By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, October 5, 2019: We are living in a world which is divided increasingly day by day by global unrest, fear, anger, hunger, hatred, discontent, despair, immorality et al, and the number and intensity of ethnic and religious conflicts seem to grow like never before.

Capitalism has succeeded in driving economic growth and prosperity, but it has also led to huge economic inequality. Greed has become more or less the latest mantra for good living. Ironically, it also has led to massive corporate and political corruption. Added to it religious and cultural diversity is turning into suspicion, opposition, hatred and violence against each other.

In this context, how are the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi relevant? It is true that the world of today is vastly different from the world of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary is celebrated across the globe this year. Primarily, he had to face the mighty colonial regime, which has by now vanished from our world. Racial discrimination too has been soothed significantly.

Now there are new threats to peace, harmony and stability. It is a paradox that global peace is imperative, the traditional instruments of preserving peace have been found to be increasingly ineffective. Ethnic nationalism or religious chauvinism, economic inequality or military might have emerged as the powerful drivers of conflict in today’s world. Still worse is terrorism, which inflicts untold suffering on innocent women, men and children across the world. There is no doubt that the world looks for a paradigm shift for solving conflicts.

Now the debate is on whether Gandhi’s political and social philosophy in general and his approach to the concepts of truth, non-violence and satyagraha in particular could mitigate the present day crisis. Can Gandhian thought and practices regenerate or rebirth non-violent cultures and societies?

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear,” Gandhi said and popularized the non-violent protest against tyranny and injustice. In fact, Gandhi himself admits that it is not a new proposition. Now the debate is on whether Gandhi’s political and social philosophy in general and his approach to the concepts of truth, non-violence and satyagraha in particular could mitigate the present day crisis. Can Gandhian thought and practices regenerate or rebirth non-violent cultures and societies?

“I have nothing new to teach the World. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast scale as I could.” In other words, Mahatma just tried to revive and to make much more understandable those old teachings for the whole world, to apply them in the new social and political context.

Similarly, Gandhiji’s notion of Satyagraha exemplifies a multifaceted strategy of militant struggle against any form of wrongdoing or unfreedom, be it racism, colonialism, communalism, caste oppression, patriarchy, denial of democracy, inequity or economic deprivation, of which non-violence was one part. It involves a deep understanding of the nature of the modern state, of the capacity of the people to struggle, of the appropriateness of different forms of struggle at different points of time.

Satyagraha ranges from non-cooperation to civil disobedience. It also includes rallies and mass meetings, sit-ins and long marches, candle-light vigils and offering of flowers to opponents. Gandhi demonstrated in movement after movement how non-violent Satyagraha worked by placing the government in a no-win situation.

Wide range of movements in India and abroad on the lines Gandhi’s ideas and practice of non-violent Satyagraha in recent years clearly points out at the relevance of Mahatma even to-day. The Black Civil Rights Movement in the US-led by the legendary Martin Luther King consciously adopted Gandhian methods of nonviolent struggle. Many years later the Solidarity movement was led by Lech Walesa against the authoritarian rule of Poland following Gandhian strategy.

Also Gandhian methods were found to be effective both in the democratic climate of North America as well as Stalin’s Russia. The Peace Movement in Europe and the Green Movement the world over have followed Gandhian methods. In Egypt, the anti-authoritarian mass demonstrations and mass sit-ins in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2013 is yet another classic example. In Hong Kong, thousands of pro-democracy protestors throng the streets every weekend, defying the autocratic Chinese state.

In India, too, movements based on the Gandhian vision of a non-violent, humane, eco-friendly, egalitarian, democratic and secular world had been proved to be quite successful. Prominent among them were the Bhoodan or land distribution movement led by Vinoba Bhave, the Chipko Movement for saving the forests in Uttarakhand, the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar against the displacement caused by big dams, and many lesser-known movements and right to education initiated by voluntary organisations such as the MV Foundation led by Shantha Sinha in Andhra Pradesh, movements for transparency such as the Right to Information led by the MKSS, as well as the campaigns for Right to Food, Right to Work and Right to Forests.

Gandhi seems to have foreseen the present day problems nearly hundred years ago. He preached sarvodaya, the rise and liberation of all, and satyagraha, a non-violent and loving way of conflict resolution, for a society based on alternative values. Equally important was changing one’s inner world and the way one lived. “Be the change yourself that you wish to see in the world,” he said.

Aware of the irresistible greed factor, Gandhi had said, “There is enough on this Earth for everybody’s need, but not for everybody’s greed”. He too was aware of concentration of wealth in the hands of few and suggested that the wealthy should use their wealth as if they were trustees of social capital. This is now being practised by the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ratan Tata and Azim Premji.

After all these being said, the only questions remains whether we, the people of the 21st century, are moral, open-minded and wise enough to understand the Gandhian teaching and to apply it in our everyday life, irrespective of the fact that we are statesmen, policy makers, businessmen or simple world citizens.

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