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Why Gandhi in the 21st Century?

Niraj Krishna

Mahatma Gandhi, also known by titles such as ‘Rashtrapita,’ ‘Bapu,’ and ‘Messenger of Peace,’ was a personality of great significance. Regardless of whether one expressed support or opposition, admiration or criticism for his thoughts, leadership, and influence, discussions about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi were widespread. While individuals like Einstein lauded Gandhi’s achievements in political history, stating, ‘It will be difficult for future generations to believe that such a man walked the earth, made of flesh and blood,’ political figures like Winston Churchill ridiculed him by calling him a ‘half-naked fakir.’ In India, Dr. Ambedkar expressed scepticism and disbelief in Gandhi, considering him a contentious figure, while for radical Hindu and Muslim groups, he stood as one of their most significant adversaries.

However, amid all the praise and criticism, it is undeniable that Gandhi emerged on the world stage as a great humanitarian. Despite facing doubts and opposition, particularly from socialist circles, Gandhi, with his ascetic disposition and dedication to the upliftment of society, became an iconic figure. His relentless pursuit of nonviolent resistance and his ability to inspire broad-based struggles for independence left an indelible mark on the oppressed masses, showing them the path to freedom on the global stage.

The remarkable aspect is that, despite leading India in the struggle for independence for about thirty to forty years and actively participating in political life, Gandhi primarily functioned as a moral teacher. Truth and non-violence were so dear to him that he did not desire freedom at the cost of compromising these values. Thousands of individuals incorporated Gandhi’s ideals into their personal lives, and millions expressed their faith in Gandhi’s teachings. Countless people became devoted followers and admirers of Gandhi. Indian history has recorded this unconventional phase of three to four decades as the “Gandhi era”.

Gandhi was a socialist because he vehemently opposed individual inequality. However, his socialism was rooted in Swadeshi, under which he advocated for equality in all areas, including political, social, and economic, based on the principle of non-violence. In addition to thwarting constructive efforts for the upliftment of all classes in society, Gandhi also advocated three crucial principles – the concept of Satyagraha, the principle of Sarvodaya, and the principles of trusteeship.

Although the concept of ‘Sarvodaya’ (the welfare of all) is not a new idea in Indian culture, the ideal of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” has been prevalent since Vedic times. Mahatma Gandhi is credited with bringing this ideal to the global stage. Sarvodaya aims at the well-being of all sections of society and individuals. It gives birth to new social, political, and economic values. Within the framework of the Sarvodaya concept, freedom and equality have been accorded the highest status, forming the foundation of a modern welfare state.

The essence of democracy also lies in ensuring sufficient freedom and equality for all in social, political, and economic domains. According to Gandhi, labor dignifies human life, while capital represents selfishness. In his view, all wealth belongs to the Divine, and humans are merely its stewards.

Gandhiji believed that the foundation of social order lies not in hatred, conflict, or violence but in love and trust. He accepted the establishment of society based on moral values. Therefore, it should be conveyed to capitalists and the wealthy that the excess wealth they possess is a heritage of society. They have kept it for the purpose of using it in public welfare and benevolent activities. Thus, Gandhiji’s principle of trusteeship is based on love, trust, and morality, developed from his philosophy of non-possession.

Gandhiji received a philosophical heritage from Indian tradition and Western thinkers that rejected modern Western civilization’s offspring, capitalism, and imperialism, which established itself through war and atrocities. Going further, he almost completely rejected Western civilization. The rejection of Western civilization in this way became the basis for claiming the superiority of Indian civilization, which neither had capitalism nor had embraced imperialism. In this way, the material poverty of Indian civilization became the foundation for Gandhiji’s claim of its superiority.

During the British rule, Gandhiji wanted to revive our political, cultural, and economic system that had been shattered. However, after independence, leaders did not share Gandhiji’s vision, and they started to consider Western economy as their ideal. Even Jawaharlal Nehru admitted in his later days that it was a big mistake not to heed Gandhiji’s words. However, even after that, people did not realize. Why would a country working for the benefit of the World Bank and Western interests think about the country’s welfare? They find the Western economic system more appealing. They forget that the Western system is a mechanism to take control of the world.

Gandhi Ji said in 1917, “Western countries have established a system for which they will have to make their slaves all over the world because they cannot sustain their way of life with their resources. Giving birth to poverty is the nature of this system. When a large class will be poor, there will be a small class of rulers.” India’s system has also become an integral part of it. The increasing urbanization for economic development also goes against Gandhiji’s ideals. The need is to enrich the villages. Our politicians have rejected Gandhiji, denying the real development of the country. Now, returning to Gandhian economic paths and following such an economy is essential, which reaches the last person in the country.

In this era of madness for capital in society, where governments are resorting to begging for capital, Gandhi Ji says, ‘For social development and human satisfaction, it is essential that capital is created, capital increases, and capital is distributed.’ These three steps, when ensured by society, will taste the sweet fruit of prosperity, cooperation, and the peace of fulfillment.

It is at this juncture that socialism slipped, shattered, and broke apart. It is here that Jawaharlal Nehru’s mixed economy took a nosedive, here that China, under Mao’s rule, began to worship the footsteps of capitalism, and here that the peaks of the capitalist system in Europe and America are crumbling. Therefore, Gandhi Ji advocated for the continuous and planned distribution of capital.

Today, the principles of the market echo all around, and the process of everything being handed over to it is ongoing, while the principle of the market is to maintain a considerable distance between the producer and the consumer. It determines its own terms, with no role for society. Its priority lies only in profit, and exploitation increases through profiteering. What is the criterion for the success of any industrialist today? Not social service or national service, but rather the tendency to maximize profit and cutthroat competition have led them to the pinnacle of success. Therefore, Gandhi’s relevance is still significant today.

The pain lies in the fact that in the current economic system, capital plays a purely exploitative role. As a result, people are becoming victims of capital. In such a situation, we need to turn to Gandhi. Today, Gandhi is not among us, but whenever time ignores us, his thoughts come to us at the crossroads of problems.



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