“…..Resist to the very end, he said, but without violence….Of violence the world is sick…Oh, India, dare to be worthy of your Gandhi!” said Pearl Buck in a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.
Though his posters are everywhere in these turbulent, agitated times – in an India that seems more divided than 1947 – but are we worthy of him? Symbolically pasting Gandhi from currency notes to police stations, India progressively moved away from him. Suddenly a rush to appropriate Mahatma Gandhi has invaded us, not only by opposing factions but also by academia. The protestors, irrespective of their belief systems, have Gandhi in the background. Ironically even those who reviled him.
Is India redeeming itself?
Only Mahatma Gandhi can answer this. But would he support what is happening and the methods being undertaken?
Even in his lifetime, some called Mahatma Gandhi a failure, though even his detractors knew he was right. However drastic and immediate, the solutions arising out of violence seem to always bring destruction in its wake. Gandhi’s non-violence was not a personal quirk; it was a vision of a different world, a political strategy in his struggle for Independence that best suited the Indian masses. Mahatma Gandhi knew that violence does not destroy only evil but also destroys the goodness that lurks in every person.
This goodness and humane softness was what he appealed to, even in the enemy, and this is where his followers misread him. He was hated both by Hindus and Muslims towards the end of his life but those days proved to be his finest days, for he brought out the sparkle of what he had trained his mind for – stoic suffering. Suffer inwards yet spread love. Calcutta, Noakhali, Delhi, the soil knew his footsteps and sweat.
While those who pined for blood hated him, the seculars also misinterpreted him. His secularism was born out of a deep respect for humans and the religions they followed. The later secularists, in their positioning and hatred for whatever appeared as communal, turned the meaning of secular to tolerance. Tolerance reeks of superiority, widens the gap through egotism, and is often the source of appeasement. The natural reaction to this process is a hate-filled, violent onslaught.
How did he handle it? Just one example will clarify it – on being opposed for reciting Quran in his prayer meetings, Gandhi continued with the meetings without prayers for weeks, till the person who objected, reconciled. Gandhi admonished his followers against using violence on the one who objected. That person may not have realized it, but he could come and criticize Gandhi because he was safe in his presence as day after day Gandhi controlled the angry mob.
All that Mahatma Gandhi stood for has been violated, and though the protests reiterate his words, they are far removed from what he preached. Seventy-one years after his death, Satyagraha is again being tested as a strategy. If this is Satyagraha at all, it misses the essential component – dialogue.
While the State refuses to enter into dialogue, it evokes an undercurrent of violence. The oppressed too are seeped in hatred, the precursor of violence and failure to channelize emotions widens the chasm. Gandhi as a leader would have asked the protestors to work on themselves before asking for rights. He would have reminded us of our daily behaviour, our attitudes to different opinions, the greed and the lack of sacrifice, even before we ask for justice. We, the people, would fail miserably in answering him.
We, the people, did not bother to learn from him the greatest lesson – of treating other humans as equal – rather than dwelling in the gaps that separate humans from one another. His concern for dignity and self-respect would not have made him face the oppressor, but turn back to the victim to ask whether they practised it. The animosity and anger in Indians towards each other is his biggest failure.
While the world discovers Mahatma Gandhi as the greatest human who practised love and worked for harmony and reconciliation, even at the cost of his comfort and life, we still debate him in a historical frame and betray Gandhi.
He may have failed in removing this hatred and fear, but it is not just his failure, it is yours and mine too.
Dr Alok Bajpai
Psychiatrist and curator- ‘An Hour with The Mahatma’