Context: The article discusses the relevance of Gandhi’s teachings for contemporary India.
Gandhi has become an iconic figure, a symbol of many things for many people. His techniques have universal appeal which are not only relevant today but relevant for all times and ages.
The 21st Century has evolved more as a materialistic and pompous world filled with greed, malice and hatred where spiritual and moral values are losing steam. The four basic principles of ahimsa or nonviolence i.e. respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation have lost their identity, depth and value in the 21st century.
Some of the major challenges that appear during the 21st century India and that need to be dealt with seriously are as follows:
- All pervasive presence of violence and keeping it within limits besides eliminating terrorism.
- Ensuring equitable distribution of wealth and natural resource, also to halt and reverse the exploitation and insensitivity shown in preserving balance in nature.
- Elimination of poverty and hunger.
- Increase in reliance of rulers and politicians on religious fundamentalist elements and by exploiting religious sentiments.
- Decline of moral, spiritual and ethical considerations and the expanding influence of consumerism and materialism.
Gandhi’s thinking is much more relevant today than it was during his lifetime.
- Nothing in this world, neither a person’s own talent, belongs to any person rather it is assigned to him by God to help others. God have made individuals ‘trustees’ so that they can help the poor, helpless and less fortunate people.
- Trusteeship is the means to promote equal distribution of wealth in the society and assures the generation and intelligent use of wealth.
- The differences between labour and capitalists can be addressed through trusteeship model, where labour, who otherwise feel utterly helpless, should hold their labour in trust for those who are in need of it i.e. capitalists and shed their distrust for the capitalists.
- Environment intergenerational equity should be established through the concepts of guardianships or trusteeships. Trusteeship requires present generations (the guardians) to protect the best interests of future generations (the wards) by acting as trustees of natural resources.
Pity and compassion:
- According to Gandhi there is a very thin line between pity and compassion. Pity is degrading and oppressive while compassion is uplifting for giver and receiver. When we feel pity we feed someone and when feeding becomes an end in itself it becomes a problem.
- The model of ‘subsidy’ based development followed by government is out of ‘pity’ for the poor but feeding should be a means of constructive action. Today the government needs ‘compassion’ i.e. to get involved in finding ways in which unfortunate can be helped to become self-sufficient citizens.
- Sarvodaya implies the rise and well-being of all. Vinoba Bhave who took forward Sarvodaya believed that though Sarvodaya includes upliftment of even the last but the object is that work should begin from the last only.
- India needs universal upliftment for all without discrimination considering rampant unemployment and illiteracy. Development should not just include the most vulnerable but it should start from them, thus moving awat from the ‘trickle down theory’.
Satyagraha and non-violence:
- Satyagraha is the method of non-violent action in search and adherence to ‘truth’. Gandhi proposed a civilized way of opposing rigid and unjust practices of the aggressor and to seek truth, a process which seeks change not through coercion or aggression but through a ‘change of heart’.
- Satyagraha should be turned into a global instrument of non-violent dissent against authoritarianism and a pragmatic tool of the powerless against the powerful. Suppression of ethnic minorities in countries like China etc, must be countered through an international non-violent agitation.
- The nuclear race which is based on deterrence needs a more euphemistic approach based on sympathetic understanding for one’s adversary, formulation of minimal demands consistent with truth, refusal to threaten or intimidate the enemy etc.
Creative resolution of conflict:
- To Gandhi, cooperation and harmony rather than conflict and struggle constitute the fundamental law of the universe. Conflicts occur more as temporary irregularities in the even and ordered flow of life.
- Conflict resolution is not absence of conflict but moving towards a better readjustment where energies of opponents are harnessed to achieve a higher goal.
- Ethnic conflicts and communal conflicts in India can be attended to using Gandhian concept of peaceful negotiations, persuasion through reason and self-suffering.
- Gandhi emphasized the cooperative efforts in the field of agriculture small scale and cottage industries and in other fields of national interest.
- In agriculture, the small and fragmented holdings of land could be cooperatively cultivated to increase the production and minimize the cost. The small scale and cottage industries too would enjoy all advantages of large scale productions through cooperativisation.
- Planning should be made at the grass root level in which villages, individuals, and families would play a dominant role. In the decentralized planning the subject matter of economic planning would be man and his development. Resources would be conserved by avoiding wastage.
- Decentralization would prevent concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few. It would also strengthen the village economy and stop distress migration from rural to urban areas.
- It means that every person should earn his bread and do some body-labour to earn his living. Even the Bhagwad Gita says that, “He who eats without performing this sacrifice eats stolen bread.” Gandhi once stated in Harijan that, every man has to labour with his body for his food and clothing.
- In an age when lifestyle diseases are claiming so many human lives, if a man works for his bread and does some physical labour, it will be beneficial for his own health and he would be able to lead a more healthy and natural life.
- This concept of bread-labour can also bring about equality among people. For instance if all people will not hesitate in doing any kind of physical labour then no one will be looked down upon for doing any physical labour occupation.
- Similarly if the capitalists involve themselves in the work of their factory then they will become more close to their employees and consider them as his equals and will also appreciate their problems and difficulties.
- According to Mahatma Gandhi education is the character building process for a person. It helps in enlightening people and shows them the right path and encourages them to make right decisions in life.
- Today’s education system is mechanistic which is based on rote memorization without any emphasis on moral, ethical and spiritual development. Gandhi believed in the concept of learning while working because to him, working during studying helps in stimulating human minds towards creative thinking.
- Gandhi’s concept of basic education includes holding of creative activities like cleaning surroundings, spreading communal unity, health education programme, addiction relief programme etc. which can instill national, social, spiritual and cultural values among children.
Gandhi’s ideology is relevant because it is positive, constructive and practical. Today throughout the world people are shifting to nonviolent resistance in order to fight against any kind of evil, be it corruption, social, economic and political injustice etc. The failure of US’ strategy of aggression followed in Afghanistan, since 2001, to achieve peace and resumption of peaceful dialogue with Taliban is a clear example of the viability of non-violent satyagraha.