As a school girl growing up Gujarat, my schools in Ahmedabad and Vadodra taught me to revere Mahatma Gandhi: he is father of the nation, he got us our freedom and was the most beloved of all Indian leaders. I never questioned that; but nor did I give it much thought.
As a college student in Pune, I encountered a very different point of view on Gandhi – for the first time I heard of his name being taken with contempt by some of my fellow students. Those students felt that what Nathuram Godse did that dark day of January in 1948, was justified; even necessary. I was appalled, I was amazed and I was indignant.
This is the time when my interest in Gandhiji was genuinely piqued; the time that I read up about the man and realised what a truly tremendous soul he was and why. I first did this for a self-centered reason; so I could effectively counter the arguments of others with divergent views on Gandhi. Soon it was a profound admiration for the man and his methods that spurred my actions.
Gandhiji showed us the difference between freedom fighting and terrorism
He immortalised the quote “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. He not only said this; this was a credo he lived by. He demonstrated that when you face your oppressor with bombs and bullets you reduce yourself to his level; you are no better than your oppressor, no matter how just your cause or how lofty your endeavour.
I will offend and outrage people when I say this, but forming armies to attack the British, murdering police officers, and hurling bombs inside the Central Legislative Assembly while shouting Inquilab Zindabad are ignoble. These acts may be brave; may even be spurred by a fierce national pride, but then you could say the same about Kashmiri youth committing acts of terror in the name of ‘Azadi’ today. Modern suicide bombers maybe a little unhinged but they are certainly brave!
Mahatma Gandhi showed us the tremendous power of non violence. The helpless rage of the British empire in the face of his passive resistance meant that our erstwhile oppressors did not know quite how to react to this man’s utterly unique tactics. There was no precedent and British could not clamp down on this form of resistance with their usual brutality – the non violent resistance simply did not justify it.
He not only showed the Indian freedom movement the way; he was able to unite India in a manner unprecedented before or after. He had the sort of iron resolve that made the largest empire on earth bow to his wishes. He was able to halt communal riots simply by refusing to eat.
Gandhiji was a genuinely simple man/h3>
Pandit Nehru once famously said about Gandhiji’s steadfastly frugal ways: “keeping him in poverty costs a lot of money”. Seeing Gandhi Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, reveals what a completely Spartan life the man led. He had very little and showed the world that it was possible to survive on very little. His habit of using the charkha to make his own clothes set a remarkable example of self-reliance that each of us, stuck in a morass of material desires and ambitions could learn from.
Mahatma Gandhi has inspired generations of world leaders
Gandhiji was arguably the most influential leader of the 20th century. If there is one Indian leader who genuinely makes us proud – who really taught the world a thing or two, it is Mahatma Gandhi. Now, 65 years after his assassination he continues to inspire world leaders with his singular ideas.
American civil rights leader Martin Luther King drew inspiration from Gandhiji’s methods for his own struggle; so did Nelson Mandela in this struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Barrack Obama also claims to be inspired by this small giant of a man, as do Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and Benigno Aquino of the Philippines.
Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals are just as relevant today
His principles of non-violence, truth, religious harmony and tolerance are timeless; they are his legacy to the world. It is a different matter that most Indians now consider Gandhi and his legacy an anachronism; his ideas as inapplicable to modern reality.
Most people are content to place a photo of the man on a wall and then promptly forget all about him and his ideals. It would be foolish and shortsighted to relegate the man and his ideas to history… Gandhiji’s ideals are as relevant today as they always were; they are eternal. We Indians can ignore them at our own peril.
Image Source: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons