GNADHI: AN ICON OR A SUPER SOUL?
In recent centuries, no other man, or woman, has influenced human consciousness as profoundly as an English educated Indian Barrister - Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi - turned Mahatma or messiah. The title Mahatma given to Gandhi ji by eminent poet, intellectual and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Thakur stuck as forename of the man who was later hailed as father of the Indian nation.
Jayanti or birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, popularly referred as Bapu, has
always been a very special day in history of independent India. Mahatma Gandhi
has been acknowledged and respected by last few generations of Indians and
others as an apostle of peace, an icon of truth, a practitioner of
non-violence, a proponent of universal justice, and an advocate of compassion
towards all living beings.
Still, he was not
perfect. Many have always questioned him; some had even defied him. But, of
late, few have charged Mahatma with malice. Social media of 2023 is full of
hate towards a man who was once loved, adored and respected by generations of
Indians and non-Indians in a way that no other man has ever been in recent
history of human race.
himself never claimed to be an embodiment of absolute perfection and
believed to have always reminded people around him of his own follies. Despite
receiving huge adulation during his life-time, Mahatam Gandhi never lost his
psychological balance to behave like an incarnation of divinity.
No human can ever be absolutely perfect and infallible. Even the most
brilliant scientists can't create an absolutely perfect artificially
intelligent robot. Hence, expectation of perfection itself is flawed.
particularly sounds like a cruel joke when it comes from those who themselves
appear morally, ethically and intellectually challenged and spiritually
It is true
that Mahatma Gandhi's legacy was hijacked and usurped by people who had no
respect for Gandhian principles. In retrospect, inheritors of his legacy,
who were not his biological progenies, were psychologically weak and insecure.
They fiddled with democracy and discarded integrity to survive in power.
Mahatma, that Gandhi was, has been attributed with sins that he may never
UNAPARLLELED MASS MOBILISER
generation that had seen Bapu in blood and flesh and had experienced the
phenomenon named Mahatma is almost gone. Hence, what we hear, read and
understand about Gandhi depends upon who says and writes and with what intent.
It also depends upon orientation and capacity of the listener or reader to
interpret the same.
the larger social and political context of India itself has undergone such
drastic transformation that it would require enormous cerebral energy to even
attempt understanding Gandhi and draw right lessons from his life and
To be fair
to Mahatma, despite all his flaws and imperfections, he remains peer-less as
mass-mobiliser of recent centuries. He was able to rally nearly one
fifth of humanity against the most oppressive, unethical and formidable
imperial power in whose domain sun never set. His example inspired not only his
own followers, but many a times overwhelmed even his opponents.
We live in an era, where people
all across the world are scared to stand up for truth and justice or utter a
word even against their own elected Governments in relatively open societies.
Many dread the prospect of foregoing even minor comforts of life.
His idea of Satyagraha
-embodying truth, non-violence, courage and compassion - emerged as the most
powerful political weapon of democratic politics. His principles and vision
entailed universal and comprehensive well-being of entire humanity and malice
towards none. No politician of mass leader had imagined and espoused something
like this, which could unify entire human race.
Gandhi's ideals of peace and justice gave a big fillip to the very idea of
decolonization and democratization. His impact on Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UDHR) was more than visible, even though he himself did not
contribute to the same.
Gandhi, world may not have experienced the phenomenon of either Martin Luther
King, and his racial equality movement, or that of Mandela and his
anti-apartheid movement. It is doubtful that without Martin Luther, an Obama
could have reached anywhere close to US Presidency or without sacrifices of
Mandela, abolition of apartheid was possible.
Whether peaceful movement helped India win independence or the British left India out of fear of Subhash Chandra Bose, and his impact on British Indian soldiers, is irrelevant discourse at this juncture. Of course, Azad Hind Fauz and Subhash Bose left a strong impact and generated fear in minds of the British. But Bose, despite all his defiance to Gandhi, had remained respectful towards the latter. Without a unifying mass movement that Gandhi ji spearheaded in a diverse and divided India, Bose or so many other freedom fighters may not have reached the stature or generated the impact for which they are known.
GANDHI: A SOCIAL TRANSFORMER?
It is logical to
contend that Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals helped relatively peaceful
transition of post-colonial India towards a stable and relatively humanist
democracy. We need to cover a lot of distance to build a society that Gandhi
had envisioned. But still there is no other example in human history where such
a diverse, plural and huge country, with such formidable challenges, has not
only held together, defying predictions of naysayers, but emerged as one of the
key stakeholders of the global order while staying an open society.
