S. Sivadas 
S. Sivadas 

Two anniversaries, two messages

S. Sivadas

The way the two neighbours held their celebrations on achieving
historic landmarks could not have been improved; and the contrasts
could not have been as marked. China celeberated 70 years of Communist
party rule and its rise to global superpower status with a dazzling
military parade showcasing its technology and manpower and the promise
its President Xi Jinping made on the occasion that ‘no force on earth
can shake the status of this great nation’, even as protests in Hong
Kong cast a long shadow over that projection of unity and power.

The parade at Tiananmen Square on October 1 was watched by millions as
15,000 troops and weapons, including new hypersonic drones and
intercontinental ballistic missiles, thundered by. The civilian parade
that followed featured tributes to icons ranging from the ‘great
helmsman’ Mao Zedong and the bicycles the country was known for before
it became the economic behemoth since Deng’s reforms of the 1980s.

‘There is no force that can shake the status of this great nation,’ Xi
thundered. ‘No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese
nation forging ahead,’ he said as the troops goose stepped by and
heavy armoury rolled. He wore the famous Mao tunic for the occasion
and made the pronouncements from the very spot where Mao stood to
announce the establishment of the People’s Republic on October 1,
1949. At that time China was so poor and battered by civil war that
some of its 17 war planes were reportedly ordered to fly by twice, to
make the air force seem somewhat impressive. This year there was no
need for that.

Helicopters flew overhead carrying the communist party, state and
military flags in that order offering a further hint of the
leadership’s priorities. And it was also one of the most consequential
national day celebrations because the state it controls has now
outlived the Soviet Union that was once its sponsor, mentor and
supporter and Chinese officials for years have closely studied the
collapse of the USSR in a bid to avoid meeting a similar fate.

Military parades had been held every year to mark the day during the
Chairman Mao years between 1949 and 59 but from the next year onwards
they decided large scale functions would be held only once a decade as
an austerity measure and to ‘be frugal’. But since the national
reforms and its opening up, celebrations have been held in 1984, 1999
and 2009 to mark the 35th, 50th and 60th anniversaries. This has also
been the fifth major parade Xi has presided over since coming to power
and this also happens against the backdrop of the protests in Hong
Kong. Although a massive fireworks display had been planned along the
harbour in that once colonial outpost, as it has done every year since
1997, the Government cancelled these ‘for safety’ reasons.

Rehearsals for the  parade and the preparations in China had been
going on for months and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a press
briefing that it will not be targeted ‘at any countries or districts’
but rather would be ‘committed to safeguarding world peace and
regional stability.’ The city of Beijing was covered with red flags,
adorning apartment compounds and neighbourhoods; banners reading
‘Today's China is the result of the work of Chinese people’ had been
draped across overpasses, and topiaries have been installed around the
roads. The authorities had distributed 620,000 television sets for
those not invited to be able to watch the festivities.

Meanwhile, the celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary that
fell on the next day, that used to be held at a public park in
Beijing, was shifted to the Indian Embassy premises as permission was
denied at the last minute. For 14 years Gandhi Jayanti used to be held
in the picturesque Chaoyang Park where a statue of the Mahatma,
sculpted by the celebrated Chinese sculptor Yuam Xikun, had been

Interestingly, the culmination of the year-long celebration of
Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary that had been going on in the country
relentlessly ended on October 2, turned into yet another day of
competitive politics in India with leaders from opposition parties,
tussled with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Narendra Modi
government, all of them celebrating the day as never before.

Leaders of the two national parties, the BJP and Congress, took out
padayatras (foot rallies) and the Prime Minister attended several
programmes, starting the day by paying tribute at Rajghat, and going
on to visit Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat. He also observed the day by
celebrating the Swacch Bharat Mission and declaring India to be ‘open
defecation free’, one of the pet obsessions of the Mahatma.

‘The India of Bapu’s dreams is becoming a new India. The India of
Bapu’s dreams will be clean, where the environment will be safe. In
India of Bapu’s dream every person will be fit. In India of Bapu’s
dreams every mother and every child will be nurtured. In India of
Bapu’s dream, every citizen will feel safe,’ said Modi. ‘In the past
three weeks, 20 thousand tonnes of plastic waste has been collected.
We have also seen that the usage of carry bags made of plastic has
been reduced. Crores of Indians have joined the initiative and have
given up the usage of single-use plastic.

