Gandhi’s legacy

Source: The Frederik News-Post / / By Anadi Naik /

For four decades, through nonviolent direct action and passive resistance, Mahatma Gandhi meticulously prepared his people for freedom.

During a period when the civilized world was fighting one worldwide war after another, he was arming his people with no weapon at all — not even a stick. He was asking them to commit to nonviolent resistance. His method revolutionized thinking around the world. Yet religious riot had engulfed many places as the British left India. He would not see Muslims of India as enemies of Hindus and vice versa. Those who expected benefits from branding India a Hindu country found Gandhi’s existence untenable.

One of them killed him on Jan. 30, 1948.

It is quite possible that had he lived longer, he could have influenced the policies of the government and the outlooks of the people of India. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Nonviolent resistance — what he called “satyagraha” — had no concept of enemy. He did not see the British as an “enemy people.” That is why a number of Britons volunteered to carry his message among their own. But he opposed British rule.

As a shrewd lawyer trained in the British Isles, Gandhi understood that the British took advantage of India’s weaknesses and ruled over it by capturing the country piece by piece. Affected by internal conflicts, Indians had no power to fight back. Therefore, building their confidence was a priority. Refusal to pay taxes and bypassing British institutions were political actions that created confidence among them. They also had to be the agents of change. So Gandhi asked Indians to overthrow the caste system, educate women and maintain discipline in personal behavior. In order to overthrow the colonial power, opposition to it became as important as building strength internally. For the poor and the weak, nonviolent resistance became the most powerful weapon at hand. His success in India paved a new way for the rest of the world.

Millions of people elsewhere became convinced that they too could use this weapon. Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers used it in the civil rights movement. They boycotted public buses in Montgomery, Alabama; refused to obey rules of segregation and went to jail in droves; and were attacked by the police committed to restoring peace. But they did not attack the police in return. Because the method of resistance was nonviolent, King could mobilize the white establishment. Religious organizations along with labor unions and mainstream politicians joined hands with him. The movement changed America so much that, within 40 years of King’s death, Barack Obama became its 44th president.

Nonviolent resistance has proved a bona fide tool of protest. Farmworkers in California led by Cesar Chavez, the dockworkers of Gdansk, Poland, led by Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and his friends in Czechoslovakia used this tool to vent grievance as well as to overthrow an oppressive Communist regime. At the height of the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the British government, two housewives, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, defied the rules and crossed from one side to the other. In doing so, they created a movement for peace. Others joined them. They were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

Because of mushrooming nuclear bombs around the world, peace movements at local levels and internationally have sprouted in different countries to talk to powers. The nonviolent methods of passive resistance, noncooperation, dialogue, and trying to change hearts have become part of the process.

When political freedom and economic liberation do not walk hand in hand, it breeds violence. However, Gandhi’s concept of “trusteeship” brings a solution. To him, as long as a person uses the acquired wealth for the good of the people, it is accepted. He sought equality. But it was like the early Christians. Though Gandhi was born a Hindu, his ideas were nourished by Western thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin. A schoolteacher, a writer and an architect — they were all moralists. In India today, his statues are everywhere. But hardly anyone seems to heed his teachings of honesty in public life and simplicity. Were he to return today, he and his country could hardly recognize each other as India is being turned into a Hindu nation.

The Vaclav Havel Center