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.
Gandhi 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.
Gandhi himself never claimed to be an embodiment of absolute perfection and infallibility.
He is 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.
It particularly sounds like a cruel joke when it comes from those who themselves appear morally, ethically and intellectually challenged and spiritually disabled.
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.
Consequently, Mahatma, that Gandhi was, has been attributed with sins that he may never have imagined.
GANDHI: AN UNAPARLLELED MASS MOBILISER
The 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.
Probably, 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 ideals.
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.
Without 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 mankind.
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.
GANDHI'S SOFTNESS TOWARDS MUSLIMS: AN OUTCOME HUMANIST IDEALS
Gandhi's 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 Hindu?
Gandhi 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 children.
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.
Fairness and 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 competitive world.
There 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.
A 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.
GANDHI: NOT A FUZZY UTOPIAN BUT A ROBUST THINKER
Mahatma 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.
Gandhi's 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.
But somehow, 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 tested.
Hence, 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.
Gandhi's 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.
Integrity 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.
Gandhi ji 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
Mahatma 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.
Gandhi ji 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 poor light.
The Charisma 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 different means.
Gandhi ji 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.
This was 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 impunity.
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.
Another issue 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.
GANDHI: NOT PERFECT AND YET THE GREATEST MASS LEADER OF THE MILLLENNIUM
The 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 concerned.
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 powers.
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.
Gandhian 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.