Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi needs no introduction. A character respected all over the world, he was even lauded by his contemporary opponents – the British Indian government, either out of love or compulsion. Paradoxically, one of the most powerful weapons he had was non-violence. How could non-violence be a weapon you may wonder. That was my thinking too.
After delving deep into Gandhi as a social reformer, I have discovered why I was wrong about him all these years.
The biggest thing I learned is that being a critic (not a critic with vested interests) initially is helpful in coming closer to the truth. I never liked Gandhiji’s way of struggle and to some extent, even now I can’t really say that Gandhiji, as a freedom fighter, was as efficient as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. But even Netaji, till the end, respected Gandhiji’s way of struggle. Want to understand why? Let’s understand the context of non-violence.
Gandhi was greatly influenced by the Upanishads and Jainism. Both Upanishads and Jainism say that it is not possible to be able to know the complete truth, and both reject absolute ideas. Theory of syaadvaad (theory of may-be-ism) and anekantavada (no one idea is right) propose this idea clearly.
Gandhi said that when you fight with someone, you do it for a cause which you consider is right. But if human intellect can never know the reality, how can you hurt someone based on a belief that is only a partial truth. Maybe, what you think is right is actually not right. So it’s better not to injure someone at least while fighting for a cause.
Gandhiji tried to incorporate higher ideals in real life not because he wanted to look good but because higher ideals, at last, pay the most handsome returns where everyone is benefited. For example, telling the truth in the long run will improve your goodwill as well as your personality and peace of mind. It’s not about idealism but about benefits which are for the long term. Till today, after many centuries, Raja Harsihcandra is known for telling the truth even at the cost of losing everything.
Incorporating non-violence was a long-term beneficial plan for Indians. Independence was only a short-term goal to be achieved. Gandhiji wanted an India which is peaceful, prosperous and progressive in the future. And he trained Indian people for the future during the freedom struggle itself.
Hatred only reaps hatred. The condition of Pakistan shows the difference the leaders make in deciding the course of the future of any country. Today, the world loves India because we knowingly or unknowingly follow Gandhism in our governance and foreign policy. Pakistan, on the other hand, was an outcome of a movement based on religion. We can see the difference today quite clearly.
Non-violence also helped our national leaders of that time to be saved from execution and in buying time. And during that time, these leaders mobilized public support and enhanced the national consciousness among the otherwise divided people. Gandhiji through non-violence was at least successful in gaining world sympathy and the British could not kill or touch him due to this pressure.
Gandhiji created situations for the British Colonialists that made them feel like they can’t punish him; people will be encouraged to revolt and dissent and if they punish him, the reputation of the British would be in danger if someone as mighty as them resorted to killing a non-violent saint-like figure.
Many violent struggles had been brutally suppressed by the British before and something sustainable was required to continue the struggle. Non-violent satyagraha was the perfect strategy to overcome this suppression. A leaderless struggle is hard to sustain for long.
Today, I understand that if you only look at Gandhiji as a freedom fighter, you might not appreciate his contribution fully. But looking at India and the world today, especially middle east and Pakistan (formerly part of India), you would appreciate his contribution more.