We all at some point in our lives, come to identify with a hero. Some are disguised as figures of fantasy on the big screen – like Spider-Man. Others, like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, prefer to come as they are- an underdog struggling alongside the masses; a story that resonates and intertwines across many continents and cultures.
Almost every Indian is well aware of Gandhi’s public image as the social reformer, politician, preacher, lawyer, and a freedom fighter who waged a long war to end colonialism, and sought to end the longstanding Hindu- Muslim divide and caste-based discrimination in the country. But, when it came to who Gandhi was in actuality – his real persona, faith, morality – many questions come to the forefront.
The book “Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World” goes beyond the archetypal figure of him as the ‘wise old man’ and delves deeper into the building blocks of his life – that caused a domino effect leading towards Independence.
1. The magnitude of Gandhi’s public role in social and political reform was such that, his ideas and movements were discussed in American and European newspapers, magazines, books, and radio. His work was keenly followed by top politicians and statesmen across the globe.
2. Gandhi was one of the pioneers of environmental sustainability. The quintessential Gandhian question- “How much should a person consume?” still rings true today. His model of sustainability continues to hold relevance in our burgeoning and populous nation. Gandhi was the driving force behind what would later become a vigorous environmental movement, by campaigning against the excesses of industrial development and consequently, promoting renewable energy and small-scale irrigation systems.
3. The philosophy of non-violence or Ahimsa has become synonymous with Gandhi. His practice of Ahimsa was an extension of respect for other religions and a sense of fraternity. Gandhi vehemently opposed injustice and authoritarian rule, but sans any arms or violent actions. His peaceful and verbal yet non-violent opposition to the arbitrary use of state power is the primary manifestation of the Gandhian legacy today.
4. Casting aside the constant furore between secularists and monotheists, Gandhi believed that no religion had a monopoly on the truth. He reasoned against religious conversion, saying that ‘one should accept the faith into which one was born, but seek always to interpret it in the most broad-minded and nonviolent way.’ Along with the secular ideal, he actively encouraged friendships and mingling across religions.
5. Gandhi’s method of Satyagraha has been successfully applied in countless ways to achieve a resolute end to subordination. Be it, the Chipko Movement in the 1970s for bringing an end to deforestation, to Tribal Movement in the 1980s Central India against a massive dam construction, to the more recent 2011 anti-corruption campaign which spread nationwide in a praiseworthy attempt to counter the political class.
6. Gandhi has played an instrumental role in the upliftment of women across the country. The most notable one is SEWA, the Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad which is responsible for organising a million plus women in producer cooperatives, providing them with child and maternal healthcare and a cooperative bank to encourage economic self-reliance.
7. Through dialogue and compromise, Gandhi sought to bring a mini-India together by strengthening the foundation of Indian National Congress – which under his foresightful direction, transformed from an elitist body of professionals into a mass political organisation with a wide outreach in all states and districts.
8. Unlike the plight of numerous ex-colonies; despite being a victim of crony capitalism, India has stridden far ahead in terms of political parity. The Constitution of India clearly lays down the democratic principles that have to be abided by all; from free and fair elections, linguistic diversity, separation of state and religion to a more inclusive step- affirmative action for underprivileged classes of society. A lot of these achievements owe credit to Gandhi’s visionary approach while framing the Constitution.
9. In order to emancipate Dalits and uplift the so-called untouchables’ condition, Gandhi set up the All India Anti-Untouchability League and later renamed it Harijan Sevak Sangh. He coined the term Harijan; which translates to “children of God” – a term far above the derogatory and derisive words used for identifying them. A breakthrough moment happened when untouchability was finally abolished by law.
10. Through his leadership in the Civil Disobedience Movement, Gandhi played a crucial role in the unification of the country, awakening of the masses, and bringing politics within reach of the common man.
Through “Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World”, Ramachandra Guha keenly explores the unseen face of Gandhi beyond his minutely dissected public image. What makes this an interesting read – is his heightened self-awareness and openness to self-criticism, his singularity of thoughts, belief, and morals. There is more to Mahatma than the carefully coiffured leader of the nationalist movement – his defects, setbacks, passions, superstitions, selflessness and more importantly an unapologetic self.