KOTWA SHUKULPUR (PRATAPGARH): For the world, Mahatma Gandhi died in 1948. For the people of UP’s Pratapgarh , he still walks in the body of Tirthnath Vishwakarma, aka Tirthnath Gandhi.
Draped in white dhoti and angvastra and sporting Gandhi’s trademark round spectacles and khadau (wooden slippers), Tirthnath is seen moving from one place to another on his bicycle, which has the Tiranga mounted on it. It is common for children to hail him with Bharat Mata ki Jai slogans. Known as the pride of Pratapgarh, Tirthnath is respected by people from different walks of life.
Born on October 2 like Gandhi, the 65-year-old always had an uncanny likeness to the father of the nation, but started living the Gandhinian way in 2007 when he took to non-violent protests to raise people’s issue. There is no dearth of witnesses to vouch for his efforts.
“The farmers in his village shall remain indebted to him. His satyagraha (the idea of non-violent resistance) led to building of a canal to feed the fields,” said Rakesh Singh, former village head of Kotwa Shukulpur.
“The pucca road connecting 10-odd villages in Lalganj block also came into existence because of his peaceful demonstrations,” said Shailendra Tewari, a social activist and founder of the nonprofit Gandhi Vichar Manch.
Head of Padmakarpur village Ashutosh Mishra said Tirthnath was also the face of the ongoing swachh campaigns. “He is a good orator and helps motivate people for social causes like cleanliness and education,” Mishra said.
Tirthnath recalled how lessons on Gandhi in school had a deep impact on his mind. “I adopted the Mahatma’s principles of honesty, truthfulness and vegetarianism. I read the Gita. In 2007, I implemented his mantra of satyagraha for the cause of farmers in my village,” he said.
Son Pradeep, who respects Tirthnath’s commitment to the Gandhinan way of life, though finds the principles redundant today. “My father has suffered injuries during his satyagraha campaigns, but we overlook these things because we love him and respect his passion,” Pradeep said.
Tirthnath agrees with his son to an extent. “I know that the times have changed and only a few people come forward for the cause of truth. But, someone has to keep working for truth and non-violence. I feel I am the chosen one because I share my birthday with Bapu and also look a bit like him,” the Mahatma lookalike said.