Contemporary Relevance of Gandhi and Gandhian Thought

(Key note address given at the Post Graduate Department of English, Rani Durgavati University, Jabalpur, 2nd October 2005.)

Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.
–Albert Einstein

1. Introduction: The World at a Glance

Scientific and technological advancements – “Discovery” captured the world’s attention; International Year of Physics reminded the world of the great contribution made by Albert Einstein; stem cell and string theory made the scientific world to pause and ponder on the mystery of life; discovery of new planets made us wonder at the still unknown facets of the universe. IT Revolution and Knowledge Explosion continue to make the world a global village with no frontiers and boundaries.

2005, October 1st: 32 died in Bali blasts and over hundred injured in four near simultaneous blasts. Sept 11 repeated in different places and in different forms. The result is just the same. Killing of innocent people. September 11 has become synonymous with international terrorism and violence. It was the day a disgruntled few of the global village chose to demonstrate how the state-of the art knowledge on IT, aviation, architecture, planning and leadership could be collectively employed to settle the unchallenged super power to shame and despair. The world trade centre was reduced to dust on that day heralding an era of insurgency with lethal potency matching to world powers.

Exploitation and alienation; violence and crime; terrorism and human misery; HIV and Aids, religious fundamentalism and communal violence; might is right and corruption in high places. We are confronted with a new type of slavery. With advanced telecommunication systems we can speak to the man in the moon but we cannot speak to the man next door. It is a sad story of broken relationships indicative of the fragmented world.

2. Mohandas to Mahatma: A Story of Self-Transformation,

It took many years for Mohandas - a man of many paradoxes and contradictions, an eternal seeker of Truth, a political leader turned saint, an ordinary shy boy who later became the unquestionable leader of the masses, a political analyst who distinguished between soul force and brute force and experimented the efficacy of soul force with satya, ahimsa and statyagraha and led the biggest non-violent revolution in the world, to become the much acclaimed Mahatma. As he always insisted transformation of the self is a pre-requisite for the reformation of the society and his own life was a powerful story of self-transformation. “You be the change you wish to see in the world”, he often said. In a harsh, violent, corrupt and materialist world he taught and showed by his own life that love, truth and non-violence, ideas and ideals, could be of tremendous force- greater sometimes than guns, bombs and bayonets to transform the society and reform the individuals and thus make this planet a better place to live. 

Albert Szent, a Nobel laureate in medicine, took note of this in a thought-provoking book, The Crazy Ape: Between the two world wars at the hey day of colonialism, force reigned supreme. It had a suggestive power, and it was natural for the weaker to lie down before the stronger. Then came Gandhi, chasing out of his country, almost single handed, and the greatest military power on earth. He taught the world that there are higher things than force, higher even than life itself; he proved that force had lost its suggestive power.”1 Thus the Mahatma emerged out of Mohandas. “Gandhi was inevitable. 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 Gandhi at our own risk” said, Martin Luther King Jr. There was surprising news in a recently conducted survey in eight states among 2000 youth, the majority of them said that Gandhi’s teachings on truth, sacrifice and non violence are still relevant and corruption could have been reduced if we were to follow his teachings. Even the Kashmir problem would have been solved with the involvement of the people concerned. To the masses, Gandhi was a moral icon, but to the European, he was an enigma. When R. Rolland asked W.W Pearson, a teacher at Shantiniketan, What sort of voice was he? Pearson’s reply was interesting, ‘He has no voice…no one hears him, yet the whole crowd hangs on his lips and follows him blindly. He has magnetic powers.” Mohandas becomes Mahatma.

3. Gandhi’s Political Ideas and their Relevance

In a world where people are only concerned with capturing power and maintaining it for their own glory and name, Gandhi came very strongly and said that power is not for domination and exploitation but for service and transformation. Gandhi consistently gave his critical appraisal of the modern civilization, enslaved to materialism, greed and pride. Gandhi wanted to liberate man from his slavery to violence, materialism and consumerism. Hind Swaraj, a polemic penned by Gandhi in the early part of the twentieth century, upheld the supremacy of the spirit over the matter, love over hatred, soul force over brute force. Gandhi showed us that the only way to fight against the evils of monopoly of power is through decentralization of political and economic power. An era of blind confrontation, comparison and competition will give way to an era of negotiation, collaboration and co-operation. An era of domination will give way to an era of service. Power will be no more for domination but for liberation and transformation.

