Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Gandhi vs Gandhi

On December 9th 2015, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi proudly proclaimed that he would rather go to jail than apply for bail or sign a personal bond when he appears in court in the National Herald case ten days later, the mainstream media was swift to drew parallels between him and Indira Gandhi.
‘Like grandma, like grandson: Rahul prefers jail over bail’ screamed a Hindustan Times article. A Telegraph story too followed suit as it quoted Congress party sources as saying that Rahul would not seek bail as he is ‘convinced’ that the Narendra Modi-led government “plotted” the legal trouble for his mother and himself.
He tried hard to draw parallel with his grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was jailed in 1977 by the Janata government of the time. Indira Gandhi’s arrest, then, helped bolster public sympathy as she defied arrest by Delhi policemen in what was alleged to be “vendetta,” by the Janata government. The Congress hoped that, in a similar repeat of sorts, Rahul’s move would fetch favour. That, however, didn’t quite happen as Rahul swiftly ate humble pie, paid up the bail of Rs 50,000 and walked. Announcing a resolve and living up to it are two very different things.
While bail is the prerogative of an accused in any democracy, as bail is preferred to jail, it doesn’t absolve the accused of guilt as is commonly and wrongly perceived. Yet, that didn’t stop Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from walking out of court grinning at people and the media, claiming a victory of sorts. The symbiotic media, on its part, went on to report, of all things, that “bail was granted in five minutes”!!!
Now, the time in which bail is granted has little to do with the merits of the case. It is a preliminary procedure and has to satisfy a few tests to hold good. That bail would be granted was a given. Headings such as ‘The Congress turn legal setback into political victory in just three minutes’ leading to stories that elaborate a Congress stand and absolve it of implications seem like a parallel trial of sorts and qualify as ‘contempt.’ The issue is sub-judice and has to be treated in a manner such.

Now, when a celebrity or politician breaks the law before being “hounded by the media,” and finally arrested, it is touted as ‘trial by the media’ but when the media supports the celebrity or politician and campaigns endlessly for the release of an accused, it is not perceived as a trial by the media but instead seen as an attempt to safeguard a celebrity who has been “wrongly targeted” for his/her status. Now, isn’t that so skewed? Ironically, in a democracy, the onus of auditing the media rests upon the media itself. And, the media is ‘free’ to flay, endlessly and mindlessly, those who don’t matter yet extend ‘conditional support’ to the rich and powerful. So much for ethics.
The issue of bail and all things upright fetches to memory Mahatma Gandhi’s first satyagraha in India in Bihar’s Champaran, where he went at the request of poor peasants to inquire into the grievances of those exploited in the district compelled by British indigo planters to grow indigo on 15 per cent of their land and part with the whole crop for rent. That the Mahatma had arrived to inquire into their sufferings spread and thousands left their villages to have his darshan and to relate to him their woes.
The local administration was all riled up and the police superintendent ordered Gandhi to leave the district. Gandhi refused and was summoned to appear in court the next day. Thousands of peasants followed him to court. The embarrassed magistrate postponed the trial and released him without bail. Gandhi refused to furnish any.
The case was later withdrawn and Gandhi proceeded with his inquiry. Gandhi went on to educate the peasants about satyagraha and taught them the first condition of freedom was freedom from fear. He called for volunteers to instruct and educate illiterate and ignorant in elementary hygiene and ran schools for their children.
Even as he taught people to fight for their rights, he taught them to fulfil obligations. A free people must learn to stand on their feet. The Government was obliged to set up a committee of inquiry. The report of the committee of which Gandhi was a member went in favour of the tenant farmers. Such was the success of his first experiment in satyagraha in India.
For the family, which consistently attempts to bear allegiance to Mahatma Gandhi, there’s a lot to learn. It may be recalled that after having spent many years outside India, Gandhi reacquainted himself with the land of India and swapped his Western-style dress for the simple robes of a peasant. Till then, the independence campaign was waged by an upper-class intellectuals who aped the British in manners a trend Gandhi saw would lead to nowhere.
So, when invited to speak at the opening of the Banaras Hindu University in February 1916 before an audience of princes in elegant robes, he tendered a humble apology for speaking in English - a language foreign to him, in the sacred city. He went on to address the princes by saying, ‘There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourselves of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your country men.’ Many princes walked out. But Gandhi stood tall in his dhoti…unwavering in stance and spirit. Now, such is the might of a resolve.
The might of a resolve pivots only on the truth. Nothing less will do.

(In this weekly column ‘Credible Bharat’ in Organiser independent editor, legal counsel and film-maker Gajanan Khergamker will tackle issues of law, tolerance, secularism and Bharat’s age-old contribution to peace)
- Here goes the latest of Gajanan Khergamker's weekly column series in Organiser
- To download a PDF version of the column click https://app.box.com/s/ebn9slmm3mbqrxjx4du1wqvtltkztyrt
- To view the column online click http://epaper.organiser.org/ (Page 22)

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