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Gandhi at the grassroots

Who says Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy is a fading `ism'? Ask the people who work with their ear to the ground. Ask Nirmala Deshpande.

K.V. Srinivasan.

IT SEEMS to be the season of hope and camaraderie as far as people to people relations with Pakistan go. As a bunch of artists from across the border gather to paint the Taj Mahal, one is reminded of what Gandhian activist Nirmala Deshpande, popularly known as Didi, is in the habit of reiterating.

If we talk to the common man, she points out, we find that the so-called irreconcilable differences of opinion sometimes are a figment of a politically inspired or journalistic imagination.

"Does the Taj Mahal belong to India? It belongs to the whole sub-continent," she points out, naming other examples of a shared heritage between the countries of the region, like Takshila.

Not in tune

The stress on the journalistic approach is because she feels the media has shown it is not representative of the Indian people.

"By and large, our media is not in tune with the common people. I mean the people who live outside Delhi," says this smiling motherly figure with a wonderful smile and seemingly unflagging energy. "I move everywhere and I am amazed to find people are so different from what we read in the papers."

Heading the Bapu Sadbhavana Trust, this tireless worker for social and communal harmony takes the example of the seminar she organised in Ujjain. "About 2000 people came. I myself was surprised. They came in huge numbers. They said, `We'll do Gandhi's work. The same thing happens in Indore. If you move around a lot you know these things," and her mild manner does not blunt the piercing truth about how the national media is to a large extent letting down the nation.

She seals it by mentioning how the results of the general elections came as a big surprise to all the media pundits who were busy conducting opinion polls and surveys, predicting a result that made them look like the proverbial weatherman. Since the hotshot representatives of the media were catering to a small section of the population, they missed the big picture. "That's why no one predicted the election results. I was saying it all along," says `keeper of the Gandhi flame'.

True, if anyone knows the pulse of the country it has to be people like Didi. If in her youth as a disciple of Vinoba Bhave she undertook padayatras of 40,000 km to propagate his Bhoodan movement, she continues mobilising mammoth sized events, like the Gandhian Workers' Conference, the Aman Mela, which took place late in 2004, in which over 15,000 grassroots level workers workers took part and to which 1000 peace activists from Pakistan were invited.

ANJANA RAJAN

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