Ideals of Gandhi ji had a role in this. But Gandhi ji had also acted as a big unifying force, of course with some imperfections, shortfalls and failures. He did it both during his lifetime and even after his death.
Most of the
first-generation leaders of independent India were proteges of Gandhi ji.
They could curb their personal aspirations for the sake of national good to a
great extent. It is true that Gandhi ji could not persuade a large
section of Muslim leaders led by Jinnah. But it must be kept in mind that a
significant section of Muslim leaders too remained equally committed to Gandhi ji
and his ideals of peace, non-violence and universal fraternity among
Had India attained freedom through an armed revolution, or even a military campaign, we may have struggled to build not only a democracy but even political stability or unity. India has suffered in the past on account of hordes and hordes of invaders and even local oppressors. Strategic myopia of domestic rulers and social decay and generation had built its own momentum. But yet resilience of its values and ethos were manifest in its spirit of defiance, regeneration and resurrection. Violence and coercion on their own are insufficient towards building a trust-based political order that we associate with open, transparent and stable states and societies.
French revolution of 1789 was probably the biggest landmark of its kind that fueled the idea of democracy in Europe. There is no bigger example of violent mass resistance to exploitative oppression and coercion by rulers. It had brought almost entire French masses together in fight for a just and fairer society and inspired nearly rest of the mankind. For the first time in recorded human history, it had reminded rulers of limitations of their power.
But what followed,
in the immediate aftermath of revolution, was the worst possible orgy of
violence in form of 'reign of terror". Luckily, rise of Napoleon and his
military exploits helped the French stay cohesive for a while. But it took more
than a century for France and Europe to transition towards mass democracy,
enduring multiple convulsions like 1848 revolutions.
Africa, yet another home of Gandhi, where he had perfected "satyagraha" and "non-violent resistance" as political weapons, witnessed far too much of conflict and violence following decolonization. Yet, from Mandela to Desmond Tutu, to a host of idealist leaders, claimed to have drawn inspiration from Gandhi. White races had remained reluctant, for a long time, to relent their grip on resource rich states of the region and induced innumerable domestic squabbles and conflicts. But Gandhian ideals have helped fuel voices for truth and justice. British newspaper -The Guardian - had filed a report a few years back in which it had quoted many African leaders who described Gandhi as their spiritual grandfather. Hence, Mahatma Gandhi remains a powerful symbol of truth and justice even now.
It is true that violent partition of the country that accompanied independence, marked a big failure of Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals of truth and non-violence. A receding imperial force unleashed some of the dirtiest principles of covert mass warfare against Indian people and Indian civilisation. It ignited medieval Arab and West Asian identity-based xenophobia and hatred by Muslims against Hindus to script one of the worst man-made carnages, genocides and mass rapes in human history.
It created a
monster way bigger than any Frankenstein that human mind could conceptualize in
the form of Pakistan. Principal collaborator of the British
designs in this direction was not an Arab or Turkic Muslim. It was a malignant
lot of converts from Hinduism and Sanatan only - like Jinnah- who unleashed mass murders against followers of faith of their own ancestors.
SOFTNESS TOWARDS MUSLIMS: AN OUTCOME HUMANIST IDEALS
repeated gestures of protecting or even favouring Muslims had no malice. Gandhi never favaoured
his own biological children. How do we expect him to act like a parochial
always indulged in practices that involved sacrifices on part of those who were
closer to him. This is not considered fare in our era and time. But that was
the era, where most respected elders of joint families often
promoted their nephews and nieces at the cost of their own biological
This was a
flawed notion. But it was probably necessary for protecting extended families
in the prevailing values of that time. This was considered test of benevolence of family heads, who often made such sacrifices
to keep their extended families together.
