The Mahatma: Fountainhead of inspirations

The Mahatma: Fountainhead of inspirationsThe Mahatma: Fountainhead of inspirations

Quite contrary to the image of a saintly person and a serious man of stern discipline, Gandhi possessed a keen and sharp sense of humour. When asked...

Quite contrary to the image of a saintly person and a serious man of stern discipline, Gandhi possessed a keen and sharp sense of humour. When asked why he chose to travel third class while in South Africa, he retorted, "simply, because there is no fourth class as yet!"

When he was going to attend the Round Table Conference, a reporter asked him whether he was properly attired to meet the King. Gandhi's reply was, "do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us! "

Coming back to Gandhi and the lasting impact of his message, Prime Minister Modi, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly recently, said Gandhi was from India but did not belong only to India. Emphasising that Bapu's vision, reforms and teachings remained relevant even today, he said Gandhi awakened the inner strength in people and encouraged them to be self-reliant.

As Sam Pitroda has noted, at a time defined by globalisation, free markets, privatisation, liberalisation, and also by violence, extremism, inequity, poverty and disparity, one is struck by the astounding need for Gandhi's philosophy.

Pitroda goes on to state that Gandhi's ideals and leadership hold an extremely relevant moral and social mirror to our society, and that the Gandhian model and the modern economy seem to be getting closer to each other.

He adds that Gandhi believed in "production by masses", rather than mass production and that, it is surprising, even paradoxical, that his philosophy should find an increasing expression through the most modern technology. It is now possible to establish small and medium scale factories in small towns and remote corners of the country, thanks to the phenomenal innovations in communications and information technologies.

New technologies have brought in widespread and low-cost electronic connectivity which enables instantaneous contact between producers, sellers and consumers - the so called P2P, or person to person - relationship between the producer and the ultimate buyer. Location and logistics are no longer a limitation or constraint for industrial development.

Gandhiji created a dialogue between the rich and the poor, the forward castes and the others, the north and the south of the country and the Hindus and the Muslims. The Mahatma was a great believer in the concept of democratic decentralisation.

He also wanted to see a fully accountable and completely transparent system of governance established in the country – a dispensation informed by the primacy of the rule of law.

He would therefore have been utterly shocked to find the manner in which power and authority are concentrated today in the hands of a few people at the highest levels of the political hierarchy and administrative echelons.

Having said "corruption and nepotism ought not to be inevitable parts of democracy as they undoubtedly are today", so many decades ago, he would indeed have had great difficulty in finding words to describe the state affairs obtaining today!

In some ways, Gandhi was a prisoner of his times. But in matters relating to environmental conservation, however, he was far ahead of his times.

His concern for conservation of energy, for example, which he demonstrated by living in ashrams without electricity, showed that he was an energy conservator par excellence.

International relations, in the circumstances prevailing in the world today, are governed by a new paradigm – one of respect for strength and power. The underlying theme is that violence is best answered only in kind. "Latonke bhoot baaton se nahin maante" or, roughly translated, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Gandhi's advice to offer the other cheek when somebody slaps one, cannot apply in national and international affairs, particularly when facing a threat. Refraining from violence should not be perceived by enemies as vulnerability or a lack of the capability for resistance (as Gandhi unfortunately demonstrated while suggesting to Winston Churchill not to attack Hitler).

And virtuousness is not always the most practical solution. For instance, Morarji Desai divulged to Zia-ul-Haq that he (Desai) had possession of information of Pakistan's nuclear programme, merely in order to demonstrate his staunch adherence to the principle of speaking the truth at all times). That indiscretion resulted in the murder of several members of the RAW. Sometimes, in international affairs, the surgeon's knife approach is called for.

In a way the fate of Gandhi's principles is that there is, in today's situation, both acceptance as well as rejection. But the general agreement is that his philosophy is the best foundation for the betterment of mankind in humanity.

Winston Churchill may have called him a "half naked fakir". But there are, and have been in the past, many distinguished persons, including world leaders, who held Gandhi in great esteem. While Barack Obama called him "a real hero of mine", Dalai Lama acknowledged that Gandhi's life inspired him.

Martin Luther King Jr. went to the extent of saying "Christ gives the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics". George Bernard Shaw underlined the universality of Gandhi's image while saying "impressions of Gandhi? You might as well ask for someone's impression of Himalayas".

And Rabindranath Tagore emphasised Gandhi's genuine empathy for poor people, and unwavering attachment to truth, when he said "he stood at the doors of India's destitute millions… who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood?..... Truth awakened truth".

There are monuments dedicated to Gandhi in many places in the world. Such as Lake Shrine in California, Tavistock Square in London, and also in places like Canberra, Vienna and Geneva.

The most enlightening message Gandhi gave the world is for a person to be the change that he or she wishes to be seen in others. And this message arose from the bottom of his heart as he himself always believed in practising what he preached.

The moral clarity and courage which have inspired India's foreign policy have their origin in Gandhi's philosophy.

The Mahatma's emphasis on truth, non- violence and idealism were the foundation upon which India's celebrated policy of non-alignment was built. Decisions relating to foreign affairs are largely taken on merit, not on account of dogma or loyalty to a bloc or superpower. As a result of that policy, India has also played a major role as an international peace maker.

Gandhi's ideals were also responsible for India's support to the struggles against racialism, colonialism and apartheid elsewhere in the world. Just as if to demonstrate the fact that, despite all his great qualities, the Mahatma remained a human being after all, there were some minor weaknesses in his personality.

He himself confessed to having felt extremely nervous in the initial years of his public life, a failing which taught him the need to express himself briefly and clearly. In his own words, "a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen". He also had a very bad handwriting which he called a sign of "imperfect education."

When faced with conflict and doubt, one can do no better than to recall Gandhi's Talisman, In which he urges you to recall the face of the poorest and the weakest person you have ever seen, and to ask yourself whether this step you are contemplating will restore to that person control over his (or her) destiny.

If even a small fraction of the value of Gandhiji's philosophy could be imported into the attitude of politicians and administrators today, the 137 million helpless citizens of the country who are victims of a grave governance deficit caused by systematic failure will surely see hope at the end of the tunnel.

One can offer no greater tribute of the memory of Gandhi during the ongoing celebrations than to recall his entreaty to all of us, to serve the cause of the poor man, when he said "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread".


(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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