Mahatma Gandhi is still relevant and continues to inspire

The death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30 is observed as the Martyrs’ Day

By Prof. Naresh Dadhich

Mahatma Gandhi is an enduring symbol not only of India but also of goodness in public life the world over. When Gandhi visited London in 1931 after a gap of 22 years he met people from various walks of life. One of the dons at Oxford, the missionary and historian Edward Thompson met him and remarked, “Not since Socrates has the world seen his equal for absolute self-control and composure,” and, he was quite able to understand, he added, “why the Athenians had made Socrates drink hemlock.” Gandhi’s ideas continue to guide India and the world even today.

Gandhi is known in history books as a philosopher and practitioner of protest against injustice. He provided a new philosophy and technique to fight against any tyrant. He made nonviolence a potent weapon against injustice and used it successfully in conflict situations in politics.

“Satyagraha”, his innovative use of nonviolence in protest movements, has a lasting contribution to the theory and practice of politics. His technique of Satyagraha was used subsequently in many countries across the globe. The American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s was highly influenced by Gandhi’s teachings. MLK was often referred to as the ‘Black Gandhi’ when he spent a month in India in 1959.

‘To other countries, I may go as a tourist. But to India I come as a pilgrim,’ he said. As a pastor, he interpreted Gandhi’s message to the world as ‘nonviolent resistance to evil’. MLK’s conviction of winnings odds of nonviolence in a conflict situation got confirmed when he visited India and interacted with family and associates of Gandhi. He vigorously employed Gandhi’s methods of nonviolence in his fight for equal rights for African Americans.

“Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate,” he said,

On the other end of the world, Nelson Mandela accepted Gandhi as his teacher in evolving strategies to fight the policy of apartheid in South Africa. He termed Gandhi, “the archetypal anti-colonial revolutionary”. Mandela said, “Gandhi’s strategy of noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators, and his nonviolent resistance inspired anti-colonial and antiracist movements internationally in our century.”

Gandhi has influenced several world leaders and they have acknowledged it time and again. For instance, former US president Obama praised Gandhi for his “successful non-violent campaign against the British rule which became a beacon for other dispossessed, marginalized groups”.

The world leaders inspired by Gandhi include Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ho Chi Minh, Al Gore, and many others. “Call me a Gandhist by all means. Gandhi is one of the people who has influenced me the most,” wrote Arne Næss, Norway’s leading philosopher.

Gandhi, a miracle-man armed with non-violence, will remain an inspiring figure for all generations, present, and future. His fight against racism and making common ground for all religions is widely appreciated and admired today. He has inspired many International movements around the world. All these movements inspired by Gandhi had their lessons in “satyagraha” and adhered to nonviolent active resistance.

His idea of interfaith harmony is of vital importance in today’s world where religious fundamentalism is threatening democracy, peaceful coexistence, and provoking persecution of minorities all over the world.

Gandhi carefully distinguished between dharma and religion. Dharma for him was a universal ethical principle that is common in all practicing religions. Gandhi believed that all human activities including politics should be based on dharma – righteousness.

“Religion or faith is a particular set of rituals, understanding, and beliefs that are personal and everyone should respect each other’s religion by maintaining equal respect for them,” he said. “Sarva Dharma Sambhav” was his idea of interfaith harmony.

Gandhi has inspired leaders and movements all over the world.

On the economic front, Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship is a viable reform in unbridled capitalism. Economist E F Schumacher wrote a text “Small Is Beautiful” in 1973. It argued on Gandhian lines that small, appropriate technology and policies are a better alternative to the mainstream ethos of “bigger is better”.

The 21st century has accepted many of Gandhi’s ideas and conduct as part of the mainstream lifestyle. For instance, Gandhi’s intolerance to smoking which he considered worse than drinking is now widely accepted in the western world also.

Gandhi’s dietary experiments were considered eccentric during his time but now diet consideration is a regular practice among millions who take minute care of their diets calculating calories per day, mixing appropriate percentages of vitamins, protein, and carbohydrates, eating vegetables and fruits. Vegan foods, vegetarianism, or gluten-free diet is the buzzword today but Gandhi was one of the early proponents of these concepts in the world.

Gandhi always maintained that Truth and nonviolence are as old as human beings on this earth and he has not taught anything new. His philosophy and personality will be remembered till these principles exist in human society.

He made it to the cover page of Time magazine twice in 1931 but was denied a noble peace prize four times during his lifetime on account of his obsession with national independence. The noble prize committee thought that he was too narrowly focused on one country only. Later noble prize committee regretted the decision of denying the noble peace prize to Mahatma Gandhi and conceded that now the name of Gandhi is far bigger than the noble prize.

“Perhaps he will not succeed. Perhaps he will fail as the Buddha failed, as Christ failed, to wean men from their iniquities, but he will always be remembered as one who made his life a lesson for all ages to come,” said, the Nobel laureate and polymath Rabindranath Tagore about Gandhi.

(Image Courtesy: National Today)

(Prof. Naresh Dadhich is Former Vice-Chancellor, Vardhaman Mahaveer Open University, Kota, India. He retired as a professor from the Department of Political Science, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, India.)

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