3.1 Satya, Ahimsa and Satyagraha

What is the alternative to terrorism, violence and retaliation? “In a strange coincidence Gandhi gave birth on the same date, hundred years before, to a new socio-political mechanism to handle violence without weapons and bitterness and yet with greater efficiency. Gandhi often said’ “An eye for an eye would make both blind.” Satyagraha was given to the world on September 11, 1906. Against the demonic “Asiatic Ordinance” of the Transvaal State, the Indian community in South Africa, over three thousand of them gathered under the leadership of Gandhi at the Imperial Theatre in Johannesburg who on this day declared the first Satyagraha, the matchless weapon of bravery. What is unique about Satyagraha is that it attacks the evil and not the evildoer. Our fight he says is not with the enemy or oppressor but with oppression and injustice. The wrong doer is human too and his life is to be respected and protected; whereas his deed that hampers others life needs to be curbed. Gandhi believed with Thoreau that ‘the best government is that which governs the least.’ He believed in a non-violent state with a decentralized power structure. For him reformation of the self was a pre-requisite for the transformation of the society. He considered society not a pyramid but an oceanic circle. “Swadeshi”, “Swaraj”gave a sense of pride to the masses. Never in the history of the world did people realize that they had so much power, and that soul force was a matchless weapon of the brave.

3.2 Gandhi’s Talisman and India of My Dreams.

This will clearly show the relevance of Gandhi’s political concepts and his insight into what India is.

3.2.1 Gandhi’s Talisman

I will give you a Talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it – Lead to Swaraj for the hungry, spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.

3.2.2. India of My Dreams

I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class or low class of people; an India in which all the communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such India for the curses of untouched ability or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. Since we shall be at peace with all the rest of the world, neither, exploiting nor being exploited, we should have the smallest army imaginable. All interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected whether foreign or indigenous. Personally, I hate distinction between foreign and indigenous. This is the India of my dreams.2

Gandhi’s ideal state was the anarchist state in which men are naturally good and hence, need no external government. In 1931, Gandhi said,’ “Political power means the capacity to regulate national life through national representatives. If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation becomes necessary. In such a state everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour. In the Ideal State therefore there is no political power, for there is no State.”3

Earlier in 1921 Gandhi wrote, “Let the people purify themselves. Let them cease to indirectly participate in the evils of the State and it will disappear by itself.”4 Thus, in Gandhi’s Ideal State people would be so good and pure that there would be no need for a state to maintain peace and order. Though it is not easily attainable the relevance consists in the belief that there is a definite, continuous and gradual evolution of man towards good and hence, a day will come when all evil in man will be eliminated and obviously when that day comes no government will be required. The world needs to focus on the goodness in man and try to awaken the sattva element, actualize the positive and the divine in man. This may sound utopian, and non-practical, but all the other systems so far tried out to eliminate violence and corruption have only aggravated the situation resulting in greater violence and corruption.

Being a practical man, fully conscious of the realities, Gandhi said that while the totally non-violent or stateless society was the ultimate ideal, the realizable or immediate ideal was the “predominantly non-violent State” or the State that governed the least. Gandhi always fought against the concentration of power in the State.  According to him, the State gives no place to conscience.5 Though the government is based on majority rule, Gandhi held that in matters of conscience the law of the majority has no place. Conscience, for Gandhi, was a higher court than the highest court in the land and obedience to it was the law of our being. Gandhi held that wisdom and truth need not be always in majority opinion. Numbers are not indicative of the truth.

“Swaraj will be an absurdity”, he once wrote, “if individuals have to surrender their judgment to a majority.” In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi condemned the parliament as a “sterile woman” and “a prostitute”. He also condemned parties, elections and legislation passed by parliaments. For Gandhi parties divided people and bred mutual distrust; elections merely deceived people and were availed of by self-seekers to capture power. As to legislation by Parliament, it was not worth the trouble as no law could be really effective without a prior conversion of hearts. And if the hearts were converted then there was no need for legislation.

