It turns out that "Tees Janvari", January 30th - the day Mahatma Gandhi knowingly embraced death for his highest principle, Ahimsa (non-violence) - does have special significance for people in India. More indeed than October 2nd, the official holiday, which can commemorate little more than one mother's effort of delivering a baby boy, Mohanna, in Porbandar. As his philosopher grandson Ramu Gandhi once reminded me at his usual haunt in Delhi, "there is no merit in getting born, or getting a funeral. All of us manage this. The special place associated with Gandhi Ji can neither be Porbandar nor Rajghat, but Birla House in Delhi". A little-known song by Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh, "Dilli hai Dil Hindustan ka" does say it: "this is the city of Bapu's supreme sacrifice".
January 30th was proposed by Paris school-kids as an International Day of Nonviolence. The ruling Congress party finally picked up this 2003 idea (relayed by Iranian Peace Nobel, Shirin Ebadi at the Bombay WSF Jan 2004), after 3 years of fruitless persuasion (in 2007), but proved blind to the significance of January 30th. Or lacking in courage to rake up debate about Godse, Hindutva's only martyr, as they proved beyond doubt by sullying India's parliament with a portrait of none less than the assassin's guru, V.D. Savarkar.
Interestingly a Bollywood blockbuster "Munna Bhai Lage Raho" which brought the Mahatma back into respectable (or "shining") drawing-rooms was screened at the UN - with an introductory speech by Shashi Tharoor - on Friday November 10th, 2006. The film was a great hit at the UN though in India itself Gandhi and Nehru had long disappeared from the party's pantheon, Indira, Rajiv, Sonia being the only inspiring leaders of new India, on the party's banners.
So it was in this surprising Gandhi-revival ambience that a few months later, June 15th, 2007, Congress minister Anand Sharma played the Gandhi card. What the Indian member does at the UN seems always directed at scoring a point over Pakistan, and sure enough our neighbor was kept out of the long list of 143 nations jointly sponsoring the resolution.
This was doubly unfortunate, as the World Ahimsa Day initiative was (right from 2004) an India-Pak effort ! People like Beena Sarwar, Asma Jehangir, Karamat Ali Zia Mian, Sheema Kermani etc. were among the first to support the call. If we had any imagination, it was with Pakistan (or SAARC members) alone that we should have proposed the Non-Violence day. Anand Sharma's one-upmanship, not surprisingly, was described in our media (Hindustan Times) as a "small victory India scored at the UN" - compensating for the evasiveness of the "big" victory (over Pakistan) that India had been after - a permanent seat on the UN Security Council ! (As Amartya Sen put it, India tried to "blast her way into the Security Council" with the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998. All that the Pak régime had to do was to do the same thing to claim equality with India (in fact, one blast more) !
Anand Sharma, if we are to believe the UN website, presented the idea as originating in Delhi (read great leader Sonia Ji), carefully forgotting to mention any "foreign" kids (mostly Japanese and Korean), or Iranian Nobel Laureates who called for it from 'foreign' lands (Paris, Teheran, Bombay). And mysteriously, somewhere along the pipeline (between an enthusiastic Mohsina Kidwai and her supreme leader) the date for Non-Violence Day changed from the significant Martyr's Day January 30th, to an insignicant birth date, October 2nd ! See Purushottam Agrawal's detailed comment on this sudden change, here: http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2007/03/820
We overlooked the dishonest way our politicians conduct themselves, and were delighted nevertheless that our idea had got through the UN. Then the first UN Non-Violence Day was "observed" in October 2007. Sonia took Rahul to the UN HQ to listen to mummy's first Non-Violence Day speech in New York, where according to media reports, Rahul could finally "rub shoulders" with world leaders.
In fact, unless I'm mistaken, after some media reports set the record straight about the UN Non-Violence Day not originally being a Congress initiative, the Congress party - after that single grand event at the UN in Oct 2007 - seems to have lost interest in October 2nd being a UN Non-Violence Day. We are back to their usual Gandhi Jayanti routine at home.
It is now heartening to see that people, without the parties (as in Tunisia, Egypt..?) can get together - this time no credit to us in Paris - to launch a popular movement on an "Ahimsa Day", a day we hope to see developing into a powerful symbol and a rallying point for a popular movement some day.
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