Mahatma Gandhi held no office, pursued no career, accumulated no wealth and desired
no fame. Yet, millions of people in India and around the world are
captivated by his life and his achievements. Gandhi inspired so many
because he practiced what he preached, he lived the change he wanted
to see in the world and his message was none other than his life
itself. He was an honest seeker of truth, a fearless defender of the
weak and an uncompromising practitioner of non-violence.
He was born as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on 2nd October
1869 in the town of Porbandar, Gujarat in western India. His father,
a devout Hindu, was prime minister in his native princely state. The
young Gandhi was sent to England to study law. Then he went to South
Africa to practice it. There he was thrown out of a segregated train
on the ground of his colour. Gandhi was shaken by this unjust
encounter, and mounted, in response, a non-violent
civil-disobedience campaign to expose the evils of racial
classification (later to be known as “apartheid”). Gandhi used a
Sanskrit word to describe his campaign: Satyagraha (truth force).
Against the brute force of weapons and prisons, Gandhi - inspired
too by the writings and example of Henry David Thoreau - used the
power of non-violence and truth, and proved its superiority. His
campaign stirred the political circles of South Africa, and the
surprise of its methods meant the perpetrators of apartheid found
themselves confused and powerless.
On returning to India Gandhi refined his techniques of Satyagraha
and introduced them to empower the people of India to wage their
struggle for freedom. His movement became so powerful and effective
that the almighty British colonial authorities could not withstand
it and eventually agreed to grant independence to India. Even as the
freedom struggle was in progress, Gandhi was working on ideas of a
new social order for post-colonial India. He believed that there
would be no point in getting rid of the British without abolishing
the centralised, exploitative and violence-based system of
governance and the economics of greed that they pursued. Gandhi
designed a trinity to achieve his vision of a new, non-violent social order.
The first element of this trinity was Sarvodaya (upliftment
of all). The western system of governance is based on the rule of
the majority and is called democracy. This was not good enough for
Gandhi. He wanted no division between the majority and the minority.
He wanted to serve the interests of each and everyone, of all.
Democracy is also limited in its care for the interests of human
beings. Democracy working with capitalism favours the few who have
capital; democracy together with socialism favours the majority, but
is still limited to humans. Sarvodaya includes the care of the
earth; of animals, forests, rivers and land. For Gandhi, life is
sacred and so he advocated reverence for all life, humans as well as
other than humans.
The second part of the Gandhian trinity is Swaraj (self-government).
Swaraj in turn has a dual aspect. On the one hand, it works to bring
about a social transformation through small-scale, decentralised and
participatory structures of government. On the other, it implies
self-transformation, self-discipline and self-restraint. “There is
enough in the world for everybody’s need, but not enough for
anybody’s greed”, said Gandhi. So a moral, ethical, ecological and
spiritual foundation is necessary to build good governance.
The third aspect of the trinity is Swadesi (local economy). Gandhi
opposed “mass production” and favoured production by people. Work
for him is as much a spiritual as an economic necessity. So he
insisted on the principle that every member of society should be
engaged in manual work. Manufacturing in small workshops and
adherence to arts and crafts feeds the body as well as the soul,
professed Gandhi. He believed that long-distance transportation of
goods, competitive trading and relentless economic growth would
destroy the fabric of human communities as well the integrity of the natural world.
Mahatma (the honorific means “great soul”) Gandhi’s vision of a
non-violent social order was built on these three foundations.
Gandhi was, for example, a great champion of Hindu-Muslim
solidarity. This was appreciated neither by the fundamentalist
Hindus nor the fundamentalist Muslims. Against the wishes of Gandhi,
India was partitioned on religious lines and hundreds of thousands
of Hindus and Muslims were massacred or made refugees. A Hindu
fundamentalist named Nathuram Godse assassinated Gandhi on 30th
January 1948, just six months after India’s independence. As a
consequence, Gandhi lost the opportunity to work for a new social
order and his trinity had only a limited impact. Sixty years later,
it is clear that the world has more need of it than ever.
October 13, 2008
Morung Express - Dimapur, Assam, India