Recently I visited the home in Delhi where Gandhiji spent his final day, the home in Gujarat where Sardar Patel was born, and thanks to flights delays rewatch Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi on my iPod at the airport.
There is a spirit of the founding fathers (and mothers) of a nation which should be more invoked in a country’s politics. Consider President Obama’s inaugural speech when he did exactly that;
“In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:”Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”
As you visit the homes of Sardar Patel and Gandhiji and witness their words passing through the ages at the birth of their nation, you wonder if ever the politicians in India ever bother to read them. Trite Gandhian phrases roll off easily on airport billboards ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ – but so many of the politicians don’t want to see the change for good in the world. They are the elite in receipt of their brown envelopes – what does it matter to them that their country may be sold down the river for a few rupees more?
No, what Gandhiji should have said is not ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ but ‘see the change we sacrificed for and show some decency and respect for us the founding fathers’.
Gandhiji and Patel were barristers – they had no need to spend years in cockroach infested prisons. Or consider the patriots described in the book ‘Remember Us Sometimes Once in A While’ who wrote to their wives and children why they were willing to be hanged for their sedition against the British Crown during the Independence movement. And hanged they were.
Yet what iota of respect do their political descendants show? This is not a criticism of Indian politicians alone. Obama invokes the founding fathers of his nation because the task facing his country requires political courage.
And if Cromwell could be considered the founding father of the modern British Parliament then his speech to Parliament could aptly be invoked today by Anna Hazare targeted at Indian Parliamentarians where he said, “…It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God’s help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.
“I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”
Founding fathers were able to found nations precisely because of their foresight and wisdom and their wisdom should be more often invoked – especially if a mighty America does it to this day 200 years later, India certainly should merely 60 years later.