ONLINE BOOKS > IS GANDHI OUT OF DATE? > PART I > Is Gandhi Out of Date?
Gandhi's relevance in today's world
In the earlier section we have mostly examined the validity of Gandhiji's ideas in the light of what some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century have to say and we have found great support for them, in principle. As said earlier, all thinkings take place in particular contexts and there can be difference of views on the matter of details which need not be given much importance. Gandhiji himself was aware of it and that is why he did not want to leave any sect after him and said that others were not his followers but fellow workers. His has been experimentation with truth and his own ideas had been evolving with time in a pragmatic manner on the basis of his fundamental approach. Every thinking has its permanent and temporary elements and it is the former which make it last. Dr. J. D. Sethi said in the Patel lectures of 1979: Thirty years after his death and nearly seventy years after he wrote his seminal, though crudely written book, 'Hind Swaraj', Gandhiji is suddenly emerging as a possible answer to the global crisis of human values and numerous unsolved contradictions, such as between affluence and poverty, freedom and repression, technology and human beings, social tension and alienation.55
To examine the validity of this claim, Let us examine some of the major problems besetting humankind today.
All these problems are global though their intensity varies from country to country.
The most important of them are poverty, the danger of environmental disaster, the danger of nuclear annihilation and terrorism, both Islamic and Maoist or Naxalite. I take them one by one.
The problem of poverty is chiefly a problem of developing countries though it also exists in the richer countries. If it does not loom large there before the public mind, it is because they are able to provide relief in various ways to the poorer sections of their countries. This poverty in the developing countries has been traced to three causes: (a) one-third of the world using more than three-fourths of the world resources and the growing gap between the rich and poor countries as a result of it; (b) a built-in structure of demand and policy framework in the developed world to keep the consumption growing to maintain full employment and (c) concentration of economic and political power in the hands of small minorities within the poor countries and their attempts to imitate the standard of living of the developed world. J. D. Sethi rightly observes that there can be no solution of the problems of poverty in these poor countries as long as their ruling elites resort to tyranny and corruption to achieve for themselves a standard of living similar to that of ruling elite of the developed countries.56
This is primarily a question of values for which an answer lies in Gandhiji's thinking with its emphasis on consideration for the last human being. To cite Sethi: 'The Gandhian framework is a direct and irrefutable answer to the challenges faced by the third world countries. Their poverty and illiteracy, exploitation and superstition, ethnic, tribal, religious or caste conflicts, the callousness of their ruling elites, authoritarian structures and inhuman tortures of political opponents, development models dependency, etc., defy all prevailing models of change and revolution." And he also says: "Gandhiji would insist on the first things first: the life-style of the power elite has to be identified with the little man for having a moral right to demand the restructuring of the world order."
This universal urge for a higher and higher standard of living is the primary cause of the increasing danger of . environmental disasters. The then U. N. Secretary-General had said in his report to it in 1969 : "For the first time in the history of humankind, there is arising a crisis of worldwide proportion involving developed and developing countries alike - the crisis of human environment."59 He attributed it to the explosive growth in populations, the poor integration of a powerful and efficient technology with environmental requirements, the deterioration of agricultural lands, the unplanned extension of urban areas, the decrease of available space and the growing danger of extinction of many forms of animal and plant life. It is increasingly apparent, he said, that if the current trend continues, the future of life on earth could be endangered.
The seventies of the last century had witnessed a lot of literature on it, both for and against. However, the consensus was that technology is a good servant but a bad master and that the growing morality gap between developing technology and the state of human culture is highly dangerous. Arnold Toynbee had then written : "My hope is that we shall have a period of technological slowing down and a new wave of spiritual advance."60 He had also then advocated for" a new philosophical and religious outlook covering the whole of life" and that "it must be such as to change our ideals, bringing with it a change in the order of our priorities."61
Gandhiji might not have referred to ecological problems in words, but his thinking and some of his statements show his concern for them. For example, he had said that there was enough in the world for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed. However, the lacuna had been further filled by J. C.Kumarappa who had pleaded for an 'economy of permanence'. It may also be remarked here that with times the critics of 'limits to growth' are proving wrong. The growing damage to the ozone layer on the Antartic, the recent calamities of Tsunami and Katrina are the warning signs of Nature's vengeance at its increasing exploitation and environmental degradation.
