How long will the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi last? Does he need to be remembered? In the age of globalisation and technology, when there is no longer any difference in moral and economic policies among different political parties, how relevant is it to talk about Mahatma Gandhi?
By Geeta Singh
- Gandhi’s economic philosophy has not been static but has been vibrant and comprehensive
- There has hardly been any such thing in Gandhi’s life that has not gone unnoticed or he has not expressed his views on
- The failure of Gandhism is not a failure of Ahimsa, but a failure of Satyagraha
- Gandhi’s religious harmony can play a vital role in times of communalism, bigotry and terrorism
IN the contemporary epoch, when millions are going through the pain of war (Ukraine-Russia War), Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Non-violence could be more relevant. Realist paradigms have dominated international politics, which states that International Politics is characterised by anarchy and in this anarchical situation states compete with each other for power, markets and influence. This makes war an evident reality.
For Gandhi, war cannot be a means to solve any dispute. In fact to him war is just an outward manifestation of deeper contradictions like inequality, racism and greed (imperialism). Gandhi said that the “eye for an eye approach would make the whole world blind”.
Mahatma Gandhi and his principles can be an effective tool in dealing with the plight of contemporary times. Gandhi’s ideas seem capable of dealing with violence, mutual antagonism, cut-throat competition, communal bitterness and standing directly in front of them. What are these thoughts? And how can they be put into practice? Isn’t this just a pretence of our false satisfaction and our hypocrisy? These questions have been asked for many years and in different ways also. One of them is to defend Nathuram Godse, which has become a trend now.
The reason for this is that as the world is getting entangled in difficult situations like violence, economic slowdown, hunger, unemployment and hatred, in the same way, the world is not only missing Gandhi’s philosophy but also trying to assimilate Gandhi’s philosophy. Rather, the need to accommodate Gandhi’s philosophy has also been felt very strongly.
LIFE IS A RIVER
Gandhi’s life was like a river in which many streams were present. There has hardly been any such thing in his own life that has not gone unnoticed or he has not expressed his views on it. The man who is hailed no short of a god in India, the father of the nation, the person who played a pivotal role in our independence, the creator of the idea of non-violence and so many more accolades that speak of character at every turn.
Revered the world over for his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known to his many followers as Mahatma, or “the great-souled one.”
Gandhi began his activism as an Indian immigrant in South Africa in the early 1900s, and in the years following World War I became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain.
Known for his ascetic lifestyle–he often dressed only in a loincloth and shawl and devout Hindu faith, Gandhi was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of non-cooperation, and undertook a number of hunger strikes to protest the oppression of India’s poorest classes, among other injustices.
The struggle, and the positive activities that accompanied it, ran in unison in his life. Along with the freedom struggle, he continued to work on various missions including the abolition of untouchability, Hindu-Muslim unity, promotion of Charkha and Khadi, spread of village Swaraj, promotion of primary education and use of traditional medical knowledge. He promoted padyatra and communicated with commoners by travelling all over the country.
Along with the freedom struggle, he continued to work on various missions including the abolition of untouchability, Hindu-Muslim unity, promotion of Charkha and Khadi, spread of village Swaraj, promotion of primary education and use of traditional medical knowledge
In the famous Salt March of April-May 1930, thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea. The march resulted in the arrest of nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi himself.
Looking at the political backdrop of those times, it can be seen that in 1907, Gandhi was not one of the top leaders of the Indian National Congress. In his autobiography, Gandhi has written about Champaran in great detail. He says he witnessed the form of the goddess of non-violence (Ahinsa devi ka sakshatkar) here. In Mahatma Gandhi’s experiment of Satyagraha in India, it was the land of Champaran that was put to use. A sea of change came about in the Indian Independence Movement after the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917. After this, Gandhi took centre stage in India’s Independence Movement and in the Congress.
He remained the most influential leader of India’s freedom movement during the period from 1919 to 1948 and thus the period is called the ‘Gandhian Era in Indian history. Mahatma Gandhi was both a saint and a practical leader of his compatriots. He was a simple, pure, unselfish and religious person. He did most of his personal jobs on his own. He fought for the freedom of India through non-violent and peaceful methods. He tried hard to raise the distressed sections of the society. He fought against illiteracy. He dreamt of providing mass employment through Charkha and Khadi. He always felt for the poor and untouchables. He wanted to abolish untouchability from Indian society. The life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi were so glorious that people around the world still pay homage to him. We will always remember him in our hearts.
DOWNFALL OF GANDHIAN VALUE
For those concerned with the theory of non-violence, the failure of Gandhism in India to produce a successful development process after the “revolutionary” change raises severe problems. Non-violence remains a powerful instrument of revolutionary change we see now, indeed, in the movement of Martin Luther King in the United States. It perhaps has a greater effect on those against whom it is used than on those who use it.
Non-violence indeed is only effective when it is aligned with truth – ahimsa and satyagraha must go hand in hand. Kenneth E Boulding writes, “When truth is rejected, and when an illusory view of the world clouds the judgement, as it seems to me is true of India today, of course nonviolence will be rejected.” The critical problem then, comes down to how we learn to test the reality of our images of social and political systems, for the greatest enemy of non-violence is the lack of ‘reality testing’. Even violence can be interpreted as a crude and costly method of testing our images of the world as, for instance, Japan and Germany discovered by violent defeat that their images of the world had been wrong.
