Mahatma Gandhi: The Good Boatman

By Prof. Naresh Dadhich

“More books and essays have already been written about Gandhi than about any other figure in world history except the founders of the great religions,” Raghavan Iyer pointed out in 1973. The assertion is still valid today. Mahatma Gandhi was an enigmatic personality, and with every passing year, we find something new that forces us to evaluate him with a fresh perspective.

Though reverence for Gandhi is not linear. Recently Gandhi’s statue at Tulsi Mandir in Richmond in New York was vandalized and what is shocking is that the perpetrators included people of Indian origin. Why does such an incident happen?

Does it mean that Gandhi is losing his relevance?

The answer is not simple. Some sections were always critical of Gandhian simplicity. Mahatma Gandhi in his lifetime faced criticism and violent and physical attacks. By the time he arrived in India in 1915, he had already acquired a reputation as a saint who fought for the downtrodden. Rabindranath Tagore declared called Gandhi, a ‘Mahatma’ and soon Bapu became the household name for Gandhi.

Protests against Gandhi

There were differences of opinions and criticisms of Gandhi’s thinking and action in India throughout Gandhi’s active political life but he never faced any violent and aggressive protests against him till 1931.

He faced his first major protest when he could not save Bhagat Singh from the gallows and Punjab was boiling with unrest at the moment. Gandhi was shown black flags as he went to attend the Karachi session of Congress. Gandhi kept mum and did not say a word.

After Gandhi made a pact with Ambedkar in 1932, he rigorously devoted himself to the sin of untouchability. His aim was to save Dalits from the British conspiracy of separating them from Hindu society, at large. This didn’t go well with the orthodox sections of Hindu society and they started opposing him. Gandhi started to get death threats from 1934 onwards.

As communalism spread in the 1940s with the crystallization of demand for Pakistan, Gandhi became a target of hatred by the majority of communalists. He was accused of being soft towards Muslims. This hatred towards Gandhi ultimately resulted in his killing in 1948. But death turned him into a saint of nonviolence dedicated to world peace.

Reverence for Gandhi

Barring sporadic incidents such as what happened recently in Richmond or the occasional desecration of his statues in India, Gandhi is revered by the masses the world over. In fact, the reverence for Gandhi has been increasing as the people of the world find themselves in a vicious trap of exploitation. Why so?

With a close look at his work and deeds, we would find enough reasons to worship him. The fame of Gandhi rests on his pioneer role played in India’s freedom struggle. He pioneered a new and effective strategy of ‘satyagraha’ backed by a strong philosophical and spiritual commitment to ‘ahimsa’ – nonviolence, and truth in a world where an eye for an eye was the order of the day.

Gandhism essentially proved to be a “turn-key” solution to the misery of the world.

His strategies were picked up gradually all over the world and in the last few years, especially after the decline of the Soviet Union, it has become the mainstream way of protest against any type of injustice specially done by the state.

We have many such examples in contemporary times when political regimes were dethroned by public movements not led by political parties. All these movements of protests were by and large nonviolent and claimed to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his success story.

From the Arab Spring to the recent protest of women against the Hijab in Iran, non-violent protests have become a powerful method against tyranny. Such is the power of Gandhi’s non-violence that any repression cuts more into the tyrant than the protesters.

Lessons from Gandhi  

Gandhi has taught us some valuable lessons for political struggle. First, hate wrongdoing but do not hate the wrongdoer. He provided a new dimension to the relationship between the wrongdoer and the protester. So, he believed that it is always possible to revert back to one’s original nature which is goodness.

This relationship between adversaries is dialectical as pointed out by Joan V Bondurant. It is Gandhi’s unique contribution to conflict resolution theory and practice.

Second, Gandhi gave equal or rather more importance to the Satyagrahi – the practitioner of Satyagraha, than the Satyagraha itself. Satyagraha, he believed, was not for an unqualified person who has not taken eleven vows before embarking on the path of Satyagraha. This insistence on the practitioner of any public action is also a great contribution of Gandhi. It paved the way for delineating good from bad practitioners of protest.

Third, as per Gandhi, a conflict situation is a tool for transforming adversaries and making them more responsible and better human beings. Gandhi thus taught us to convert a conflict situation into a learning process to improve ourselves.

In contemporary conflict situations across the world, Gandhi’s lessons have contributed a lot to easing many conflicts. Gandhi is thus not simply a protester against injustice, he worked on a bigger canvas finding immediate solutions to end conflicts and build a lifetime peaceful environment by transforming adversaries into better human beings. This is one of the biggest reasons that Gandhi is becoming more and more relevant in the Modern world.

His stature is also growing with every passing moment as his techniques and philosophy of conflict resolution become more and more successful in different situations, and his relevance also multiplies in different spheres of life.

A Spiritual Guide

As a spiritual person, Gandhi attained heights that many others only can think of attaining in the spiritual sphere. His commentaries on Gita are alternative interpretations wherein he argued that the Mahabharata war was a symbolic representation of war between evil and good forces in human nature and it does not justify violence.

Gandhi’s conduct in the public sphere remains a standard yardstick of public life, at least in India. Many Institutions and organizations established by Gandhi are still relevant and working today. Khadi became the formal attire for politicians in India. His efforts for communal harmony are still being followed by many organizations.

Moreover, Gandhi’s pleading for “simple living high thinking” with a decentralized economy and village small-scale industries have been accepted by many as a viable alternative to unbridle and crony capitalism. Gandhi’s plea that “the earth has enough to need of all human beings but not the greed of a single person” has become the basis of the saving environment movement.

“I have no desire to found a sect. I am really too ambitious to be satisfied with a sect for a following, for I represent no new truths, I endeavor to follow and represent truth as I know it. I do claim to throw new light on many an old truth,” he said.


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

Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

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