“Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”- Elbert Einstein
When a great scientist like Elbert Einstein showers praise on Gandhi with such words, it is difficult to write for a layman like me on the great soul called ‘ Mahatma.’ Neither is it possible to touch upon all aspects of such a dynamic personality as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was.
A leader, statesman, politician, writer, journalist, barrister, philosopher and social activist, he put on several hats in his lifetime and touched upon lives of billions not only in India but also across the world. He is an influence upon many, including some great leaders and statesmen of the last century. It is pertinent that Martin Luther King Jr. started his American Civil Rights Movement is inspired by the Gandhian idea of Ahimsa and Satyagraha. He himself said,” the Gandhian method of Non-violent resistance… became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation and Gandhi furnished the method.” In 2011, the then US President Barack Obama when addressing the Indian Parliament said that were it not for Gandhi, he would not be standing there as President.
In a world torn apart owing to ruthless domination and violence, the Gandhian principle of Ahimsa is ever more relevant. Some 20 million lives have been lost in war and insurrections since Gandhi’s passing. In a dismaying number of countries including his own, governments spend more for military purposes than for education and health care combined. Gandhi believed that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
His Ahimsa is not an isolated concept. It is very much intertwined with Satya or truth. No dictionary imbues ‘truth’ with the depth of meaning Gandhi gave it. His truth emerged from his convictions: it meant not only what was accurate but what was just and therefore, right. The truth could not be obtained by untruthful or unjust means, which included inflicting violence upon one’s opponent. The power of Gandhian non-violence rests in being able to say,“ to show you that you are wrong, I punish myself.”
To describe this method, Gandhi coined the expression of Satyagraha, literally meaning “to hold on to the truth.” He disliked the English term ‘passive resistance’ because Satyagraha required activism, not passivity. If you believed in truth and cared enough to obtain it, Gandhi felt, you could not afford to be passive; you had to be prepared actively to suffer.
This method might have been self-inflicting. Some even argue that had it been practiced with Nazi Germany instead of Great Britain, the Gandhian method would have never been successful. Hitler himself once said that it required only one bullet to kill the fakir called Gandhi. However, Gandhi’s adherence was with truth and non-violence. He believed that whatever noble the end might be, the means should be justified. A violent means cannot bring a non-violent and peaceful end.
Gandhi proved right in his prophecy. Many countries have acquired independence by violent means; however, most of them are suffering from ruthless domination still. Some are under control of military dictatorship, some under ruthless autocrats. In recent years, Aung San Suu Kyi had taken resort to Gandhian Satyagraha in order to free the nation from the clutches of ruthless military rule. She had been successful. It is a testimony to the fact that to free a nation from any sort of domination, whether alien or domestic elites, one has to resort to non-violent means.
Gandhian philosophy does not restrain itself from state and statecraft. He also stipulated his thoughts on the economy. The 21st-century world is a world of consumerism and market capitalism. Capitals are concentrated in a few hands, laborers lack works and industries are capital intensive. He predicted such a scenario long ago and formulated a solution. He believed in the equality of every human being and an equal share of work and resources. He firmly vouched for small scale cottage and khadi industries so that everybody can work and contribute in his own way. The Gandhian economy is more of a self-reliant village-based economy. This model could solve most of the world’s problem of economy.
Gandhi’s idea on environment precedes the concept of Sustainable Development defined by the United Nations Environment Program in 1992. His idea that “nature has enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not satisfy anybody’s greed” can be a guiding light to modern environmental activism. He famously said, “the earth, the air, the land, and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us.” The concept of Sustainable is very much in tune with this assertion of Gandhi.
Gandhi is relevant in every aspect of life in the modern world and Gandhism offers a solution to almost every problem the world is beset with. However, in a world of post-truth, how much of Gandhism has survived is a question to be raised. Had Gandhism been followed in spirit and letter, the world would surely not have faced serious issues like the environment, violence, racism, terrorism, etc. In such a world, Gandhism is rather a need than choice. The world has to pay heed to Gandhian wisdom one day or the other to make it a more peaceful place.
In his 150th birth anniversary on 2nd October 2019, we should take the vow to follow Gandhian wisdom to solve the world’s problems. Nations should make progress keeping in view the Gandhian idea on the environment. As the dialogue on climate change is on the impasse, the world community should get inspired by the Gandhian spirit. Swachta, non-violence, truth, and Ahimsa should be our guiding light in a world shrouded by the darkness of impermeable clouds.