We have become wiser with passage of time. Families have become smaller and we acknowledge value of every life. We have evolved. We realise that such measures for fostering artificial cohesion was neither fair nor sustainable.
equity are more important than appeasement and unfair concessions for keeping
families and communities together. Because, there may not be a limit to
sacrifice for a few. Simultaneously, no amounts of concessions, privileges and
entitlement can satisfy people addicted to these. Besides, this is the surest route
to cripple a society, nation and family and make them seriously vulnerable in a
is no doubt that India needs firm rule of law and Indian secularism must not be
equated with tolerance to Islamic radicalism. We need to find a mutually
empowering equilibrium between Sanatan and Islamic values, beliefs and practice
systems for a stronger India. A lot of scientific research on anatomy of human mind, human behaviour and evolutionary course of cultures is required alongside actions with integrity to reconcile these. Our Muslim friends must be persuaded that cannot go back to past and Hindu majority should be convinced that all Muslims are not terrorists and radicals. Islamic
concept of Iztema may be useful in persuading or even forcing changes in
obscurantist forces of Islam and Hindus too need a scientific reconstruction of their beliefs and practice systems.
society that squabbles on follies or failures of the past, instead of learning lessons from the same, digs a hole for itself. Statesmanship is not about exploiting these fissures but about finding ways to building cohesion among societies and states in pursuit of comprehensive excellence.
NOT A FUZZY UTOPIAN BUT A ROBUST THINKER
Gandhi was not merely communicating through symbols and actions or simply
mobilising masses. He has been acknowledged as a profound thinker and philosopher as well. His world view may appear simple and idealist. But it was based on robust intellect. Given normal human vulnerabilities to lies, deception and selfishness, most may find it too utopian. But
these definitely constitute the bedrock of an ideal society.
truth, as popularly known, was not a weapon of the weak or timid. His truth
required enormous courage and self-belief. Gandhi's ideal of non-violence was
not the choice of a helpless timid. It required exceptional psychological
strength not to get provoked. This remains relevant for all real and aspiring leaders
at any level.
one feels that his message of non-violence has been badly interpreted. There
are many sources that suggest that Gandhi ji is believed to have told that when
it came to prevent certain types of violence, especially from rapists and
molesters who harm dignity and safety of women, even murder was
justified. He had maintained that violence was preferable over cowardice
and in certain contexts violence may become necessary. But still he never faced
such extreme and exceptional situation himself and hence it could never be
Gandhian concept of non-violence is neither absolute nor a rigid ritual.
One also has
to appreciate that Gandhi was a social reformer and not a Military General or a
statesman wielding state authority. He never considered anyone as his enemy. He
had repeatedly asserted this. To reach a psychological stage where you don't
find even your worst detractors or haters as your enemy is simply super-human.
ideal of trusteeship of public property pushes him closer to socialist ideals.
But at the same time, it appears more in tune with ideals of both a healthy
social order and even what we describe the most contemporary principles of
corporate governance or corporate probity.
Only a great
society, driven by the highest principles and practices of national or
civilisational security has wisdom to invest in quality of human resource. From
physical health of people to their education, skills and values as well as
ability to harness human energy to both material and moral strength constitutes
the bedrock of national security. Gandhi's emphasis on character building,
besides cognitive and technical skills, could probably be a game changer.
Education is not about memorising information. Education can be real tool only
if it empowers people to do what is right for society as a whole or to stand up
against what is bad for society.
and truthfulness remain eternally relevant for any great society. Without
empathy, altruism and kindness we can never ever have social trust or social
cohesion or even a healthy family or community. Violence begets violence.
Gandhian philosophy of countering violence through non-violence was not about
surrender of a meek with humiliation. What he said may have been relevant in a
lawless society where he was seeking a wider transformation. But countering
violence from a position of psychological strength and self-belief and not
anger or revenge appears a stronger option.
may not have had access to knowledge about working of human brain or role of
genes, environment and social practices on human behaviour. We are far more
aware today on these issues. But Gandhi ji's contribution did push us in
direction of trust-based social order where all could thrive better.
DOWNSIDE OF GANDHI
was one of the greatest among the great. He was looking at world from his own
unique vantage point. He was trapped in his own context and may be his own
priorities. Hence, he too appears to have faltered. But these were on far too fewer occasions and issues compared
to most mass leaders.
definitely does not appear fair to Subhash Chandra Bose. He may have
sensed a penchant for a militant armed struggle in Bose. Hence, he wanted to
keep Bose away from Congress. But as Mahatma and father figure, he was expected
to stay fair and impartial. During Haripura Session of Congress in 1938 when
Pattabhi Sita Ramaiah challenged Subhash Bose, Gandhi ji should have stayed
neutral. His decision to throw his plight with Pattabhi projects him in
that Subhas Bose enjoyed, especially among youth of his time, was much bigger.
