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Gandhi - Leader of Millenniums
By Prof. Rina A. Pitale. Puradkar*
Mahatma Gandhi represents a figure of unique integrity, consistency and humanity. The point of departure of his life philosophy and the basis of his theory and activity in practice are freedom and welfare of any human being and prosperity of peoples and nations of the whole mankind. Non-violence is the elementary and indispensable condition for the materialization of these noble goals. These principles and values represented a permanent source of inspiration in Gandhi’s guidance in his imaginative undertakings both in the struggle for freedom and independent development of India and the promotion of her role in the international community. As a matter of fact, Gandhi’s firm belief in the creativeness and openness of the people of India and his own active engagement for a peaceful and friendly cooperation among nations on equal footing, without any interference or imposition were inexhaustible sources of his personal wisdom and high credibility both as the father of modern India, as well as one of the major moral, spiritual and political international authorities of our times.
Gandhian ideology is rooted in the eternal human values handed down to us over centuries such as truth, love, righteousness, non-violence and tolerance. They transcend space and time. These values have been taught and retaught by the Upanishads, the Gita, the Buddha and Christ. Gandhi only reiterated them. Gandhian ideology also accommodates a number of contemporary issues like untouchability, communal violence, rural poverty and the status of women in society. In all these things, Gandhi stressed that means are as important as ends.
Gandhi did not teach anything new. Seers and sages, from time immemorial, have been emphasizing certain eternal values and their observance in daily life. He only reiterated them. As he himself concedes: "I have nothing new to teach the people. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills." But the uniqueness of Gandhi's teaching was that he practiced before he preached.
This appealed to the masses and they unhesitatingly accepted whatever he taught and followed him, wherever he led. He led them ultimately to independence. This is precisely what sets Gandhi apart from other leaders of his day. Till his death, Gandhi never wavered in his faith as a ‘sanatanistic' Hindu. He had great reverence for the Hindu scriptures—the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita. The eternal values of Hinduism like truth, ‘dharma' and nonviolence had great appeal for him. But he was never sectarian or dogmatic. He always maintained that no religion is infallible or perfect. Every religion had some element of truth in it.
The twin cardinal principles of Gandhi's thought are truth and nonviolence: the ultimate station Gandhi assigns nonviolence stems from two main points. First, if according to the Divine Reality all life is one, then all violence committed towards another is violence towards oneself, towards the collective, whole self, and thus "self"-destructive and counter to the universal law of life, which is love. Second, Gandhi believed that ahimsa is the most powerful force in existence. Had has-been superior to ahimsa, humankind would long ago have succeeded in destroying itself. The human race certainly could not have progressed as far as it has, even if universal justice remains far off the horizon. From both viewpoints, nonviolence or love is regarded as the highest law of humankind.
He observes: "After a long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that (1) All religions are true. (2) All religions have some error in them. (3) All religions are almost as dear to me as one's own close relative. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for in own faith. "It was inevitable that he should ultimately go beyond all traditional concepts of religion and come to believe in a transcendental religion, the very basis of all religions.”
Once Mahatma Gandhi said, “Out of my ashes, many more Gandhis will rise.”1 Today, his prophetic words have proven true. Many a leader around the globe have successfully launched their satyagrahas against tyrannical governments, against racial, religious and economic injustice, and fought for human rights. The followers of Gandhi in the twentieth century are: Martin Luther King, Jr. (America), Chief Lithuli (Africa), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Lech Walesa (Poland), Vaclav Havel (Czechoslovakia), Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina), Benigno Aquino (Philippines), Cesar Chevaz (Latin America), Sulak Sivarsaka (Thailand), Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma), and many more. 
