Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Remembering Gandhi, or is modern India trying to wipe out his memory?

Recounting the many historical Indian leaders influenced by Gandhi in contrast to the present day dismissal of his teachings

Update : 02 Oct 2023, 11:42 AM

In India, October 2 is celebrated as a National Holiday, as Gandhi Jayanti -- Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary -- and this year it is the 154th. In 1969, the Gandhi Centenary Year, I happened to be working as an agricultural volunteer based at a Gandhian ashram in Bodh Gaya -- incidentally, the birthplace of Buddhism -- in Bihar, India. 

This particular ashram had been founded in the early 1950s by a dedicated follower of Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, and it was set up to study all religions. At the early morning prayers, we would have a reading from the Qur’an one day, the Bible the next, and then on successive days from the Gita, the Granth Sahib (the holy book of the Sikh religion), the Torah (sacred to the Jewish people), and readings from Buddhist scriptures. 

From this experience, I have absorbed many teachings of all religions and I follow what Gandhi used to say: “Let the doors and windows of my house be open and let all the religions of the world blow through my house.”

In 1969, there was a big Gandhi Centenary gathering at the ashram in Bihar founded by another follower of Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan. Many followers of Gandhi came to that celebration including the much admired “Frontier Gandhi,” Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan from Pakistan. Meeting him is something I will always remember.

I had first met Jayaprakash Narayan in 1968 at the Gandhian Institute of Studies in Varanasi which was founded in 1960 by him with the help of the then President of India Rajendra Prasad, Vinoba Bhave, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Jagjivan Ram to propagate Gandhian teachings. Shastri, the then Railway minister and later Prime Minister of India, arranged for the sale of Railway property to this institute and over the years I have had the pleasure of staying at the institute a number of times.

I have recently heard, to my horror, that the institute has been demolished, all occupants evicted, and a huge number of valuable books and documents thrown out to be damaged by the monsoon rain. According to news reports, the railways had given a legal notice saying that the institute was occupying railway property illegally. Nothing at all should have been done until the legal process had run its course. After all, the institute allegedly held the title deeds to the land as well as receipts from the Railway Ministry related to the sale of the land in 1960. 

It is surprising that the Government of India headed by a prime minister from the state of Gujarat, where Gandhi was born has, allegedly, done nothing to stop this extraordinary destruction of an important national institution.

Many people will remember that Jayaprakash Narayan strongly supported Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971 and travelled abroad on behalf of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, campaigning on behalf of Bangladesh’s independence. Another Gandhian leader who supported the formation of Bangladesh and worked with the refugees was the late Narayan Desai, whose father had been Gandhi’s secretary. 

My life and work has definitely been changed and benefitted by the influence of Gandhian thoughts and beliefs. And it was at the Samanvaya Ashram at Bodh Gaya that, as a young man of 23 years old, I was influenced by the ashram leader the late Dwarko Sundrani, one of the last living disciples of Gandhi with whom I worked closely for three years and had many meetings with after that.

He was very critical of the way in which Gandhi’s birthday would be celebrated. In 2019, Dwarko said in an interview: “Celebrating Gandhi’s birth anniversary and then forgetting him till his next birthday is not a way to express our gratitude and respect for him. We are not going to organize any event on Gandhi Jayanti this year; rather, we will serve the helpless and needy people in flood-stricken Bihar. Why? Because this is what Gandhi would have done if he were alive.” 

“Instead of celebrating Gandhi’s birth anniversary, we will be serving people. What is the use of organizing seminars and workshops and reading his autobiography if we do not implement the teachings of Gandhi in our daily lives?” Dwarko asked. 

In conclusion, it is unbelievable that this year there are some people trying to wipe out the memory of Gandhi and not celebrating his birth anniversary.


Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour' in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.

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