The birthday boys, Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri met in heaven on Wednesday and chatted for some time. It was the 144rd birth anniversary of the Mahatma (1869-1948) and the 109th birth anniversary of Shastri (1904-1966) and the two great men, both leaders of the Congress, spoke on various issues. OneIndia focuses on an imagined conversation between the two leaders.
Mahatma (M): Hello Lal Bahadur (L). A very very happy birthday to you. You turned 109 today. Good going. But you look a bit down.
L: Nothing as such Gandhiji. But you know, every year on Oct 2, people remember you but hardly me. I have also given all for the nation, like you. I deserve more. Isn't it? Anyhow, happy birthday to you as well.
M: Don't lose heart Lal. I know how much you have done for the country and its people. If these petty souls today do not salute you thinking my contribution is bigger, then it is their fault. I salute you Lal.
L: (with his palms together as a sign of gratitude) Don't tell like this Gandhiji. You have been our strength and inspiration. Nobody in our country can match your personality. You are a Mercedes among us Marutis. You are the Father of the Nation.
M: (taking a long breath) No Lal. Nobody cares for us in reality. They just show off on our birthdays. Just propagating our names does not mean that the nation has really followed its father, if he is really one. I don't feel elated about my country today. See what's happening down there. Who all are leading the nation today? Is this the same Congress that we had led one day? I was so proud that people like Nehru, Sardar Patel and you were there to take up the baton. And today? That great-grandson of Nehru, what is he doing?
L: True Mahatmaji. Those days are gone. We were inspired by leaders like you. We had a role model. I respected Nehruji for his leadership. I always tried to honour his faith in me. And now, people are using our names to get cheap popularity. They are naming buses after Nehru and I see people spitting betel juice on the name. They have named a social welfare scheme after your name and what I have heard is that such schemes have only bred corruption and did little for the poor. They have named a cricket stadium after me and I see scantily clad cheerleaders dancing for their teams playing in a circus called IPL. Is this the honour that our country has left for us?
M: Heart-breaking indeed, Lal.
L: That parliament, where eminent people had once spoken and showed their quality, is being filled up with Toms, Dicks and Harrys today. They stall the parliament as and when they wish. The opposition parties are equally pathetic. It's just muscle power that rules today. Politicians who play with caste and minority sentiments are considered the future king-makers in India today. What's in store for us Mahatmaji?
M: Nothing great, that I am sure. Just look at India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. What is he upto? After PMs like Nehru, you, Indira and even Vajpayee, is he the successor the nation deserved? He has been in power for nearly a decade now and what has he achieved? He has chosen to try economic reforms when his government is in deep trouble and about to be kicked out of office! His own party members don't respect him. The level of corruption that these people indulge in is just unthinkable.
L: Couldn't agree more Gandhiji. I served as the PM of India for not even two years and yet I can say that I had tried my best to serve the nation and did more than what the current PM has done in nine years. I worked on the anti-Hindi agitation, encouraged the White and Green Revolutions, led the country in a war against Pakistan and also focussed on the Tamil problem down south.
Had I lived even a few years more, I would have ensured that peace had a chance in south Asia. And these leaders nowadays, can't take a uniform decision on any issue.
M: True Lal. I understand that this is the age of coalition politics, but I also believe that you have a goodwill and a genuine intention, nobody can pull you back. The Congress of today is such a joke. The party has lost its leadership. What does a foreigner know about the realities of the country? I know how difficult it is to understand the pulse of the nation. It is not a child's play. I wanted the party to be abolished after independence for I felt Swaraj means self-governance and I feel sorry to see myself justified. Where is the morality in public life?
L: True Gandhiji. I had resigned as the Railway Minister after a horrible train accident occurred in Tamil Nadu in 1956 but see today's ministers. They eye the railway ministry just to make hollow promises and never care for people's interest. The farmers are left forgotten. I had spoken about them in my slogan 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan' but nobody does that today.
M: I feel shattered.
L: Don't be so disheartened Gandhiji. The country today may have a mediocre political leadership, but its people are flourishing. I feel happy that India is trying to get itself free of the shackles that the state-controlled economy of our time had imposed on it. Today, it is no longer a valid idea to continue with the economic model of our days.
M: You are perhaps right. The idea of village economy which I had supported so much once might not work today. But what I believe still is that social and economic justice should not be compromised at any cost. The downtrodden should be looked after. Will a neo-liberal economy address that issue Lal? What do you feel?
L: Bapu, what I have observed in all these years that our own nationalistic leadership and economic model have succeeded little in improving the condition of the downtrodden. But the new force called market has generated employment for many sections of the society. Today, I think it is important that we should back this force with considerable regulation to bring us benefits. The days of subsidy economy are over. The Kelkar Committee has said it right.
M: But it was different in those days for we did not want a western capitalist model for our growth. That was understandable for we had fought against the same western colonial powers.
L: Right Bapu. But what I understand today is that it is time to change our outlook. The Soviet Union could not survive while China chose to change its track. We can't continue with the same, either.
M: I also feel we should return to the basics today. If we are too much carried away by the glittering consumerism, we can not progress on the right path and will only see inner differences multiply. And who knows it better than you when it comes to simplistic living. You are an icon.
L: Don't embarrass me Bapu. You were the one who had shown us the way. And I hope today's generation also learns from you. That is the only way forward for us amid the growing violence today.
M: It is upto them Lal. I and you are history today. I meet India just on October 2, while they make a mockery of me for the rest of the year by highlighting my photos in Hindi films and putting up statues under which politicians stage their fake agitation. We have been forgotten Lal and our dreams have failed.