Its time to move beyond Gandhi and Mandela
India’s President Abdul Kalam is on a state visit to South Africa with an itinerary that is full of Gandhian nostalgia. However, the Mahatma is not universally liked in South Africa, especially given his not so very charitable opinion of the blacks. Abiola Lapite has an interesting post on Gandhi’s racist views, with an excellent response from Gene Expression’s Razib. Allowing the inevitable controversies of history to colour the canvas of bilateral relations with South Africa is not the best way forward.
Indeed, the strongest foundation for a better bilateral relationship with South Africa lies in the common problems the two countries face in the socio-economic sphere, especially those brought about by globalisation. With the Doha round of trade talks on the horizon, India and South Africa should prepare to begin singing from the same song sheet. And then there is AIDS, where it is in both countries’ interest to work out an agreement on affordable treatment.
South Africa has also indicated its willingness to support both India and Brazil in their quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And just as Gandhi (him again) inspired Mandela in his anti-apartheid struggle, there is much that India can learn from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. India can adopt the South African model to heal the wounds of the decade-long conflict in Kashmir.
The Indian President’s visit is largely symbolic in nature, but it is time to find some new symbols that are appropriate in the new circumstances. It is time to throw Gandhi off the train again. This time for reasons that are not likely to pain the Mahatma.