The only way to create a safer world for our children is to teach them the  Gandhian methods of conflict resolution through dialogue and negotiation, through compromise and conciliation, through love and forgiveness rather than through hatred, revenge, violence and physical retaliation. As Martin Luther King put it, “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” Political freedom for Gandhi was meant to free the nation from foreign rule and also from the social evils besetting it. So Gandhi waged a relentless battle against the latter. Foremost among the social evils was untouchability. He said: "Untouchability is repugnant to reason and to the instinct of mercy, pity or love. A religion that establishes the worship of the cow cannot possibly countenance or warrant a cruel and inhuman boycott of human beings. He looked upon untouchability not only as a crime against man and God but also as a divisive force breaking up the Hindu society. Equally repugnant to Gandhi was the caste system. However, he makes a clear distinction between caste system and varna dharma. According to Gandhi, ‘varna’ is a division of society based on heredity and aptitude. It is no doubts deter- mined by birth but can be retained only through observance of the necessary obligations. It does not carry with it any concept of superiority or inferiority. He observed: "All varnas are equal, for the community depends no less on one than on another. But today varna means gradations of high and low. It is a hideous travesty of the original." In other words, he was against the divisive system of caste as it is today but held that a division of society into classes based on function was not only beneficial but necessary.
As Gandhi was aware that the present day caste system based on birth keeps a large section of people in poverty and ignorance, he evolved a system of education to help them in more ways than one. It was called ‘Nai Talim' (New Education) or Basic Education or Wardha Scheme of Education. He always maintained that education, particularly at the primary and secondary levels should aim at the integrated and harmonious development of the personality of the pupils.
He also maintained that character development should be the primary goal of education. This could be achieved only by the teacher who became an object lesson to his students. Gandhi also held that education should necessarily include craft-training which would make one economically self-sufficient. Thus, his ‘Nai Talim' is naturalistic in its setting, idealistic in its aim and pragmatic in its implementation. To one who abhorred social inequality born of caste system, inequality of sexes was equally odious. After an intense spiritual struggle which culminated in his vow of celibacy, he came to appreciate the true role of women in family and society.
Gandhi's achievement can best be described as titanic. As Natwar Singh observes: No Gandhi, no freedom movement, it is as stark as that. No Gandhi, no miraculous generation of leaders like Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Vallabhbhai Patel, C. Rajagopalachari, Sarojini Naidu, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Jawaharlal Nehru. One who could draw such men to him was no mortal. He was a repository of spiritual values. He civilized our political manners and humanized and spiritualized our conduct.
Gandhi’s ideology seems dead to some, but Gandhi had never been irrelevant in today’s scenario. They say, Gandhi’s philosophy has no solution for the present crises. The corresponding traditional values of tolerance, harmony, equality, sharing, humility, honesty, simplicity and symbiosis with are being looked upon as irrelevant today. In fact, the real solution lies in ‘tit for tat’, or in ‘an eye for an eye’; or ‘Might is right’ is the slogan of the day.
However, to serious people those who are concerned about society, Gandhiji is the prophet of the millennium because he can be relevant only in relation to violence, untruth, corruption and domination. His message makes one’s life meaningful only in the struggle to rid the world of the process of dehumanization of the weaker sections of the society. Gandhi is concerned about the structural violence which is perpetuated from one generation to another. According to Dashrath Singh, Gandhi’s perception of structural violence was in terms of economics, politics, social systems and the education-system.2 Evil, according to Gandhi, was a by-product of the social structure. Therefore Gandhi "hated capitalism, not the capitalist; racialism, not the white English men and women; untouchability, not the untouchables; modern civilization, not the Western people living in it. He saw very clearly the evil or violence present in the social structure itself."3 For Gandhi, economics that is destructive of the moral well-being of any individual or nation is immoral;4 a political structure bereft of religion and morality cannot bring about the dignity, inner freedom and justice of the citizens.5 He saw violence in the economic and political systems of India, as well as of the world.
Positively, Gandhi was convinced that all societies were held together by non-violence just as is the earth by the law of gravitation.6 His ideal of social organization was the family: his paradigm of society was in the pattern of family vasudhaiva kutumbakam - the idea that the whole world is one family. In such a network of systems, every unit of society is "governed by the principle of interdependence, complementarily, cooperation, dedication towards duty, and enjoys the same respect, social status, and importance."7 Traditional values resonate with the Gandhian process for making this world a better place in which to live.
