If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, acted and was inspired by the vision of humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over 67 years have passed since Mahatma Gandhi&’s assassination. His body has been cremated, but not his message. His philosophy remains a possible answer to the global crises of human values, the conflict between development and environment, affluence and poverty, technology and man, violence and non-violence, freedom and repression. Gandhi sought truth and wisdom and, like Plato, cared for ‘the greatest improvement of the soul.’ Indeed, he was the voice of sanity and the brightest beacon of hope for peace-loving and tolerant individuals. From Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu, from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, many world leaders were inspired by the Mahatma.
Jean-Paul Sartre once drew a fine distinction between a gesture and an act. Commitment is the fundamental difference between a Sartrean gesture and an act. The Mahatma was aware of the deepest implications of commitment; it is only in the willingness to sacrifice that commitment is tested. That is the basic difference between the demo and the true rebel. Soon after his martyrdom, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel said in his tribute, “I am sure Gandhiji&’s supreme sacrifice will wake up the conscience of our countrymen and evoke a higher response in the heart of every Indian.’
Gandhi believed that trust in leaders is terribly important if the followers have to make sacrifices. Leadership by example, he believed, is the most powerful instrument for gaining trust. To walk the talk was extremely important. The Mahatma believed in accepting personal responsibility. We need political, religious and corporate leaders to take responsibility. Thereby, they will make other culprits accountable. Gandhi was essentially a dynamic person who went through an evolutionary process of change in his life. His policy was never static. In the half century and more of his tremendous service to India and to humanity, he handled problems in a novel manner. He would focus on the issue per se. As regards his leadership, Nehru once remarked: “He was a very difficult person to understand; sometimes his language was almost incomprehensible to an average modern Indian. But we felt that we knew him quite well enough to realise that he was a great and unique man and a glorious leader.”
Non-violence was both a creed and a way of life for Gandhi and he once pledged that he would lay down his life in defence of it. It was also the essence of his praxis. The most outstanding contribution of the Mahatma lies in his supreme achievement of transforming the principles of non-violent resistance into a successful instrument for achieving liberty, justice and peace. In the realm of violence, one man&’s victory is another man&’s defeat. Gandhi once said: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” But triumph achieved through non-violence is a win-win state of affairs. It is not the victory of one and defeat of the other; it is the concept of general welfare. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.’
The Mahatma had a wonderful answer to the idea of religion – “All religions adhere to the fact that “his God is the Truth.” In his reckoning, “Truth is God.” His religion was Sarva-Dharma Samabhava (Equal Approach to All Religions). It is quite similar to Swami Vivekananda&’s ‘Universal Religion’ or Tagore&’s ‘Religion of Man’.
Politics is viewed as power politics – to achieve, regain and retain power – where morality or values have no place. It is rooted in deceit and dishonesty. But the Mahatma believed that politics has a constructive role and needs to be controlled by an ethical, spiritual and religious base. “Politics bereft of religion is a death trap.”
The rule of majority is the kernel of parliamentary democracy. However, in coalition politics, the tyranny of the majority is perverted into the tyranny of the virtual minority. A minority or even a simple caucus can impose itself on the rest. Gandhi was highly critical of parliamentary democracy and in his book, Hind Swaraj, he described the British parliament as a ‘sterile woman and a prostitute’. He advocated decisions by consensus as the main thrust of democratic functioning. This concept of consensus does not mean that there is no scope for two opinions on an issue or that people must think in an identical fashion. It only means a process for the resolution of all differences. In fact, it is the purest form of democracy. Presently it is gradually gaining acceptance in certain situations; the alternative to consensus is grave and serious. Even the Security Council has to take decisions on the basis of consensus as a single veto can undo a decision.
The utilitarian philosophers of the West enunciated the concept of ‘greatest good of the greatest number’ as the objective of state policy. However, it has failed to take a holistic view of the human race; that is to say each and every man. Gandhi propounded the theory of Sarvodaya which means ‘Universal Uplift’ or ‘Progress of All’. The concept must influence public policy in the 21st century.
The Mahatma&’s model of economic development is based on the concept of decentralisation of means and resources and also on developing villages as an independent production and administrative unit. His idea of Swadeshi talks of ‘production for neighbours’ or ‘the last man’ which speaks of providing every individual with the basic necessities. He was saddened by the economic systems that kept a large number of people chained to poverty while a few enjoyed enormous financial clout. He realised that the solution to the problem was not merely economic; it was primarily moral or spiritual.
The Mahatma&’s attitude towards technology is generally misunderstood. He was not against machinery as such but against mass production that throws people out of employment. His perception of machinery is still relevant. The machine can be a boon to mankind. Romain Rolland regarded his spirit as ‘the perfect manifestation of the principle of life which will lead a new humanity on to a new path.’