Mahatma Gandhi made great contributions in so many aspects of our life that it is difficult to isolate just one or two of his most important messages for the present generation. However if a choice has to be made regarding his two most crucial messages for contemporary India then it is clear that his most important message is for communal harmony followed closely by his message for always giving priority to the concerns and problems of the poorest of people.On both these important issues the situation today is a very worrying one and the first step should be to clearly recognize this reality.For Mahatma Gandhi the cause of communal harmony and friendly relations among followers of all religions—based on sincere respect and regard for each other—was so important that he not only made tireless efforts for this all through his life but in addition he was willing to die for this cause, as was clear from the way in which he endangered his life while embarking on his footmarches in Noakhali at a very old age in very high risk conditions. In the last days he took up very memorable fasts for bringing communal harmony. Finally the manner and circumstances of his death was such that it can be rightly said that he sacrificed his life for communal harmony.Hence it is very sad that in recent years the situation of communal harmony has deteriorated . While lip sympathy is of course paid to Gandhiji and his ideals, this is not matched by the ground reality. Hence one of our greatest concerns should be to check this deterioration by contributing to communal harmony in various ways.Secondly, we also need to remember the other great commitment of Mahatma Gandhi to give top priority to the concerns of the poorest people. Unfortunately the biggest concerns of the poorest people have been neglected in recent years. Land reforms and redistribution in favour of landless peasants and farm workers has been given up almost entirely. Inequalities have been growing at a very fast pace so that a fast reducing share of income is available for the poor. Displacement from land and traditional livelihoods is pushing many more into poverty. On top of it pandemic related factors have inflicted more harm on migrant workers and sections of the poorest people compared to the better placed sections of society, accentuating inequalities .
Even though people are yet to recover from this disruption, new threats are appearing for them in the form of slum evictions and adverse legislative measures.
In this situation several organizations and campaigns have come forward to demand immediate relief to the poorest people as well as longer-term measures for reducing poverty and inequality. For example a campaign by the Tamil Nadu Alliance in collaboration with organizations from 23 states has demanded cash assistance of Rs. 6000 per month for four months for the poorest and most vulnerable households affected by lockdown to check the spread of bonded labour, child labour, trafficking, indebtedness crisis and hunger. This petition has been able to collect a very large number of signatures in a relatively short time. ( Tamil Nadu Alliance is a coalition of large number of Tamil Nadu worker organizations, active particularly in textiles).
The Right to Food Campaign, another network of many organizations working on food and hunger issues, has appealed for protecting the food security arrangements and food rights of the poor from recent legislations likely to have an adverse impact on food and farming.
Several organizations have been coming together recently on issues like protecting existing labor and trade union rights of workers from the adverse impacts of recent legislations. There is a new urgency among activists about protecting the rights of migrant workers and providing essential relief to them after recent very distressing experiences. There is shock and distress regarding any actions to evict slum dwellers in such difficult conditions.
From a Gandhian perspective, all these concerns of the weakest sections should get very high priority especially in these difficult times.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. His recent book on survival issues and people’s response titled Planet in Peril has been published by Vitasta, Delhi.