The freedom of each individual includes responsibility toward one another. This value was much cherished by Gandhi himself. Thus, Dennis Dalton, on the basis of the Gandhian sutras or formulas, draws a link among Gandhi’s key ideas of freedom (Swaraj), duty (Dharma), non-violent action (Satyagraha), and self-reliance (Swadeshi).8 The essence of Satyagraha (lit. 'insistence/holding of truth') is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves and seeks to transform or “purify” it to a higher level. A euphemism sometimes used for Satyagraha is that it is a “silent force” or a “soul force”. Gandhiji wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.”9
It is difficult, no doubt, to follow the Mahatma, ‘the great soul,’ but not impossible. Gandhi was not a Mahatma by birth, but earned this title because of his magnanimity.
The problem lies within oneself and not outside, though it has its impact outside. By finding solutions in the inner realms of being, Gandhi drives home the point that only inner freedom can lead one to the ultimate truth. The pre-requisite for inner freedom is openness and disposition of the heart which leads one away from arrogance, pride and disobedience - the vices abhorred in a tribal society. Jayaprakash Narayan, a great Indian leader, rightly said, "As long as there is violence which threatens the very future of the human race, the relevance of Gandhi would continue. He would remain relevant till this danger of total annihilation of the human race is removed."10 Henry Skolimowski notes that the problems during Gandhi’s time, namely, casteism, corruption, violence, exploitation, misery, degradation and poverty, etc., have continued to this day. He calls for a second Gandhian revolution, "a revolution of consciousness, based on high moral values" and a clear realization of the true destiny of man. Such a revolution must be "based on simplifying our life-styles and reducing consumption as a precondition of peace with the poor, with nature, and with and within ourselves."11 It is no exaggeration to say that Gandhi is a bridge to the 21st century as a symbol of the person who is philosopher, spiritual, Satyagrahi(non-violent) and Swadeshi (self-reliant).12
Gandhian philosophy is a double-edged paradiam. Its objective is to transform the individual and society simultaneously, in accordance with the principles of truth and nonviolence. The historic task before humankind is to progress towards the creation of a nonviolent political, economic and social order by nonviolent struggle. The social goal was described by Gandhi as Sarvodaya, a term he coined in paraphrasing John Ruskin's book Unto This Last, meaning the welfare of all without exception. Its political aspect was expressed by the late eminent Gandhian Dr R.R. Diwakar in the following words: "The good of each individual in society Consists in his efforts to achieve the good of all." This principle of Sarvodaya, the well being of and antodaya, the well being of the last person in the line, reflect the principle of justice for the society. A genuine alternative path to material development, eminently suitable for Indian conditions, is  Gandhiji’s concept of gramodaya, antodaya and sarvodaya. These terms can be roughly translated as upliftment of the village, of the last man in the line, and the upliftment of all. These terms capture the true meaning of all economic progress and development, which is human development, and not merely increase in the gross national product. Gandhiji had realized the evils of capitalism and industrialism, the concentration of power and wealth, and enslavement of man to machine. He advocated gram swaraj, where the village is treated as a self-sufficient economic unit. The self-sufficient village meets most of its material needs through local produce, utilizing local resources and indigenous technology. It is production for consumption, and not for profit. Such diffuse system of production and distribution does not cause uprooting of local communities and creation of urban slums due to migrations from villages to cities. It provides maximum employment, and avoids most of the environmental problems created by industrialization. These concepts of material development appear to be the right answers for modern world- wide search for “socially equitable, ecologically viable and economically efficient development paths”. It is most unfortunate that we abandoned Gandhian ideals of material growth and development, rather than developing and refining them to meet the needs of the modern times.
A good society will not be merely a law governed society. Instead, it would be governed by higher level ethical and spiritual values. An essential component of this spiritual outlook will be a sense of essential oneness of humankind. An ethic of universal love, friendliness towards all and sense of responsibility for everybody can be supported only on an unconditional acceptance of unity of all human beings. This sense of oneness of humankind is the essential virtue for promoting modern triad of societal values: liberty, equality and fraternity. When these values are extended across the nations, it will promote the highest ideal of human fraternity in the global human society. Its spiritual perception is the essential unity of all beings, and not only human beings. Its social ideal is Loksangrah. The word ‘Lok’ implies the collectivity of all beings, and the word ‘Sangrah’ a combination of welfare and nurturance of all beings would be the basis of social organization.
