Friday, May 12, 2006

A Play called “Dear Bapu” at IIT Delhi


It is often said that the history has a very important role to play in building the future. As a matter of fact, we, the Indians, are very fortunate to have a history comprising almost all the flavors. If we count from the very beginning, we, like any great country, have everything in our history. Well.. a few words cannot describe the wholeness of our history. But I still try to give a few names of those flavors: Prosperity, Courage, Diplomacy, Conspiracy, Struggle, Freedom, and so forth. All in all, absolutely no color is left if we are talking about our historical background. Let us confine our discussions and talk only about our modern history. The two biggest and foremost legends of our modern history are Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. There are a large number of factions within us who think differently about these two nation-builders, one of whom was more dominant before independence and another one was seriously dominant in post-independence scenario. I was also among one of those factions who think that both of them had quite similar ideologies and that is why they both were so close to each other that they can be considered like the two sides of a single coin. But I do not think the same after seeing a theatrical performance called “Dear Bapu” by Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, which brought forward a candid truth that was totally unknown at least to me. The very truth is that Gandhi and Nehru had a vast difference between their respective ideologies. However, they were very close to each other thanks to a thread of “respect” towards each other’s personality and vision.

About the play:

Those who attended or rather experienced that performance would not call it a play because it was more a fact-based presentation than an imaginary story. I would personally call it a “show.” The show covered a long duration of twenty years from around 1928 to the death of Gandhiji in 1948. The regular correspondence between Gandhi and Nehru between this duration was the basis to let the audience know about the vast differences between the two personalities on different relevant issues. As the duration suggests, the show covered the important events such as Dandi march, Cripps mission, World war II, Quit India movement, uprising of Muslim league and Zinnah, partition and communal violence, independence, and Gandhi’s assassination. The Gandhi-Nehru correspondence on all the above events depicted how differently the two wanted India to become after independence. The natural evolution of this separation was amazing and stunning for a viewer like me.


Nehru first met Gandhiji in 1916. Afterwards, he gradually became aware of Gandhi’s philosophy and views in context of English administration in India. It is worthwhile to say here that while his studies in England, Nehru was not much aware of what kind of difficulties and injustices the Indian public was going through during English rule. But after meeting Gandhiji, he began to know and feel the pain of a general Indian. Later on, he joined Congress and in the presence of Gandhiji and some veteran leaders, he gradually became quite a force in Congress. Around 1927, he was one of the most intelligent and young leaders in the Congress. Now, the real plot of the show begins with this much of background.
Beginning from a few general letters, the show drew an outline of its very objective: the difference between the philosophies of Gandhi and Nehru. Now, the main task was lying ahead, i.e., to depict this difference systematically. First big instance was Dandi march in 1930 when Gandhiji decided to take the Government head on, however, non-violently. Nehru was averse to such ideas as the event like Dandi march was not a “big issue” for him. He was at least 20 years younger to Gandhiji, therefore, he, like any other young Indian, wanted “full independence”, and that too very hurriedly, to be the main objective of the Congress. However, Gandhi’s approach was quite different. He was definitely determined to obtain the full independence. But he also wanted to utilize this critical time and effort to mobilize the people in all respects. His vision was not limited till attaining the freedom. He was looking far beyond the post-independence scenario. Perhaps, he was working on the theory of destroying the root cause. After all, the main reason of our becoming slaves again and again was that we were not united. We were more indulged in fighting with one another. Gandhiji was working on a totalitarian line. He wanted that the persons from all religions, castes, categories, and financial backgrounds should get united so that it may become heavily helpful in nation building after attaining the freedom. This is why he believed in gathering people with him in large number so that a natural feeling of unity may become prominent within each and every citizen of the nation. On the other hand, Nehru being a well-educated and foreign return Indian was naturally looking at the middle class and upper class of the country to play the main role in attaining the freedom. Perhaps, this was the basic difference of “Nehru’s independence” and “Gandhi’s poorna swaraj”.
Well, as the time passed, this difference went on broadening. But at the same time, their personal intimacy witnessed a continuous escalation. Even as the other incidents went by, the similar trend of difference in philosophies was apparent. For instance, in 1931, when death sentence was handed over to the revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and others, the differences resurfaced. Nehru wanted Gandhiji to play more active role in encouraging such type of revolution along with his non-violent movement in order to attain freedom very soon. In fact, a faction among the Congressmen was in favor of this view of Nehru, and even some of them considered Gandhiji as one of the responsible factors for the death of Bhagat Singh and others. Gandhiji, however, was undeviated from such allegations and suggestions. His priority was to put morals before anything else and his morale was not to win the enemy with arms and belligerence but with protests and non-violence. Then came the incidents like Cripps mission and World War II. Gandhiji had become firmer on his ethics and values. In the process of mobilizing the people, physically as well as psychologically, for nation building after freedom, he was coming much closer to traditional values of the past. For instance, in one of his letters, he asked Nehruji to correspondence in rashtrabhasha. The above-mentioned duration was not much lucrative for Nehruji as he was imprisoned for most of this time-span. However, he went on to escalate his own vision even being in jail.
This was the time when two very crucial events occurred which really jolted the Gandhiji’s vision: uprising of Jinnah and Ambedkar. Jinnah, riding on anti-hindu and pro-muslim wave, was taking the muslims away from the mainstream of freedom struggle. This was evident in the provincial elections in which Jinnah’s Muslim League secured almost all seats in muslim dominant regions. In fact, the election results virtually vindicated his two-nation theory. Gandhiji was helpless as he was watching the demolition of the India of his dreams even before its birth. He talked to Jinnah and described the meeting afterwards as “the test of his patience for three and half hours.” The meaning was loud and clear that the partition was on the cards. Another was the uprising of Ambedkar. He was going another step forward to divide the majorities by opening a new floodgate called reservation. He was almost adamant on his viewpoint. Gandhiji tried to persuade him as well but he could achieve no real break-through. As the show depicted, Gandhiji was completely broken by consequences of such factionalist philosophies. The communal violence all around the country was enough to shake a rock-like person from inside. He tried his best to go from place to place within the country to stop all that. He even fasted unto death several times but it brought a very little difference to persuade the people to remain calm and peaceful. The communal violence was merely a small indication of how much poison had been filled into the hearts in the name of the religion. Witnessing all these, Gandhiji had no real charm of attaining independence left within him, as it was not the freedom he would have liked to have. On the other hand, Nehruji, as a master politician, was taking these incidents in a much pragmatic style. He knew that the hard and fast principles that Gandhiji has set for himself were not practically feasible in a multi-dimensional society like India had. He did not even hesitate in taking on Jinnah and Ambedkar publicly. His prime objective was still the same i.e., to attain the independence at any cost. In the mean time, Nehruji lost his wife after a long sickness. His daughter Indira married to Feroz. Gandhiji was always with Nehruji in all his grieves and joys. This was a quite a paradox to have such intensified personal intimacy despite equally different approaches to their political and even to their economical objectives.
The show had reached its climax. After partition and freedom, Gandhiji had become very reserved and limited to his own inner premises. His last letter to Nehruji was written on January 18, 1948. He seemed to be a very satisfied self in that letter. He concluded the letter with very emotional remarks “Ishwar tumhe sada khush rakhe.” After merely 12 days, the news of Gandhiji’s assassination came and the show ended on such a sentimentally sad note that all the viewers were literally stunned and speechless. The effect of the end was so strong that I felt that something within my inner conscience was crying and I am quite sure I was not alone in feeling all that.