Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Nobel Peace Prize and Gandhi
    Hindustan Times Jaipur Live, November 02, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

The whole world is wondering about President Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after being in the office for only about nine months, and there being no solid reason to award him for his platitudes of making peace in the world. He is yet to walk the talk.

If one looks at the earlier Nobel peace prizes, they have gone to achievers, even if the same did not directly relate to promoting peace. Examples of these include Wangari Mathai, the Kenyan activist for large scale planting of trees or Md Yunus for the huge success of Gramin Bank in Bangladesh which lead to a direct attack on endemic poverty in Bangladesh, or Al Gore for highlighting the issues of climate change. In the context of peace activism, among others, Micheal Gorbachev was rightly recognised for ending the cold war that existed between the Iron Bloc and NATO countries in the 1990s.

A recent global survey which looked at good candidates for the peace prize, even posthumous, Gandhi’s name came up first. He achieved by practicing non-violence and showing that this simple and peaceful tool can move mountains. Since then he inspired many in the world, including Martin Luther King, Jr and Nelson Mandela. Both went on to change an existing inhuman exploitative order in the USA and South Africa respectively. None would have imagined a non-white person, Obama, to have become the president of the US, but it did happen. For Obama, Gandhi was also a great inspiration.

Gandhi’s name is now associated with many things, including some Indian cuisine restaurants in the western world. There have been no objections to Indian entrepreneurs naming their restaurants by the name of Gandhi, as the name would sell. It does not matter that many such restaurants sell non-vegetarian food also.

Many were taken by surprise recently when the famous pen makers, Mont Blanc, to raise their profile in India, launched a new gold and silver fountain pen to commemorate Gandhi on his last anniversary. The limited edition pen is priced at Rs11 lakhs, which has a solid gold, rhodium plated nib, engraved with Gandhi’s image. “We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty which will last for centuries”, claimed Mont Blanc’s distributor in India.

This drew a sharp reaction from Amit Modi, the secretary of the 102-year old Sabarmati Ashram that Gandhi founded to promote his ideas of radical egalitarianism and simple living. Yet the pens received have received the blessing of Tushar Gandhi, the often vocal great grandson of Gandhi, who has received a donation of Rs.69 lakhs from Montblanc to build a shelter for rescued child labourers.

A few months ago, Tushar had led an outcry when Gandhi’s spectacles and other personal items were auctioned in the USA. Ironically, the liquor baron, Vijay Mallya bought it and brought it back home. Tushar found it repugnant, though most like me did not think so.

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