One such grand vision of a good society, based on ethical and spiritual principles, was Gandhi’s philosophy of sarvodaya and swaraj. Swaraj for him is not merely political freedom: it is essentially self-governance and self-control, in the spiritual sense. For him truth and non-violence are the basic principle for ordering both individual and social life. “I do not believe that the spiritual law rules in a field of its own. On the contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the social and the political fields.”13
Especially today when we are surrounded by the forces of darkness, we need a leader like Gandhi, a man of rare courage, character, and charisma, who dares to tell the truth, who can overcome violence with nonviolence, and who shows us the way to light. Gandhi and his twin principles of satya (truth) and ahimsa (nonviolence) and his concept of Lok Samgrah (world solidarity) are more relevant today than any other time in human history, and the Gandhian style of satyagraha seems to be the only potent and pragmatic, moral equivalent of war in these troubled times. Gandhi not only said but showed us the way that, “nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence,” and the soul-force is far more potent than the brute-force. 
So we can conclude that this is the real vision of the leader who is the leader of leaders and we are in need of such a moral, philosophical and spiritual leader for the real development and progress of the society. Mahatma Gandhi was a charismatic leader who brought the case for India’s independence to world attention. For him, truth was sovereign principle; inclusive many other spiritual principles and schools of thought. His philosophy of non-violence, for which he coined the term satyagraha, has influenced non-violent resistance movements to this day.

  1. My Experiment with Truth, An autobiography - M.K. Gandhi.
  2. Gandhi and the Concept of Structural Violence,"ibid., pp. 197-209
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid. p.g. 201
  6. bid.p.g. 203
  7. Ibid.p.g. 204
  8. "Gandhi on Freedom, Rights, and Responsibility," ibid.
  9. My Experiment with Truth An Autobiography - M.K. Gandhi, Jaico publication.
  10. M.P. Sinha, ed., Contemporary Relevance of Gandhi (Bombay: Nachiketa Publications Limited, 1970), p. 3.
  11. "Need for a Second Gandhian Revolution," Gandhi Marg, vol. 20, no. 1, April-June, 1998, pp. 81-85.
  12. Romesh Diwan, "Gandhi, the US, and the World: A Bridge to the Twenty-First Century," Gandhi Marg, vol. 20, no. 3. Oct.-Dec, 1998.
  13. M.K. Gandhi, Sarvodaya, ed. Bharatan Kumarappa, Navjeevan Publishing House, Ahmadabad, 1954, p.g. 29.

  1. Raj Kumar and Vijendra Kumar, (ed.), Mahatma Gandhi: Life, Ideology and Thoughts, A Vision for 21st Century (Jaipur: Mangal Deep Publications, 1999).
  2. Gandhi and the Concept of Structural Violence
  3. M.P. Sinha, ed., Contemporary Relevance of Gandhi (Bombay: Nachiketa Publications Limited, 1970).
  4. Romesh Diwan, "Gandhi, the US, and the World: A Bridge to the Twenty-First Century," Gandhi Marg, vol. 20, no. 3. Oct.-Dec, 1998.
  5. "Need for a Second Gandhian Revolution," Gandhi Marg, vol. 20, no. 1, April-June, 1998.
  6.  M.K. Gandhi, My Experiments With Truth An Autobiography, translated from the Gujarati by Mahadev Desai, Jaico publishing house,2010.
  7. A.N. Tripathi, “Human Values”, New Age International Publishers, third edition 2009.
Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the ISBN Publication - Gandhi in the New Millennium - Issues and Challenges' published by Khandwala Publishing House.

* Prof. Rina A. Pitale-Puradkar is a Assistant Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala College, Ghatkopar (west), Mumbai.