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Gandhi's legacy struggles in Gujarat

Images of Mahatma Gandhi have been used in many protests against the recent communal violence in Gujarat
Images of Mahatma Gandhi have been used in many protests against the recent communal violence in Gujarat  

From Satinder Bindra
CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief

AHMEDABAD, India (CNN) -- Two months after religious riots first engulfed India's western region, the killings continue.

Yet Gujarat is the state where one of the world's best known apostles for peace, Mahatma Gandhi, was born, lived and developed his philosophy of non-violence.

However, Gandhi's legacy seems to be floundering in the state.

Young followers of Mahatma Gandhi are trying to keep his legacy alive even though 54 years have passed since his murder at the hands of a Hindu fanatic.

It was at a religious commune called Sabarmati Ashram that Gandhi developed his philosophy of universal love, brotherhood and non-violence.

But in a bitter and ironic twist of history, rioters in his home state seem to have forgotten their most famous son's mantra of peace.

In the past eight weeks, nine hundred people have been killed in Gujarat in an orgy of Hindu-Muslim violence.

As the violence continues, some politicians gather outside Gandhi's former home to remind rioters they're shaming his legacy.

"Following in Gandhi's footsteps and in his own democratic way we are staging a silent protest for peace so that India's prestige can rise once again," Sarat Patnaik a peace activist told CNN.

Bedrock of Indian society

Gujarat's prestige was perhaps at its highest when Gandhi was still alive, now his simple former home, is a museum looked after by 75 year-old Vijai Bhai.

Gandhi's followers keep his memory alive while Hindu-Muslim violence kills over 900 people in his home state. CNN's Satinder Bindra reports (April 29)

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As he shows CNN Gandhi's study, with its old desk and spinning wheel Bhai recalls a visit by another proponent of change through non-violence.

"When Martin Luther King entered this room he was overcome with emotion," Bhai told CNN.

"When he returned back to the U.S he fought for the rights of black Americans, he became the black Gandhi."

Other than inspiring the civil rights movement in the U.S., Gandhi's philosophy of accepting and living with people of all faiths forms the bedrock of India's secular constitution.

If peace continues to evade Gujarat, however, activist Sarat Patnaik says the very foundations of the world's largest democracy will be under threat.

"This is the same Gujarat in which Mahatma Gandhi was born, he attained world fame from here and if there is violence from here itself, then how can this country function?'' says Patnaik.

Millions of Indians consider the Sabarmati Ashram to be a national monument dedicated to tolerance.

It was here that Gandhi wrote: "non violence doesn't mean just the absence of killing, but the propagation of love."

It is a message many Indians hope will be heard by rioters, who continue to maim and kill in sectarian violence that has besieged the state of Gujarat.




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