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Gandhi in the Globalised Context




Dr. N. Radhakrishnan

Hon. Ambassador, Soka University of America
Chairman, Indian Council for Gandhian Studies

TFF Associate

February 4, 2003

The fast-emerging global socio-political and scientific scenario is an eloquent reminder of the speed with which the forces released by science and technology and aided by human greed has dismantled almost at one stroke all humanity hitherto believed invincible. Nothing is sacrosanct now. The geopolitical compulsions and the mad frenzy of both developed and developing nations, to appropriate for themselves all what they can lay their hands on, reminds us of the haste and anxiety seen among the nocturnal thieves to plunder completely and decamp with the booty before anyone wakes up in the house. It appears that a kind of colonial instinct also guides modern man in all his activities. Only the label changes, the bottle and the decoction continue to be the same.

The Major Challenges

It appears that among the major challenges of the twenty-first century will be :

i) Taming the monster of violence and keeping it within limits besides eliminating terrorism.

ii) Ensuring equitable distribution of wealth and natural resources; also to cry a halt to the exploitation and insensitivity shown in preserving balance in nature.

iii) Elimination of poverty and hunger.

iv) Increasing reliance of rulers and politicians on religious fundamentalist elements and forces to capture power and sustain themselves in power by exploiting religious sentiments, and

v) Decline of moral, spiritual and ethical considerations and extending tentacles of consumerism and materialism.

Of all these, the most disturbing is the alarming manner in which violence is spreading - spreading like a cancer. The biggest challenge to the present century will be how to tame this monster. Besides eating into the vitals of all what humanity has been able to achieve, it threatens to hold humanity to ransom and is in the driver's seat now. The chilling factor in this sordid and frightening scenario is the speed with which violence has sent shock waves everywhere. Violence is no longer the luxury of the industrialised or developed nations or those kept under long years of colonial rule but it is everywhere. Let us look at what the National Centre of Education Statistics of the Department of Education in Washington DC pointed out at a news conference:

- 100,000 children take a gun to school every day (Children's Defence Fund says as many as 135,000)

- 160,000 will miss school because of fear of injury

320,000 per month, 60,000 per day

- 2,000 young people attacked before every hour in a working day

282,000 per month, 14,100 per day

- 900 teachers threatened and nearly 40 attacked per hour

125, 000 Threatened each month

8,250 threatened per day

5, 200 physically attacked each month

260 per day

37 per hour

- Every 36 minutes - a child is killed or injured by a firearm - over 14,000 per year.

- 1986 -1990 - 250 hostage incidents - using guns - in 35 states.

The socio-economic and political scenario all over the world has undergone tremendous changes during the last five decades and a new culture has taken over and the talks about the global village has also seem to have landed humanity in a new mess-up in the sense many do not know what all these things are. Traditional values, concerns and strivings seem to have been replaced by a new set of attitudes and life-style which are steeped in materialism and consumerism, assiduously propagated by the champions of unlimited material progress and values, and attitudes associated with Gandhi and other visionaries are being reduced to topics for academic discussion. Gandhian scholars, peace activists, development experts, scholars and writers of eminence are busy looking at the legacy of Gandhi, particularly the holistic vision of Gandhi and the emphasis and the strategies associated with him, against the background of the emerging challenges in various fields in the post-Gandhian period.

Development: New Perceptions

All of a sudden, economics has pushed all other branches of human endeavour. Religions and ethical values that have been nourishing and sustaining civilisations for centuries are no longer of any significance. Traditional societies are breaking-up, and there is a spread of the cult of violence. Nurturing of unprincipled political order and fostering irrelevant cultural semantics and appearance of militarisation in a new garb and stalking of dehumanising poverty and malnutrition which still affect more than one third of the global community are of no concern to the managers of human destiny now. The general discrimination despite all brave talks and initiatives, the apathy and the kind of cynicism with which morality and ethics are being viewed and abused, the callous indifference shown to Mother Earth and the manner in which nature is being exploited thinking that there is inexhaustible wealth hidden beneath the surface and many similar disturbing and unhealthy trends with which modern civilisation is associated with, have been sending dangerous signals and all those who care for human survival are desperately looking for signals which would send some rays of hope - hope that every thing is not lost and that it is not too late.

And it appears that at one go, humanity has been seized by those who believe that economic growth is the real index of both development and real power. While the power of money was never under-estimated anywhere, never before in human history everything is being measured in terms of per capita income or GNP or the relative purchasing power or such other material considerations. This pre-occupation on the part of the twentieth-century-man, which has created a situation where family ties, inter-personal, cultural, ethical, even religious and social aspects have been relegated to the background, is really sending shock waves all around. No body seems to be worried about the terrific manner in which all aspects that sustain humanity and regulate growth and other issues receive scant attention from those who control our lives. This has become a universal phenomenon and no society or country can feel that the situation is different with them. All what we hear is the talk about sharing of wealth, arms reduction and nuclear non-proliferation by those nations who produce all lethal weapons that could wipe out humanity several times in the event of a war and advocating acceptance of NPT, which several countries like India genuinely feel discriminatory in its present form. The warning and spirited campaigns undertaken by the environmentalists to stop many of the harmful steps by the managers of our destiny receive practically no attention and unfortunately these warnings by and large, remain cries in the wilderness.

