it to him to not allow his memory to face economic ruination.
Saionton Basu is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org