Gandhi wanted to establish a predominantly non violent state which would be a decentralized state in which the village would be the key unit. Each village would nearly be self-sufficient and would be governed by a unanimously elected panchayat which in turn would take all the decisions unanimously. Village republics would ensure involvement and participation of people at all levels of discussion, decision implementation and evaluation. Some have criticized that Gram Rajya would result in the tyranny of the Village Panchayat over individuals and groups as the Village Panchayat will be the executive, legislature and judiciary rolled into one. This is totally unfounded as the experience shows that decentralization of power is the only panacea to the existing problem of concentration of power in the hands of the high and mighty who are not aware of the village situations. The revival of the Panchayati Raj speaks volumes of its contemporary relevance.

4. Gandhi’s Economic Ideas: Their Importance

In the developing countries like India, unemployment is growing by leaps and bounds every year. Large-scale industries and monopolistic pattern of ownership of means of production at the national and international levels have created glaring economic inequalities between the rich and the poor, between those who live in the villages and in cities. Such a system resulted in the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and poverty and misery for the vast majority of people. Further, modern industrialization, which is based on non-renewable resources like mineral wealth, oil etc., is likely to consume its own base. If alternative technology based on renewable resources in not invented within a short period, the modern prosperity of the world will soon dwindle.

When one analyses the economic situation in India today, we find a three-tier economy emerging. There is urban economy, there is rural economy which is flourishing because of the concentration of wealth and resources in the cities. Exploitation and oppression go unabated and the result is that the rich become richer and the poor, poorer. There is a direct connection between urban economy and the underworld economy. Underworld economy is the by product of the exploitative and corrupt system that exists in cities. Smugglers, black marketers, and narcotic drug peddlers with the help of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats have established their own economic system which is sustained by their muscle-men and money power. They have criminalized politics and have vulgarized social life to a large extent. Thus, modern industrialization has created miseries in slums and villages, and black money has created islands of immoral and luxurious life in urban centers. The mushroom growth of urban and underworld economy has paralyzed the normal and gradual growth of rural economy. Rural economy, as a result, is not growing fast and it is not able to compete with industrial economy. The marginal farmers and agricultural labourers are marginalized and exploited. Growing population and mechanization have further aggravated their problems. Large-scale industries cannot sustain large populations and cannot provide employment for all.

Here comes the relevance of Gandhian economic thoughts. The country has to have categories of industries:
(i)                 Cottage Industries,
(ii)               Small-scale industries,
(iii)             Medium-scale industries, and
(iv)             Large-scale industries.
What can be produced by cottage industries should not be produced by small-scale industries. What can be produced by small-scale industries should not be produced by medium-scale industries. What can be produced by medium-scale industries should not be produced by large-scale industries. This is to provide adequate employment facilities to those who live in villages so that they need not migrate to urban areas to be exploited again. This would also curb the unchecked concentration of wealth and resources in cities.

The need of the Gandhian Economic Policy was recognized by the Janata Party under the influence of the great Gandhian leader, Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977.7 E.F. Schumacher, who perceived the importance of Gandhian remedies to solve unemployment, suggested his own remedies on the Gandhian model:
(i)                 Agro-based industries should be established in rural areas and small towns,
(ii)               The means of such production should be simple and cheap and should be within the reach of an average individual,
(iii)             Raw materials must be locally available for production and consumption, and
(iv)             Quantum of production per man is not important but the main consideration is maximum employment potentialities for the unemployed and the underemployed.
J.D. Sethi, a renowned Gandhian has convincingly insisted on the importance of agro-based industries in rural India to solve the unemployment problem.8 V.K.R.V, Rao a leading economist of India, reiterated the relevance of Gandhian Economic Policy for more employment opportunities and better living conditions. He opined that the Indian economy is based on class market rather than on mass market. Further, he pleaded for production of goods for mass consumption, which alone could lead to more employment opportunities, and better living conditions for the masses.9

Gandhi was not totally opposed to industrialization as such but was opposed to those industries which are responsible for creating unemployment and depletion of non-renewable resources. He emphasized more on renewable resources like agriculture, home industries, dairy, cattle, Khadi, etc. Without decentralization of economic and political power no justice can be done to the marginalized  people of the villages and slums. Decentralized and renewable economic system advocated by Gandhi has been supported by G.D.H. Cole and Gunnar Myradal. The Indian planners have not totally ignored the Gandhian emphasis on agriculture, cottage and small-scale industries, and Khadi which continues to receive substantial funds from the Centre and the States provides employment opportunities to a major part of the Indian population.

