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The Father of the Nation Controversy

The founding myths of many nations regard all the people as descendants of a progenitor, who is often eponymous. Father of the Nation is an honorific title given to a man considered the driving force behind the establishment of their country, state ornation. Pater Patriae also seen as Parens Patriae, was a Roman honorific meaning "Father of the Fatherland", bestowed by the Senate on heroes, and later on emperors.

On the sixty sixth Independence Day, we may muse on the title ‘Father of the Nation’. If not asked I know who is Father of the Nation, but if asked I know not. This is officially a ten year old question because of the RTI plea of class VI student of City Montessori School, Rajajipuram branch, Lucknow, Aishwarya Parashar to the National Archives of India. Jayaprabha Ravindran, assistant director of archives and chief public information officer (CPIO) wrote back in a letter dated March 26: "As per search among public records in the National Archives of India, there are no specific documents on the information sought by you." 

When a demand to confer the title of 'Father of the Indian Constitution' on Dr Ambedkar was made, deputy prime minister LK Advani, in a letter to Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit in 2004, had written: "It is not, however, feasible to formally confer the title of 'Father of Indian Constitution' on Dr Ambedkar, since Article 18 (1) of the Constitution specifically provides that "no title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the state."

Mahatma Gandhi is popularly known as "Father of the Nation," but no such title was ever formally conferred on him by the government. It was Subhas Chandra Bose who used the term for Mahatma Gandhi, in a radio address from Singapore in 1944. Later, it was recognised by the Indian government. Thereafter on April 28, 1947 Gandhi was referred with the same title by Sarojini Naidu at a conference. When Gandhi was assassinated, India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in a radio address to the nation, had announced that the Father of the Nation "is no more."

No such controversy rises in officially calling Jinnah ‘Father of the Nation’. Jinnah said , “I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title or honours and I will be more than happy if there was no prefix to my name."  But Jinnah is popularly and officially known in Pakistan as Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader") and Baba-i-Qaum ("Father of the Nation").

Pakistan was carved out of the British India as an independent sovereign country to serve the aspirations of 700 million Muslims that opted to be part of it. Pakistanis view Jinnah as their revered founding father, a man that was dedicated to safeguarding Muslim interests during the dying days of the British Raj.  Despite any of a range of biases, Jinnah is universally recognized as central to the creation of Pakistan.

Were there doubts about Mahatma Gandhi? His staunch opponent Subhas Chandra Bose had no such doubts. Gandhi was at that time interned at Agha Khan’s palace at Pune and Kasturba passed away on 22 February, 1944. Concerned about Gandhiji, Netaji sent the following message to the Mahatma on Azad Hind Radio, Rangoon on 4th June, 1944.
"...........Nobody would be more happy than ourselves if by any chance our countrymen at home should succeed in liberating themselves through their own efforts or by any chance, the British Government accepts your `Quit India' resolution and gives effect to it. We are, however proceeding on the assumption that neither of the above is possible and that a struggle is inevitable. Father of our Nation in this holy war for India’s liberation we ask for your blessings and good wishes.” 
This message shows Netaji’s reverence and warm feelings towards Gandhiji. Some feel that there are some technical problems in officially calling him Father of Nation. Pakistan is a new nation born after Independence. But India that is Bharat as we know today has emerged out of an old civilization. There are many queries if Gandhi could be called the Father of an ancient civilization like ours.

One argument is there in favour of Gandhi being conferred the title. The multi cultural and multi ethnic country became a Nation-State owing allegiance to one Constitution, one flag and one Governemnt only on August 15, 1947. Mahatma Gandhi who crystallized about him the living forces of this new land may be officially called the Father of the Nation as Jinnah is in Pakistan. People of India saw a Father figure in Gandhi and he was the ‘Bapu’ to them.

Coherence or consistency are not hallmarks of Gandhian thinking. And it is not enough to gloss this as indicative of flexibility or lack of dogma. It is a serious criticism of Jinnah, for example, to state that he did not have a clear conception of the Pakistan that he fought for, whether it was meant to be a Muslim –majority secular and democratic state or one whose political order was founded on Islam. Many of Pakistan’s problems today can be traced to this failure at conception.

Likewise, Gandhian fuzziness and lack of clarity have had severe negative consequences for India. Its later variant has been the trademark hypocrisy of Indian politicians for which not accidentally, the iconic image in popular culture is the bumbling figure in a Gandhi cap. This is a distant cry from the Father of Nation concept. No such thing happened in Pakistan’s concept of Father of the Nation.


More by :  Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee

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