Mont Blanc, the Swiss accessories giant, recently launched a limited edition gold pen bearing the image of Mahatma Gandhi to coincide with the great man’s birthday anniversary. At around US$25,000, it’s hardly a mass market item, but the very idea of it has many people up in arms. India’s own Gandhiji? Hero of the masses, champion of equality, reduced to being bought by the wealthy as a status symbol or investment and exploited cynically by a foreign company for profit? A Kerala advocate, Dijo Kappen, has openly stated his intent to pursue legal proceedings against Mont Blanc, and a public debate has begun.
It’s reasonable to say that the name Gandhi is amongst the top four or five most widely known in the world today. His image is perhaps even more widely known, and the irony of such a symbol of dignity and non-exclusivity appearing on a precious gold item for the elite is not lost on most. His mission of nonviolence has impacted and influenced people all over the world, and he has come to belong not only to India and Indians but global society as a whole, so the indignation is coming from all quarters.