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Bapu’s Way: The Relevance of Gandhi in Modern India and the World

statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London
Written by Rahul Srivastava

“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”  — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1915, Indian National Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale invited a frail lawyer in his late forties from South Africa, to come to India and duplicate his success in fighting injustice and class division. Gokhale also had another motive; to groom this man to take on the mantle of the Indian independence movement. This man was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — the Father of the Indian Nation, or more affectionately referred to as “Bapu” (father) by many Indians. This year marks the 150th birth anniversary (celebrated October 2) of arguably the greatest leader of the Indian independence movement whose teachings went on to inspire countless other non-violent revolutions around the world.

Mahatma Gandhi had, and continues to have, a huge global influence. He is regarded as more than just an Indian — just like Einstein is more than just Swiss, Mozart Austrian, da Vinci Italian, or Chekov Russian; he is one of those human beings who belongs to all of humanity. His followers include prominent global leaders and activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and more recently, Barack Obama.

I first learned a lot about the Mahatma through Richard Attenborough’s movie Gandhi in which actor Ben Kingsley portrayed Bapu to perfection — a performance that won him an Oscar Award. I vividly remember how inspired I was as a child after seeing the journey of a common man to the zenith of national leadership. I got to know more about his immensely challenging life by reading the many books on him including The Story of My Experiments with Truth and Hind Swaraj.

A piece of a money bill showing Mahatma Gandhi

Decades since his death, a strong and independent India still has a lot of work to do to stay on track with the vision the Mahatma had for his country and countrymen. It’s quite obvious that when you look at certain aspects of modern India’s political, social, and economic make-up, there’s still a desperate cry for an infusion of more of Gandhi’s values and ideals.

It’s become voguish to question, “Do we really need Gandhi in today’s world?” and it’s always being asked with the presumption of the reply being, “No, we don’t”. In the age of information technology, where is the applicability of Gandhi’s iconic spinning wheel? In the age of consumption, what is the use of self-control?

The core Gandhian values are not practiced enough today. Non-violence, his biggest teaching to the nation, is not the term to be associated with modern India, which is afflicted by different forms and levels of violence every day. The Gandhian era and current India are in complete contradiction. Trust in the nation and its leaders, which most Indian citizens experienced to some degree during Gandhi’s era, is nowhere to be felt today.

Over the past decades, India has sadly endured incidents where law enforcement officials have been suspended for investigating government corruption. Journalists who write the truth have been harassed or silenced. Even young girls traveling alone have been victims to violence. There was even an occasion where a defenseless man was lynched by a mob because of ‘rumors’ he may have kept cow’s meat in his refrigerator!

The only solution to injustice and extremism today is to revisit and practice Gandhian values such as truth, non-violence, and secularism.

We come across ‘chosen’ religions, races, political ideologies — all lending themselves to prejudicial arrangements that crush the rights of those who do not subscribe to them. Our ancient texts say Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (“the truth is one, wise men interpret it differently”). If this is what our culture tells us, then how can we accept just one school of thought that says it is the only way and which paints those who do not associate with it as infidels or unpatriotic traitors? All the injustice and extremism today are like festering sores, and the only balm of relief is to revisit and practice Gandhian values such as truth, non-violence, and secularism.

Mahatma Gandhi. The monument in Moscow, Russia.

Gandhi was a charismatic leader, but his mass appeal was never based on appeasing any specific community or spreading hate against any section of society. While political parties have always been subservient to the masses and the masses have followed certain political figures without question, people like Gandhi had the courage to fight mob mentality. He always considered mobocracy as an unacceptable way of conducting politics and organizing a society.

You may ask that, if Gandhi was all that history says he was, then why did India suffer partition and carnage? Also, why do corruption and animosities stain the country even in 2019? As for non-violence, can we look at Syria or Iraq and still talk of its relevance in today’s world?

In the age of social media and instant gratification, there is perhaps no place for ethics, camaraderie, honesty, peace, and non-violence … or is there?

Gandhi was criticized for not solving all the issues of our times. His failure to accomplish an ideal world speaks volumes of what he inspired us to expect from him — simply everything … even miracles. In his journey, he both failed and prospered. It proves that he wasn’t perfect — which is exactly what he always tried to say!

In the age of social media and instant gratification, there is perhaps no place for ethics, camaraderie, honesty, peace, and non-violence … or is there? Until the day these values continue to mean something to us or matter to our existence, then whether you like it or not, Mahatma Gandhi will remain relevant. He, as a human being, may lose his relevance someday, but his legacy and thoughts can never become irrelevant.

About the author

Rahul Srivastava

Vampire hunter, a renowned archaeologist, and an Oscar-winning filmmaker... Rahul is none of them. He is a curious ambivert funny bone who loves to express himself through writing and acting.

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