Looking at the present state of affairs in India, the birthplace of Gandhi, one would probably surmise that Gandhism, whatever the term may mean, cannot have any relevance in this twenty-first century. Gandhi is rightly called the Father of the Nation because he single handedly stood up against the mighty British Empire, without any arms, and brought her independence. However, today, Gandhi is mostly forgotten and his relevance questioned even by his ardent devotees. Today Gandhi is remembered in India mostly on his birthday which is celebrated as a national holiday rather as a ritual.
(Source of Image : http://devang-home.blogspot.com/2011/08/sketches-of-mahatma-gandhi.html)
As a matter of fact, India is not following any of Gandhi’s teachings which are mostly confined to text books. In fact, since independence, the country has witnessed many violent communal riots in this multi communal country. Gandhi’s message of ‘swābalambī’, self-sufficiency with home spun ‘khādī’ cloth is not used now-a-days even as a social slogan. Statistics shows that the country is definitely not following ‘sarvodaya’, a broad Gandhian term meaning ‘universal upliftment’ or ‘progress of all’ reaching the masses. On the contrary, India today has the unique distinction of being the only country in the world which has the richest man in the world while at the same time more than 30 per cent of its population lives in dire poverty.
The above shows that today, Gandhism is a very confused ‘ism’ in India. Today many politicians in India use the term merely as a slogan and the common man make Gandhi almost out of reach of the younger groups by making Gandhi an unwilling ‘avatāra’. That may be one reason why the only photo we see of Gandhi in India is always that of an old man which brings the image of a very simple and pious man who was meek and mild like Jesus Christ. While Gandhi was not a simple man to say the least, the above does not gives the right image of Gandhi and does not bring any inspiration to the younger group, the group most relevant for Gandhi.
But Mahatma Gandhi, in this twentieth century, produced a very sophisticated approach because he implemented that very noble philosophy of ahimsā in modern politics, and he succeeded. That is a very great thing.”
And that is precisely the greatness of Gandhi and that is the message of Gandhi to the modern world. In the past century many places in the world have been drastically changed through the use of brute force, by the power of guns the Soviet Union, China, Tibet, Burma, many communist countries in Africa and South America. But eventually the power of guns will have to be changed by the will of the ordinary people. If we try to analyze the secrets of Gandhi’s success, we would probably find Faith and Action and Populism, the three most important aspects of his life. Gandhi’s extra ordinary communion with the masses of ordinary people was another of his secrets. In contrast to many of our present day leaders of this highly democratic world, Gandhi was a true leader and friend of the people. Disaku Ikeda, the Japanese Buddhist leader who takes great inspiration from Gandhi has this to say about him. “His activism is not mere action but contains many aspects of a spiritual ‘practice’ that is inspired by the inner urging of the conscience”.
The phenomenal success Gandhi registered in far-away South Africa fighting for human rights and civil liberties has great significance when we find that later his teachings were adopted not only by Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter, but it was also subsequently revealed that the former South African president De Klerk was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s principles. In fact, from Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu and from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, many world leaders were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, all in their own different ways.
Gandhi left many valuable sayings for the modern man to fight for goodness in society in a non-violent way. “Good” Gandhi said “travels at a snail’s pace.” “Non-violence” Gandhi said “is a tree of slow growth. It grows imperceptibly but surely.” And then “Mere goodness is not of much use.” Gandhi stated. “Goodness must be joined with knowledge, courage and conviction. One must cultivate the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character.” The modern man can also take great wisdom from what Gandhi said the seven social sins: Politics without principles; Wealth without work; Commerce without morality; Education without character; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice.
It was the unique non-violent movement under his leadership that earned for India freedom from the colonial rule. In spearheading the campaign against the alien rule, Gandhiji adopted the innovative techniques of civil disobedience and social transformation, which had several exemplary features.
The Gandhian technique of mobilizing people has been successfully employed by many oppressed societies around the world under the leadership of people like Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and now Aung Saan Sun Kyi in Myanmar, which is an eloquent testimony to the continuing relevance of Mahatma Gandhi.
In India, economic development has been mostly confined to the urban conglomerates. In the process, the rural India that comprises 700 million people has been given short shrift. Gandhiji’s philosophy of inclusive growth is fundamental to the building of a resurgent rural India. He believed in “production by the masses” rather than in mass production, a distinctive feature of the industrial revolution. It is surprising, even paradoxical, that these days Gandhian philosophy should find increasing expression through the most modern technology! Now, it is possible to establish small-scale and medium-scale factories in smaller towns and remote corners of the country, thanks to the phenomenal innovations in communication and information technologies. New technologies have brought in widespread and low-cost electronic connectivity that enables instantaneous contact between industrial units and the sellers and consumers of their products. Location and logistics are no more a limitation or constraint for industrial development.
If we say that the twenty-first century is the century of the common man, then we see that Gandhism has even more relevance in this age, and Gandhi will inspire generations of individuals fighting for goodness of the society. If today we find that Gandhism is in severe test in countries like India, it is not because there is certain inherent weakness in Gandhism, but it is because we have not seen in India strong leaders with the required courage and conviction to fight the evils in society. We may borrow Gandhi’s own words on Ahimsā, and say that Gandhism is only for the courageous people.
-Dr. Anju Seth, Associate Professor, Department of Sanskrit, Satyawati College (Day), University of Delhi, Delhi, India