Why I need Gandhi today?

Sudarshan Iyengar

I need Gandhi today for three reasons. First and foremost I need him for self-development. The most important lesson that I have learned from him is how he was eternally vigilant about his self and went on correcting and developing his inner self. Ignorance in most and intellectual arrogance in many has rejected him on this ground and have invited disaster in personal lives. Honesty and integrity are at stake in personal and public life. The Western libertarian thesis promised that the virtue of civil society, if left to its own devices, would  include ‘Good character, honesty, duty, self-sacrifice, honour, service, self–discipline, toleration, respect, justice, civility, fortitude, courage, integrity, diligence, patriotism, consideration for others, thrift and reverence. Unfortunately, gluttony, pride, selfishness, and greed have become prominent. It has permitted permissive behaviour and left the aberrant behaviour to be corrected by systemic checks loaded with ever new technologies.

Gandhi too was a strong votary of individual liberty. But he differed from Mill and Spencer. His concept of liberty for vyakti – individual, arose from individual’s responsibility for self-regulation. He practiced and subscribed eleven vows. Satya (Truth), Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Brahmacharya (self-control), Aparigraha (non-possession), Asteya (Non-stealing), Abhaya (fearlessness), Asvaad (palate), Shareer shram (Bread Labour) were eight vows for self-regulation, and Swadeshi,(local), Sprushya bhavna (Removal of untouchability) Sarva dharma sama bhava( Tolerance or equal respect for all religion) were for bringing back rural, decentralised economy and bring harmony among castes and religion. This has to be woven in education and practice.           

The second reason I need Gandhi is to work toward peace among warring sections of humanity. Samashti or humanity as a whole is at war. Caste, race and religion are politically a façade and socio-culturally a menace.  Gandhi had sensed this well in South Africa and hence he came with Ahimsa or love force. It was not only a strategic alliance of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis, but of all castes and creed that lived in South Africa and suffered the humiliation and violation of human rights, but he earnestly wanted the humanity to live together in peace and harmony. He was ‘Gandhibhai’ for all and he was fearless to face any brute force. After his return to India in 1915, he could touch the hearts of all and identified himself with all. He carried them and led them to Swaraj, although conceding that it would only be political freedom to begin with. His message reached the world humanity and people saw new hope amidst two world wars. Toward India reaching near political freedom he was betrayed by leaders and not by people and the power hunger and hatred speared again. He was down but not out. He walked alone in Noakhali to wipe tears and apply love force which he had expressed in Hind Swaraj quoting Tulasidas.

Daya dharm kaa mool hai deh mool abhimaan,
Tulasi daya na chhandie jab lagi ghat mein pran.

Gandhi’s face in Daya or love force was so deep and he practiced it with such passion that during the communal riots before and after Independence then then Governor General Lord Mountbatten famously said, “In Punjab we have 55,000 soldiers, and large-scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.”

Unfortunately, it is not only hatred that is back with vengeance, it is deeply tempered by control over natural resources and concentration of economic power among communities and among nation states. In our own country the newly defined nationalism has become hyper and is threatening to tear apart the finely woven socio-cultural fabric of the country Buddha, Kabir and Gandhi. It is not mere rhetoric, but the insensitive intellectuals and emotional fanatics of the country and the world need to understand that a sincere and faithful appeal has to be made from heart to heart. It is not just incidental that after struggling for more than sixty years the United Nations declared in 2007 Gandhi’s birthday as the day of non-violence. Humanity has to embrace all those who have been hurt intentionally or unintentionally and assuaged with love.       

The third reason I need Gandhi today is because his vision of non-violence society will save the humanity for ecological disaster that seems to be looming large. Our relation with Prakruti- nature has to significantly alter. Humanity in general has been optimistic and so it should be. But, business as usual approach can and has landed the humanity in deep crisis. In recent times however, many of the crises are manmade. Gandhi had sensed it and voiced in 1909 in Hind Swaraj. “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word "civilization". Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.” He questioned whether big houses, many clothes, big cars, fanciful food, globe destructing war material and luxuriant indulgence in leisure and luxury, was modern civilisation. In 1930s he wrote that if India wanted to ape the British standard of living then, it would require resources equivalent of three earths. How prophetic! Market is not innocently responding to price signals. Manipulating tastes and preferences in favour of a particular indulgent life style and converting them into demand is the game. So Gandhi talked about local first and global later. That is Swadeshi promoting decentralised economy that was mainly rural. Relevant and useful technology for decent survival is not what Gandhi denies and humanity has also made significant headway, it is only a question of political, social will and individual behaviour that has to choose and substantially change.

Gandhi is the person of our era who practiced and offered peace and harmony with Vyakti, Samashti and Prakruti.

Former Vice Chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad

Category :- Gandhiana