In his paper, Why did Gandhi Fail?
Boulding reflected, thus, the failure of Gandhism is not a failure of ahimsa, but a failure of satyagraha. The modern world is so complex that the truth about it cannot be perceived by common sense or by mystical insight, important as these things are. We must have the more delicate and quantitative sampling and processing of information provided by the methods of the social sciences if we are really to test the truth of our images of social and political systems.
It can be seen that in 1907, Gandhi was not one of the top leaders of the Indian National Congress. A sea of change came about in the Indian Independence Movement after the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917. After this, Gandhi took centre stage in India’s Independence Movement and in the Congress
The next logical step, therefore, for the Gandhian movement would seem to be in the direction of the social sciences, in peace research, and in the testing of all our images of society by the more refined means for discovering truth which are now available to us. He says, “I am not suggesting, of course, that the social sciences produce ‘absolute’ truth, or indeed that much valid perception is not achieved through common sense and insight. What I do suggest, however, is that the problem of truth is so difficult that we cannot afford to neglect any means of improving the path towards it, and that without this, nonviolence will inevitably be frustrated.”
Boulding writes, “Everywhere I went in India in my brief and inadequate visits I heard one thing: “There is no alternative”. It was precisely the greatness of Gandhi that he always insisted there was an alternative.”
Morality always implies that there are alternatives to choose, for morality is choice. To deny alternatives is to deny morality itself. To perceive alternatives requires imagination, hard thinking, and costly and painstaking study. If the Gandhian movement in India can recapture this great vision of the alternative, India may yet be saved from the disaster towards which she seems to be heading.
Taking his life as an open book, Gandhi also took a risk, but he did not stop telling the bitter truth of his life to the people, although there was a danger of becoming unpopular in doing so. He tried a lot to tell the greatness of truth and non-violence, although both of his experiments failed on a large scale, they gave a new direction to the lives of many people.
Today, due to the effect of liberalisation, economies globally are interlinked. In such a situation, protecting the interests of India is possible only through Gandhian values. It is best to follow Gandhi’s non-possessiveness in the culture of the ‘Global Village’ and make maximum profit. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed our vulnerability to harsh realities. It has shown how our development model is fundamentally wrong. Cities and urban areas are more vulnerable than rural areas. In this context, we are forced to revisit the ideas of development proposed by Gandhi. How our development model is fundamentally wrong in this context requires a re-look at the ideas of development proposed by Gandhi.
The Gandhian movement would seem to be in the direction of the social sciences, in peace research, and in the testing of all our images of society by the more refined means for discovering truth which are now available to us
Gandhi’s economic philosophy has not been static but has been vibrant and comprehensive. It is not technology-centric but people-centric. The development of a handful of cities cannot solve our economic problems. It will only add to our problems. So Gandhi focused more on the economic development of the villages. Instead of mass production, Mahatma Gandhi suggested small-scale production. Instead of centralised industries, he advocated decentralised small-scale industries. Mass production is only related to product and machinery, whereas production by the masses is concerned with the product as well as the producers and the process involved. He had a dream of an ideal village.
Another frightening aspect is man has been curtailed to the status of a consumer. What matters is his purchasing power. Similarly, the purchasing power of one nation is all that the other country is concerned about. Discussions in world capitals are focused on the world’s largest markets and our newspapers devote more space to market trends, stock markets and bullion rates than fundamental values of humanity since a large portion of the remaining space in newspapers deals with violence.
Gandhi’s religious harmony can play a vital role in times of communalism, bigotry and terrorism. Gandhi seems to be alert on the issue of the environment. He believed that desultory urbanisation would pollute our environment. Gandhi advocated for establishing efficient and self-sufficient villages. He used to give priority to Swadeshi, he believed that with Swadeshi, our country would become self-reliant.
Gandhi is a thinker, economist as well as a light-bearer of humanity, a soul, a visionary and a source of inspiration. His thoughts are not limited in time and space but are beyond boundaries. The relevance of Gandhi or for that matter anybody else has to be examined against these emerging trends. This Gandhian dictum has proved to be true in the wake of America’s forceful occupation of Iraq and attempt to forcibly supplant its own version of democracy. The experiment proved a disaster. Similarly India’s approach to uproot Naxalism via use of force also proved to be a failure.
In his time, Gandhi endowed not only political but also moral leadership to the country, which has now disappeared from the world. His path is the path of humanity, coexistence, strong morale and peace. There will be many people walking on these paths who have neither read nor heard about Gandhiji. It is not even that Gandhiji has made these paths. These were already there but they have revived them and told us that these are the ways. It is more important to adopt them. We may or may not give credit to Gandhiji for this but we must follow that path.
To believe in Gandhi, we do not need to wear a cap or dhoti, nor do we need to adopt celibacy. But we don’t need to hate anyone. If we are full of hatred and believe in Gandhiji, then hatred will start disappearing from inside us and we will feel at peace. As Martin Luther King said, ‘If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.’