Gandhi’s non-violence has a large following worldwide. The problem lies at home where the political class has misused Gandhi for their gain. For the new generation, regrettably, Gandhi is just a name and his ideals as fuzzy and irrelevant as their own scruples.
American physicist Fritjof Capra saw the dawn of the 21st century in terms of the rise of global capitalism and the network society; also the creation of sustainable communities. While these are current and happening and occupy a lot of the mind space, what about the equally current unbridled violence we see in our communities and neighbourhoods? How does one explain the mindless cruelties inflicted by the Islamic State on fellow Muslims? Or ‘civilized’ Europe turning its back on refugees from Arab lands, putting up fences to keep them out and calling them pejoratively “migrants”.
How does one explain all this at a time when humanity is on the cusp of great progress and discoveries? The cynics will say this is how it has always been, which is true.
Perhaps the answer or solution lies in the pursuit of truth in all circumstances, in non-violence and human-centric societal transformation irrespective of religion, caste, class, gender and region. In other words, time to own Gandhi again. Many understood and sought to emulate: The Dalai Lama for one; Martin Luther King Jr, who in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1964, pointed out that American blacks followed the path of non-violence to win their rights. Another Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai created the Green Belt Movement for sustainable development, an idea inspired by Gandhi.
Sadly, Gandhi is missing in his own homeland. We know how our leaders or ‘elders’ have dealt with Gandhi; for our youth, he’s little more than a textbook curiosity, cursorily read and barely understood.
Yet one can argue that Gandhi’s relevance in the 21st century has never been greater. His thoughts on decentralised administration, lower carbon signature and sustainable development reflect Capra’s 21st century imperatives (maybe he read Gandhi). The Mahatma’s preference for austerity in an age of mindless consumerism and materialistic pursuits remains valid, as does his bottom-up approach towards development with strong focus on the rural economy.
And somehow, somewhere, I do see hope on the horizon. At a very superficial level Rajkumar Hirani’s film Lage Raho Munnabhai made Gandhi understandable (even likeable I dare say) to a legion of young people. There have been other films Cattle, My Experiments with Truth, short films of about 15 minutes duration that give children a peep into Gandhi’s world. Cattle, for instance, is a 7-minute long film on honesty told in a seamless, non-preachy fashion. It revolves around an incident from Gandhi’s school days when he refused to copy the word ‘cattle’ even after his teacher’s warning. These are small projects, yet impactful I believe. They will expose the young generation to Gandhi and his ideals, to the values of equality, his faith in non-violence and the power of our conscience. It brings me to the larger picture: the need to align our politics with what Gandhi believed, taught and practiced. We need to move away from the politics of bitterness and competitive rivalry, which is only breeding opportunism, regressive politics, corruption and violence. Our Parliament is supposed to be a beacon of a strong vibrant democracy, but the curse of intolerance, personal enmities and political violence have taken over this revered institution. Scuffles in the well of either House, derogatory remarks, uncivilized debates, use of pepper spray underscore the depth to which we have descended. Gandhi can dig us out of this well. His principles should guide our political representatives and the rising new generation. Kudos to Narendra Modi for trying to infuse Gandhi’s ideals into governance, every time he talks about corruption free governance, about bringing development to the marginalized sections of society, or the use of khadi, or Swachch Bharat, it brings a practical element of Gandhi into our
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