M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
When he visited Washington, among the high points of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit was to see the statue of Mahatma Gandhi which is located in front of the embassy of India on Massachusetts Avenue. Recently in Australia, he was beaming with joy when he unveiled a statue of the Mahatma in Brisbane. Clearly, Narendra Modi has intense admiration for the global statesperson hailed as the "Father of the Nation". Thus far, however, many parts of India have made as little progress in their path towards prosperity as did one of Gandhiji's sons, Harilal, who died an anonymous pauper in a hospital bed after a lifetime of failure, apparently ignited by his father's principled refusal to send him for higher studies to the UK. It must be said that the Mahatma never sought to promote any member of his family in any position, moving in a sharply different direction from the nepotism shown by some of his contemporaries, such as Motilal Nehru, whose promotion of son Jawaharlal bore fruit, especially when the Mahatma himself saw to it that the younger Nehru rose steadily within the Congress party, until he was nominated as the country's first Prime Minister by Gandhiji, who openly claimed that Nehru would, after he himself was gone, "speak his language".
"It is against the tenets of the Mahatma, for our ministers to live in ultra-luxurious circumstances when the people of this country are still eking out a living far from that needed to preserve their dignity. The Mahatma himself travelled third-class and lived in very humble surroundings."
We do not know what exactly this "language" was, and so are a bit clueless about the extent to which Nehru's policies actually reflected those favoured by the Mahatma. However, it can be said with certainty that Gandhiji must have been distressed when he saw those who had replaced the British making a beeline for the bungalows and offices vacated by the former colonial masters of India. It is bizarre that in a country as poor as India, "servants of the people" (i.e. ministers) reside in palaces which cost Rs 300-400 crore on the market and sometimes more. It is ethically wrong; it is against the tenets of the Mahatma for our ministers to live in such ultra-luxurious circumstances when the people of this country are still eking out a living far from that needed to preserve their dignity. Indeed, when the Mahatma himself travelled third-class and usually lived in very humble surroundings, it is unconscionable that those "serving the people" enjoy a standard of life far, far in excess of that endured by the average citizen. Not merely in their places of stay, but in the matter of other colonial-era privileges as well, what needs to be done is for Prime Minister Modi to do what Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors failed to do, which is to ensure that ministers be treated the same way as other citizens in, for example, airport lines. This columnist had the privilege of travelling a few seats away from former Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Ahluwalia during an international flight, who for a decade and more would have had access to the "VIP channel" at Delhi airport. Shrugging off his present lowly status as a part of civil society rather than a big honcho in the Civil Service, the former Central planner cheerfully waited his turn in line. So should he have while in office, and so should those now in office do likewise.
This columnist is clueless about just what there was in the "language" of Jawaharal Nehru that was identical to that of Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed, looking at the simple conditions in then Chief Minister Modi's official residence at Gandhinagar as compared with the opulence of Teen Murti House, it would appear that Modi has been closer to the Mahatma's desire for simplicity than some others (who claim to be his most devoted followers) have been.
Presumably now that he is Prime Minister, Modi's living quarters must be of comparable simplicity, even if within the spacious confines of 5-7 Race Course Road. It would therefore be fitting if the Prime Minister were to request his ministerial colleagues to move out of the British-era mansions they now inhabit, into simple accommodation not too different from that of the citizens on whose behalf they are presumed to be functioning. Our ministers should follow Mahatma Gandhi, not just on designated days and before television cameras, but in their lifestyles.