We will try to understand the relevance of Gandhi in present times from the perspective of important political scholars, namely Bhikhu Parekh, Ramchandra Guha & modern India historian Bipin Chandra.
Bhikhu Parekh of Relevance of Gandhi.
Gandhi offers clearest antithesis to religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalist cannot be dealt any other way except by exposing flaws in their understanding of their own religion.
According to Gandhi, all major religions are true and bonafide. They represent one or some of the many dimensions of God, who is infinite and many dimensional. For examples Christianity represents ‘love of god’ as major virtue, Islam represent ‘austerity and equality’ while Hinduism represent ‘non-violence’ as major virtue. Religions are open. According to him, while practicing one’s own religion one can derive inspiration from other religions also and there is nothing wrong with it. And he even advised against to some of his Christian followers who wanted to change to Hinduism. Religion is both “rooted and open”, “firm and flexible”.
” I do not want my house to be walled in and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”Gandhi
According to Gandhi all humans are interdependent. Every human being owes a great debt to his parents and society at large. Since this debt is too much and too diverse to pay, only thing man can do is to recognise it and contribute his share of sacrifice by contributing to maintenance and enrichment of humankind. One cannot harm a person without causing harm to humanity at large and same for doing good. Oppressors, while committing violence cause more harm to themselves at mental and spiritual level.
Good and evil are inseparable. Even man posses both good and bad. Oppressor are not all bad and oppressed not all good. Using revolutionary means to throw off oppressors is as bad to oppressed classes as it is to their enemies. Rather oppressed should love their oppressors, and by their own humble conduct appeal to and try to awake their conscience. Noble ends cannot be achieved by evil deeds.
“You cannot expect a rose from if you sow the seed of babool.”Gandhi
Everybody is unique person. Everyone holds certain values sacred in core of their heart and those values should not be violated by forcing person to live by someone else’s truth. Only when person’s action have grave consequences can he be stopped.
Citizens are not supposed to unconditionally and blindly follow the state laws. To do so will be like participating in evil deeds of state, since citizens are also responsible for state.
Ramchandra Guha on Relevance of Gandhi.
Gandhi started satyagraha, non violent movement. It inspired Civil Rights movement in USA by Martin Luther King, Myanmar movement and those in Eastern Europe like Lech Wałęsa against communist government. This theory and example of non-violence and satyagraha is greatest contribution of Gandhi to public affairs. And also his example of inter-faith harmony.
Gandhi was great reconciler – he tried to reconcile Hindus and Muslims. North Indians and south Indians, Men and women. He brought more women to politics than any other politician. Some of Gandhi’s ideas like complete celibacy, his diet may not be practicable today, but many of his foremost principles are still relevant and provides solution for today’s problems.
Four most important principles are:
1] Non-violent methods of protest. Changes brought by such means are long lasting.
2] Attitude towards religion. He was not secular in a sense to deny god and religion nor was he fundamentalist and fanatic. He respected all religions and advocated that one can accept examples and inspiration from other religions also. But he was against conversion. All religions are bona-fide and represent some aspect of infinite God, according to Gandhi.
3] Environment. He was against consumeristic culture. He criticized western civilization for that. According to Gandhi “there is enough on earth for everybody’s need, but not for one man’s greed.” Gandhiji may not have uttered these words in this exact order however, the sentiments they convey are undoubtedly his own. Rise of China and India as a global consumer would have been very much alarming for Gandhi.
4] His transparency and honesty in public life. Although politician, he was quite transparent. He had no security guards protecting him.
‘The world has enough for everybody’s need, but not enough for everybody’s greed’.Gandhi
Relevance of Gandhi according to Bipin Chandra
Gandhi had views on everything. On Morality, politics, non violence, industries, marriage, sex and even love marriage! Question is which of his concepts are relevant for today. Some of it were personal while some he propagated for example he was staunch vegetarian but didn’t propagated it.
Gandhi’s emphasis on small scale industries is well known. But he did not persuaded INC, whose unquestionable leader he was, to reverse the policy of industrialization. Though he himself propagated idea of small scale industries. And he even declared Nehru as his heir in public speech.
‘religion and politics cannot be separated’. But by religion he meant ethics and morality. And he also preached that religion is a personal matter and should not be mixed with politics.
‘I am taking issue of freedom because its most imp presently. Afterwards I will take up something else.
He was great strategist. His commitment to non-violence should not be considered as blind following the principle without consideration of practicality. When some Chinese leaders came to meet him asking about his opinion about violent response of Chinese to Japanese aggression, he supported such stand and said that practice of non-violent requires long training and what you are doing right now is right and go ahead.
In 1930, when violence broke out in many parts, he did not withdrew the movement. In 1942, violent protests broke out all over country… and when British officers approached him in Jail requesting him to condemn it, he refused to do so and blamed British for it.
You can also read about political ideas of Gandhi & Gandhism on this page.