Today’s World and Gandhian Thought!

Amidst the atmosphere of tension, violence, differences of opinion, unemployment and inflation globally, the question is being raised again and again about the relevance of Gandhian philosophy which is based on truth and non-violence.

Interestingly, most people who oppose Gandhi’s thoughts unfortunately are Indians and not foreigners. These people did not feel the relevance of Gandhian thoughts even when he was alive. This feeling of disagreement with Gandhian philosophy resulted in his assassination. But people who had differences with Gandhi have begun to feel that Gandhi was not as harmful for his opponents while he was alive, but is more harmful after his death. The reason behind this is that the world is finding itself involved in violence, economic meltdown, starvation, unemployment and hatred. And the need for adopting Gandhian philosophy is being felt more eagerly everywhere. To dicover why its relevance is being felt more strongly today, we shall have to look at some of the incidents of recent history.

Gandhi ji during a foot march

After 9/11, the previous American president George W bush II did somewhat like that. He assumed that this terrorist attack was an attack on the pride of America and President Bush declared a ‘War on Terror’. George Bush vowed at that time that the world had only two options- “Either they are with me or with terrorism. There is no third way out.” Obviously, most of the countries who wanted peace in the world, took this seriously, and supported America on the call of President Bush. The countries that suffered from terrorism wanted to fight a decisive war against terrorism under the leadership of America. They wanted to get relief from the terror that had been pinching them for several decades. They wanted the world to live in peace.

But all the assumptions and suppositions by the world were dashed to the ground. After the declaration of war against terrorism by President Bush, terrorism from the world could not be eliminated. The most dangerous terrorist, the most wanted criminal of the world, Osama Bin Laden is still at large. His terrorist organisation ‘Al Qaeda’ could not be eliminated. After the 9/11 attack, America first ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan. The Taliban that was accused of having alliance with Al Qaeda could not, undoubtedly, stand for long time before the NATO armies in Afghanistan.

But within four years the Taliban again organised and strengthened themselves. Now once again, the American analysts feel that the area of Afghanistan is the most dangerous area of the world. On the other side, during that period President Bush, using the excuse of the declaration of war against terrorism, made a big mistake by sending American armies into Iraq. The American Army entered Iraq believing that Saddam Hussein had a huge store of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The American army not only entered Iraq but turned Iraq into a heap of ruins, and sent Saddam Hussein to the gallows. He was tried in an Iraqi court under the famous Dujail massacre case. The world was a passive spectator before the tricks of the superpower America. Israel also had the blessings of America. Under the pretext of terrorism, Israel, whenever they wanted, bombed Palestine. The reason that Israel gave was the same, War on Terrorism. Likewise, a few years ago, Israel waged a war against the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon, declaring it as a terrorist organization.

The result that appeared after the above violent incidents and the policy of Bush against terrorism is that Bin Laden is still out of reach and other most wanted terrorists, Mullah Mohammad Omar and Aiman al- Zawahiri etc. are not in the grip of the American army. Instead organizations attached to Al- Qaeda have gotten more strength and many new terrorist organisations have sprung out. Even the Taliban, which once gave in before the American army, is being seen gathering more strength. The hold of the terrorists in the area of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has become so strong that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had to admit that the terrorists have gotten too strong of a hold on Pakistan. Pakistan itself is fighting for its existence and facing new challenges from the terrorists every day. So much so, that in the Swat valley on the Pak-Afghan border, the Taliban played such a big game that Pakistan and NATO armies had to kneel before their power. On the base of their captured power, the Taliban forced the Pakistan government to apply Sharia law in tribal areas as desired by the Taliban extremists. This incident is being seen as a big victory of the Taliban over Pakistan.

The Presidential election in America took place last November in the midst of the horrible and intolerable incidents that came out during the period of ‘war on terror.’ The civilian deaths along with thousands of soldiers of American & its allies, the expenditure of billions of dollars, the economic recession in the world and unemployment, the worldwide dissatisfaction because of violation of human rights were all contemporary. In the presidential election that took place in America, on one side, there was a candidate named John McCain who was favouring the aggressive policies of president Bush and on the other side was a non-white candidate Barack Hussein Obama, who was talking of the path of truth, peace and non- violence as told by Mahatma Gandhi. At last Barack Obama won the presidential election with a huge margin. The first non-white American President, Barack Obama took oath as the president on January 20. It was a great revolutionary change in the politics in the America. Why did the people of America get fed up by the policies of George Bush and decided to follow Obama with one voice? Once again this question has arisen due to this revolutionary change – is the relevancy of the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi required in this tensed atmosphere of terror?

