By T. V. Antony Raj
We have to remember that India got its freedom from the British yoke not only because of Mahatma Gandhi but also because of numerous other visionaries who toiled for the independence of the country and thousands of martyrs’ who sacrificed their lives even before he was born.
It was a stroke of destiny that Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi was called Bapu – the “Father of the Nation”.
The first reference to Mahatma Gandhi as Father of the Nation goes back nearly 70 years when Subhas Chandra Bose referred to Gandhi thus in a radio address from Singapore in 1944.
Erstwhile Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had, in his address to the nation upon Mahatma Gandhi’s death, referred to him as Father of the Nation:
“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more.”
Is Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Father of the Indian Nation’?
If yes, when did Mahatma Gandhi become the ‘Father of the Nation’?
Who conferred the title of ‘Father of the Nation’ on Mahatma Gandhi?
Did the above questions ever arise in your mind?
An 11-year old schoolgirl from Lucknow, Aishwarya Parashar, read a lesson about Mahatma Gandhi in her social studies textbook that said Mahatma Gandhi is referred to as the “‘Father of the Nation” and was curious to know the year when Mahatma Gandhi was conferred with this title.
Nothing was mentioned in the textbook. She asked her teachers and her parents. None of them had any knowledge about it. Even Google did not have any information. Aishwarya’s parents suggested that she send a Right to Information (RTI) petition to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The PMO sent a reply saying that they had no specific information regarding the same and forwarded her application to the Ministry of Home Affairs which too had no answer and they, in turn, forwarded the girl’s application to the National Archives.
The National Archives too did not have any information. They told her that “there are no specific documents on the information sought” by her and if she wanted to research on this subject, then she can come there and the organisation would make available all the required documents to undertake her research.
According to media reports, the National Archives did not have public records regarding the concerned subject.
Patriotic Aishwarya then wrote to the then President Ms Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to issue a notification declaring Mahatma Gandhi as ‘Father of the Nation’.
After some time, Aishwarya filed an RTI petition seeking to know the action taken by the president and the Prime Minister on her plea.
The petition was referred to the Home Ministry with instructions to explain the action taken on her plea. The Home Ministry responded:
“Mahatma Gandhi cannot be accorded the ‘Father of the Nation’ title by government because Article 18 (1) of the Constitution does not permit any titles except educational and military ones.”
In a similar vein, according to reports, when a demand to confer the title of ‘Father of the Indian Constitution” on Dr Ambedkar was made in 2004, the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, in a letter to the Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit wrote:
“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.”
Advani further said:
“I may clarify that although Mahatma Gandhi is popularly known as “Father of the Nation,” no such title was ever formally conferred on him by the government.“