Many have condemned Gandhi’s ideas on production and proclaimed it as irrelevant. The fact remains that the spirit behind Gandhi’s vehement criticism is still relevant. Decentralization of the units of production will lessen the exploitation of villages. Cottage industries will create more employment in villages. Man should be the criterion of all development. With equal investment of resources both in village industry and urban industry, we will be able to curb the evils of mechanization and industrialization. Centralization of economic and political power is the key to Sarvodaya. Decentralization will stop unhealthy competition. As the state is a soulless machine and represents violence in a concentrated and organized form, its role should be confined to minimum functions. Decentralized units like village, taluk, and zillah should be economically self supporting and politically self- governing. The 73 amendment of the Indian Constitution dealing with Panchayati Raj Institutions, speaks volumes about the relevance of Gandhi’s decentralization of power.

Under the Gandhian scheme of decentralized political system, the individuals should try to train themselves in the art of self-governance. This would curb unhealthy competition to exercise political and economic power. With such diffusion of economic and political power corruption will automatically dwindle. Self-governing and honest individuals will ensure value-based politics. Gandhian decentralized system is more concerned with socio-economic problems than with power acquisition. It is not marked by struggle for power, but is marked by services to all individuals. It is a society whose legitimacy is based not on law but on morality.

4.1. Trusteeship: It’s Relevance

We really do not own this universe. We have been entrusted with property, position and power in the society to do good and replenish this universe and leave it better than we found it and not to deplete and exploit its resources. We are all God’s trustees entrusted with his property, which belongs to all. The trusteeship principle according to Gandhi is, “Enjoy the wealth by renouncing it.” He further said, “earn your crores by all means but understand that your wealth is not yours; it belongs to the people. Take what you require for legitimate needs and use the remainder for the society.”10

In the Harijan dated 31 August 1936, he wrote: “Let no one try to justify the glaring inequalities between the prince and the pauper by saying that the former need more….Just as it would be preposterous if an ant demanded as much food as an elephant; in like fashion if a man demanded as much as another with a wife and four children that would be a violation of economic equality.”

In order to avoid glaring economic inequalities to consumers by the manufacturers, Gandhi suggested the system of trusteeship, which combines the best qualities of socialism and capitalism, and avoids the evils of both the systems. Though not much successful in its implementation, the concept has made many a thinking person take stock of the existing exploitative system. We shall briefly review the main features:
(i)                 Destruction and liquidation are the process by which the exploited try to get equality and justice done. Gandhi was opposed to this method. He wanted the landlords and industrialists not to be liquidated but transformed into trustees of their lands and factories for the benefit of their workers in particular and of the masses in general. The owners of means of production and the workers are partners in the process of production for the benefit of the people in general. The capitalists and the landlords will not lose interest in their initiative and enterprise because they legally own factories and lands. Enterprise of the owners and the efficiency of the workers are maintained at an optimum level. Gandhi said that trusteeship is not only ideal but also practical. As the means of production were not individually owned in the former socialist countries, there was neither concern and interest on the part of the managers, nor responsibility on the part of the workers in the process of production; consequently, the productions in all the sectors fell greatly and there was total scarcity of all the goods. As the trusteeship combines concern and interest of owners of means of production and responsibility of workers, its twin goal higher production of goods as in capitalist countries and social service as in socialist countries is achieved with satisfaction to all.
(ii)               Because of changed outlook and inner transformation, the landlords and industrialists, though legal holders of the property would only use part of their profits for their reasonable requirements. The remaining profit would be used for the benefit of the people in general. This would ensure economic equality and avoid exploitation of workers and consumers.
(iii)             Under trusteeship there is no fear of concentration of economic power in the hands of the State. As Gandhi considered the State as a soulless machine, he wanted to give minimum powers to the State and maximum self-governance to the individuals. The economic power under the Gandhian system is diffused and decentralized among the various self-governing individuals.

It is evident that Gandhian trusteeship is an alternative to both capitalism and socialism because it combines the best qualities and avoids the bad ones of both the systems. It is moral economy as opposed to the greedy economy of capitalism and soulless economy of socialism. It is an instrument to bring about socio-economic equality without violence and ill-will. It is a step towards Sarvodaya.

