On Gandhi – Final Part

Written by  //  October 5, 2010  //  National Politics  //  Comments Off

This is my fourth post on the series on Gandhi. The first three posts are here, here and here. (Quick disclaimer: I was planning to make this a 5 or 7 part series, however a lot of interesting stuff has been written about Gandhi in other posts recently, so to avoid an overdose around a single individual, I will wrap off my series as a four part series, and would probably extend some of these ideas, giving them a different form later).

On to the fourth part, now!

In this part, I will focus on the question: How relevant is Gandhi today? Hero worship, role modeling and lip service is all fine, expected for a person of Gandhi’s stature and reasonable while we (especially me!) are on it. However, the critical and more important question that needs to be examined is: How important and relevant are Gandhi’s ideas in today’s world. What are the ones that we need to retain, and what are the ones that we need to politely (and with due humility) do away with, because it is over 60 years, since Gandhi has passed away and both India and the world has undergone unprecedented transformation and significant changes.

For a civilization to survive, prosper and continue to yield, it is important to adapt to the existing framework of thinking, and while retaining the heritage of the great men of the past, it is equally important that the present generation critically examines the underlying principles thoroughly, extracts the ones that it deems fit for today’s society and does away with the others which may no longer be applicable or required, because the existing world is operating on a different set of principles and taking an entirely different trajectory from what people in Gandhi’s era may have seen, expected or imagined.

I will identify three crucial differences between Gandhi’s time and ours to build my case

(1) Free nation: India is now a free nation governed by the people of India, which implies that the massive political capital that Gandhi needed to build in his struggle against colonialism is no longer necessary. In essence, this means that civil disobedience may not be the right form of political protest any longer and there may be something beyond.

(2) Materially capable: India has now vastly improved material capability that lets it exert its muscle (quite literally!) into places where it could not do anything before. Today, it can collaborate and build partnerships with other materially capable nations and play a central role in the sphere of international politics. This means that instead of shunning the outside as immoral and regarding it as a ‘threat’, there may be increasing incentives to actually do away with the thinking that worked to undermine the imperialistic polity of  the oppressor/oppressed and instead seek cooperation and strategic partnership to further the interests of the nation.

(3) Militarily Strong: Probably the most contentious, and arguably the issue that leads to most heated debates, given that one of the most foundational planks of Gandhian thinking was non-violence and Gandhi’s moral vision of a united world where violence is shunned and abhorred and regarded as an immoral, vicious force to be avoided at  all costs. As history, real politics and the events of the past 60 years have unfolded (and are unfolding), it has come to pass, that Gandhi’s ideals though honorable, noble in intent, and full of spiritual and moral power, are unfortunately both inadequate and unlikely to help the cause of a nation that is constantly under threat from factors and forces that are beyond its control. Therefore, a case can be made for enhancing the military capability to protect the critical infrastructure and core interests of the country, needless to say which is in sharp contrast to Gandhi’s fundamental principle.

Given these three important overreaching changes that have taken place since Gandhi’s time, we can arrive at a more accurate assessment of Gandhi’s principles and have a through debate as to what direction the nation needs to take and what is the new founding platform that is most suitable for India to operate and continue to prosper and secure its rightful interests in the post colonial, materially richer but heavily conflict ridden world.

To this end, I think we can bid a warm farewell to civil disobedience, which is no longer necessary, since adequate institutional frameworks and parliamentary mechanisms now exist for people to voice their concerns in a democratic setup. This means that instead of encouraging protests, we should focus on more concrete (and literate ?) forms of readdressing the needs of the people, like RTI, judiciary, legal frameworks and democratic participation and representation.

We can also probably argue that the era of fasts, shunning foreign goods (non-cooperation) and perceiving threat of an invading civilization are over. In the modern context it actually makes more sense to cooperate and prosper where incentives for mutually beneficial participation exists  and get an objective appraisal of the achievements of the ‘other civilization’ , thus increasing technological and scientific capability, borrowing ideas and building self created goods and participating in exchange of materials, goods and products wherever reasonable.

And what about non-violence, then? As history stands witness, Nehruvian philosophy of non-alignment took a drubbing in 1962 war against China. In an increasingly multipolar world, India is increasingly threatened both by its immediate neighbors and by the resonances of violence taking place in other parts of the globe. The facts that nuclear arsenals and the weapons of destruction continue to grow needs to be acknowledged,  new international laws need to be formed, and Indian diplomats need to learn the fine art of exercising diplomatic pressure wherever possible. Given this state of affairs, it would be unwise and imprudent for a nation to keep sticking to a philosophy that was useful, morally upright and successful while it lasted, but that cannot be used as the only guiding philosophy in a conflict ridden world, where military capabilities need to be built to protect capabilities and live and operate safely. Not that I am arguing for violence first, but making non-violence a moral absolute is bound to create a society that ignores the factual realities of a world where powerful forces of violence abound and can only be ‘put to task’, so as to speak by a capable military force.

That should be it I guess.

So as we end celebrating the 62nd anniversary of the founding father, perhaps, we should also spare a moment and re-access what is relevant today and while acknowledging Gandhi’s immense contributions to the creation of India, probably, it is time we need to say a deserving goodbye to many of his principles. While according highest respect to our forefather, we also need to make sure that we are not tied down by the ideas that are no longer sound enough to help us find direction as the 21st century unfolds in all its spectacle, glory and misery in front of mankind.

About the Author

Sumeet has a degree in computer science and engineering from Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Delhi. He enjoys studying science and technology both from an abstract perspective and the applications they can have in solving some compelling real world problems. He also frequently writes on some socio - political issues and enjoys working and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and interests.

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