Degradation of human being to the level of a commodity

Another frightening aspect is the sad fact that man is nowhere in the reckoning now. He has been pitiably reduced to the status of a consumer and he is first and last consumer now. His purchasing power is all that matters. Similarly, the purchasing power of a nation is all what the other nation now cares for. The talk in the world capitals are all centred on the biggest markets in the world and our newspapers devote more than a bulk of their space for market trends, stock markets and bullion rates while a bulk of the remaining space in the news papers deal with violence of various forms, political gossips, coup attempts, private life of celebrities and such other hot items which would ensure a steady interest among the readers. The readers, who are caught in the web of a violent culture and are force-fed by the sweetmeat provided by an enticing consumeristic culture, are also satisfied by the 'kick' they get by reading these items. Why should they waste their time on news and features about culture, art or development? This attitude, unfortunately, seems to be gaining ground.

The relevance of Gandhi or for that matter any body else has to be examined against these emerging trends. The galloping horses of humanity, which are at the moment being goaded and whipped to run as fast as they could in order to win the coveted place of material achievements, have to be reigned in by the collective assertion by an awakened humanity which has the right to exist. But then, this will be possible only if we are prepared to ponder over the immense damage being caused to the edifice of humanity. It is not even slow poisoning, it is almost like 'sudden death', to borrow an expression from football.

It is over five decades since Gandhi was assassinated and there are all kinds of discussions both in India and abroad on what Gandhi left for humanity and whether many of his teaching would survive the test of time. What even the passionate critic of Gandhi cannot miss is the string of activities along Gandhian lines one can see in almost all countries of the world now. If not in very significant measure, there are very few countries in the world where something or other in the name of Gandhi is not being organised. In short, there is a global nonviolent awakening after Gandhi.

It is widely accepted now that the core of the legacy Gandhi left for humanity, is that he taught us that truth is greater than all worldly possessions, and that slavery, violence, injustice and disparities are inconsistent with truth. What Gandhi left is not a set of theoretical formulations, on the contrary, a carefully evolved vision of an organically sound and mutually supportive and respecting independent world order. The six decades of Gandhi's public life in three continents, spearheading various movements for a new social and political milieu where all men and women will be treated as brothers and sisters, demonstrated with convincing sincerity a revolutionary zeal for change &endash; change with consent &endash; hitherto un-experimented in national or international politics. Tolerance, consent, reconciliation and a profound faith in the unity of all sentient and nonsentient beings have been the core of the Gandhian vision of a world where harmony among the various segments of God's creation would nurture the essential goodness in each one &endash; both the visible and invisible threads &endash; uniting the entire humanity into a single entity. Does this sound Utopian? Yes, quite a large number of people still believe that the new social order Gandhi envisioned is too idealistic and an unattainable utopia only fit enough for academic and semantic interpretations.

Gandhi's critique of the emerging scenario

Gandhi warned humanity of this dangerous situation as early as 1909 when he pointed out in the seminal work 'Hind Swaraj', that unprincipled growth will land humanity on the brink of disaster. Even his own close disciples raised their eye brows of disagreement when he said this. The evil that we are to fight is within us and that we are ignorant of it is the basic problem. Motif such as give and take, live and let live, love and to be loved have become clichés in the new dictionary compiled by the champions of unlimited growth. This can be possible only if we adopt a holistic vision of life and ensure equality and justice which presupposes the simple truth that each individual is unique and we should respect his individuality and let him maintain his uniqueness and what applies to an individual should apply to a nation or at a global level.

Gandhi further warned against a series of social and political turmoil, ecological devastation and other human misery that might arise unless modern civilisation takes care of nature and man tries to live in harmony with nature and tries to reduce his wants. Unlimited consumeristic tendencies and callous indifferences to values will not help humanity to progress towards peace, he warned. Hatred of all forms, exploitation in whichever manner it exists, are negation of humanity's basic right to exist. The Gandhian legacy of simple living in conformity with the basic rhythm of life typifies the age-old wisdom of humanity. Gandhi tries to convince humanity that wars never solved any problem. On the contrary, reconciliation should help humanity sort out the various problems. Thus, in Gandhi, as has been pointed out by many thinkers in different parts of the world, we have a world leader who dreamt of a warless world and promoter of a social order where exploitation and injustice will not become the dominant tendencies.

Gandhi's experiment in South Africa and its contemporary relevance

Two of the important factors that brought Gandhi closer to the millions are the genuine inspiration he was able to offer to the freedom-loving citizens and the generation of a feeling among a considerable section of the masses that he was motivated only by the spirit of service and not by any personal or ulterior desires. His South African experiments won him respects from even those who opposed him and those who never met him or knew him.