5. Hindu-Muslim Unity: Gandhi’s Dream

The Gandhian approach to Hindu-Muslim unity is more than relevant today. According to Gandhi, social stability in India cannot be achieved without social unity between the Hindus and Muslims as they are the two major communities in the country. He wanted both the communities to focus on the areas of oneness rather than on their differences. He repeatedly said that there is only one God, and different religions are only different means to realize the same God called by different names. Hence, humanity is one. And God resides in every person irrespective of his religion. He always advocated tolerance and a spirit of compromise towards each other. He wanted the leaders of each community to respect each other, their customs and traditions, and not to hurt the sentiments of each other. If the leaders are united, the ordinary masses of these two communities are also united. Division among these leaders will lead to a division between the masses of these communities.

Gandhi advocated non-violent means to resolve conflicts between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. The dispute relating to the Ram Janmabhoomi and Babri Masjid can be solved only on the basis of Gandhian assumptions and only through Gandhian means. The leaders who desire to solve this dispute should be true Gandhian’s in spirit and in action. The need of the hour is to root out communalism and utilize the corporate energy of the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians for nation building activities and re-establish India’s credibility as a secular nation. Patriotism and nationalism need not be identified with any particular culture or religion. If one spiritualizes politics as Gandhi has shown in and through his life, one will be able to liberate India from the clutches of communal forces. India is greater than one community or one religion. Indians should not let the culture of tolerance built-up by Ashoka and Akbar, seers and saints of all religions irrespective of caste and creed, be destroyed in the hands of power-hungry communal forces who believe in the policy of ‘divide and rule’.

6. Crisis of Leadership: Gandhi’s Relevance

A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way and goes the way. Gone are the days of armchair leadership. As Jesus would say the greatest among you should be the servant of all, ready to lay down his life for others, without counting the cost. Leadership is meant for service and not for domination. All want to be leaders and yet in all walks of life there is crisis of leadership. A large number of leaders are increasingly becoming not only corrupt but also indifferent to public welfare. Politics has become a source of moneymaking rather than an avenue for public service. Corruption in the political field has adversely affected efficiency and integrity of public service and has evil effects on the social, economic, and political fields. The end has become more important than the means; public life is thus separated from morality.

The crisis of leadership can only be overcome if we are able to have a leader whose integrity is unquestionable and in whom there is no dichotomy between the person and office. Such leaders must be followers of the eleven ‘vratas’ which form the foundation of Gandhian non-violent social order. Self-transformation is the catalyst for social reformation.

The Bhagavad Gita appreciates the central role of leadership and says, “Whatsoever a great man does that alone the other men do, whatever he sets up as the standard, that the world follows” (The Gita, chapter iii, verse 21). Common people imitate the standards set by the leaders. Leaders are the path makers who blaze the trail that other men follow. A leader is one who gives a meaning to life and events. He should be a person in search of excellence and who is able to take his followers on the path of ethical values. His words and deeds should be able to bring transformation in himself and others. He stimulates, motivates and inspires his followers to explore the possibilities of creating “the brotherhood of humankind and fatherhood of God.” That is what Gandhi did. And that is what Gandhi wanted his followers and in particular the professional class, the lawyers, the doctors and the wealthy to do. Gandhi as a leader taught us that a leader must lead and not merely follow the dictates of the crowd, though some modern conceptions of the functioning of democracy would lead one to think that one must bow down to the largest number. If he does so, he is no leader and he cannot take others along the right path of human progress. If he acts singly, according to his own likes he cuts himself off from the very persons whom he is trying to lead. If he brings himself down to the same level of understanding as others, then he has lowered himself, been untrue to his own ideal and compromised with truth. And once such compromises begin, there is no end to them and the path is slippery. Politics of convenience will hold the sway and opportunism will become the creed. He will succumb to public pressure and follow the unholy path of opportunism to cling on to power. Basic ideals and objectives will be conveniently forgotten. Neither the leader nor the followers will know what is truth, leave alone following it.

It is amazing to note that Gandhi as a leader par excellence, adhered, in all its fullness, to his ideals, his conception of truth, and yet he did succeed in moulding and moving enormous masses of human beings in the right path. He was not inflexible and yet remained firm as a rock when needed. He moulded not just one or two, or a group of elites, but a whole generation and raised them above themselves to think positively and act fearlessly, be ready to sacrifice themselves, and never to succumb to evil.  In sharp contrast to this, today, the leaders instead of raising their moral standards and holding on to high ideals are victims of cheap popularity, ready to play to the gallery to remain secure in their positions.

