Are we relevant to the Mahatma?
It is custom for the week or fortnight surrounding Gandhi Jayanti to produce scholarship and erudition on the relevance of the Mahatma and his vision of a free India. Post 2nd October, we are free to return to the real world of polarized beliefs and intolerance.
This year has been no different.
Nevertheless, in recent years, the October obeisance has tended to become a fair bit subdued: the bhajan chanting and strains of Ramdhun are muted and newspapers no longer carry full-page sections devoted to the Mahatma.
Have people run out of ideas … or have I just become cynical with age?
At a recent panel discussion on the relevance of Gandhi, on his 142nd birth anniversary, we are told that the panelists skirted the core issue and touched only upon peripheral themes. Then, Sitaram Yechury, whose column this is quoted from (Hindustan Times, 4th October 2011), rambles on to write about Gandhi’s “unmatched capacity to control the dynamics of popular upsurge when he felt it was assuming a revolutionary character.” In his further pretty aimless perambulations, he laments the oppression of communism, makes a couple of political points and, like his fellow panelists misses the point, entirely.
Unwittingly, perhaps, Sukumaran C V in The Hindu (2nd October, 2011) provides the insight:
No, he knew only how to oppose a government. He did not know how to run one. Therefore, in governing our country, we can learn nothing from him.
The core of Gandhi’s philosophy is based on satya and ahimsa … literally translated, truth and nonviolence. But, for Gandhi, truth is the ultimate reality which is God. Truthfulness of word and deed are only approximations to truth. Ahimsa is not merely the passive avoidance of violence. For Gandhi ahimsa is “active love” … completely opposed to the idea of himsa and violence. While Gandhi acknowledged the inevitability of conflict, he decried violence as a result of and a resolution to conflict. He believed that human beings do have the capacity to resolve conflict nonviolently.
Gandhi’s thought and philosophy “are not reduced to a system. It is not a rigid, inflexible doctrine, but a set of beliefs and principles which are applied differently according to the historical and social setting. Therefore there can be no dogmatism …” (Stephen Murphy). Gandhi wrote in the Harijan:
I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth, I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things…. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment …
Clearly, Gandhi allowed his thought processes to evolve with experience and, in a larger social context, his perception of truth. In other words, he was happy to be a “practical idealist”.
The moot point is how Gandhi’s thought and belief would have evolved in independent India. He did not even live to see formation of the Indian Republic, let alone the turmoil of the next sixty three years.
What is pertinent, nevertheless, is to ask ourselves is how relevant we are to the Mahatma’s vision of a free, united and tolerant India? Or have we just become a torn and fragmented society, at loggerheads with itself?