Tolstoy comments that what Gandhi was doing in South Africa was the most important thing in the world at that time, were a case in point. Gandhi demonstrated that the life of a leader should also be open, capable enough to influence the masses so that they will also emulate the leader unreservedly. Gandhi did both these with remarkable success, which in turn resulted in millions following him like charmed moths. The two settlements that Gandhi started in South Africa, the Phoenix Ashram Settlement and the Tolstoy Farm bear eloquent testimony to the leadership qualities and the visionary nature of Gandhi which in turn generated great understanding, sympathy and enthusiasm among almost all dumb Indians and others in South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century. His life, both as an initiator of new experiments and as a private individual and lawyer of great promise, were all open. He was against anybody possessing anything more than what the other person had. The members of the settlement ate in the common kitchen, worked in the farm together, their children attended the general school and nobody entertained or desired to accumulate or acquire anything of his own. Not that Gandhi did not have problems in this. It was difficult for him to convince even his own wife and Gandhi was harsh when he detected that his wife had a few things of her own. Gandhi's children were disappointed and even they nourished an ambition of attending better schools and pursuing their higher education outside South Africa. Gandhi resisted all these attempts and insisted on his children attending the same school where the children of other members of the settlement were studying. He kept account of every pie that was spent. He stopped even charging for his own services as a lawyer. All this, not only endeared him to his followers but inspired them also to follow him as far as possible. This naturally resulted in a kind of joy and willing participation in the cause he was espousing.

The efficacy of Satyagraha

Back in India, the first major movement Gandhi launched was in a place called Champaran, near Bodh Gaya, a place associated with Shakyamuni Buddha. Gandhi's visit to this sleepy village, where he launched his first Satyagraha movement, also witnessed joyful participation of the people in large numbers. He proved that people will respond to any genuine call for action provided they are convinced that the issues identified are their own and one who leads the movement should also be a source of love, respect and dedication and in Gandhi his followers found these qualities in abundance.

The Ahmedabad Mill strike, the Salt Satyagraha, the Non-Cooperation Movement - all witnessed large number of people jumping into massive Civil Disobedience Movement sacrificing their wealth and comfort and courting sufferings, injuries and sacrifice.

The songs sung by those who participated in this heroic struggle extolled virtues of unprecedented magnitude. Nothing would deter these people from marching forward. Jails were filled with satyagrahis and schools and factories were also converted into temporary jails having found no room to accommodate the surging and ever growing number of those who were defying the orders of the Government. There were instances of prisoners being sent out of the main land to the Andaman Islands. Facing bullets and even death did not matter. It was the conviction, and that too, unmistakable and a grim determination to march forward like inspired souls to achieve their goal, that characterised their mood and by no means could it be said impulsive. That was the spirit of those heroic days. In this heroic struggle, the central figures who not only inspired all those who participated, as also those who proved to be the sheet anchor of the resurging fighting for self discovery and articulation of their suppressed voice, were Gandhi and those inspired by Gandhi. This remarkable achievement was possible because Gandhi convincingly demonstrated through his simple life that his identification with the masses was complete.

Gandhi was not a philosopher in the conventional sense of the term. His views, mostly based on his profound understanding of human nature and the insights he developed from the numerous experiments he conducted with scientific precision, have been found to be not a philosopher's articulations but the records of the experience of a visionary who was searching for ways and means to lessen tension and promote harmony in the various spheres of human endeavour. The breathtaking development of the second half of the present century proved that Gandhi was correct as Martin Luther King (JR.) said, "If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. His life, thought and action are inspired by the vision of a humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk".

The core of Gandhi's scientific humanism

By equating Gandhi with any saint or philosopher who couched transcendental truth and spoke in riddles offering a plethora of aphorisms, we will be missing the essential Gandhi. He was a revolutionary in the sense that he aimed at changing certain social and political structures but the means he adopted were not the usual violent methods associated with revolutions. He offered a package of alternatives to humanity. His insistence of nonviolence to violence; persuasion and reconciliation to end hostilities; trusteeship to end economic injustice; improvement of the lot of the depressed sections by abolishing factors that perpetrate social iniquities; ending man's tyranny on nature by respecting nature as the protector of human race; limiting one's wants; and developing equal respect for all religions offered humanity the blue-print for a holistic vision. Gandhi convincingly demonstrated through his ashram experiments, the use of alternative source of energy, appropriate technology etc. In short, an ardent practitioner of truth that he was, Gandhi showed to humanity that there are workable alternatives which will be creative and sustainable. The only thing in this is that we have to muster courage to accept it, for it demands self and collective discipline of various kinds. It is not the gratuitous and condescending offer of a bit of whatever we are willing to part with that is required, but a willing and spontaneous readiness to share with the less privileged fellowmen and women what one has in excess and to work for happily ushering a new order. The Gandhian humanism was not restrictive but transcendental and scientific. To describe it as revivalist, reflects the closed minds of those who try to put all creative and revolutionary ideas and efforts in straight jackets.

It is said in certain quarters that Gandhi was successful only to a limited extent that too his impact is felt only in certain cultural context. There is no denying of the fact that Gandhi was deep-rooted in his cultural and religious traditions. The phenomenal success Gandhi registered in the far-away South Africa, fighting for human rights and civil liberties in the first two decades of this century and later the adoption of the Gandhian techniques, if not fully, by Nelson Mandela and the subsequent revelations made by the former South African President Mr. De Klerk that he was also influenced by Gandhi in adopting the path of reconciliation and forgiveness, certainly show that Gandhi had not spent twenty-one years in South Africa in vain.

In the American continent, Martin Luther King's heroic fight for civil liberties on the Gandhian lines and his own admission that it was from Gandhi that he learnt his operational tactics also is not an isolated instance of the relevance of the Gandhian tactics. The manner in which the Greens, particularly in Germany, adopted Gandhian techniques to arouse human consciousness and how they operationalised their strategy, and the bold assertions made by Petra Kelly about the way they were influenced by Gandhi, also indicate that it is not the cultural traditions of a country or continent that would make the efficacy of certain philosophy or attitude viable, but it is the willingness and readiness of people to react and respond that matters. One can give quite a few instances from almost all parts of the world to show how in different measures the Gandhian vision and approach is found to be an effective weapon in the hands of freedom fighters and social reformers.

