There’s a strange feeling of tranquility and peace as one walks around graveyards and Raj Ghat is no different. In fact the green, well-kept field lined with palm trees leading to the final resting places of dignitaries and leaders is probably one of the most tranquil places in the busy metropolis that is New Delhi.
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most notable burials at Raj Ghat but not the only important figure; first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru‘s remains are also located here. As prime minister he attempted to steer the new nation on its own path, co-founding the Non-Aligned Movement (eventually during the tumultuous time of the Cold War. Inheriting a deeply divided nation, Nehru had the monumental task of reconciling Muslims and Hindus, invigorating the economy, creating a secular state, dealing with border disputes and attempting to end the caste system. Nehru, “the architect of India” died in 1964 and is still regarded as the country’s best leader.
Following Nehru‘s came his daughter Indira Gandhi who assumed the reigns of power in 1966 though her often aggressive and ruthless centralization of power came into conflict with Sikhs in the Panjab as well as Kashmir and Jammu. As a result with war with Pakistan, Indira Gandhi helped in the creation of the new state of Bangladesh in 1971 though this resulted in negative relations with the U.S. and China which in turn prompted India to turn to the USSR. Indira remains a controversial figure leading to the cult of personality over the Gandhi family name, growth of nepotism and corruption and the dark period of Indian democracy through her rule by decree that resulted in her assassination in 1984 by her Sikh guards. Still her achievements as the only woman to lead India at such a high level is impressive as was her transformation of India into a strong nation on the world stage.
Following his mother’s death Rajiv Gandhi would come to power as the new prime minister at the age of 40. A reluctant participant in politics, Rajiv helped to end the Sri Lankan Civil War and reverse a coup in the Maldives. He died in a suicide bombing in 1991 at the hands of a Sri Lankan militants angry over his participation in the civil war.
In many ways Mahatma Gandhi and his zeal for the independence of all India under a single secular nation is akin to Simon Bolivar‘s dream of unifying the republics of Latin America into one. Of course whereas Bolivar used the rifle and sword, Gandhi used mass mobilization and civil disobedience to achieve that goal. In their one way both of them failed, Latin America would never be united into a single super-nation and the Indian subcontinent would be partitioned into Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and eventually Bangladesh. Yet even so Gandhi‘s legacy survived him despite his assassination in 1948 by a Hindu nationalist; it is undeniable that his efforts had tremendous results in bringing about home rule for the people of the subcontinent. I wonder though how he would react to the India of today? Would he be impressed by India’s world class universities and technological innovation or reviled at the continued poverty of the agricultural and urban sectors? Perhaps he would look negatively on the rise of Hindu nationalists like the ruling BJP and extremists like the RSS who undermine his and Nehru’s dream of a secular India. Maybe if he had lived he could have helped to steer the nation towards a better direction but he died at a crucial time. Either way he continues to inspire hope in many and his words still echo true:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always.”- Mahatma Gandhi