To take up the problem of the danger of nuclear annihilation, one may point out to the increasing acceptance of the need of non-violence in the field of international relations. Even a Russian scholar wrote in the later eighties : "There is yet another aspect of Gandhian heritage which invariably draws the attention of Soviet scholars. It is the humanitarian idea of non-violence as adopted in international relations. He (Gandhiji) was an irreconcilable enemy of war. Hiroshima was for him an event which had confronted humankind with either starting disarmament immediately or perishing."62
The danger of a nuclear war seems to have receded for the time being because of the possession of nuclear bombs by countries at loggerheads, for example India and Pakistan, and the rising feeling that the settlement of disputes through peaceful means is likely to produce better results. However, the use of crude nuclear bombs by the Islamic terrorists cannot be ruled out and they too can cause great havoc, both immediate and lasting. This danger is there because the technology of making nuclear bombs is reported to have passed into their hands. Hence there is an urgent need to tackle that terrorism. It is quite evident that mere use of force cannot achieve that objective. It also needs an analysis of its basic causes and their removal.
Its causes lie in the perceptions of the Muslims with their Pan-Islamic feelings, of their political and economic exploitation along with their jehadi conception in its fundamentalist and narrow sense, though they are not in accord with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. To deal with this terrorism, suppression by the use of force may help to some extent, but it would help more if their economic and political grievances are removed to the extent; they are real. It is something for those western countries to do which attempt to extend their economic imperialism over them, sometimes even in league with their ruling' classes. It is however, for the Muslim intelligentsia to wean them away of their wrong interpretation of Islam. Unfortunately, they are proving equal to the task both because of the dread of the Ulemas with their influence on the Muslim masses and because they themselves are not probably totally free of fundamentalist thinking. Those who are outside the pale of Islam can render help in it by not denouncing Islam for it and thereby confirming their jehadi_outlook.
Gandhiji always emphasized the nobler side of Islam and preached the 'equality of all religions'. He did not consider religion to be an opiate and he knew like Erich Fromm that the need of religion is rooted in the basic conditions of the human species.63 However, instead of laying emphasis on creeds and dogmas, he laid emphasis on their ethical aspects which are common to all higher religions. The same had been the case with Vinobaji who had studied the Koran in original and held the Prophet in very high esteem. The Muslim intelligentsia can learn much from them. Another form of prevailing terrorism, though not as serious as the first one is the Maoist or Naxalite terrorism which is a problem in several South-Asian countries, including India. They are the product of various social, economic and political injustices prevailing in those countries. Gandhiji was as keen to cure those ills as he was for country's independence, and he had tried to do it at the same time, though he had to give priority to the latter because he had felt, and rightly so, that the former is essential for it. But unfortunately he was no more when he could have fully attended to it. However, Vinobaji tried for it and had even been able to build up requisite public opinion but the governments failed to use that climate to remove the old prevailing injustices and with time. The well-off people in the country came to be influenced more and more by the western craze for higher and higher standards of living. These terrorists too have to realize that violence can only highlight their grievances and that only non-violent methods of struggle can help them to achieve their goal.
And now, at the end, on the process of change since the problems of today demand a revolution both in values and social structures. In the past, it was the idealist view which predominated. It held that change in ideas is primary and change in society follows it. Then came the Marxist view which accorded primacy to the change of social structure and regarded change of ideas as a consequence of it. However, in the post-Stalin period, the Soviet Marxists had been diluting the orthodox thesis and according greater importance to change in ideas and to the role of individuals in the process of revolution. The Gandhian thinking steers midway between the two. According to Vinobaji, "The importance of changing social structure is not denied. But it should be brought about only through the development of particular moral attributes… It is no good making a fetish of social reconstruction. After all, it is the people who construct (constitute) a society. Hence a society will be as the individuals making it. Hence, any scheme of change must be not only subject to the preservation -indeed, enhancement - of standards of character and moral values, but the change must be brought about by the means and strength of character and moral values."65
Thus while attaching importance to the change of social structure, Vinobaji gives some priority to the building up and strengthening of moral values in the people. In this, he has the support of Sorokin who says : "The transformation should be carried on simultaneously along all the three fronts : personal, cultural and social. The effortful transmutation of the individual may slightly precede the others."66
Thus with the passage of time, considering Gandhiji as out of date is on the way out, though there is a greater realization of it in the west than in India, the land of his birth and later activities, to which he attached much importance. He believed that his success in India would have its effect all over the world.
1. Gandhian Values and twentieth Century Challenges ( Publication, N. Delhi, 1979)
2. ibid, pp. 31 & 33
3. ibid, p.34
4. ibid, p.35
5. The Summarized version of the report in the Gandhi Marg, July 1972, p. 212
6. Surviving the Future (Oxford University Press, London, 1971) p. 40
7. ibid, p. 43
8. O. Martyshin, Gandhi in the Eyes of Soviet Scholars in Mainstream, 1980 Republic Day Number.
9. To Have or To Be (Bantam Books, 1982), p. 122
10. Introduction to K. G. Mashruwala, Gandhi and Marx (Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1951) p. 11
11. Pitirim Sorokin, The Reconstruction of Humanity (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1958), p. 209