Regarding Obama, his life has been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Obama has fixed a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in his office, where he is seen conveying the message of peace. Obama is impressed with those great philosophies of Gandhi in which Gandhi inspired the world society to face the crushing policies with peaceful ones. Obama accepts Gandhi as his idol and took inspiration from the picture of Gandhi in his office. He says that this picture of Gandhi always reminds him that true results don’t come from Washington but from the public. Obama says that Gandhi selected an alternative path while getting India free from British rule, & he chose courage in place of fear. Obama, who talks of the Great change in the world & finds solution of the problems while following the path of non-violence, is feeling the relevance of Gandhian ideals in this age of violence & terrorism.

An important question is where did Gandhiji get this inspiration? Notwithstanding his fragility, he stood fearlessly against injustice & the attributes of not to bow before injustice. Where did he learn this from? And where did Obama himself get this inspiration?

In fact this great idol, the living embodiment of communal harmony, had studied the history of many religions & scriptures. The study of the holy Gita had given him the inspiration to follow the path of religion based on Karma. At the same time, the Karbala incident in Islamic history had impressed Gandhiji so much, he included it in his life.

The Karbala incident of 680 B.C., happened in the city of Karbala in Iraq, on the bank of the river Furat in which the then Syrian ruler Yazid mercilessly murdered Imam Hussein and 72 members of the family with his huge army. If Hussein had not left Medina and not come to Karbala, then the daring Yazid might have killed Imam Hussein and his relatives by going to Medina. But to the sanctity of Medina, Hussein himself left Medina even knowing that he, along with his companions would be killed by the army of Yazid. Hussein, instead of kneeling before the cruel, powerful, wicked, arrogant, corrupt and characterless Yazid or agreeing with him any way, chose to be sacrificed along with his family members. Undoubtedly, the positive aspects that we see in Islam today are accepted world wide, the sacrifice by Hussein in Karbala has had a great influence among them. As Hussein moved to Karbala to save Islam along with his group of 72 people, was the same way that Gandhi too, taking inspiration from that incident, took 72 people from different groups of society for his salt movement.

Gandhi admitted that the spread of Islam in the world is not because of the sword of the Muslim rulers but because of the sacrifice of saints like Hussein. Gandhiji was so impressed by the martyrdom of Hussein that he used to say, if he had only an army of 72 persons like that of Hussein, he could have won the war of Indian Independence within only 24 hours. He used to say that if India wants to be a successful nation, it should follow the foot steps of Imam Hussein.

Gandhi ji with his charkha

Almost all the countries of the world including America are facing the severest economic recession since World War II. Gandhiji was against big industries and was worried about increasing industrialization. He used to call the set up of industrialization as a ‘satanic set up’. Gandhi was of the opinion that the industrialization set up was based on the exploitation of man by man. The inequality will increase in the industrialization set up and there cannot be justice. Today increasing unemployment in India and more industrialization has reminded us of the relevance of Gandhian thoughts. Including India in so many countries today, small scale industries, cottage industries and industries run by the workers are lying shut and the people involved in such industries have been badly affected. Wherever such industries are running, the poor labourers, common man and the worker groups are hardly able to make both ends meet.

In fact, Gandhi’s appreciation for small scale industries was because he always thought for the benefit of the poor. He knew that revolution in society or development can be brought only by providing the basic necessities of life to the poor. He also knew that a poor man with bare body, starving of food, without a hut cannot think of independence or of an independence movement.

Gandhiji always considered the welfare of the poor as the centre of the war of independence. Regarding the welfare of the poor, the thoughts of communism are almost the same as of Gandhiji. Even the revolutionaries who had sacrificed everything in the war of independence talked about the welfare of the poor. That is why, the main slogan in the war of independence was that wealth and land will get proper division.

Gandhiji had a strong desire for uplifting the poor. It is a fact that he sacrificed everything. When Gandhi started to work as a lawyer in South Africa after passing his studies of law, within a short span of time he was counted among the most eminent lawyers of South Africa. It is obvious now that this fame came to the man who was dutiful, intelligent and was going to be the future of Independent India, within just a few years.

In 1905, Gandhiji used to earn the amount of 5000 by practicing as a lawyer in the courts in Africa. Certainly it is a good amount if compared to the present time, because at that time, the cost of gold was about 70 grams per pound. So it can be said that in terms of income, Gandhiji was a successful and rich lawyer. Obviously, he did not lack money and comfort and luxury at that time. But the fact was that notwithstanding all these things, a flame of struggle against injustice was blazing in that great soul. This fire was for raising voices against inequality and injustice. The fire was to abolish colour discrimination and to free India from the chains of slavery. This way of thinking gave Gandhi the inspiration to leave his coat, pent, tie and suit and to live like the poor among the poor. He wrapped a piece of cloth around his loins that was known as a dhoti. And then Gandhiji said that he would not accept anything until the poor in his country got everything.

