The two tales of Ganga Ji and Gandhi Ji
In his Great India Novel, Dr Shashi Tharoor created a fictional but comparative narrative between the Mahabharata and the Indian freedom movement. As a result, we can find parallels between the two stories and their characters. For Instance, Mahatma Gandhi or ‘Gandhiji’ from the freedom struggle is the Gangaji/Gangaputra/Bheeshma from Mahabharata. Although they lived glorious lives, their lives ended on a painful note. Bheeshma was a scintillating character in Mahabharata. Yet, in an episode, he confesses his pain to Krishna in the following words:
‘I am a dead ancestor to be invoked whenever one deems fit’.
Later on, in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary Kalyanam Venkatam recalled his agonised words:
‘Today mine is a voice in the wilderness.I am a back number.My teachings fall on a stony ground.I am not the current coin I fancied I was once.’
From a Boon to Bane
Both Bhishma and Gandhi had a great vision for people around them. However, they invested in the wrong people, while their ideas and philosophies did not evolve with time. Furthermore, their dedication to ideas/vows/vision handcuffed them instead of empowering them.
As a result, the very individuals or the society that worshipped them turned against them. For instance, in the Kurukshetra war, both Kauravas and Pandavas wished for Bheeshma’s death, willingly or unwillingly. Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi’s own countrymen plotted his assassination. These great men remind me of Harvey Dent’s iconic lines from the dark knight.
You Either Die A Hero, Or You Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become The Villain
The opportunistic society
A few select individuals can’t change the course of history. It is the collective intellect of the society which is decisive. They might have been victims of misjudgement, but the society is equally responsible for its doom. People worshipped these men whenever they needed them and abandoned them into disillusionment after achieving their purpose.
We need to remember that whenever great men find themselves in such a state of helplessness, the society is in an advanced state of decay and destruction is around the corner, either in the form of a warlike Mahabharata or decay of Indian society post Independence, which culminated into a genocide across Indo-Pak borders.
Note: Bheeshma’s words to Krishna have been adapted from KM Munshi’s Krishnavatara.