Gandhi in 21st century
Mahatma Gandhi In 21st Century. The birthday and the death anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man who freed India from the yoke of the British rule, are religiously observed in our country as well as in some other countries where large Indian populations live and were influenced by his thought and philosophy.
Gandhi’s forte was his moral strength. He practised what he preached and wanted others to follow, including Congress party leaders.
The birthday and the death anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man who freed India from the yoke of the British rule, are religiously observed in our country as well as in some other countries where large Indian populations live and were influenced by his thought and philosophy. In the yearly calendar, his birth and death – October 2 and January 30, respectively – are prominently marked and declared official holidays to remind the young and the old of the sacrifices the leader with frail frame and steely determination had made for India. Those two days will also give political leaders of all shades an opportunity to pay tributes to one of the greatest men of all time who was instrumental in waking up a nation from the slumber of slavery.
Today is Gandhi Jayanthi. He will be remembered and his services to the nation are recalled at political, social and community meetings. In a customary fashion which has become ritualistic over the years, the Mahatma will be eulogised for what he had done for the country and its people through his unique concepts of non-violence, satyagraha, non-cooperation, religious tolerance, simple living, rural empowerment, to name a few.
These were all instruments of bloodless revolution that had brought the mighty British Empire to its knees. Surely, what will be missing in uninspiring speeches made at all these politico-public gatherings is what Gandhi wanted his followers to do in a post-independent era. That will be conspicuously absent because for most of the Indians, Gandhi the Eternal lives in history books, not in following his principles.
Nevertheless, Gandhi’s stature has grown over the years outside India. His three cardinal principles of non-cooperation, non-violence and truth with which he fought the British are being increasingly recognised and acknowledged as weapons of peace in the conflict-ridden world. In recognition of this fact, the United Nations declared October 2 as the International Day of Non-Violence, giving Gandhi’s birthday a universal stamp of endorsement.
Gandhi, though quintessentially Indian in thought and action, has inspired many leaders in the world. His non-violent social movement, passive resistance and non-cooperation have become buzz words for civil liberties leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr in the US and Nelson Mandela in South Africa to emancipate the repressed people. In his own time, Gandhi might not have realized the latent potential of his principles and their impact on the future generations. At that time, his immediate focus of attention was to galvanize millions of Indians and bring them on to a single platform to achieve the sole goal of independence.
Gandhi’s forte was his moral strength. He practiced what he preached and wanted others to follow, including Congress party leaders. His philosophy, in a way, was the essence of all religious tenets, and he applied them to the Indian conditions prevailing at that time. His speeches, teachings and writings, running into thousands of pages, had woken up a sleeping nation and revolted against the British rule.
On occasions like his birthday or death anniversary, debates rage over Gandhi’s means to achieve ends and the applicability of his thoughts to a developing country like India. In over six decades, post-independent India has transformed beyond recognition – politically, socially and economically. But still the country lives in its villages and their development holds the key to India’s progress. The industrial growth and the economic development that have been changing millions of lives across India has touched the urban classes but not the rural masses as much. They still languish in poverty, ignorance and exploitation. How to lift them out of their rut is the biggest challenge for modern India. The answer lies in Gandhian solutions which make the village the epicentre of growth. In Gandhi’s view, rural areas form the base on which a nation’s prosperity is built in a pyramid-like structure. In the present form of governance, it is the other way round.
Similarly, Gandhi’s most cherished principle, non-violence, finds no place in the country where it originated; non-cooperation has become a political tool; and the hunger strike is to achieve one’s selfish ends. Gandhian ideas, despite their noble and altruistic intentions, have undergone metamorphosis over the years. In spite of a change in their complexion and application, Gandhian thoughts are not outdated. Adapting them suitably to modern times is the secret behind making them succeed in a troubled world. Unfortunately, few have time and patience. There are a few exceptions and those who believed in and followed Gandhian principles in letter and spirit have a measure of success.
We can hear echoes of Gandhian philosophy from time to time in other parts of the world. When every means of protest fails, people resort to non-cooperation and civil disobedience. Among all his preachings, non-violence is the most misunderstood term. It is seen as opposite of violence. True, but to understand the depth of its meaning is not easy. Violence is born out of prejudices, arrogance, hatred, anger, and various human frailties. They all generate negative feelings and attitudes and start playing on human psyche, creating havoc in inter-personal relationships that will lead to social unrest and ultimately chaos. Gandhi looked at the whole gamut of ill-feelings and conceptualized non-violence as a positive force to establish harmony, peace and morality in society at micro level and in the country at macro level.
If we look at the current developments in social and political life in the country and compare them with what the Mahatma had said, the difference is stark. Many, including political leaders, feel that Gandhian ideals are impractical in modern world which emphasizes materialism rather than altruism. Austerity has no place in a world that encourages spending and to meet the expenditure various ways of earning, legally or illegally, in the Indian context. Bringing Gandhi into our lives is like trying to strike a balance between materialism and spiritualism.
Those who had lacked both and faced economic vacuums a few years ago were quick to realize that solutions to crises could be found in Gandhian elements provided they were approached with a fresh outlook. How many will do that, particularly in this country where people try to cash in on ‘Gandhi’ rather than following his precepts?