Gandhi ji with Mohammad ali Jinnah

Gandhi wanted to make the younger children self dependent. So he was in favour of ‘Shramdaan’ (Voluntary Labour). I remember when I was in school, there used to be a separate period for gardening in school. In that period all students of the class went to the garden/farm of the school and worked in the garden just like a gardener or a farmer. Even the Persian wheel that was run with hard labour was worked on by the boys. This education was according to the teachings and inspiration given by Gandhi. Its motive was that students should learn to be self dependent and learn voluntary labour contribution for the cause of public interest (Shramdaan). They should learn the dignity of labour and if need arises, they should be able to farm themselves. They should be able to help in the construction of bridges, dams, tanks, roads, streets etc. But it is a matter of sorrow that ‘shramdaan’ has become a thing of past days.

Computers have taken the place of gardening these days. In the name of modern education, man appears to be on the present path of development but physically as a student of today, man is becoming lethargic. Computer education and the technology of modern science might have helped to control the whole world through a mouse, but the child who has taken hold of the world, certainly seems careless about the basic necessities around. The lack of understanding of ‘shramdaan’ in society is making society completely dependent on the government.

When we are talking about the ‘shramdaan’, one thing that needs to be clear is that in India, there are many NGOs that are experts in making bridges, dams, roads, river projects etc. But if we look at the vastness of the country, the attraction that ‘shramdaan’ should have is not there.

Interestingly, government machinery is unable to ignore this formula of Gandhi completely. That’s why we often see pictures of VIPs being published or broadcasted, in which they are shown being intentionally photographed doing Voluntary Labour. Recently, the government of Madhya Pradesh has started a state wide project following the principles of Gandhi based on Voluntary Labour. Because of the increasing scarcity of water in the state, the state government got started with the renovation of a famous lake in Bhopal, following the Voluntary Labour principle of Gandhi.

In this voluntary labour programme of a very large scale, the Chief Minister of the state, officers, artists, journalists, social workers & the common people of all religions & communities have actively taken part. The state government has marked many old lakes & tanks in the state that are to be made reusable through Voluntary Labour. Undoubtedly, the government is also giving its full contribution, but the concept of ‘shramdaan’ is itself a witness of the fact that Gandhi is not only remembered by the people of our country but by the people of the worldj – and if need arises the relevance of Gandhian thoughts will remain.

Gandhi who taught the world to defeat violence by non-violence, was himself inspired by the holy Gita. He was much impressed by the principle of Karma. Gandhi used to explain the well known sentence in the holy Gita- ‘Go on with your work & don’t worry about the reward’. In fact, today, in every sphere of life, we feel the relevance of this. Gandhi, who was so impressed by the holy Gita, certainly would have gotten inspiration, knowledge & devotion from the holy Gita. The knowledge that he got about the importance of action without any expectation, is of the utmost importance. ‘Work or take action without worrying about the results’ is the teaching from the holy Gita that Gandhi wanted to make the world understand. In fact, a person must have knowledge about the objectives of his actions while doing his labour. But if the work is done keeping the motive as the centre, then the doer will be successful. In such a situation, the doer, by ignoring the work being done, blindly follows the direction of the fruit to be achieved. He doesn’t hesitate to adopt the wrong path. The result of this thought can be seen especially with the people who are linked with politics.

Gandhi ji with Pandit Jawahar lal Nehru

Exactly the opposite, today there are attempts to get the power as ‘fruit’ without doing any labour. The result of this shortcut adoption is that communalism and corruption is flourishing throughout India. Many other countries of the world are also feeling the heat of communalism & casteism. At some places, communal riots are instigated just for communal polarisation and thus to make an easy and quick way to power. In some places, politicians emphasize differences of language, caste & creed, and some narrow minded leaders who head regional political parties in India are still using narrow thoughts to spread hatred against North Indians. Such people leave policies, principles & even humanity behind. They don’t hesitate to make decisions of the lowest levels just to accomplish their wicked motives.

It is a matter of sorrow that in the state of Gujarat, the homeland of Gandhi, his principles & philosophy are being made a mockery of. The proverb “Nearer the Church, Farther from God” applies here. Gandhi was the first important political person in independent India to be assassinated. Gandhi never made decisions on the basis of the majority. He looked at all communities and religions equally. His most valuable wealth were his thoughts of peace, love, harmony, truth & non-violence. But the people, whose politics were based on communalism, didn’t seem to like his policy of communal harmony.

In the end, a fundamentalist Hindu shot him. But it was after his sacrifice that his thoughts became more popular. Maybe critics of that great soul are larger in number in India where there should be more support. But every visitor to India from a foreign country – even those who may be the head of their own country, should pay a visit to Rajghat & give respect to this great man.

Today, all over the world, wherever there are peace marches, there is a rememberance of Gandhi. There is no doubt that the thoughts of Gandhi are relevant even in the present day, and will remain forever.