Why India and the world respect Gandhiji

By Arvind Sharma

We ritually speak of MK Gandhi’s contribution to India and the world. Gandhi was committed to Ahimsa, non-violence. Its true significance emerges when we realise that Gandhi had no interest in the freedom of India from British rule if it was not achieved by non-violent means. This was also consistent with Gandhi’s insistence that politics tends to deal with ends, while his approach to politics focussed on the means by which these ends are achieved.

The Indian nation paid its homage to MK Gandhi because he led it to freedom. People were happy that their ends were achieved, although not in full measure because of Partition … After the end of the Second World War, pictures of various national leaders on the polychromes which appeared in various shops of panwallas, carried pictures not only of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, but also of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Indians wanted independence by any means; Gandhi wanted it only by non-violent means.

This might also explain why Gandhi is under attack these days for not having sought clemency for the many revolutionaries who were hanged by the British during the freedom struggle. There is also the question of the violence of Partition and allegedly Gandhi’s less than whole-hearted effort to prevent it. The bitterness some people feel towards Gandhi on these issues can also be traced to their greater concern with the ends rather than the means. The national assessment of Gandhi, therefore, is not as unequivocal as the international assessment.

When we look at the life and work of Gandhi from a global perspective, then we realise that Gandhi’s contribution to human history may be global in scope, rather than just national.

The emergence of the state was a crucial event in the broad history of human evolution. This is when human beings decided that they would not settle their personal differences by resorting to violence but would let the state do so through the impersonal rule of law. They could thus avoid the chaos of private vigilantism and revenge-seeking. In Gandhian terms, such a development represented a triumph of non-violence over violence.

Gandhi’s great contribution in this context was his insistence that just as nations and societies chose to prefer non-violence over violence in this way at one time, humanity must now take the next step and resolve that it will also henceforth solve inter-national and intra-societal conflicts, (as between workers and capitalists), only through non-violent means such as the rule of law, and not through war and violence. He was convinced that such a step would usher a new age of unforeseen potential for human well-being, just as in rising above violence in dealing with our personal, familial and communal conflict, a new age had been ushered centuries ago when the rule of law was first introduced. The abiding worldwide engagement with Gandhi is perhaps an unconscious recognition of humanity’s unconscious longing for such an outcome.

For Gandhi, the question of looking upon his work as either national or international did not arise, for, in insisting that the freedom struggle be waged non-violently, he was blending the two in his own life. Perhaps the world may have grasped his true significance to a greater extent than us. We care for India, Gandhi cared for the world.

The writer, visiting professor at Nalanda University, is author of Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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