Celebrating Gandhi and his Principles
Prof Sujit Dutta, Distinguished Fellow & Editor - National Security, VIF

The 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth is an extraordinary moment for our people most of whom did not witness his towering presence, his multi-faceted work, or hear him speak on a variety of diverse issues many of which are still alive. It needs therefore to be appropriately celebrated by recalling and reflecting on his ideas and messages that are still relevant, transformative and ideally suited to be the guiding principles for the ‘New India’ we all want to see. Gandhiji presents to us a holistic vision of nation building and righteous behavior as citizens of an ancient nation that aspires to be both materially and spiritually an inspiration for the rest of the world.

I reflect on four themes that are worthy to be the guiding principles for our people, and especially, for our governing elite in these times so that we do not waste anymore the opportunities to transform India and realize our destiny as visualized by the architects of India’s Constitution. These themes are: governance as seva, non-violence as a core principle of action, environmental care and cleanliness as godliness, and the essential unity of all religions exemplified in this line from Gandhi’s beloved bhajan ‘ … Ishwar-Allah tero naam’.

For Gandhi, the governing elites – the Ministers, legislators, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the bankers, and the heads of institutions across the land – are not rulers but `sevaks’ who are there to serve the people. This idea is ancient and is sanctified in the Arthashastra wherein Kautilya writes that providing ‘security and welfare’ to all the people is the core of Raja Dharma and the highest moral principle guiding the state. Prime Minister Modi has often reminded the nation that he is the `Pradhan Sevak’ and the people should approach him with their problems on that basis. Yet, even now this essential Gandhian concept has not been adopted by the governing elite as the central idea defining their role. The governing elite sees itself as the privileged ruling class with claims on the bulk of the state’s services and its resources. Rampant abuse of power and corruption that the governing class exercises, means their service to the people is secondary. As long as the elites see their role as masters and not sevaks of the people, no New India will be built; the people will remain exploited, justice and welfare would be impossible dreams, and unrest and violence would always be a threat.

Rampant violence is a reality in a conflicted and mal-governed society. Non-violence is an essential principle – both as means to create a spiritually awakened and socially conscious individual and an end in itself in a just society. The widespread violence that have become characteristic feature of most political movements and governance can never create a secure, free, just, and happy New India. Violence perpetuates violence and is most often a weapon against the weak and peace loving citizens. Terrorism and various forms of extremism are the ugliest modern forms of this violence but it is also widespread in the nature of governance and state practices. Arrogance and violence are a common feature of the behavior of our politicians, police, and top officials. They are also rampant among the rural land-owning class. India cannot change for the better and be a humane society unless the people adopt non-violence in thought and deed as their guiding principle of life. No political movement that justifies violence, no matter its espoused noble goals, is acceptable; neither can the violence built into the political culture of the governing classes across the country create a new order we all aspire for. Ends and means are both important, Gandhi said. This is even more relevant today now that we live in an independent country.

The third principle that is part of the essential Gandhi is his stress on cleanliness and environment protection. From ancient times our sages and thinkers have stressed upon the essential unity of man and nature. Unlike cultures that see man as superior to all and subjugation of nature to advance human interests, India provided an alternative philosophy of life. We have moved away from it though in our search for progress and modernity. As the world today faces an existential crisis in climate change and environmental pollution, the essential unity of human and nature can be better understood. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan of Prime Minister Modi is built on a quintessential Gandhian principle, and must become a people’s movement. There has been huge gains to our people since the mission was launched, but it has to go much further if our cities and villages are to be clean and green, if the recurrent floods are to be prevented, if the forests - as protectors of the soil - are to be rejuvenated, if pollution is to be brought down. The mission therefore goes well beyond cleanliness – it covers energy use, transportation, water management. That Mr. Modi has launched the ‘Water to All’ mission, along with promotion of alternative energy resources and electricity based transportation for New India, are huge steps in the right direction. They must be popularized as emanating from core Gandhian and ancient Indian values.

Finally, a New India must fully embrace Gandhi’s message of religious harmony and tolerance. This too is an ancient message. It is coded in the Ashoka’s edicts for the people 2,300 years ago. While India has thrived on the basis of such universal principles and the coexistence of many languages, faiths and communities is a characteristic feature of this land, there have been major exceptions with terrible consequences. Even Gandhi could not prevent the poison of religious separatism and hate from spreading and leading to the horrors and killings of the Partition. But separatism, intolerance and dogmatism have not yet ended. Lessons have still not been learnt. It has thrived for decades in the Kashmir Valley and other parts of India. Political movements love identity based mobilization for electoral gains.

The entire Indian culture rests on harmony of religions, faiths, communities. Gandhi understood this as a core social and political principle, practiced it tirelessly, and tragically paid his life for it. The current generation of our people must build it into a people’s movement recognizing in it the essence of Bharatvarsha.

Some seven decades ago, Indians cutting across all regions, languages, and communities recognized beloved Bapu as the ‘father of the nation’. In this recognition lies also the recognition of the values and principles he stood for as guiding principles. India has moved long way from them over the past seven decades. To build a new India, Gandhi’s principles need to be remembered, popularized and reimagined in a modern context. That will be a true tribute to him and the people of this great land.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: https://kalingatv.com/features/gandhi-jayanti-lesser-known-facts-about-the-father-of-the-nation/

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