Here is the leader, with a staff in his hand, marching to Dandi for the Salt March in 1930, quiet, peaceful, determined and fearless, regardless of consequences. The world laughed at it thinking that it is of no consequence. But many, nay the whole nation followed him and Gandhi emerged as a leader of the nation, of a unique cadre who knowing the ethos of the people could lead them come what may, so that truth may prevail and justice be done. He was able to fan into flame the imagination of the people and plunge them into action. People instinctively follow a leader who knows the way and moves on that path without counting the cost. The exceptional status attributed to him is due to the fact that he combined in himself the political and the ascetic. He was a political ascetic, who brought asceticism to politics and converted it from a quest for power into a quest for truth, justice and service. This is the Gandhian way to resolve the crisis of leadership.

7. Gandhi the Conscience of the World

Gandhi is not just the Father of the Nation, but the conscience of the world. Louis Fischer said that the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. In this world Gandhi stood for his convictions; satya and ahimsa. 

He believed that all life in whatever form it appears must be essentially one.  He has grown in his conviction that the service of humanity is not inconsistent with the service of one’s nation.  He dreamt of the establishment of a world federation consisting of independent and yet interdependent nations, working for the betterment of humanity, without any distinction of caste, creed or nationality.  He said that isolated independence is not the goal of the World-States.  There should be voluntary interdependence.  He said that mankind is one and all are equally subject to moral law.  Despite the differences of caste, creed and nationality, all are equal in God’s eyes. He firmly believed in the essential unity of man.  And so he wanted the individual to sacrifice himself for the community, the community for the district, the district for the province, the province for the nation, and the nation for the world.  He said that a drop torn from the ocean perishes without doing any good.  If it remains a part of the ocean, it shares the glory of carrying on its bosom a fleet of mighty ships. World federation and unity of humankind will put an end to war and there will be no more exploitation and domination of one nation over another.  In such a world even, the militarily weaker nations will be free from the fear of intimidation and the fear of war.  He regarded the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science.  What is the antidote?  Is it antiquated non-violence? No, on the contrary non-violence is that only thing that is now left in the field.  It is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy; unless the world adopts non-violence it will spell certain suicide for mankind.

Believing as he did in God and in the goodness of human nature, he dreamt of a better world.  With boundless optimism he said, “I see no poverty in the world of tomorrow, no wars, no revolutions, no bloodshed.  And in that world there will be a faith in God greater and deeper that ever in the past.  The very existence of the world, in a broad sense, depends on religion.  All attempts to root it out will fail.”  Thus, he wanted the structure of the new world federation to be raised on the foundation of faith in God, and people of all nations, races and religions to live in peace and harmony, worshipping truth through Ahimsa.

He emphatically opposed cultural isolation, and instead, promoted cultural exchange and integration.  He said, “I do not want my house to be walked in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed.  I want the cultures of all lands to be blown off my feet by any.  I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave”.  He wanted to breakdown all the barriers that came in the way of the unity of humankind. He believed in “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, (the world is my family) and worked ceaselessly to establish a new world order based on the power of love, truth and non-violence. “My country, right or wrong”, did not hold good for him. Perhaps, Gandhi is one of the few who understood the meaning of nationalism as well as internationalism.  He said that it is impossible for one to be an internationalist with out being a nationalist.  Internationalism is possible only when one learns to serve his neighbour and humanity.

He was of the opinion that religion is the basis of politics as only a religious person can be a good politician.  He wanted those who get involved in politics to be individuals of high integrity who are able to listen to their conscience or “inner voice” and pursue the path of non-violence and truth.  In him, politics became an expression of one’s commitment to the poor and the needy.  He did not find any holiness in running away from the challenges of life to lead a secluded selfish life.  Believing as he did in the Gita, he wanted everyone to do his/her duty without craving for the results.  Thus, he destroyed the dichotomy between the secular and the divine and established a new tradition of a saint being a politician and a politician being a saint.  This precept, practiced by him is not only an invaluable contribution to world politics but it will continue to be a challenge to politicians of all ages and nations who are neither guided by humanity or by divinity but by greed and pride.