‘The government has started the Jal Jeevan Mission recently and this
will also help society. We should take every step for water recharge
and water recycling in our society. We have also decided to spend Rs
3.5 lakh crore on the Jal Jeevan Mission, but it will be incomplete
without the active participation of the citizens of India’, he reeled

‘According to a UNICEF report, in the last five years, due to the
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, there has been a positive effect of over Rs. 20
lakh crores. Over 75 lakh people have been employed due to this
mission, most of it coming from the rural parts,’ Modi told a rally of
20,000 village heads at the Sabarmati riverfront.

‘The world is amazed at our success. The world is awarding and
respecting us for this achievement. In 60 months, we have provided
toilets to over 60 crore people by constructing over 11 crore toilets.
The world is amazed,’ he continued.

‘Gandhi ji used to say ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.
Working on this mantra, we picked up brooms and started to clean our
society. Indians used to hesitate talking about toilets, but today, it
has become an integral part of Indians’ thought-process,’ Modi pointed

While the Union Home Minister Amit Shah participated in a rally that
his party termed ‘Gandhi Sankalp Yatra’ and addressed a small
gathering in Delhi, Congress leaders too took part in different
rallies. Rahul Gandhi walked towards Rajghat in a rally called ‘Gandhi
Sandesh Yatra’, while  Sonia Gandhi addressed party workers at the All
India Congress Committee office and both hit out at the BJP for
encouraging bigotry even as it wanted to appropriate Gandhi’s ideals.

Rahul Gandhi tweeted, ‘On his 150th Jayanti, my tributes to Mahatma
Gandhi Ji, the Father of the Nation, who through his words & deeds,
showed us that love for all living beings & non violence is the only
way to defeat oppression, bigotry & hatred’, and Sonia Gandhi said
that Gandhi’s legacy was being undermined at present and his soul
‘would have been pained by what’s been happening in India in the last
few years. How will those who consider themselves supreme understand
the sacrifices of Mahatma Gandhi? Those doing the politics of
falsehood will not understand Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.’

The Communist Party (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, while
hailing Gandhi as a mass leader, said his ideals were ‘now coming
under assault. Gandhiji’s consistent state on anti-imperialism; his
upholding of secularism; his struggles against untouchability and for
social justice – the principles that eventually formed the basis of
Indian Constitution – are all being undermined today.’

The year-long Gandhi sesquicentenary celebrations was also occasion
for a whole array of public intellectuals and academics to examine,
evaluate, deconstruct and situate Gandhi in the wider Indian as well
as global context. And they did this with aplomb, at seminars and with
learned articles in prestigious magazines and it all culminated on
October 2 with most newspapers and magazines bringing out heavy tomes
and television screens showing his symbols, the rimmed glasses, the
walking stick, the charka. There was near unanimity about Gandhi’s
role in India’s freedom struggle as well as his ideas and even the
economic models that he espoused. Even skeptics who had mocked at his
simplistic ideas and even more rudimentary economics, and the mystique
of village life, tried to see something more, some trace element that
had escaped their rational minds so far.

The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang who came to India in the 7thh century in
search of wisdom, to the famous Pataliputra on the banks of the Ganga,
had the most dangerous of encounters. While crossing the river his
ferry with hundreds of passengers attacked by ten boatloads of
pirates, who thought the handsome Chinese priest would make a pleasing
sacrifice. Xuanzang asked for some time so that he could pray and
while he meditated hard so that he could learn the Yogacara Sutra, he
concentrated so intensely he went into a trance and saw in his mind’s
eye the Maitreya Buddha, and at that moment a gale blew up overturning
the boats. The pirates were taken by surprise and they touched his
feet, as he opened his eyes and asked; ‘Is it time for me to die.’ The
pirates gave back his robes and sought his forgiveness. The sage
reached Patna to find the city destroyed by the White Huns.

The celebration of one country’s reaching superpower status is
showcased with a display of armed might, while that of another by its
symbols of the elementary everyday life, salt, toilets, the spinning
wheel and elaborate discourses on the significance of these symbols,
with decoding the  numerous writings of this person who never stopped
his enquiry, by interacting with the common people. All these are so
meticulously recorded and preserved by a race that is described as
ahistorical. Miracles never cease to happen in this country as that
Chinese pilgrim found so many centuries back.