Gandhian ideas more popular outside India

Representative image. Photo credit: Getty images

It would be easy to say that Mahatma Gandhi is as relevant today as he ever was. But such cliches are easy. He is interpreted and misinterpreted, but never forgotten. In India, it would be hard to believe that his message of non-violence is remembered at all. India is a very violent place and a militaristic, macho style is very much more liked than turning the other cheek. Violence towards women is a daily routine affair at home, at work, while going to work and as a result of marrying in the wrong caste.

We can point to Martin Luther King Jr. who gained a lot from Gandhi but he was the last such world leader. The world is a more violent place than ever before. The success of Gandhi’s tactics against the British empire seems almost unbelievable now. But where Gandhi is relevant – and not only in India but worldwide – is in his practice of non-violent, or more accurately, unarmed struggle by ordinary people against powerful States either their own or foreign. The Climate Change Movement, which has spread like wildfire this year around the world, is led by young people–schoolchildren, university students, young men and women in their first jobs. They are marching, holding up traffic, disrupting parliamentary business rather than just lobbying international fora to urge governments politely to act. Stockholm, Durban, Paris and other international conferences have been and gone. Now the time for direct action has come for this generation.

Without mentioning or quoting him, Gandhi is the leader they are following. Gandhi inspired the normally timid Indians to march and suffer beatings but delivered their Independence. Greta Thunberg is the sort of person who consciously or not has learnt to use Gandhi’s techniques. The same tactics are being used by the young men and women of Hong Kong who are challenging the most powerful communist government of the 21st Century. They have not won but they have changed the politics of China. It is in India that Gandhi is worshipped, but forgotten in practical terms. Gandhi tried to raise the status of the ‘untouchables’, as they were known in his days. He called them Harijans but he wanted Hindu society to change its attitude towards them voluntarily. His devotion to the Hindu social order – the caste system and his attachment to Hinduism (sanatan dharma) – became an obstacle. Babasaheb Ambedkar is remembered much more as the friend of the Dalits, as they are called nowadays. They clashed about Ambedkar’s ambition of securing reserved seats as well as reserved electorates which Gandhi blocked. That may be why routine violence against Dalits continues. Even so, in India’s antagonistic political party system, the one universally an accepted icon is Gandhi. His image appears on currency notes. He is the Father of the Nation.

Whatever the reason, he remains India’s best-known person across the world. It is in America and Europe and Hong Kong that Gandhi’s philosophy is being practised. His lifestyle, abstinence from meat and animal products is winning support from vegans. Gandhi was the first global Indian
personality. He remains the only one still.

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