Gandhi can never be confined to India alone. His relevance as an immortal international phenomenon has been acknowledged by outstanding thinkers and leaders of the world.  While E.M. Forster believed that Gandhi was likely to be considered the greatest man of our century, Arnold Toynbee is convinced that he certainly is.  Dr. J.H. Holmes offered a more concrete estimate when he described Gandhi as “the greatest Indian since Gautama Buddha and the greatest man since Jesus Christ.” From the image of the half-naked fakir he was hailed as Jesus Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi.  Dr. Francis Neilson says of Gandhi, “A Diogenes in action, a Saint Francis in humility, a Socrates in wisdom, he reveals to the world the utter paltriness of the methods of the statesman who relies upon force to gain his end.  In this contest, spiritual integrity triumphs over the physical opposition of the forces of the State.  Stafford Cripps considered him as the greatest spiritual leader of our time.  Manchester Guardian, on 31 January 1948, summed up this respect of Gandhi’s personality when it wrote: “He is, above all, the man who revived and refreshed our sense of the meaning and value of religion.”

When Gandhi was assassinated on 30th January 1948 the flags of all nations were spontaneously ordered to be flown at half-mast though he was only a private individual and not the Head of any State.  The King of England, the extent of whose empire had been reduced greatly by Gandhi’s Quit India programme cabled to Lord Mountbatten and said that Mr. Gandhi’s death is truly a loss to mankind, which so sorely needs the living light of those ideals of love and tolerance for which he strove and died.  In her hour of deep sorrow, India is proud to have given to the world a man of imperishable renown, and is confident that his example will be a source of inspiration and strength in the fulfillment of her destiny.

As the conscience of the world Gandhi will continue to be the beacon light to lead the nations of the world to create the Federation of Mankind.  One world, a global village, going beyond the barriers of caste, creed and nationality, people will worship Truth as God and will let soul force rule the world. Victory of good over evil, spirit over matter and need over greed will be vindicated because one man dared to think differently and act authentically with no dichotomy between his precepts and their practice.

8. Conclusion

The incessant search for wealth, power and pleasure has made human beings slaves of materialism, violence and corruption. Gandhi’s relevance is in making humanity aware of it’s interest goodness and also in making human beings understand their enslavement to what makes them less of a human being.  Transformation and not humiliation of individuals is the key to the transformation of the society.  Decentralization and not concentration of economic and political power is the only way to establish a just society free from exploitation.  Satyagraha is as valid today as in those days to resolve conflicting situations.  The end will never justify the means and one has to adhere to truth and non-violence in all circumstances.  Mass participation in the Independence struggle and unflinching devotion to the unity of all religions and human race were major achievements at a time when the Independence struggle was restricted to the elite and the division on the basis of religion was the accepted norm of the day.  Brute force was replaced by soul force.  Swaraj would mean self-rule first, and then, freedom from foreign rule.  It is a historical fact that civilizations have not progressed on account of violence, hatred and corruption.  There is a great need for a renaissance. Gandhi’s relevance consists in responding to this need for restructuring the social system on the basis of love, non-violence and truth.

Power in the hands of Gandhi became an instrument, not for domination and self-aggrandizement, but for transformation and empowerment of the self and society.  Gandhi’s specific contribution is that he made power not the master but the servant.  Power is not for domination but for service.  Power and position are invested in persons or states so that they may help others to reach their full personhood.  Laski in his introduction to “Politics” said that the power of the State can be justified only in terms of what it seeks to do.  Its law must be capable of justification in terms of the demands it seeks so satisfy.  In today’s power-hungry world, many of those who have been given power by the people, forget that they have been entrusted with power in order to serve the public interest.  This can be done only when there is no concentration of power.  Gandhi’s insistence on the decentralization of economic and political power will continue to be relevant as long as consistent and subtle efforts are made by the rich and the powerful leaders to ensure continuity of power and safety of wealth.

