Starring Narendra Modi, in and as Gandhi: How a certain TV channel attempted to appropriate a great legacy

By Darshan Desai*
[Gandhi] spins every day for 1 hr. beginning usually at 4. All members of his ashram must spin. He and his followers encourage everyone to spin. Even M. B-W was encouraged to lay [aside] her camera to spin. . . . When I remarked that both photography and spinning were handicrafts, they told me seriously, “The greater of the 2 is spinning.” Spinning is raised to the heights almost of a religion with Gandhi and his followers. The spinning wheel is sort of an Ikon to them. Spinning is a cure all, and is spoken of in terms of the highest poetry...
These are the type-written notes that accompanied legendary photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White’s eternal picture of Mahatma Gandhi on his spinning wheel (mimicked now by Narendra Modi) that she sent to the LIFE magazine in 1946. Her few words speak of the depth of a journalist who could capture the soul of the Mahatma and his ideology in just one shot.
Cut to 2017. Two poor journalists on a self-fashioned Times Now debate were trying hard to position their defence of the pitchforking of Narendra Modi in place of Mahatma Gandhi on the calendar and diary of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission.
Here is what they did: They showed old calenders and diaries of previous years when Gandhi’s picture on the wheel was removed and replaced by images of colourful khadi threads or a plain diary cover. They wanted the Congress to respond to the fact that Gandhi was removed from the calendar and dairy in their time.
The a la Arnab Goswami stress on the word removed sounded as though saying ‘the BJP has only replaced Gandhi with Modi, you people removed him.’ Nobody bothered to listen that no political leader had ever put his picture there. (Perhaps, according to them, the nation doesn’t want to know this.)
Symbolising the times that we live in now, the Times Now journalists brought themselves to a Facebook-like debate, sorry tete-e-tete, saying Modi has become a brand ambassador of khadi, he has made khadi a fashion statement, khadi sales have gone up dramatically because of him, so what’s the big deal if his picture is put there. They demanded a convincing rejoinder to this, stopping short of Arnab’s signature “the nation wants to know”.
At another level, when pointed out that Gandhi, khadi and the charkha were the symbols of non-violence and Modi was just the opposite of it, the anchors started screaming “what about 1984, what about Bhagalpur riots”. They sounded as nauseating as the BJP saying exactly this in the thick of the bloody 2002 massacre in Gujarat under Modi.
Margaret Bourke-White would perhaps have been pained that two kids had brought down to gutter the journalism she took to lofty levels when covering Gandhi. But the larger saner media in India does not bother for they will not allow a certain TV channel to appropriate their legacy.
Well, the point here is not how much illiterate about Gandhi were the two journalists for they were only trying to toe a tutored line. It is another matter that they badly need a tuition from Arnab on how to do this without so crudely exposing themselves.
The point here is the BJP’s argument which the journalists furthered about how khadi sales have jacked up with Modi emerging as its brand ambassador and created a fashion statement with his half-sleeve kurtas. It is as crude as comparing Amitabh Bachchan promoting Gujarat with his khushboo Gujarat ki campaign and emerging as its brand ambassador; and so if tourism develops in the State his picture should be put up prominently on all tourism material.
By the way, the Modi kurta is not hand spun unlike the khadi of Gandhi and those who know the spirit of this know the difference. Expecting those two journalists and the minions of Modi to understand this would be putting too much burden on the poor souls.
A part of this argument is also that Modi has done more than anyone else to promote khadi. Times Now says “what’s the big deal” and BJP says “what’s wrong (he has a right to replace Gandhi)”. It is like saying Virat Kohli is the in-thing and so Mahendra Singh Dhoni should go.
By the same argument, Times Now and the bhaktas may well say someday that Modi has transformed entire India, in fact the woman anchor stopped short of saying this when she referred to Make in India, and so it is no big deal if Gandhi’s statues are replaced with those of Modi and all MG Roads in the country become NaMo Roads. The BJP will say what’s wrong, he has a right.
In the cacophony of all this, there are only a few to tell our burgeoning young population that khadi was not a sheer product nor was the spinning wheel a mundane machine. They were the eternal symbols of India’s ethos that Gandhi singularly represented, of the uncanny unity of the varied people of this country in the middle of mindboggling diversity.
They were a way of life. Gandhi told us how: “Spin and spin after due deliberation… ‘Due deliberation’ means realization that charkha or act of spinning is the symbol of non-violence. Ponder; it will be self-evident.”
Last but not the least, the original inventor and promoter of khadi never called Margaret Bourke-White to put together his portfolio for a modeling career. Modi’s picture on the KVIC material is posed for. No big deal, indeed, he has a portfolio of his own.
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Editor, Development News Network, Ahmedabad

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