02 Oct 2020 19:30 IST

Ten reasons why Mahatma Gandhi still matters

Mahatma Gandhi speaking at Vriddhachalam from a special platform fitted to his train in 1946   -  THE HINDU

According to Ramachandra Guha, Gandhiji's life lessons are more important than ever in today's times

Prof Ramachandra Guha, historian and biographer of Mahatma Gandhi, presented an overview of Gandhiji’s life and learnings, and their relevance in the world of today in a virtual talk hosted by Krea University. Prof Guha, a Padma Bhushan awardee, is a distinguished professor at the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences at Krea.

Here are ten reasons why he says Gandhiji still matters:

Satyagraha

Gandhiji gave India and the world a means to resist injustice and oppression without using violence. Throughout history, people have protested against injustice. Men and women of courage and integrity have chosen to stand up for their rights. More often than not, these protests have been violent in nature. Gandhiji gave us a technique that was not simply submission but a means of resisting oppression that invokes courage and fear but never hatred and enmity.

The process of seeking to redeem and reform your oppressor through collective protests into granting your just rights is Satyagraha. This method of Satyagraha was followed all over the world. For example, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the activities of solidarity in Poland against the brutal communist dictatorship, and the Dalai Lama against Chinese oppression. Satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, can be used at all levels. Gandhiji himself said he learned it at home, from his mother who fasted against something nasty, oppressive, or patriarchal when it happened.

Proud Indian, not a blind one

Gandhiji loved his country and his culture while also recognising the faults and flaws of it. He was a proud Indian, but not a blind one. A great French anthropologist Louis Dumont said Indians were 'Homo Hierarchicus,' which means to divide and make hierarchies. Indian society was never equal and this 'homo hierarchical' behaviour is encoded in our culture, where we have always discriminated according to caste and gender. A part of Gandhiji’s greatness was that he recognised that.

He was not just a spiritual leader or a freedom fighter, but a social reformer who was seeking to liberate Indian society from the ills of untouchability and discrimination against women. His principled, life-long opposition to caste-based discrimination needs to be emphasised now more than ever, especially in the light of the horrific incident that has happened in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhiji would have been appalled and may have even started a Satyagraha against it, said Prof Guha.

Inter-faith harmony

While he was a practising and believing Hindu, he refused to define citizenship on the basis of faith. Gandhiji believed that one does not need to be a devout Hindu to be a 100 per cent Indian. If caste divided Indian society horizontally, then religion divides us vertically. All his life, Gandhiji wanted to build bridges between these verticals and he gave his life for Hindu-Muslim harmony. Many of his greatest fasts were for the cause of peace and communal harmony.

This is urgently relevant in India today as we are at an inflection point in our history as a Republic, particularly when it comes to what Gandhiji would have undisputedly recognised as the dangerous rise of majoritarianism. India going in the direction of Hindu majoritarianism would be a negation of all that Gandhi lived and struggled for.

Lack of parochialism

Gandhiji was not a narrow-minded regionalist. To explain the roots of his lack of parochialism, he belonged to a generation of Indians who were flawlessly and perfectly bilingual. His autobiography is said to have reshaped the history of Gujarati literature and he had space and love for languages other than his own. Gandhiji's magazine, Indian Opinion, was printed in four languages – English, Hindi, Tamil, and Gujarati.

If such a deeply hierarchical, patriarchal, and casteist society could have such an egalitarian Constitution, it is partly owed to Gandhi. Looking at the journeys of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it makes one understand to appreciate the wisdom of Gandhi’s linguistic and religious pluralism. Without his leadership, from his South African days till his martyrdom, and without his repeated emphasis on democracy, cultural pluralism, and social equality, we would have had a very different constitution and gone a different way.

True patriot

A patriot and an internationalist at the same time, he appreciated the history of Indian civilisation, but he also knew that in the 20th CE no nation could be a frog in a well. His early influences were both Indian and international which shaped him to be who he was.

Environmental responsibility

Long before the environmental movements were born, he recognised that unbridled growth and consumerism could bring planetary disaster. He focussed on building a more sustainable society that relied on fewer material inputs, and rather on innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Chipko movement, the popular peasant movement to protect the Himalayan forests against degradation, were particularly led and inspired by Gandhians, to resist exploitation and discrimination non-violently.

Ability to grow and evolve

Many of us, particularly people in politics and ideologists, embrace a certain world view and can’t be shifted even if the facts around them changed totally. Gandhiji was an ever-evolving, adapting, and dynamic leader.

For example, in the early stages of his career, Gandhiji held the belief that women shouldn’t enter public life or join Satyagrahas. But he evolved and changed his views when he was presented with more facts. In 1925, Gandhi nominated Sarojini Naidu as the first female president of the Indian National Congress, at a time when Western political parties had no women anywhere in leadership roles. He was never too arrogant and opinionated to admit to a mistake and take remedial measures.

Knack of making leaders out of followers

The biggest lesson here is to not identify the organisation with yourself, instead identify talent, nurture it, develop it, and then set it free to grow further on its own. Many of the people who worked with him in the freedom struggle during the 1920s and 1930s became colossal figures in their own right after Gandhiji’s demise. It was people whom he had nurtured and trained who built the foundations of modern, democratic, independent India, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Rajagopalachari, and so on.

Willingness to reach a middle ground

Gandhiji’s willingness to consider opponents' point of view and seek a middle ground is admirable. Even when he was fighting against the British, he never demonised them, but would rather invite them for a dialogue. He strongly believed that one can learn from dialogue with opponents and reach a middle ground. He never held personal dislikes or individual animosities, only occasional political and intellectual differences with other leaders. His arguments with Ambedkar are deeply fascinating to read even today. This was another aspect of his non-violence, the beauty of compromise, especially in democratic life.

Transparency in Gandhiji’s life

We live in a time where information is selectively curated for public display. Gandhiji had no private life and was open about his mistakes and flaws as much as his victories. God knows, what we would think of other celebrated figures, whether in politics, business, sports, or the arts if we were so directly exposed to the intimacies of their life and thought.

Beyond Satyagraha, inter-faith harmony, environmental responsibility, ending the British Empire, and delegitimising untouchability, the practice of and the largely successful quest for truth may be Mahatma Gandhi’s greatest achievement, concluded Prof Guha.

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