Gandhi proved that power need not corrupt the one who holds it provided that the holder does not allow himself to be corrupted by it. For this one has to be purified through self-sacrifice and unconditional acceptance of Satya, Ahimsa and Satyagraha. Unlike others he did not believe in wielding power by inflicting pain and humiliation on others. Therefore, he rejected violence, which many had thought was an essential ingredient of political power. As stated earlier, Gandhi exercised tremendous power over the masses because of his unique approach to conquer power.  He derived power from his union with the divine; identification with the masses in their struggle; total adherence to Satya, Ahimsa and Satyagraha. Power was no more in numbers, structures, threats, intimidation and violence. It had to come from within through the transformation of the self first and then the society.  This he proved by awakening the then slumbering masses of India, empowering them to fight the mightiest Empire in the world, with no arms and ammunitions but through soul force.  As stated in the ‘Preamble’ of UNESCO, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.  Gandhi translated these words into action by focusing on the inner transformation of the individual first and then the society.

Soul-force for Gandhi is the main source of power.  Any transformation and change in the society, state and world at large should begin with the transformation of the self.  The more people look within and generate this invisible and yet perceptible power, the more the world will be transformed. As a result of this all-pervasive influence so many ‘Gandhi’s were born all over the country, ready to stake their future with this novel method. Gandhi was multiplied throughout the length and breadth of this country. Satyagraha gained momentum and the independence struggle became a mass movement, a non-violent revolution.  The efficacy of soul force did not remain restricted within the boundaries of India, it spread to different parts of the world.  Many more Gandhi’s were born in many parts of the world.  Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan became the immediate symbol of soul force.  Martin Luther King Jr. became a very powerful apostle of Truth, Non-Violence and Satyagraha. Nelson Mandela, the greatest African leader of the 20th century, who in his life personified Gandhian teaching, is the living legendary figure to prove that soul force is the greatest source of power.

Gandhi’s insistence on morality and its strict adherence in public and personal life will remain a significant contribution to the concept of power.  It has been rightly said, “Power must be clothed with moral approval if it is to receive our willing consent.”  Agreeing with the above view, MacIver pointed out that power is not the same as authority.  He said that, because Gandhi had authority he had power.  Power alone has no legitimacy, no mandate, and no office.  One can speak with authority when one is under the authority of God; then one is no more authoritarian.  Authority comes from authenticity of life.  That is what Gandhi had.  There was no dichotomy between his personal life and public life; precept and practice; politics and religion.  And so his word was a command; where he sat was a temple.  He spoke with authority and people obeyed. Authority enhances power and gives it legitimacy.  Without holding any official position, Gandhi could mobilize the masses because of his impeccable integrity.  Gandhi proved to the world that the real power is within and that can be utilised if one is committed to God.  Satya, Ahimsa and Satyagraha were the real power centers for him.  And so he had authority, power and legitimacy.

Finally, Gandhi’s concept of power, his insistence on truth and non-violence, priority of means over the end, religious tolerance and human rights, decentralization of economic and political power, primacy of spirit over matter, individual transformation as a pre-requisite for social change, integration of person and office, rejection of colonialism, militarism, materialism and consumerism made people introspect and reflect.  Though his ideas seemed wholly utopian and at worst as pre-modern, obscurantist and impracticable to Gandhi’s critics at the beginning of this century, when they were first propounded, they have now acquired a fresh relevance and urgency for a generation confronted with looming threats of nuclear proliferation, ethnic strife, religious fundamentalism, political terrorism, ecological devastation and slavery to materialism and consumerism.  Going beyond the boundaries of state, creed and nationality, he has become the conscience of the world, challenging each generation to listen to the voice from within and surrender to truth and non-violence, which can save the world from fragmentation and alienation.

The influence of Gandhi on the course of human history is almost without a parallel. The enlightened citizens of the world, who are seriously concerned with social problems like increasing ethnic and communal clashes, atrocities on women and weaker sections, divided homes, divorce, and youths without zeal, economic problems like unemployment, glaring economic inequalities within and between nations, and exploitation of labourers and consumers, political problems like lack of effective participation of people in the governance of the country, concentration of political power in the hands of a few, and corruption, and technological problems like destructive use of science and technology, and disturbance in ecological system, have to search for solutions from the life, philosophy, and work of a great visionary like Mahatma Gandhi whose ideas are relevant today and would be relevant tomorrow because his basic thinking is universal. That is why all around the world we are able to see non-violence in the midst of violence; restraint in the midst of consumerism; equality in the midst of rising inequalities; voluntary service in the midst of self-centeredness. It has been rightly said by Louis Fischer that Gandhi belongs not only to us but to the whole world; he is not only of our times but of all times and he will continue to have relevance throughout the coming ages.


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