18 Apr 2008

The Olympic Torch is not a symbol?

You got to hand it to Tehelka. Once it a while it comes up with such gibberish that you take a step back and think - do the editors ever look at what they print?

In this week's issue Shoma Chaudhary has defended Aamir Khan's decision to run with the Olympic Torch. I can think of many reasons (India, Coke & Samsung) but she has of course a different perspective. Invoking Mahatma Gandhi she says :

The art of public symbolism is famously a difficult one to master. Few men in recent time have been as adroit at it as Gandhi. A fistful of salt, retrieved from the sea. Mass bonfires. Civil disobedience. The charkha. These symbols became powerful change agents, a moral force that unseated an empire because their inspiration snaked back to a deep search for truth, a clear goal, a massive ambition. And most importantly, a readiness to back symbolic gesture with suffering. There was also a direct correlation between these symbols and the oppression they sought to highlight. The Olympic torch — the most debated public symbol today — has none of those virtues.


When he began, no one took Gandhi seriously. The charkha or salt had no meaning attached to it before Gandhi associated it with self reliance and freedom. In any case was only by the 1940s that his ideas and philosophy started to grip the entire nation something that we have preserved for over six decades now.

The Olympic torch has existed for some time now as a symbol of the Olympic spirit.
The very fact that it is paraded and carried to all countries of the world it means something.

Of course it has nothing to do with China's policies in Tibet. Right now.

By snuffing it out, protesting or creating an environment to boycott the Games, the Tibetans are following the tradition of the Africans in 1976, the Americans in 1980 and the Russians in 1984. The Africans definitely achieved their objective against apartheid South Africa two decades later.

If by chance in the future, Tibet were to get independence, would not these protests be a significant step in that direction? Would not the Olympic Torch have a new meaning ? Of course this has to be part of larger strategy of boycotting Chinese goods etc. but snuffing out the torch has the maximum impact media wise. There can be no denying that.

Later the article says :

Perhaps Aamir Khan thought of all this when he rejected the grand dramatic gesture — emotionally satisfying, televisionfriendly, but ultimately hypocritical — and settled for a more nuanced and personally honest stand.

And what is this nuanced and personally honest stand ?
Neither did he come out with a clarification (on China's Tibet policy) nor did he criticize anyone. His sponsors were happy and so were the Chinese who came to cheer him.

So much for not being hypocritical.

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