Some years ago Karl Deutsch, an eminent political scientist of the USA attempted an exercise wherein he made a list of eminent people of the world who had made original contributions to human civilization. Among the luminaries he mentioned were Mao of China and Gandhi of India. Later on, during the fifties, some fifty or more Nobel Laureates made a fervent appeal to the great powers of the world never to allow a nuclear holocaust. In this appeal, the only name they mentioned was that of Gandhi. Gandhi has been rightly called the Father of our Nation and there is no doubt that he was the architect of India's freedom. But his thought and technique acquired universal appeal. Having forged the new weapon of non-violent non-cooperation he chalked out a new path not only for India but for the world as a whole.
During India's struggle for independence, Gandhi observed that when India gets her freedom, no other country shall remain a slave. His farsighted vision was amply vindicated when several countries of Asia and Africa earned their independence soon after India became independent.
With passage of time, Gandhi's stature has continued to grow not only in terms of space but also in time. His message and vision have an element of universality and timelessness. He spoke not merely for the dependent world but for the entire humanity. People who study Gandhi today continue to find ever new meanings, ever more significance and deeper relevance not only for the problems of the present day but also for the future. Gandhi made no claim to be a systematic thinker nor did he ever think of himself as a philosopher. There is no doubt, however, that his insights, perceptions and understanding are so pro- found as to win him a unique place in the annals of thought and theory.
Gandhi's singular outstanding virtue lies in the fact that he always attempted a synthesis between theory and practice, between thought and work. For him a thought or theory had no meaning unless it was translated into practice. At the same time, practice was to enliven the theory. It was in this context that he said, by way of leaving a legacy, that my life is my message. One wonders how many leaders could ever make such a daring claim for themselves. Karl Marx's observation that philosophers had only interpreted the world and that the time had come to change it, was consciously or unconsciously translated by Gandhi.
Twentieth century has witnessed struggles for colonial independence in several countries in the world. Among all the stalwarts of freedom, Gandhi emerges as the most eminent because, while he well understood the evils of colonialism, the remedies that he suggested were unique and original. No other nationalist leader has contributed so much in analyzing colonialism and simultaneously giving us a realistic vision of a new man and a new society. Gandhi's approach was civilizational, his was the voice of oriental civilization against the modernized, western civilization that had emerged as a result of the industrial revolution. In fighting for independence, Gandhi's objective was not merely to divest imperialism of its domination but also to strive for opening new vistas for both the oppressor and the oppressed. From his point of view, colonialism was an evil that corrupted and demoralized both the dominant and the dominated. Both were to free them- selves of the evil and live together, if need be, as equals honoring each other's self-respect and dignity. His fight for freedom, therefore, was a cleansing process where both the parties had to learn new lessons of peaceful co-existence.
Gandhi's life was essentially a spiritual quest for self-realization. But his spiritualism did not isolate him from the world. Indeed, spiritualism was to be enriched and suffused with practical action and constant striving towards a better world. It was in this context that his struggle for truth acquired meaning. He wanted to realise the truth because, for him, truth was God and every human being had to carry on this struggle for realization of truth. Life was a constant striving from imperfection to perfection, from ignorance to enlightenment, from oppression to liberation.
Gandhi continued to grow in ideas and perceptions all through his life. For him, there was no final point to stop this process. He grew from truth to truth. If extensive change at faster pace is the main feature of our times the question for us is how to place him in the context of ever changing times.
The modem world is facing a multi-dimensional crisis; a crisis that poses challenge to each and every aspect of our life. Among the outstanding aspects of this crisis are: Over-militarization, proliferation and global reach of arms, overdevelopment and underdevelopment resulting in mal development, a vast number of people suffering from poverty, hunger and marginalization. Added to these are environmental degradation in the form of pollution and growing paucity of resources, denial of human rights, gender bias and injustice, crisis in the field of energy, mounting insecurity, terrorism, drug trafficking, AIDS. All these together pose a grave challenge to the world.
On the other hand, for the first time in history, humans have the means, through their command over science and technology, to create a better and saner world. A rich and enlightened future is within our reach.
While this is one side of the story, there is also a grim possibility of destruction of human civilization. Just as man can construct, he can also destroy. In short, the world has reached the cross-roads where there are two sign-posts; one leading to violence, destruction and annihilation and the other leading to peace, co-existence and non-violence. On this choice hinges the future of human civilization.