Gandhi at no stage claimed that he was trying to teach anything new. In fact, he himself said more than once that he was not involved in any such mission. Truth and nonviolence, he said, are as old as the hills and he was only trying to appreciate and understand the marvel and majesty of both. He said in this connection, "We have to make truth and nonviolence, not matters for mere individual practice, but for practice by groups and communities and national. That at any rate is my dream. I shall live and die in trying to realise it. My faith helps me to discover new truths every day. Ahimsa is the attribute to the soul, therefore life practised by everybody in all affairs of life".

Dismantling of apartheid - message for rest of the world to end social discrimination including practice of untouchability in India

There is a surprising similarity between UNESCO's statement in its preamble that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed and Mahatma Gandhi's assertion that the world either progresses with nonviolence or perishes with violence. Mahatma Gandhi's heroic work in South Africa for full 21 years and over 32 years of work in India have given humanity a blue print of strategies for a peaceful transition of humanity where respect for all forms of life, human dignity, self-respect and tolerance would characterise humanity's progress. The year 1994 bore witness to the efficacy of Gandhi's strategies and philosophy as could be seen from the manner in which the fight Gandhi began a 100 years ago in South Africa i.e. in 1903 bearing fruits when the blacks and the whites in South Africa were able to work out a satisfactory solution to peaceful transfer of power which resulted in the holding of elections and Dr. Mandela taking over the reigns of power.

Spiritualisation of Politics

Gandhi's contribution to the political awakening and freedom movement in different parts of the world and adoption of nonviolent strategies, which help both the opposing groups respect each other's sentiments and accommodating the views of others, has much in common with UNESCO's decision to propagate the message of tolerance for human survival. Asia and the African continent particularly have seen peaceful transition of power and social change, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi's initiative which included different methods. One important thing that keeps apart Gandhi's teachings and strategies is the utmost importance Gandhi attached to pure means to attain lasting ends. Gandhi's attempts to make politics value based were part of a new world vision. He emphasised that politics bereft of spiritual and ethical consideration will not sustain humanity.

The unending savagery of ethnic cleansing in erstwhile Yugoslavia, rediscovery of war as a " realistic means" to resolve conflicts, proliferation of sources and targets of violence and the deepening socio-economic divide between and within nations despite the widening of the boundaries of democracy has triggered a new awakening. This is evident in the quest for a new paradigm rooted in Gandhian values and a negation of the virtues of developmentalism, discredited socialism and reformed capitalism.

Bosnia, the most obvious but not the only conflict, haunting post-Cold War-Europe, serves as an illustration of the search for solutions to the many guises of 'barbarism' which have caused the continent to move away from western intellectual tradition to a deeper study of Mahatma Gandhi, his philosophy and the contemporary relevance of his political 'arts' and 'skills'.

With successive multi-nation peace missions coming a cropper, peace activists, political scientists, social critics and philosophers are at the force, canvassing that nonviolence and Gandhian form of intervention alone hold out hope of political peace.

The most celebrated quote among European peace activists and scholars is, Gandhi's retort on being asked his view of western civilisation, " it would be a good idea".

Extensive research on Gandhi is on in several Western universities. There is a belief that Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence humbles the arrogance of modern civilisation and values. Pioneering work to delineate nonviolent ways of intervention for peace and human rights is gaining acceptance. The question 'what is the way to peace' is sought to be answered in Gandhian dictum &endash; " There is no way to peace, peace is the way". Getting this message across is not easy in a milieu where even peace-keeping is militarised and Gandhian social and political values are ignored as archaic. But that is precisely what the whole political revival and intellectual ferment is about.

Gandhi and global nonviolent awakening

Why is the world turning to Gandhi? The reasons are many. The ideological battle lines of the Cold War between competing social orders have disappeared with the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the demise of socialism. This has resulted in a vacuum, which discourages exploration of alternatives. That the model of development being imposed by elites is removed from popular aspirations, is borne out by the success of the Green movement. The success of the Greens underscores the failure and rejection of the Western model of development against which Gandhi had warned humanity as early as the first decade of the 20th century.

The Green perspectives on development has radicalised politics by creating an awareness of ecological risks and forcing a genuine search for global solutions. Groups inspired by Gandhi are now seeking to widen the relevance of Mahatma's teachings to encompass issues of peace, human rights, economic equality and democracy. They are convinced that it was the Gandhian critique of industrial economics, which earned the Greens a global constituency. It is a search to communicate and revive a sense of community among peoples.

The growing appeal of this search attests to Gandhism being seen as a wider societal prescription as a political approach that could overcome not only military and ethnic conflicts but also address the violence of the confrontation between state and civil society, the economic imbalances created by " development" and the resultant social tensions rooted in cultural antagonisms.

The rationale is that nonviolent resistance has brought deeper changes from the build-up to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and Macros in the Philippines to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the uprising in East Germany. A Hungarian speaking minority in Slovakia, deprived of education in their language and resorting to 'Civil-disobedience' is cited as an example of ongoing Gandhian struggles.

