The Forgotten Prophet

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 28 No. 11, November 2008

By Bittu Sahgal

"I have a few letters describing some of the dishonest means Congressmen are resorting to in order to further their selfish interest... I do not want to live to see all this. But if they go on deceiving us, there will be such a tremendous upheaval that the golden history of our cherished freedom, won without shedding a drop of blood, will be tarnished..." - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

The anger writ large on the faces of young and old who are still recovering from the aftermath of the terror attacks in Mumbai suggest that the lines written by Gandhi decades ago have come true with a vengeance. He would have written even more bitterly about the Indian leadership of today.

Decades after his death, the virus of naked self-interest contrives not merely to steal money from the poor but also their only means of survival. By destroying India’s forests, rivers, fertile fields, pristine coastlines, once-pure rivers such as the Ganga and Brahmaputra and the fragile Himalayan ranges that slake our thirst, those in charge of India’s development machine are indulging in the ultimate crime... inter-generational colonisation.

The children of the Ganges have truly drifted far from the teachings of Gandhi, who constantly reminded India’s freedom fighters that: "a worthy heir always adds to the legacy that he receives". Our generation is busy emptying tomorrow's larder.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an environmental prophet. For all the statues we erect and the platitudes we utter, the father of the nation will have died in vain if we do not wake to the realisation that the erosion of our value systems is now resulting in the erosion of our soils.

"The demands of equality supercede the letter of the law," he chided the British, when they attempted to take shelter behind one-sided legislation. What I wonder would he say to Indian developers who build high dams in the Himalaya (where glacial melt is at such an advanced stage that the turbines may not even turn by the time the last dam is built), or to the Prime Minister who believes that in an era of climate change he can happily enhance India’s coal-fired thermal plant capacity by 300 per cent? The list is endless, the consequences for India are predictable -- climate change-caused biodiversity losses, aggravated floods and droughts, water and food shortages, ill-health, and, ultimately, mass migration of climate refugees from places such as the 24 Parganas, where rising seas and extreme climatic effects are poised to claim innocent lives.

So I ask: “Was Gandhi wasted on India’s freedom? Would the forgotten prophet not have saved more human lives were he alive today to deliver the earth itself from foul human ambition?”


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