The first part of the question was on what opinions were sought, however, I believe it is in answering the second question that the first would be answered.
And therefore, we first deal with the question – is India the land of Gandhi?
And my answer to this question, a small yes and a big, loud no. Why? There was not one Gandhi in India. There have been, are, and will be many million Gandhis.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who we have been raised to revere as the Mahatma, is just one of them, the most famous among them. Mohandas Gandhi was, but, a part of India’s history. A part. A very small one, considering the fact that the Indian civilisation has been existing for millennia.
There are a plethora of great men and women – throughout history, and also in the present, whose work has had far greater impact in shaping India’s present than the Gandhi who we automatically come to visualise when we do not refer to him specifically by his full name.
Yes, that may come as a surprise, but it is because of the Chandragupta Maurya-Chanakya duo (and few other kings) that we could resist what would be the first attempted civilisation-finishing invasion by Alexander. We have had some immensely great kingdoms – the Cholas, the Vakatakas, the Marathas, the kingdom of Vijayanagara.
Names such as Raja Raja Chola, Shivaji Maharaj, Bappa Rawal (on whose name the city of Rawalpindi in today’s Pakistan), Ahilyabai Holkar, Maharani Tarabai, Rani Abbakka Chowta, Maharana Pratap, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar – the list of greats who have graced the land is endless. And almost none of these illustrious names that I have mentioned had been in favour of adopting approaches that would closely relate to that of Gandhian ideology.
Next, we need to assess if Mohandas Gandhi himself was consistent in his ideology of non-violence. And the answer, which would come as a huge surprise, is no. When England had to fight the World Wars, Gandhi personally went out enlisting Indians who could participate in combat roles, as part of the British army.
This link on Gandhi and War would help bring out his often contradicting stances, which upon a closer read, would be clear were stances that were both, contemporary and temporary to the scenario, and not universal in nature. In fact, the same can also be confirmed by this article. So clearly, the person considered to be the biggest apostle of ahimsa himself did not believe that ahimsa is sacrosanct in every situation.
And therefore, we need to understand that ahimsa alone cannot be the defining aspect of any particular land. At the most, we could say that a particular culture could be defined by ahimsa. But cultures are not sustained by ahimsa. As the old Latin proverb goes – si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war).
A civilisation which does not have the capability to defend itself against himsa (violence), or does not have the mindset to commit himsa in self-defence against an enemy who themselves want to be himsak (violent or the violator) towards the civilisation, such a civilisation occupying a particular land will be exterminated by its enemy civilisation who does not mind engaging in himsa.
And therefore, righteous ahimsa will not only lose against evil himsa, the land which supposedly the adherents of ahimsa held will be soon re-occupied by the adherents of himsa. Our great Indian sages knew this all along, and therefore, while they established a culture which believed in “ahimsa paramo dharma,” i.e. non-violence is the ultimate righteousness.
They also ensured that the line is qualified with “Dharma hinsa tathaiva cha,” i.e. violence for the defence of righteousness is duty. The Bhagwad Gita, which was narrated to Arjun by Lord Shri Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra before the start of the final war of Mahabharat, also gives a similar message, which was reinforced multiple times over the course of the 18-day war. And India was a land of Bhagwad Gita much before it became a land of Gandhi, who himself was not an ahimsa absolutist.
So, to answer the question of whether India truly is a land of ahimsa, I would conclude this by saying that yes, India has always been a land of watchful, non-blind, un-insensate ahimsa. But when the peaceful co-existence that this land has been known for has been challenged, we always produced frightful warriors who adopted unwavering himsa to finish off evil.
Be it Ram who vanquished Ravan in Ramayana to avenge his wife Seeta’s kidnapping, Bhim who smashed Duryodhan’s thighs to avenge the insult of Draupadi, Shivaji Maharaj who stood up to the threat Afzal Khan posed to the region, or the Uri and Balakot surgical strikes that were a response to unprovoked himsa on the land of India.