The market and its instruments such as the EEC, are ill-equipped to deal with aspirations for peace, democracy and human rights because they have reduced these values to economic interests. Hence, the over riding need to socially re-locate these as values in a new political framework, namely Gandhism.

Growing violence and dehumanising hunger

What would Gandhi have done in the face of widespread violence, hunger, inequality are questions often asked. Communication is critical and yet it seems to be missing despite the technology at hand. This shifts the focus back to Gandhi. As a communicator he would gave gone to the people, is one answer. He effortlessly united people across barriers of literacy, language, ethnic identity, class, caste and privilege. Somewhere in this answer could be clues to transgress the social divisions that are threatening the whole world or at least this is the hope inspired by Gandhism.

Such enquiries, however hesitant, bear testimony to the vigour and insight that informs the quest for a new vision being shaped by the mahatma.

Today, Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy is looked as a live experience with potential for transformation leading to a Global Awakening.

From the general attitude towards Gandhi as the chief architect of India's nonviolent freedom movement and as someone who interprets nonviolence as a new idiom the international community has been showing signs of analysing Gandhian options very seriously, as the previous century came to close and many of the overriding political and philosophical positions were either proved to be defective or died their natural death. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Aung San Suu Kyi, the list of freedom fighters, nationalists, Human Right activists, environmentalists, feminists and the whole with honour and dignity have shown a remarkable understanding of the growing relevance of means Gandhi adopted and the vision and legacy bequeathed to humanity.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

It is widely acknowledged now that Gandhi, who through his innovative approaches and daring initiatives, succeeded in initiating a new era in human history, an era which signifies man's immense potentiality to rise above narrow considerations and to strive for ushering in a new level of achievement. The new methods, strategies and ideas Gandhi successfully demonstrated influenced not only the freedom fighters and social reformers of most of the continents but also those who are involved in the serious search for alternatives in their efforts to sustain all what is dear to humanity. The Gandhian vision of holistic development and respect for all forms of life &endash; nonviolent conflict resolution embedded in the acceptance of non-violence both as a creed and strategy &endash; were an extension of the ancient Indian concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The much talked about concept of global human family and humanity's effort to dismantle manmade barriers among nations peoples and the Indian ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as enshrined in the Vedic and Upanishad wisdom, are almost the same. It is true that Gandhi always began at the micro level, but then, his vision surpassed the exigencies of local or national barriers. Gandhi said, "It is impossible for one to be internationalist without being a nationalist… I do want to think in terms of the whole world. My patriotism includes the good of mankind in general. Therefore, my service of India includes the service of humanity".

The Gandhian vision of society does not recognise man-made barriers but at the same time as Gandhi often insisted while we should welcome all that is best in other traditions when we allow the winds of other cultures to blow in, we should refuse to be swept off our feet. This indicates that one cannot be internationalist without being a nationalist. Gandhi once said,

"My mission is not merely the brotherhood of Indian humanity. My mission is not merely freedom of India, though today it undoubtedly engrosses practically the whole of my life and the whole of my time. The true realization of freedom of India, I hope, would realise and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man. My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all embracing and I should reject patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities. I want to realise brotherhood or identity not merely with the being called human, but I want to realise identity with all life, even with such thing as that crawl on earth".

It is this vision of the Mahatma and the ceaseless strivings he undertook through the numerous experiments he conducted which endeared him to millions of his countrymen and others who joyfully threw themselves into the vortex of one of the glorious movements in human history. The nonviolent national struggle for freedom waged under Mahatma Gandhi had the able support of a galaxy of such illustrious men and women of the century like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Rajagopalachari, Pt.Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, Sarojini Naidu, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and several thousand others.

Gandhi knew no fear and he released his country from fear and inducted into his countrymen fearlessness and offered them brave initiatives for social transformation which saw India taking courageous steps in the dismantling of some of the age-old customs and practices such as untouchability. The manner in which a vast majority of Indians, who were segregated in the name of this dehumanising practice and how they came up in life in the post-independence era, speaks volumes of the impact Gandhi created on the Indian psyche to initiate steps to ensure social justice.

"At present, now that the Cold War has ended, much of the planet enjoys freedom. But another kind of totalitarianism still prevails, the totalitarianism of those who want the entire world to conform to the formula of Western Style democracy and unrestrained market economics", observed Johan Galtung in Choose Peace. This statement provokes Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, President of the fast-emerging powerful Soka Gakkai to assert that the collapse of the Soviet Union which is hailed in the West as the victory of capitalism and democracy does not indicate the end of history. It may be remembered that as products of the so-called Modern Age both socialism and capitalism have the same root. What the French poet Paul Valery said in this context also deserves attention. He said that the European civilisation represents a culture of expansionism demanding the maximum in authority, capital, and production of efficiency and external alterations of nature. Hence it is to be borne in mind that since both capitalism and socialism are rooted in the soil of this civilisation, the downfall of one or the other cannot possibly signify the end of history. "Our task now is to examine the merits and demerits of our history frankly and to correct whatever has gone wrong. The post Cold War World demands that we revise the orientation of expansionism, that has crippling or in some other way deleterious effects. We must take civilisation beyond the 'modern' into new stage. This can be done only by those who consider themselves as citizens of the world as did always by great people who always transcend national boundaries and ethnic differences to arouse sympathy in the hearts of people all over the globe. A citizen of the world is unrestrained by nation-state structure and racial discrimination. No doubt the transformation of a proud citizen of a country into a world citizen is not an easy task, but this is essential in order to promote peace and understanding at global level. Violence, hatred and selfishness have to give way to a nonviolent global order".

