The Mahatma in the modern era

| Updated on October 02, 2019 Published on October 01, 2019

In this picture, Mahatma Gandhi is leading the volunteers of Indian National Congress during the historic march to Dandi in March, 1930.   -  HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Gandhi stood for truth and secularism, and against materialism and hypocrisy — ideas that are recapturing global attention

On the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s persona, philosophy and ideals remain more relevant than ever. Forever a sceptic of the Western model of industrialisation, his views are eloquently expressed in his classic monograph Hind Swaraj, where he fears a catastrophe for Nature and Man in the latter’s blind pursuit of material progress and indiscriminate celebration of technology. He took pains to explain that he favoured technologies that helped people in their work and output, without replacing them. Gandhi’s intellectual disciples, such as EF Schumacher, developed the building blocks of sustainable development, which has now sadly been reduced to an empty slogan in climate change talks. Yet, with the effects of climate change being felt with disconcerting intensity, Gandhi’s maxim that the world has enough for everyone’s need but not for their greed rings out loud and clear. An inspiration for many ecologists the world over — from climate change warriors to practitioners of natural and organic farming — he would have coaxed the world into more action with his moral force. Gandhi’s moral power emanated from an almost unbelievable oneness of thought and action. He fought caste remorselessly and almost at a spiritual level, correcting his political beliefs and actions all the time, engaging with searing critics such as Ambedkar and ‘Gora’ (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao). A democrat and dissenter who respected dissent, he extended that philosophy of anti-casteism and openness to his vision of education, or nayi taleem, which sought to challenge the stigma against manual labour vis-a-vis intellectual labour. These evils are rife in ‘modern’ India today, but with the difference that the moral leadership to challenge them is less in evidence.

The Modi government has tried to take forward Gandhi’s passion for cleanliness and his environmentalism with the Swacch Bharat Mission, the ban on single-use plastic, etc. But there is also a sense of the unreal in the fetishisation of Gandhi. The image of him spinning the wheel, his round-framed spectacles depicting Swachh Bharat, the celebration of his luminescence seem strangely at odds with the reality — that today’s India is almost an antithesis of the beliefs that the Mahatma lived and died for.

Communal harmony, secularism and non-violence were a practiced reality for Gandhi. He had factored in the eventuality that he may have to pay with his life for these ideals. “There is an art of dying,” he wrote in a letter in the context of Noakhali riots. “As it is, all die, but one has to learn by practice how to die a beautiful death”. He said that his “technique of non-violence was on trial in Noakhali”. With his assassin being hailed as a national hero by a ruling party MP and mob-lynching of the minorities having become routine, the ongoing celebrations seem just a bit off-key. We need to recover Gandhi’s honesty and generosity of thought, action and spirit.

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Published on October 01, 2019
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