The old man with the mischievous smile would have burst out into a cackle, for he was anything but a hypocrite. Lage Raho Munnabhai is an appropriate vessel for Gandhi’s message in more ways than one. It uses the medium most popular with the young, most of whom were born well after Gandhi’s assassination in 1949. It tells the story in a vocabulary familiar to them — RJs, mafia dons, quiz contests — and it does so in the syntax of love, Bollywood style. Inspired by it, even real-life don Babloo Srivastava decided to distribute roses and spread the message of love and peace while attending a CBI court hearing for some very un-Gandhian activities.
Where Munnabhai’s Gandhigiri will take us, we don’t know. But the Gandhigiri of the last 50 years has been largely associated with self-service, hypocrisy and fraud. It is typified perhaps by the misuse of Gandhi’s cloth, khaddar, which has become a kind of ganga jal that gives ablution to any mafia don who wants to become a politician.
In a country riddled with sants, gurus and bhagwans, perhaps the Mahatma doesn’t count for much. But Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had more personas than Munnabhai — naturopath, social worker, saint, politician, journalist, political philosopher and strategist, and experimenter of truth. Mao Zedong once said that his place in history would become clear only after a couple of hundred years. But in the 30 years since his death, his stature has already diminished. On the other hand, that of the Mahatma continues to grow. Today, when the demonisation of the ‘other’ has become a way of life, and civilisational clashes rent the air, the need for the Gandhian doctrine of tolerance and understanding of that ‘other’ is manifest.