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Gandhigiri - The Critique on Lage Raho Munnabhai

Are we living in virtual or real time? Are we raving about Gandhism or the film Lage Raho Munnabhai? The media are in spate with Gandhigiri—derived from Dadagiri and projected as its very opposite! The days of serious thought, philosophy and action are gone. Gandhi is now ready to be canned and Gandhism capsuled as a lighthearted film entertainment.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is suddenly trendy. The young and the Gen-Next are buying Gandhi T-shirts and Gandhi mugs, even the Congress high-ups are sitting in cinema halls to see Lage Raho Munnabhai to know their Bapu and his values their party claims to perpetuate. Historians have thrown their hats off to this film that is communicating Gandhian teachings more than they. Munnabhai, that gangster with the golden heart, is the alter ego of a new mahatma, a filmy avatar of our times!

The Gandhigiri fad coincides with the centenary of satyagraha, Gandhi's first important political experiment with the philosophy of Non-Violence. But that was done in South Africa in 1906 and not in India. Are we, then, rediscovering Gandhi amidst us or the Gandhi within us to mark that historical event? Gandhi's satyagraha is multi-dimensional philosophy, more directed to the individual as a spiritual being. It centres upon the virtues of vegetarianism, sexual self-restraint, nature therapy and cleaning lavatories. Gandhi's was a lifelong failing and learning experiment with Truth for a possible emergence of the total human being within us. Gandhism refuses to be re-cast as a “do-it yourself" kit of happy living so readily offered by the god men of our times.

Lage Raho Munnabhai projects Gandhi as a comforter, a new-age electronic media messiah with not a message but a massage to frayed nerves. Now, there is no British Empire to challenge; only bad neighbors and corrupt officials to deal with. So we need clever, cool and refreshing tricks to humour the topsy-turvy world around us.

The Gandhi in Munnabhai is a middle-class romantic, kind of anti-environment to consumer society, that elusive “simple figure" that every middle-class person admires while craving for higher salary, latest model cars? Yet, the ideal of the middle-class still remains “the simple man in the loincloth who travelled by third-class compartment. Middle-class ingenuity helps create comforts and do things more easily. So also, re-discovering Gandhi in the 100th year since Satyagraha is as easy as putting a Lage Raho Munnabhai sticker on a Mercedes or Bentley bumper.

Did Gandhi really have as mass a following as the historians would make us believe? Even his closer disciples like Nehru and Jay Prakash Narain did not accept his social ideals, leave aside the illiterate masses and educated middle classes. Gandhi was not just against British Imperialism, but anti-modern machine-driven Industrialism, too. In 1909, in the Hind Swaraj he wrote: “the railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors and such like all have to go and the so-called upper class have to live consciously the simple life of a peasant". The RJ's and VJ's swinging to Gandhi rap have no idea that the Gandhian social utopia is the very anti-thesis of the Surround Sound, Dolby Digital and Broadband. How many of the Gen-Next visit the Sabarmati Ashram? In fact, Gandhi's Ashram is now in a shambles and the stink of the polluted Sabarmati invades your nostrils from miles away.

RJ Ulta Pulta Nitin has put it well: “Frankly, we don't want to know more about Gandhi. All we know is that if you're stuck in a traffic jam and another car is making you mad, it helps to think of Gandhigiri." Next to the economically dominant middle-classes, it is the Dalits who are socially and politically dominant. What use do they have of Gandhi? B.R. Ambedkar, India's Constitution-maker and Dalit Messiah wrote: “Gandhism is the philosophy of the well-to-do and leisured class" and Gandhi was one of the “enlightened high caste social reformers who did not have the courage to agitate against caste". Ambedkar also rued that mahatmas have come and gone but Untouchables have remained. Dalits even resent the name Harijan Gandhi lovingly gave them.

Lage Raho Munnabhai is a highly entertaining film. It introduces Gandhi to a comics-driven Gen-Next, ever in a hurry to succeed in the hurly-burly world. Yet, there are still many committed Gandhians today practising Gandhian values. Gandhigiri hysteria is not about Gandhism but over the ingenious invention of technological mahatma one may hopefully meet in a shopping mall.

At Last I want to quote one of the famous Plugcard of one of the villager in a political rally stating that

Everybody adores Gandhi but nobody wants him to be born in his house

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