It was one of those evenings when Mahatma Gandhi surprised me yet again. During the dusk of Wednesday 04th April 2012, I had the opportunity of releasing my book ‘Air, Fire & Water’ on Indian independence, at the Nehru centre in London.
It was interesting to note why Gandhi’s business is still valid today and in fact more relevant.
I spoke in the evening on Gandhiji’s Ahimsa or non-violence and why it can have an effect now.
To extend on it, all we need to do is to look at Sri Lanka where ironically Gandhi’s statue has been vandalised recently.
The 26 year long war against terror on the island nation was rounded up in 2009 with more terror by the military, making it hard to distance military from the terror outfit itself, given the scale of civilian causalities.
While violence over violence has ripped off the gloss and shine over the victory of the Sri Lankan army in less than 3 years, Gandhi stands tall, in stark contrast. His universal appeal is on the rise even after 64 years of his demise. And that includes this little thing of vandalising his statue. Whoever did it probably thought they could empty the ocean with a homemade bucket.
Mahatma expertly used Ahimsa to create the collective consciousness that strangely had more power than violence. His methods were not confined just to India as evidenced by other leaders who followed him elsewhere such as Nelson Mandela. The recent example is President Obama who famously said ‘Gandhi is my hero’.
If I ask you to march up, stand there, get beaten up while you chant the mantras about your nation, you would probably call me nuts. But this is exactly what Gandhi asked the millions to do.
The immediate reaction to physical assault is retaliation or retreat depending on who you are. There is a third option – to call the police. However this option was not available for those folks as it was the police who were thrashing them.
So how could Gandhi achieve this unique feat of impressing upon people to go against their natural reflexes, for decades?
- Gandhi had a solid national goal to which he wedded his life. His life became a focal point for the masses. They could not see the difference between the goal and Gandhi. Most people need a tangible form to idealise intangible sentiments, however noble they are.
- Gandhi was an excellent strategist. He knew what to fight for, what weapon to use and when.
- Gandhi was nothing but an external symbol, representation or embodiment of their /our own noble self. Or people perceived so. Since a noble self does not belong to one single nation, his appeal had to be universal
- Gandhi said ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. In other words he did what he said. This has almost become a cliché that people skip it as a natural, subconscious reaction. But that’s exactly where the point is missed.
- Gandhi took criticism. He did what he believed in, at times stubbornly, but not once did he ridicule or spend time in attacking his critics. He left his critics to do their job and so had the energy to attack his problems.
- The most charismatic thing in the world is truth or authenticity. Yes we have a glamour world full of artificial cosmetics that are charismatic. But then I said ‘most charismatic’ which includes the longevity factor as well. Gandhi had this truth in him which pulled people towards him, most naturally.
The violence that we see now in the world – be it from terrorist outfits or from a state – seem to have limited success in terms of what they aim for and how far they achieve it. This is because most of them have only the first two points mentioned above, in them.
It’s only the evolution of the mind that can bring about major changes in the world more than revolution. The human mind is the most complex and powerful machinery till date. This is where Gandhi was a master who worked towards this evolution in him and in others. Hence he enjoys this lasting impression. So those of us who use our energies in vandalising statues should re-evaluate and do something more worthwhile.