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Martyrs’ Day: Remembering our Freedom Fighters
The world boasts of any number of such recognised Fathers of the Nation, including ‘Baba-e-Qaum’ Mohammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan. But, nobody considers such personalities as ‘the martyr’. We need to wise up to this fact.
MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND Gandhi, who was assassinated on Jan 30, 1948, three months past his 78th birthday, indeed was a remarkable personality. Millions of people from across the world held him in high esteem. His death anniversary happens to be observed as Martyrs’ Day in India.
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The Republic Day, viz, January 26, which was originally observed as a solemn reminder of those who attained martyrdom while defending the sovereignty of the country and during the freedom struggle preceding the birth of the republic, gave way to Jan 30. The occasion, when the Prime Minister and the three chiefs of the armed forces salute the martyrs at India Gate, has instead turned into an exultant celebration, showcasing the latest weapon acquisitions and advertising military might. It is no longer a solemn occasion.
 
On Jan 30, sirens at every government establishment wail at 11 am. Even commoners are expected to cease their normal activities and observe silence for two minutes, remembering the souls of those martyred. This is unlike any other homage, whence legislators, parliamentarians and top bureaucrats additionally lay wreaths at some memorial and happily take a day off.
 
In accordance with this practice, the general administration department of the government of Gujarat, which comes under chief minister Narendra Modi, has issued a press note. “In Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, the siren will blow at 10.59 to start observing silence. Everywhere, be it industrial units or government offices, work should stop. It is requested that transport facilities, too, stop plying. The siren will again blow at 11.02 am to resume work,” clarifies the note that calls upon people to “remember India’s freedom fighters who laid down their lives (to become martyrs) by observing silence.”
 
Forces that worked furiously to prevent Narendra Modi from re-securing the mandate in last month’s elections have found fresh ammunition in this note. The English print media, which had turned into a virulent anti-Modi platform for two months, has found in the press note, an indication of “the current regime’s stand on the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.”
 
How come? Even the most fanatic Gandhian will find the reasoning funny. It is argued that the circular is “surprisingly silent on Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom at the hands of a Hindu right-wing extremist 60 years ago!” Is Gandhi the only or the principal ‘martyr’ to be remembered in India on January 30 and particularly recalled through every formal circular? 
 
Of course, there still are fanatical Gandhians who worship MK Gandhi as the greatest of human beings to have walked the earth. Sermons like “Bapu was an epitome of virtues and greatness, a man with so big a heart inside that frail a body. We are fortunate that such a man lived in our midst.” Even Lord Ram, the avtar, killed Vali from behind, asked his wife to undertake ‘agnipravesh’ to prove her purity and banished her to the jungles on hearsay. But this man lived the life of a saint. No other Indians come anywhere near him. 
 
It must be noted that the analogous modern phrase ‘Father of the Nation’ implies less of a contribution to the preservation and integrity of a State than a great role in the founding of a State. The world boasts of any number of such recognised Fathers of Nation, including ‘Baba-e-Qaum’ Mohammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan. But nobody considers such personalities as ‘The’ martyr. Doing so will amount to rubbishing and doing injustice to, the numerous others who are to be remembered when these nations celebrate their own Martyrs’ Day.
 
Particularly in the case of the Indian political leader, it cannot be denied that his status as the Father of the Nation came about mainly because of the monopoly enjoyed by the political party he led after independence. His pacifist ideologies are increasingly coming under fire - for example from the present chief minister of the largest Indian state and a strong contender for the position of Prime Minister. Not many people believe that Gandhi and his followers had any significant role in ‘driving out’ the British, pointing out that it had anyway become unviable by mid-twentieth century for any imperial power to hold on to its colony. There are many uncharitable comments insinuating that the father figure was invented to provide a childish public some lollipop to chew on.
 
History has recorded that Gandhi vehemently opposed the candidature of Subhash Bose to the Congress presidency in 1940 even though he had supported him the previous year. When Bose won, Gandhi threatened to resign from the Congress. A frustrated Bose quit and soon escaped from British custody to join hands with the Germans. If people want to bracket Gandhi with other martyrs like Bose, it is their choice. But, by no means can Gandhi be considered as ’the martyr’. Faulting the Gujarat government for not mentioning his name in its circular is no more than cheap politics and does not place him on a pedestal.
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