Bose won the election but still Gandhi ji made it so difficult for Bose that
the latter had to quit Congress and explore independence of India through
also kept quiet on judicial murder by the British of the most romanticist
revolutionary and hero named Bhagat Singh. This lapse of Gandhi ji appears
unpardonable for most Indians. There cannot be a more romantic ideal image of
an innocent young man who decides to happily give up his life for the same
cause for which Gandhi ji was spearheading mass movements. Gandhi ji's silence remains
baffling and dents his saintly image.
especially after disclosure that Bhagat Singh was not involved in any murder
and the bomb that he had thrown in the Assembly was only for drawing attention
to important issues like passage of a draconian Public safety bill besides
protests over Simon Commission, Govt inaction over Jallianwalla bagh massacre
and killing of Lal Lajpat Rai by police. His actions had not killed or harmed
anyone. Bhagat Singh became a more towering persona in death and left a
profound impact in the process.
Gandhi ji is
also seen as someone who made too many concessions to Islamist radicals and
restrained and curbed Hindus far too much. From his indulgence with Khilafat to
concessions to Jinnah and efforts to appease Muslims and tolerance to genocide
by Muslims in Noakhali in East Pakistan and Kolkata in West Bengal to nearly
whole of West Punjab and Sindh generated a sense of dejection and pain among
large sections of Hindus and his followers. Many believe that Gandhi ji's
decisions brought huge sufferings to Hindus and encouraged rabid Islamists with
a sense of entitlement to slaughter Hindus and rape their women with
There is no
doubt that Gandhi ji's presence gave a sense of security to Muslims in India.
But he could not equally persuade Muslim masses either in India or Pakistan to
refrain from violence. Even his comrades like Khan Gaffar Khan were largely
rendered irrelevant in Muslim majority ideas of Pakistan.
Alongside these, the most prominent politically family of India has been
charged with usurping surname of Gandhi and virtually monopolized his legacy.
Earlier also Gandhi ji was considered instrumental for overruling Congress
party's internal decision to appoint Sardar Patel as Prime Minister of India
and foist Pandit Nehru in his place. There may not have been any devious
personal agenda in the same. But in retrospect, Gandhi ji also held responsible
for all the ills identified with rule of this family and their associates.
that has invited controversy for Gandhi ji is his so-called experiments to test
his own celibacy with much younger women, especially his grand nieces. This
appears horrendous from our contemporary sensibilities. Whether Gandhi ji took
consent from those young women are not is neither known nor relevant. But that
was the era, when a great and even the most empathetic appears to have failed
to show enough empathy. Yet we do not know the entire story but something of
this nature whether correct or incorrect, remained wrapped up under the cover
and none knew or spoke about these.
PERFECT AND YET THE GREATEST MASS LEADER OF THE MILLLENNIUM
extent to which Gandhi ji should be hailed as an icon of peace or treated as
target fit to be vilified depends upon political orientation of individuals
But his ideals
and practices do command a romantic appeal cutting across boundaries of state,
civilization and culture.
But Gandhi ji was
a hardcore Indian and nationalist who was not liked by the West.
Incidentally, the West never conferred Nobel Peace prize on Gandhi even
though the same was given to his proteges like Martin Luther King and Mandela.
One can say that Gandhi ji was disliked and distrusted by white colonial
Gandhi ji lived
in an era and what he contributed in the most selfless manner is exceptional
and inspirational. We can neither reject Gandhi nor adopt his values
universally. For an individual living in society, both means and ends need to
be pure. But when it gets down to use of instruments by state for protection of
entire the test of purity rests with their efficacy.
Gandhi is one of
our greatest icons. He is probably most well-known too in recent times. But we
have had far too many other icons too. We must not supplant Gandhi as the sole
icon. Each of the icons from the earliest times have shaped and influenced
our civilizational journey.
principles must not be rituals. Whatever we do, we cannot be driven by anger or
greed. If an Indian soldier kills a Chinese or Pakistani counterpart or a
terrorist, it is a moral and otherwise duty. But after killing the enemy
soldier or terrorists, Indians hand these over to family of deceased or perform
their last rituals with dignity. Violence of a soldier or deception of a
military leader or espionage master is a professional necessity, which too has
to be performed without anger, hatred or greed. If a Gandhian state vanquishes
the hell created by some criminal lackey of the white imperialists, it must be
for ushering in civility and Gandhian society in that land.
Hence, without Kautilyan principles of Dharma or protective cover of Kautilyan State, Gandhian principles can't survive. But without Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals, world and society would indeed be a dangerous and unsafe place for all. Hence, we must progress, howsoever incrementally, towards a Gandhian society protected by a Kautilyan state.