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Editorial Articles


Issue no 27, 30 September - 06 October 2023

Gandhian Perspective: Solutions to Present day Challenges

 

S B Singh

One of the most profound quotations of Mahatma Gandhi is: "My life is my message." What was his life and what was his message?  Perhaps Gandhi is the most written - about personality of all time. Scholars, both Gandhian and non-Gandhian, have written in detail about his philosophy, his life, his contribution, and his legacy. 

Gandhi and His Philosophy: Gandhi preached the basics of humanity, not its abstract principles. He never acted like an angel from the heaven and preaching from a high moral ground. He was simple, down to earth. Secondly, Gandhi was not a theoretician; he was a man of action. He always walked the talk. He always practiced what he preached. In fact, his precepts followed from his practice and experience. Thirdly, he was not so much into analysing the human predicament, but bringing a change in the human situation. Gandhi believed that change need not be revolutionary. His statement, "In a gentle way, you can shake the world" is testimony to his conviction that most profound changes come not with bloodshed, hatred and violence, but in a gentle, non-violent, peaceful manner.

Nelson Mandela, who adopted Gandhian methods to fight apartheid, rightly said that "Gandhi was born in India, but was made in South Africa." Gandhi developed and applied all his tools and techniques of struggle against injustice in South Africa first, and only then, in India. Gandhi chose non-violent means to attain freedom from British rule. He was not looking only for political change , but also change in all spheres of human activity. His action was targeted at health, cleanliness, education, uplift of the weaker sections, women, corporate world, environment, and everything else. This is a summary of his basic philosophy.

Truth: The moral aspects of truth include non-violence, self-control, and justice. In fact, truth constitutes the very foundation of life. Truth, in its absolute sense, makes its seeker one with god. Truth leads to non-violence and ahimsa, which is a positive virtue of kindness and compassion.

Non-violence:  In the words of Gandhi, not to hurt any living being is ahimsa. But it also includes shunning evil thoughts, lying, hatred, and ill thoughts about others.  Gandhi stated that "while violence is the weapon of the weak, non-violence is the weapon of the strong." The courage for non-violence comes from truth. Non-violent struggle is based on the willingness to understand the opponent's point of view and also its acceptance if it is the right view. Gandhian concept of non-violence remains a reliable approach to various conflicts that we witness today.

However, Gandhi was not a utopian and he knew well that absolute non-violence may not be possible in all circumstances. He was equally emphatic in stating that non-violence should not be equated with cowardice. Gandhi favored using violence over succumbing to cowardice, affirming, "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence."

Politics: For Gandhi, politics was a practice of ethics and spirituality in public sphere. Politics was required to mobilise people and bring about desirable changes. But this political mobilisation must be based on non-violence.

Passive Resistance: It was a unique technique devised by Gandhi to fight injustice. In his own words, "Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force."

Satyagraha: It is a combination of truth and non-violence. It is a method to bring the adversary to confront the situation, and meet eye-to-eye on the dispute, and redress the wrong without inflicting violence on the other party. The unique thing about satyagraha in conflict resolution is the fact that there is no ill-will against the opponent. Nelson Mandela defeated apartheid and yet shared power with them by making South Africa what is called a "rainbow nation", i.e., a nation having many textures, colours comprising races, groups etc.

Swaraj: Gandhi's concept of democracy was a decentralised swaraj.  He wrote: "Independence must begin at the bottom. Let every village be a republic having full powers. Every village has to be self-contained and capable of managing its own affairs." But such independence was not based on isolation, rather interaction among them. Gandhi was opposed to a highly centralised state as it was based on coercion and violence. Thus, the essence of Gandhian swaraj lies in economic and political decentralisation.

Gandhian Economics of Sustainable Development: "Economics which departs from or is opposed to ethics is no good and should be renounced," this statement by Gandhi clearly articulates his economic philosophy:

For Gandhi, economics stands for social justice; it promotes the good of all. He was opposed to the machine led industrial economies of the western nations which promoted insatiable greed for wealth. As the limited resources could not satisfy everyone's greed, violence to own them became inevitable. Gandhi suggested a humane path to economic progress to meet basic needs rather than multiplying wants and chasing them in a blind competition. For Gandhi, village self-reliance was essential for swaraj and economic democracy. Production must meet local needs first. A village must be self sufficient to meet its basic needs of education, health, water, and sanitation. However, he did not advocate complete isolation of the villages from the rest of the world. Gandhi said, "I do not want to stay in a house with all its windows and doors closed. I want a house with all its windows and doors open where the breeze of all lands and cultures blow through my house. But, I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."

Trusteeship: Gandhi had conceptualised the modern idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) much earlier in his trusteeship scheme meant for the entrepreneurs. It reconciled the need for individual entrepreneurship to the social need. Trusteeship required that the creators of wealth should not consider their entire wealth as their own, but as that belonging to society from where it comes. After meeting their individual needs, they must spend it on the weak and deprived. They could either spend it directly or, by giving it to charities. Gandhi even stood for legislation by government, if required, to meet the goals of trusteeship. Today, exactly the same has happened. CSR has been made mandatory in India by amending the Company Act, 2013. The following conclusions emerge from Gandhi's idea of trusteeship:

·         Trusteeship is a means of transforming the present capitalist order into an egalitarian one.

·         It does not recognise any right of private ownership of property except in so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare.

·         Legislative regulation can be permitted for ownership and use of wealth.

·         Under regulated trusteeship, an individual shall not be permitted to hold and use wealth in disregard of the interest of the society.

For Gandhi, it was not enough just to create wealth ethically, but also to be spent altruistically to meet social needs, and not individual, selfish needs.  This was the core of his idea of trusteeship.

Gandhi sought to touch every aspect of life and offer noble solutions to our problems of existence. Today, when the world is torn apart by hatred, violence, terrorism, wars, environmental degradation, unchecked greed, unsustainable lifestyle, Gandhi stands as a source of hope for humanity.  

The author an academician and commentator. You can send us your feedback on the article at: feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com

Views expressed are personal.