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Gandhi Samiti in long wait for young scholars

New Delhi, Jan. 5: The Father of the Nation wouldn’t have approved, surely.

The government may swear by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s legacy but it has been sitting on projects and work related to the man who once walked nearly 400km as an act of civil disobedience against British raj salt laws.

At least one of these projects has been stuck because of alleged lack of action. The Gandhi Heritage Mission is yet to take off, although work on the project has been going on since 2006.

The executive council of the Gandhi Samiti, which controls Rajghat, has also not been formed for two years now. As for the Gandhi Peace Prize, the last time it was awarded was in 2005.

The government had in April 2006 formed a Gandhi Heritage Sites Panel to do a study of all places associated with the Mahatma and come up with a comprehensive plan for their conservation.

The panel, which was headed by the Mahatma’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi and included historian Ramachandra Guha as one of its members, submitted its report in November 2008 after mapping 39 core sites and 2,000 others visited by Gandhi.

It suggested that a Gandhi Heritage Mission be formed so that all these sites could be brought under a single organisation.

In 2010, the culture ministry got the expenditure finance committee to approve Rs 42 crore for the project but the mission got delayed as the cabinet note did the rounds of several ministries and the Planning Commission expressed several reservations. Now, it’s finally ready to be presented before the cabinet.

The Gandhi Samiti, which the Prime Minister chairs, is in charge of the administration, upkeep and activities of two key monuments: Rajghat, where the Mahatma was cremated, and Gandhi Smriti, the house where he was assassinated.

After the tenure of the Gandhi Samiti’s last executive council ended on December 7, the culture ministry had thrice sent names of possible candidates to the Prime Minister’s Office so that a new 20-member council could be formed. But the PMO rejected the lists every time.

In its latest reply in the last week of December, the PMO said the ministry should hunt for younger Gandhian scholars. “It seems that the Prime Minister’s Office feels that younger scholars will play a more active role. It would be easier for a younger person to connect with the younger generation and find innovative ways to propagate Gandhi’s thoughts,” said a senior official.

Some of the members of the previous executive council, the Samiti’s key decision-making body, were in their seventies and eighties.

While Gandhian S.N. Subba Rao is nearly 84, former national women’s commission chairperson Mohini Giri is over 70. One of the ex-officio members, Delhi lieutenant governor Tejinder Khanna, is 74.

Most of the other ex-officio members are all senior government officers, some of them nearing retirement.

Manish Sharma, lecturer in Gandhi studies at Punjab University, said there were “enough” young Gandhi scholars. “In fact, about 400 colleges have Gandhi studies. I think the reason for not reconstituting the executive council is not because they are not able to find Gandhi scholars. The reason is they do not want to give a young person such responsibility,” Sharma, who is also the co-ordinator of youth programmes for the Indian Council for Gandhian Studies, added.

The Gandhi Peace Prize was last awarded to South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu in 2005. Since then, the PMO has not forwarded a list of possible candidates to the jury.

The Prime Minister chairs the five-member jury that also includes the Chief Justice of India, the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and two other eminent persons.

Past recipients of the peace prize include Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, in 1995, the first year the prize was awarded; the Ramakrishna Mission (1998), Baba Amte (1999), and Nelson Mandela (2000).