As long as man lives on this Earth, Gandhi will be remembered as the first to have thought of non-violence as a governing idea of society. For Gandhi the present day society was imperfect in several ways. According to him, it is based on violence and continues to practise violence in almost all spheres of life. His perception was based not merely upon intellectual analysis, but also on the basis of his sensitivity. Someone has rightly said that he thought with his heart. Gandhi's definition of Violence had a wide connotation. For him anything that smacked of exploitation was violence. Man's exploitation of man, woman and the child as well as that of nature are all different instances of violence. Among the various manifestations of violence one could name alarming disparities in incomes, overdevelopment and underdevelopment, denial of basic needs, corruption, criminalization, communalism and consumerism. Unless they are mitigated one could never think of a peaceful society. A non-violent society of his dreams had to be a society that has no trace of exploitation. Gandhi's non-violence was not a negative principle. It had a positive connotation and far reaching implications.
Gandhi's approach to non-violence places him as a farsighted, sensitive and perceptive man of peace. Modem peace researchers who have contributed to the idea of direct and indirect violence and particularly structural violence find Gandhi as an equally original contributor to the thinking of peace research. The concept of structural violence is a product of social relationships of exploitation. Viewed from this angle, the control exercised by an imperial power is a classic case of structural violence, the British domination over India being one of them. The fight that Gandhi carried on against it was a non-violent fight against violence. Gandhi's concept of non-violence, therefore, stands for a society where there is no exploitation. This is far from the popular ideas about violence and non-violence consisting and embracing the narrow area of physical assault causing injuries. If Gandhi stood for peace and non-violence then obviously there was no place for violence of any type in his society. Both, actor- oriented direct violence i.e. wars and the system oriented structural violence involving exploitation were ruled out in Gandhi's nonviolent society.
It should be remembered, however, that Gandhi was no pacifist. Ever active, he believed that silence and inactivity in the face of injustice amounted to cowardice and escapism. All instances of injustice have to be opposed. His technique of Satyagraha singled him out as a great fighter. Freedom, justice and equality were the ends he had in mind. He wanted to recreate the society as a just social order. But Satyagraha was to be carried out with non-violence. It was a technique of non-violent resolution of conflict.
Today, governments and societies have been convinced about the futility of violence and war. Violence cannot solve any problem. It only exacerbates tension, ill-feelings and hatred. Gandhi wanted to eliminate ill-feelings entertained by both the parties. Substantial issues. of conflict could be resolved peacefully through negotiation, conciliation and compromise. This was not an easy path. It required a certain moral discipline including self-suffering, but what emerged at the end of it was an everlasting solution in which both the parties passed through a learning process, lifted themselves up on a higher pedestal and amicably settled the conflict.
Gandhi also deserves to be considered as the first public figure who sensed and articulated the common concern in respect of environment. One could rightly name him as the first great environmentalist. As early as 1908, writing his famous tract. Hind Swaraj, he dismissed the new western civilization as a short lived phenomenon, chiefly because it was exploitative of nature as well as of human beings. It was based upon an over-use of earth's resources, involving over-production and over-consumption of nature's bounty. Centered round the selfish nature of the individual, it stood for amoral economics and amoral politics. The new concepts of homo economicus and homo politicus were predicated upon accumulation of wealth, profitability and unquenchable hunger for power. When he was asked if free India would follow the example of England, he replied that if India with her large population will follow England, the resources of nature. would be exhausted in 25 or 30 years. The high standard of life based on consumerism simply could not be followed by the world as a whole. The sensible course was to live one's life in a simple way without exerting undue pressure on one's surroundings. Man was not the master of nature; he was part of it and he had to live in harmony with nature. Gandhi's philosophy emanated from India's past traditions of respect and reverence for the earth and her bounties. As an old adage goes the earth is our mother and we are her children. Throughout his life he lived an exemplary life as a model of an ideal environmentalist. The coming years of the twenty-first century would clearly indicate that sooner or later we will have to follow the path that Gandhi showed.
The world has reached the cross-roads of history. Innumerable issues have cropped up posing a grave challenge to humankind. These issues are global in their dimensions and nature. Hardly any of them is amenable to violent means. They need to be faced on a long term basis with international cooperation. No nation, howsoever powerful, is in a position to grapple with them. Nations are tied together in an inter-dependent framework. We have to band together otherwise each one will have to hang separately. There is no escape from the relentless logic of our commonality. This will be in tune with the humanistic and holistic approach that Gandhi so well espoused.
The post-cold war period has offered a rare opportunity to the governments, especially of the North, to accept a multilateral approach to meet the global problems of the world. The time is opportune for them to have renounced nuclear weapons to start with and pursue the path of peace and international cooperation. The world has to follow the path shown by Gandhi and move from the culture of violence to the culture of peace.
[Source: Pushpanjali - Essays on Gandhian Themes, edited by - R. Srinivasan, Usha Thakkar, Pam Rajput]