• 22 Apr, 2024

The Age of Gandhi Or Not?

The Age of Gandhi Or Not?

An objective reassessment of Gandhi and Gandhism in a contemporary context


When one uses the word ‘age,’ one means by that several things: the depth, scale, height of the impact that one person or personality has in the human world. This influence is abiding, dynamic, sustained, intense, transformative, universal, and grows in strength and applicability as new challenges arise, even after the protagonist is gone.

 Let us take a look at Gandhiji in this context.

First, let us understand that we have been unfair to him, and perhaps even as he was to himself too. The term used widely for him, Mahatma, may itself be somewhat misleading. ‘Mahatma’ refers to one who has attained a certain vastness or universality of being, one who is noble and magnanimous, and may be regarded as a ‘great soul’. Gandhiji never alluded to being such a great soul or to such attainments. Thus, the word Mahatma, mahan atma, the Great Self, is really not applicable to him. It takes away from who he was. He was called a saint trying to be a politician. But in his own estimate, he was a politician trying to be a saint. This is a better, more apt description. For we must remember his human frailties as a leader instead of imposing on him a title that has a far different connotation and relevance.

Gandhi was a moral man, an ethical man, who adopted from Tolstoy and Thoreau, Jain philosophy and Buddhism, but there are also many aspects of his approach which are impractical and not appropriate in today’s setting. For example, his advice to Hindu women to let their rapists have their way and if their hearts are pure, they will die before the rapists get their deed accomplished is wrong on many levels. It is not only irrational, it is immoral and an abnegation of responsibility by the administration and government if adhered to.

Such rigidities of thought and response, such uni-dimensionality of approach, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot cope with, let alone respond and overcome, the challenges of change with the times. Today, there are hardly any political figures weaving cloth, cleaning toilets, living on a strict vegetarian diet and goat’s milk, and imposing their standards on the whole world, and that seems quite appropriate. Human nature does not allow such fixities and narrowness of worldview and discards them as it evolves. As Sri Aurobindo repeatedly taught us, the ascending spirit assumes new forms and drops off as outworn clothes those that are no longer appropriate for the changing dharma of the age, the Yuga Dharma.

His ethos was not that of the Indic tradition. Bharatiya sanskriti, Indian culture, has always looked towards the deeper fundamental solution of things; that is why it is the only civilization that is alive today with its original literature and darshana. Gandhi did not subscribe to, nor could he have countenanced, the Gita at all, even though he repeatedly paid lip service to it. 

Secondly, eventually his politics failed. We can see this when we consider the partition of India into two countries, and the fact that animosity between the two has only grown. While we do not blame his sincere desire to heal the rift between the two communities, his policies were certainly not able to bridge the gap and heal the divisiveness. He considered this his failure. And it is apt that he sought a meeting with Sri Aurobindo after India’s independence but unfortunately was assassinated before the two could meet. (An earlier attempt to meet Sri Aurobindo had also failed as Sri Aurobindo had gently turned down the request.)

Thirdly, Gandhi was not a democrat. What would be his place in modern India is open to question. He showed his dictatorial side when he forced Subhash Bose to resign from the presidency of INC and did not allow Sardar Patel to become the first Prime Minister of India. 

It has been noted by Nehru that Gandhi did not support the allied powers during WWII because he thought that the Axis powers would win (I refer the reader to ' The Never-Dying Fire: The Life and Thought of Sri Aurobindo ' by Luc Venet as reference). If this is true, it shows a serious flaw in this thinking and takes away the aura of righteousness that he averred he belonged to. 

Fourthly, he left us only partial solutions, not complete ones. His economics may have been good advice to focus on sustainability of economic measures and ecology. But there is hardly any country today following it. His rigidity becomes a barrier to creativity and human inspiration. His sincerity was commendable we could learn that from him, but beyond that he was limited as a moral-political-religious man whose judgment was suspect and vision limited. 

Amal Kiran in his essay ‘The Real Gandhi: An Impartial Estimate of His Greatness’ from the book The Indian Spirit and the World’s Future’ , notes Gandhi’s drive for removing poverty and untouchability. But that non-violence at all cost cannot be the master ideal in a fight against tyranny and injustice since asking the oppressed to use only an impractical soul-force no matter what is itself an injustice.

It is true that Gandhi influenced other leaders of our time such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa, and the civil disobedience and noncooperation they adopted from him are powerful tools in the right hand. Yet, these are tools that may be used only in certain situations and not universally. For example, against tyrants or oppressors like Hitler or Stalin, it would fail miserably. 

In his own case, the Moplah massacre and Calcutta riots were the effect of his blunders and miscalculations. We must remember that the tools of boycott, svadeshi and noncooperation were not his original ideas but were adapted from other leaders and thinkers such as Thoreau and Sri Aurobindo. 

The sooner we discard Gandhism the better for the nation and the world. The sooner we no longer see Gandhi as a spiritual figure, the better for our own perception and vision. This is the best service we can do to him, in my opinion. Respect him for his effort. Drop his failings and foibles by understanding why he failed and why it would be evolutionary to move beyond him with haste and celerity. For now he has become the barrier to India’s journey towards its own light and Truth. 

Pariksith Singh MD

Author, poet, philosopher and medical practitioner based in Florida, USA. Pariksith Singh is on the advisory board of Satyameva.

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