Gandhi's tackling of direct violence

The observations made earlier by Dr. Ikeda in his now famous Gandhi Memorial-Lecture in New Delhi in 1992 have been considered very significant in our efforts to understand the course of events in the 21st century. In his views, the Gandhian heritage forms an important part of humanity's efforts to live in peace. The four important elements related to Gandhi mentioned in the speech are optimism, activism, population and holistic vision. The optimism associated with Gandhi "is not relativism determined by objective analysis of circumstances. Instead it is an unconditional, indestructible faith in humanity, a fit born of justice, nonviolence and penetrating self-observation". Agreeing fully with this observation of Ikeda, Galtung points out"…. optimism was a basic condition for the astonishing major struggles that Gandhi carried out in only one life time: the battle for home rule (Swaraj): his work to elevate the people in general and particularly the self-reliant, small, coherent communities that he called 'Oceanic circles' (Sarvodaya) his battle to improve the condition of the casteless (to whom Gandhi gave the name harijan or children of God) his work to raise the status of women; his efforts in the name of equality on behalf of Indians in South Africa; his not very successful strivings for peace between Indian Hindus and Muslims; and the most important of all, his devoted support for and development of nonviolence (Satyagraha) as the only valid approach to the attainment of all his other goals". And he successfully attained all those goals inviting Albert Einstein to describe Gandhi as the greatest political genius of our times precisely because of his ability to maintain a subtle balance between the ideal and the practical. This ability found concrete, embodiment in the nonviolent resistance movement. Dr.Ikeda has also raised a very important question about the effectiveness of nonviolence in combating what is called structural violence in the Third World. Can nonviolence work in an imperial structure dominated by centre-periphery relations in which the centre is strong and the periphery weak?

Galtung is convinced that Gandhi answered direct violence with nonviolence defence. He answered structural violence with nonviolent revolution. These methods worked in the Soviet Tsarist-Bolshevik structure, one of the most brutal of all worlds' empires. The basic formula for the effectiveness of these techniques is two-fold; to strengthen the periphery (that is, the weak) and to weaken the centre (the strong). Gandhi predicted accurately the downfall of political structures based on power and violence such as those of the former Soviet Union and its satellite nations in East Europe. The comments of Gandhi during his visit to Romain Rolland that (Gandhi) had a deep mistrust of the ultimate success of the experiment being carried out there may be remembered in this context. It seems that it is a challenge to non-violence; assume significance, as it is widely understood now. For Gandhi, ends and means always had to be consistent and subject to the same ethical principle; violence can only breed violence. Similarly, as can be seen in good relations between the British and the Indians today, nonviolence breeds nonviolence. The structures Gandhi laid at Russia's doors are applicable in the West too, points out Galtung: "The French Revolution, which is usually celebrated as a great liberation, was actually excessively cruel and bloody…. The United States was born in blood. Genocide was conducted against may be 10 million indigenous Americans in the period 1500-1900 who were later confined to reservations, a very vicious form of structural violence. Many Native Americans remain on reservation today with no hope of an end to their misery in sight. The struggle for independence between 1776 and 1812 was mostly violent, as was the cruel and bloody Civil War of 1861-65, the main goal of which was the preservation of the Union; abolition of slavery was only a secondary issue".

As Gandhi proved through his successful campaigns in South Africa and India the goals of these revolutionary struggles could have been attained nonviolently without encouraging and strengthening the strains of violence inherent in the people waging them, "What the Soviets had done was no more than a parody, a caricature, a kind of revolution Gandhi initiated &endash; of course, the Soviet system failed. History is sometimes harsh, but just judge", agrees Galtung.

Religion and social change

Galtung also makes a very useful analysis of Gandhi's basic approach to religion and societal change. "Being himself a reformer, Gandhi did not have any difficulty in absorbing the basic teachings of the Buddha whose revolutionary teachings are the core of Buddhism which is a reform movement within the great Hindu tradition. The word 'Hinduism' itself is a most inadequate term for a vast conglomerate of profound philosophies. I see Gandhi's Buddhist inclinations in three directions within this conglomerate", Galtung points out:

First is his instance on Ahimsa (nonviolence) not as a mere ideal but as a practice applied to all forms of life including animals. The importance of vegetarianism, which Gandhi adhered to and propagated with passionate conviction, cannot be lost sight of in developing a nonviolent attitude towards life.

The second is his outright rejection of the vertical caste-system. Shakyamuni's fierce fight against the dehumanising aspect of social segregation in the name of caste enabled the Indian society, to begin with, to exorcise this centuries-old inhuman practice. Following in the footsteps of the Buddha, Gandhi strongly opposed the verticality of the caste order. He envisioned a horizontal caste system in which all occupations are treated equally in a symbiotic union of diverse elements. Each profession should have dignity; and to the maximum extent possible, the dignity of all should be equal.

