Posts Tagged ‘Father of the nation’

George Washington
(1732-1799) First US President
His education limited to accounting,arithmetic,geometry and geography he was more a man of action who used thought only as a mode of action. His half-brother with his connection to the wealthy Fairfaxes of Virginia, became mentor to George when their father died. A man with commanding presence, large-boned with grey blue eyes and brown hair,- he was six foot two, and man whose authority was many times sharpened by natural gravity of the man. From youth innured to hardships he would remark during the French and Indian war,’ I have a constitution hardy enough to encounter and undergo the most severe trials..’ In 1751 he accompanied his brother to Barbados where he caught small pox that pockmarked his face permanently. In the following year his brother died. He chose a career in military and he was promoted to the rank of colonel and after sixteen years of uneventful military life he retired his commission.
On Jan 6,1759 he married a widow,- reputedly the richest widow and they settled at Mt. Vernon. By 1761 he became one of the richest man and in the tradition of the Virginia gentry he entertained lavishly. By 1774 he was becoming increasingly drawn into the political issues of the day. He had opposed the Stamp Act and was present with Jefferson at the Raleigh Tavern on May 27,1774 when the Virginia legislators issued a vote of sympathy with the House of Burgesses that were dissolved by the Crown. Later that year he was present at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia and the following Congress, in 1775, John Adams of Mass., proposed his name as the Commander-in-Chief. Unanimously elected he refused salary but only condition that Congress bear his expenses.
On July 4,1776 Congress declared Independence. Next month the British attacked.
Skipping the course and ultimate victory leading to the birth of a new nation I shall mention here the odds against which Washington was fighting ‘for the glorious Cause.’ Faced with desertion and lack of training among his troops he honed his skill at ‘tactical retreat’ and steel his soul to adversity till he could turn situation around in his favor. He spurned a suggestion when civil affairs in 1782 bordered on anarchy and the unpaid army was disgruntled that he proclaim himself as king and thus mend the nations battered political fabric with a strong and popular monarchy. As soon as he had achieved his objective he tendered his resignation and return to Mt. Vernon.
Even when he was elected as President he wished to be a President above politics and above all controversy. Exasperated by his Olympian aloofness his Vice President John Adams called him,’Old Muttonhead.’ Washington was conscious of his role in history and in the evolution of the fledgeling nation. He selected Thomas Jefferson, an ardent Republican, as Secretary of the State. Of his methods as the Chief Executive Jefferson later said,”His mind was slow in operation but sure in conclusion…Neither hatred or friendship would bias his decisions.” Knowing he was setting precedents he was conscious of maintaining in his public character, the dignity of his office. When on a visit to Massachusetts, Washington was invited to call on Governor John Hancock he responded,”The President of the US presents his best respects to the Governor, and has the honor to inform him that he shall be at home till 2’O clock.” In 1795 angered by the Republican attacks Washington reshuffled his cabinet. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton resigned. He was disillusioned by the factionalism,-now it is known as partisan politics, and attacks made on him in the press. Now sixty-five the old soldier was able to go home at last after two terms in office, here also he set a precedent in the number of times one may serve the highest office.

On Sat Dec14,1799 he died of a tracheal infection.
Here was a man whose stature can only assessed in the manner he has become the model for later generations of presidents. he could transcend his lack of formal education and of many advantages and having learned in a school of hard knocks to discipline himself to be above politics while maintaining the dignity of the office. There have been many Presidents since, who have had to face more challenges at home and aboard ( Lincoln and FDR for example) but their inspiration to stand the course at the critical moment of the nation’s history was a needful lesson learned from him. Washington the private Man and the Public Man never for once cut into the other.


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The Pulitzer prize winner Lelyveld’s book on Gandhi is sure to raise hell at some quarters in India. In India traditionally saints are served larger than life so much so the fluff from their plaster cast must leave the purveyors giddy. If Mother India is shown in her buff it is outrage but if she is swathed in nine yard saree looking wooden and distant there are those who light incense and sing Vande Mataram. Even as these poltroons sing you can hear meat cleavers being sharpened in their hearts and their souls shut out lest some sense should make singing carry its meaning as well. Those who sing this song of sublime beauty with murder in their heart only make Mother India immolate herself many times over. MF Husain painted Mother India with every right as an artist and as an Indian. But what upset some busybodies was more his religion than his art. Homespun khadi or saffron robes are nothing if the heart has become dead.
Gandhi has been so much reviled even while the blackguards praised him skyhigh. The biographer did not do his job in order to please some or to damn his subject. Let us at least read this book if possible with an open mind before we judge him.
I remember in my high school when I first read Bhowani Junction by John Masters I was shocked by the disrespect shown to Gandhi. It was like someone defacing the Bible or tearing the page from it to light a fire! Time has taught me to take opinions of others for what it is, an opinion.
I have come to revise my opinion of Gandhi as I came to revise on Tolstoy. Henri Troyat’s biography and few others made me realize the great man was far from a saint. But whatever faults,-his pettiness, obtuseness to see the obvious, his vision and life-work is secure. In his faults he is like you and me. He was a man, real. Baring his innermost thoughts in his diary but letting his wife read them may have spelt sincerity in his lexicon but was it prudent? I hope not. Great men also have their weakness when their mind sleeps on the job. WE Gladstone thought he was doing a great service to want to save the ‘angels’ but in working it would not work so simple. Human heart is so treacherous that the great men follows the lead based on some curious premise but sooner or later natural impulses take on the control ( DH Lawrence was right). His diary and his confession at his deathbed we may accept as genuine and that he didn’t sin; but is it necessary to prove nature had nothing to do with it? Gandhi may be accused for homoeroticism and it only makes him human. Another canard, his using his his nieces to prove his self control over his body may or may not be true. Even if it is true it doesn’t in no way detract from his greatness. His lifework of nonviolence as a political weapon makes him a great soul. Forget his fads, his political ideas and opinions. He has been proved wrong as well as vindicated in great many things. He stands 100 percent Indian since his life and its thrust made cultural icons of our past like Buddha, Mahavira Jain and their thoughts relevant in far greater measure relevant for our century.
In spite of whatever revelations the new book may carry Gandhi is secure as far as I am concerned.
He has outsoared the shadow of our night; envy and calumny..’ Nothing that any book on Gandhi may bring out can add or remove even an iota from greatness of his soul. If A Raja is the visible face of Indian politics Gandhi was and still is the conscience of India that I think of a geographical entity and people that populate it. Here we have national life in its vision and in its working. These can never be reconciled so it would seem.

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