There are leaders who carry the masses with them and there are leaders who carry forward the nations with them. Mahatma Gandhi was tallest among those who could mesmerize the masses belonging to any group or class spontaneously and effortlessly. Only few have made the masses to march to their tune in such adverse circumstances as existed in India.
Mahatma Gandhi was blessed with uncanny ability to observe, empathize with and exploit (for good cause) the other man’s emotions. He used that ability in full to unite the masses of India towards the goal of achieving independence. After his home-coming from South Africa he traveled the length and breadth of the country in third class railway coaches and on foot in order to know the real India and feel the pulse of the masses. He advocated ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘Satyagrah’ as weapons against the British atrocity, which immediately clicked the psyche of Indian masses. Being in consonance with the Indian culture they had great mass appeal. He clad himself in ‘Dhoti’ like an ordinary villager and insisted on wearing the same even during ‘Round Table Conference’ in England. He told the British that he did it because the poor masses of his country could not afford more clothes. He spun ‘Khadi’ and wore it because it was worn by villagers and it provided household employment to them. He served the poor and downtrodden with his own hands and declared the famine of Bihar to be a consequence of the sins committed by upper caste people on ‘Harijans’. He put his survival in danger while attempting to ensure Hindu-Muslim unity through fasting. All these ideas and actions of him struck the cord of the Indian masses belonging to every caste, creed and province. Nehru Ji has succinctly put Gandhi’s irresistible attraction in the following words:
“Gandhi Ji attracted people. They did not agree with his philosophy of life, or even with many of his ideals. Often they did not understand him, but the action that he proposed was something tangible…… Brave and effective action with an ethical halo about it had an irresistible appeal, both to the intellect and emotions…… Always we had the feeling that while we might be more logical, Gandhi Ji knew India far better than we did, and a man who could command such tremendous devotion and loyalty must have something in him that corresponded to the needs and aspirations of the masses.” — Nehru, ‘An Autobiography’
Thus Gandhi Ji was able to create a storm which uprooted the well-entrenched feet of the British and make this nation throw their yoke. Subsequently, this experiment of Gandhi was replicated by the likes of Mandela, Martin Luther King, and many others.
However, Mahatma Gandhi’s qualities to nurture and carry forward the nation need a close scrutiny. In fact, during his last days, despite immense reverence for him in everybody’s heart, even some of his closest followers had started putting a question mark on his views on governance. Due to his unfortunate death soon after attainment of independence, Mahatma Gandhi’s views on governance of the country were never put to test. Though the framers of the Constitution and some early rulers of the country took guidance from Mahatma’s views, the Mahatma was often forgotten or ignored in practice, if not in principle.
It is pertinent here to examine Gandhi’s ideas of Swaraj in the light of the developments during the post-independence India. In Mahatma’s conceptualization Swadeshi will be the practical aspect of Swaraj and he defined Swadeshi thus —
‘Swadeshi is the spirit in us that restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote…… If we follow the Swadeshi doctrine, it would be your duty and mine to find out neighbors who can supply our wants and to teach them to supply them where they do not know how to proceed….. Then every village of India will almost be a self-supporting and self-contained unit, exchanging only such necessary commodities with other villages where they are not locally producible.’
This doctrine of exclusion might have made some sense when it was written, but today in the age of globalization only a retrogressive nation would embark upon such path. This will lead to deprivation of our citizens from the vast knowledge and creature comforts that the modernity has produced and is producing day-by-day.
‘According to Gandhi Ahimsa was a mode of constructive political and social action just as truth-seeking was the active aspect of Satya. Taken together, truth and non-violence constituted the basis of an immutable soul force, an essential component of satyagraha.’ — Social and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi by Bidyut Chakrabarty
It took only 15 years after Gandhi for the Chinese to prove that Ahimsa is not a workable concept in international affairs and may lead to self-invited subjugation by the powerful.
Gandhi suggested that mechanization was an evil when there are more hands than required for the work, as is the case in India. Today, it has been proved beyond doubt that such a concept is totally outdated and can lead only to economic stagnation. He was also of the view that race for the moon is madness, but subsequent developments have shown that space research is not only an expansion of human knowledge beyond our planet but may also turn out to be a source of vast amounts of energy and precious minerals as well as a safe haven for humanity battered by cosmic and alien forces in future.
But this critique of Gandhi’s socio-political dynamics does not mean that he had completely blurred vision of India’s future, or that he had not contributed great ideas for building a just, humane, and forward looking nation. Gandhi was an spiritual idealist. Since he did not differentiate between preaching and practice, he insisted on applying his idealistic views not only in social transformation, but also in national and international politics. Here some of views turned out to be non-pragmatic. His views on family, children, women, oppressed classes, language, communal harmony and democratic values have nurtured our families to become more humane and happier units, our society to become more just and equitable and our nation to become a strong and vibrant democracy. Most of them are of universal application and will keep on guiding the man and his surroundings forever.