Third, in conformity with the Buddhist idea of the Sangha or small community of believers, Gandhi experimented with the developments of small autonomous communities, respecting everyone's needs but not for everybody's greed. Both misery at the bottom and excessive wealth at the top would be eliminated in his communities. It is a big question as to how deep the Gandhian vision made a dent in the otherwise stratified Indian society. These three and other departures from mainstream belief cost Gandhi his life at the hands of an assassin who is described sometimes as a fanatic and orthodox Hindu. Whoever he was, it appears he was someone who did not agree with Gandhi's opposition to verticality of caste system. Dr. Ikeda takes these points further up and believes that perhaps Buddhism and Hinduism refined Gandhi's rare personal traits. "Gandhi was a gradualist, not a radical. He thought good changes take time &endash; they move at a snail's pace. This too is part of his sense of practicality and order, in which I see a reflection of Buddhist idea of the middle way…. Buddhist wisdom has clearly and accurately perceived the middle way between existence and non-existence; between pain and pleasure; and between the doctrine of eternity, according to which conditioned elements themselves are external and the doctrine of annihilation. His practical approach leads me to believe that Gandhi too perceived this middle way.

Gandhi's views on machinery and large industries invited criticism from many quarters. He is branded anti-progressive on this score. Galtung makes a very interesting observation in this regard. To Gandhi, big cities and big industries were instruments of British imperialism for which Gandhi had no love. 'Is it not possible, however, to humanize citizens and industry? Citizens can become confederations of relatively autonomous neighbourhoods. Industries can reform in a similar fashion: technologies that degrade neither human users nor the natural environment can be evolved. Large factories and office buildings may give way to more work at home. Gandhi proposed nonviolence as an alternative to the choice between violence and capitalism. Citizens and industries remodelled as I suggest would provide similar alternatives to the choice between industry and cottage industry and agriculture. "Gandhi certainly perceived the middle way but he did not develop it with regard to villages verses cities. It is the responsibility of the millions of people who were inspired by Gandhi to work out the middle way on the basis of his work and the message he left for posterity", concludes Galtung.

It is generally believed that Gandhi opened a new era by convincingly demonstrating that there is an alternative to the politics of confrontation, violence, manipulation and to the disregard of human sentiments--love and compassion in action.

He also showed that in the non-violent form of protest and fight he was leading there was no room for hate, violence and one should able to stand up courageously and fight without hating those against the fight is directed. He said again and again that his fight was only against the British system which allows imperialism and exploitation and not against the British. The way India and Britain parted company in 1947 speaks volumes of Gandhi's influence on both the rulers in Britain and the Indian nationalists fighting for freedom. It was the first-ever happy parting of ways in recent times between the masters of a colony and-the nationalists who were fighting for freedom. Gandhi was the unquestioned leader of the Indian masses who but for Gandhi would have resorted to the extreme form of violence in realizing the goal of freedom. There is no parallel in human history of several hundred millions of freedom-loving people marching towards their cherished goal without shedding blood. It was the triumph of human will over forces of oppression and injustice. It was an indication that human revolution is possible through dynamic leadership and that a true revolution need not be violent.

Gandhi in the cyber age and in the context of Globalisation

What is the relevance of Gandhi in this all pervading materialistic, agnostic and consumerist culture? It is precisely these three tendencies Gandhi fought in all his life. It is a fact of history that repudiation of one philosophy at a given time does not mean the death or irrelevance of it. The men and women who moved the world were mostly either crucified, burnt alive, or were branded heretic, or excommunicated. Still independent inquiry and pursuit of truth and to express themselves against injustice were continued in all ages, probably with added vigour. The irreversible fact of history, again, is that the list of such 'rebels' steadily grow despite all attempts to ward off the perceived threat.

Despite all the impressive gains mankind has achieved in the present century through intelligent harnessing of science and technology which brought in unexpected and unimaginable results in various fields, the world today is on the throes of several global crises. Conflicts and tension of all sorts are increasing, sending shock waves all around. With the disappearance of the Soviet Union as the leader of block-of nations, the world has become unipolar. If anybody believed that the cold war, years have ended and humanity could live in peace henceforth, his hopes have been completely belied as could be seen from the various disturbing fighting and raging violence and senseless killings in various parts of the world. Notwithstanding all high sounding assurances on arms reductions and cuts in military expenditure, we see an alarming escalation in the production of lethal weapons. It is estimated that there is an annual-world wide consumption of 1000 billion dollars on arms alone. Even one-sixth of this huge amount is sufficient enough to remove world hunger in the next six years.

Where have we gone wrong? Have we lost all our concern for our less fortunate brethren? Almost all the planning models we have experimented have strong elitist bias and connotation of moneymaking and influence building seem to be the base of all the models we have been experimenting within recent times. This has led to serious consequences in many areas.

The tendency of urbanisation is as old as human civilisation and it is a natural consequence of a changing society. In fact this process was considered a welcome development on grounds of economies of scale reduction of disturbances, and efficient sharing of resources generated through the adoption of urbanisation. With industrialisation, a new element was introduced and people who own means of production gradually usurped the fruits of industrialisation and a new class of people emerged. Impoverisation and marginalisation have increased. Instead of offering vast opportunities to the worker what happened was the growing awareness that jobs are becoming fewer and scarce. A vast majority was denied access to jobs and land the gulf between the organised labours also increased. More distressing than any of these is the untold miseries industrialisation has brought in which led to the sprouting up of slums &endash; those veritable hells where humanity is crushed beyond any sign of redemption.

