Mahatma Gandhi’s revolutionary concept of satyagraha, based on the simple weapon of truth and non-violence, unleashed an indomitable moral force which not only aroused Indians to free themselves from colonial oppression and social injustice, but inspired millions of people all over the world in their quest for freedom, justice and a life of dignity.
“Truth” and “non-violence” are the two basic pillars of Gandhian philosophy. Believing in fundamental moral values, common to all great religions of the world, Mahatma Gandhi said he had nothing new to give to the world. “Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills”, he said. He would often quote Jesus Christ, who had said: “I have not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it.”
With the Bhagvad Gita, he believed all religions are different paths leading to the same goal. He said: “Religions are different road converging upon the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads as long as we reach the same goal?” He then went on: “After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (a) all religions are true (b) all religions have some error in them (c) I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Quran, the Zend Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas. My belief in Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired… I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however, learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense.”
Among many world personalities on whom Gandhi’s impact was most profound were Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Louis Fischer, the renowned biographer of Mahatma Gandhi on whose book Mahatma Gandhi: His Life and Times the famous Gandhi film was made, wrote in 1968: “The assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr continues to haunt America’s memory and shape America’s destiny. He was the most effective, most beloved avowed disciple of Mahatma Gandhi in America. To the last he believed in non-violence and refused to depart from it. ‘Non-violence is our most potent weapon’, he told his black American audience in New York 10 days before he died. At the young age of 39, he met Gandhi’s violent fate. With him a part, the best part, of America was killed. Martin Luther King engaged with success the civil disobedience. He adopted the Gandhian method.”
Let’s recall his memorable speech in March 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that undoubtedly was an inspiration from Gandhi’s philosophy: “So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. And if America is to
be a great nation, this must become true.”
According to philosopher-scholar S. Radhakrishnan, India’s second President: “If we deny victory to violence and adopt the methods of sanctified by the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr, America will recover her soul and become a great nation, and humanity will move up many steps towards real freedom.” What is true of America, then and now, is similarly true for India, indeed all nations of the world.
Nelson Mandela, the late South African President, was deeply influenced by the Mahatma. Mandela was often dubbed the “Gandhi of South Africa”. The anti-aparthied icon shared a special bond with India, and this was there for the world to see when he chose the land of Gandhi, whom he called his “political guru” and “role model”, as his first destination abroad in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars. An avowed Gandhian, he always spoke very high of his principles of “truth and non-violence” and followed his philosophy. In a speech at the unveiling of a Gandhi memorial in South Africa, he said: “Gandhi was most revered for his commitment to non-violence and the Congress movement was strongly influenced by this Gandhian philosophy. It was a philosophy that achieved the mobilisation of millions of South Africans during the 1952 defiance campaign which established the African National Congress (ANC) as a mass-based organization… The Mahatma is an integral part of our history because it is here that he first experimented with truth, here that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice, here that he developed satyagraha as a philosophy and method of struggle.”
Mahatma Gandhi continues to be relevant, not only in Mandela’s South Africa, Dr King’s America and Winston Churchill’s England, where only a couple of years ago, a statue of his was put up next to the man who had called him a “half-naked fakir”, but across continents — in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace on behalf of “oppressed people everywhere”, Mandela had then said… but also as “a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of non-violence action for change, Mahatma Gandhi, whose life taught and inspired me”. According to Rajmohan Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson and biographer: “For close to a century, gifted individuals have continued to admire Gandhi. If in earlier decades he was a father figure for colonies striving for freedom, today Gandhi commands prestige in the Green Movement because he espoused the simple life and rights of the earth and he remains a symbol for nonviolent struggle.”
Let us recall the seven social sins enunciated by Mahatma Gandhi, almost 75 years ago: Politics without principles; Wealth without work; Commerce without morality; Education without character; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; and Worship without sacrifice.
The Bhagwad Gita quotes Krishna telling Arjuna: Abhayam (Fearlessness), Ahimsa (Non-violence in thought, word and deed) and Satyam (Truth) are marks of him who is born with divine gifts. Gandhi, therefore, will remain, for all times to come, as relevant as the preacher of the Bhagvad Gita, and, perhaps, of the other great scriptures of the world. Jawaharlal Nehru had envisioned Gandhi’s relevance on the day of his martyrdom itself. Breaking the news of the Mahatma’s assassination to the nation on All India Radio on January 30, 1948, Nehru, in his moving speech, had said: “Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. Our beloved leader, Bapu, as we called him, the ‘Father of the Nation’, is no more. The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. In a thousand years, the light will still be seen… The world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented mor
e than the immediate present, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”