Another myth about Gandhi is the idea that India's political leaders, beginning with Nehru, are the inheritors of his tradition and have carried it on.
I wish they had. But really, India's leaders have rejected much more of Gandhi than they've adopted.
They abandoned nonviolent action as soon as they attained power. India now sports the world's fourth largest armed force, and the leaders haven't seemed at all reluctant to use it to settle conflicts, either inside or outside the country. No thought is given to possible Gandhi-style alternatives.
Maybe even worse, India's leaders have done their best to imitate Western countries by building an economy based on large-scale industry and large-scale agriculture.
Gandhi fought this kind of development. He warned that it would economically ruin India's villages, where 80% of India's people lived and still live. And Gandhi has proved correct.
Yes, India is now overall a much richer country-but it has more desperately poor people than ever. As many as half of its people can't afford enough food to sustain health. India prides itself now on growing enough grain so it doesn't need to import any-but the surplus rots in storage while people starve who can't afford to buy it!
Gandhi promoted a different kind of development. He stressed efforts based right in the villages, building on the villagers' own strengths and resources. Not many people here realize it, but Gandhi may be this century's greatest advocate of decentralism-basing economic and political power at the local level.
You may remember in the movie, 'Gandhi' seeing Gandhi spin cotton yarn on a compact spinning wheel. Gandhi and his colleagues were the ones who developed this wheel and introduced it into the villages. It's the first case of what's now called "appropriate technology" or "intermediate technology." Of course, E. F. Schumacher, the author of 'Small is Beautiful', later introduced the terms themselves. Schumacher was strongly influenced by Gandhi, calling him "the most important economic teacher today."
Gandhi set up a number of organizations to help carry out village development. He sent many workers to live in and among the villages.
Since his death, thousands have carried on this work. Now, though, the workers often combine development with campaigns against local injustice. Probably the closest thing in the United States to what they are doing is what we call "community organizing."
The people carrying on this work in India are among the true successors of Gandhi. Other modern-day Gandhian are in programs like the Chipko- "Hug the Trees" -Movement, which blocks irresponsible logging in the Himalayas; or Shanti Sena, the "Peace Army," which intervenes nonviolently in urban riots. My book 'Gandhi Today' describes a number of the Gandhians' programs.