Introduction of high technology has inevitably made agriculture, the oldest human profession, into an industrial activity. This rendered many farm hands surplus. Where do the labour forces go? Inevitably, to the urban centres. Bombay is the best example. Out of the total population of the 10.5 million in 2000, six million are leading a subhuman kind of living in these veritable infernos called slums.

Development without justice and compassion?

Energy which is so essential to all industrial processes is increasingly found to be one of the most important variables measuring economic activities. Solar energy in its varied forms, wind-generated electricity, bio-gas, solar collectors, photo-voltaic cells, etc. will inevitably lead to the emergence of a Solar Age beyond its technological meaning. Henderson visualises with the shift in emphasis on the Petroleum Age and the industrial-era, the emergence of a new culture. This culture includes the ecology movements, the women's movement and the peace movement.

An examination of the views and practices of Gandhi and J.C.Kumarappa and the theories of Schumacher, Henderson and Capra, in the light of what is described today as Sustainable Development, a term so vogue, and heard from almost everybody who has anything to do with preservation of life of earth, would reveal the amazing fact that in Gandhian thought and action, humanity has sufficient tools it needs for sustainable development. As early as 1909, through his little book 'Hind Swaraj', Gandhi drew humanity's attention to what might happen to the globe if proper check is not imposed in the various strategies and alternatives we examine. Gandhi said, "I must confess that I do not draw a sharp line or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurts the moral well-being of an individual or a nation is immoral and, therefore, sinful". This indicates that sustainable development requires both biological and cultural diversity which in turn is inescapably linked to justice and compassion, toward each other and to the nature.

"We notice that the mind is a restless bird. The more it gets, the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge in our passions, the more unbridled they become. Our ancestors, therefore, set a limit to our indulgence. They saw that happiness was largely a mental condition. A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich, or unhappy because he is poor." Gandhi had written in his little classic Hind Swaraj that was published when the twentieth century was just being ushered in.

We are fostering a system which has inbuilt iniquities, power, wealth, knowledge and we have a culture/civilization bereft of any trace of compassion. It has all the trappings of Casino Capitalism which has infinite power to entice humanity through its charm.

We go on blaming science and technology but how many of us care to realise that technology by itself has no will. It is the social will which determines. The aeroplane which carry passengers can carry bombs.

Gandhi emphasised credible alternatives which the proponents of the present day corporate values assiduously seek to strengthen. Let us look at some of the principles Gandhi believed are of paramount importance.

1) Against the multiplication of wants, Gandhi suggested limitation of wants.

2) Instead of diffusion of large scale technology, Gandhi was in favour of large scale technology in few sectors co-existing with small scale technology and handicrafts in others.

3) Against mass production, Gandhi favoured production by the masses and small scale production except in a few sectors where mass production is unavoidable.

4) Gandhi was not in favour of centralisation of economic power. He favoured limited state ownership, wide-spread village ownership and trusteeship.

5) Rapid urbanisation did not find favour with Gandhi. He advocated self-governing village republics, self-sufficient in basic needs.

6) Inequality of all types particularly in wages, social justice and in gender reflects where there is denial of natural justice according to Gandhi.

7) As against increasing specialisation, Gandhi favoured universal physical labour.

By no stretch of imagination can anyone say that these are moral prescriptions by an orthodox social reformer. On the contrary, they reflect the profound understanding of a revolutionary thinker, philosopher activist, whose vision in life was steeped in pragmatism, love, compassion and change with consent.

Economic well-being appears to be the sole of purpose of life and the manner in which value systems are being trampled upon raises the big question: where are we heading to?

The usherers, drum-beaters and self-styled (self-appointed) custodians of emerging trends, perhaps, are impervious to the following paradoxes:

n While absolute poverty has decreased globally, relative poverty has increased.

n More people have become literate. But access to information and technology have become concentrated and centralised.

n More countries have become democratised but there is greater concentration of power.

n Communication explosion but growing alienation, family break up, lack of communication at individual level has become rampant.

By 'growth', what is meant today is economic growth and man has all of a sudden been reduced to the level of commodity whose worth is determined by factors other than what distinguishes them from the beast.

Moral values, ethics, spirituality, family values, religious insights have all seemed to have lost their place and values in the emerging global scenario. Ethics and morality appear to be out of tune with the ethos of the global village. Globalisation has thrust to the forefront. The death of religion and the deterioration of the nation-state, leading to global integration mostly on the strength of economic prosperity of the industrially rich and developed nations which by and large are in the driver's seat today, have led to a situation where vast iniquities that divided the small minority of haves from the huge majority of have-nots. Very few, unfortunately, appear to be conscious of the dangers of blind globalisation in their anxiety to take advantage of its so-called benefits. The economic liberalisation and technological automation threaten to widen even further existing economic, social, political and cultural disparity.

Global justice will be a far cry unless bold initiatives are undertaken to overcome these disparities. The declining in-importance of nation-state in favour of global village concept has confounded the situation further since the present uni-polar politics and hegemony of the superior currencies not only dictate terms to the poor cousins who are by and large at the receiving end.

A student, a couple of weeks who, when asked at an interview for his views on relevance of Gandhi in the twenty-first century had the courage to look at the examiner and politely tell him: "Sir, I wish you had asked me to tell you why Gandhi is more relevant today."

I hope we will have the wisdom of this teenager in understanding the challenges facing us today.


© TFF & the author 2003  


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