The continuing relevance of the Mahatma

Mahatma Gandhi, humanist par excellence

The priceless legacy that is Mahatma Gandhi and his thought continues to resonate in the hearts and minds of the righteous of the world. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of India’s political independence which falls this year, it is obligatory on the part of women and men of goodwill to not only re-visit the core nuggets of the Mahatma’s political wisdom but to resolve afresh to perpetuate them in view of their inexhaustible relevance.

Non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes within countries and among countries was a cardinal tenet with the Mahatma, and of the teachings he imparted to the world, this is a foremost pick. The fact that the principle of non-violence or Ahimsa is continuing to win zealous adherents all over the world testifies to the fact that the Mahatma has etched his teachings in the hearts and minds of thinking people with resounding finality.

Yet, the world has never been at peace over the decades since the passing away of the Mahatma. Whereas one would have expected the hearts of those who project themselves as the world’s leaders to have mellowed, this has not come to pass. Both within and among countries, the first preferred approach to conflict resolution seems to be armed violence and coercion. Consequently, states are continuing to spend money and resources in mind-boggling amounts on armaments and the defense industry.

This does not mean that the Mahatma spoke in vain. It is just that his seeds of wisdom have fallen on stony, unfertile ground. In order for his words to bear fruit, they need to fall on civilized consciences that are receptive to humanity. We are compelled to infer from these observations that the hearts and minds of the majority of men who get into positions of authority are bereft of humanity, care and kindness.

Thus, barbarism and savagery continue to be unleashed on unarmed publics by these strongmen, whereas the majority of civilians only desire to be at peace with the world and among themselves.

Among other issues, the above trends compel attention to the need for those ‘entering politics’ to be of cultivated and civilized hearts and minds. Considering the continuing bloodshed and violence in the world, the conclusion is inescapable that the majority of men in seats of power the world over are characterized in the main by low cunning and little else. Apparently, the world needs questioning and educated publics who would evaluate closely and scrupulously those men who assiduously and insistently canvass their vote at election time, in the case of democracies.

Accordingly, if we have in place educated publics in particularly the South, who would ensure that only the civilized, in the Gandhian sense, enter politics, there could be an easing of the world’s agonies and anxieties. Needless to say, getting to this goal is a prolonged process since an educated public also comes to mean a people of refined sensibility who would be accommodative of Gandhian values. Nevertheless, democracies need to take on these challenges without further delay if caring, civilized societies are to be brought into being.

Meanwhile, the international community continues to face the uphill task of containing the world’s bloodletting and violence, with all evidence pointing to the fact that

scant respect is being paid by aggressor states to the UN’s authority. The latest such flouting of UN norms and principles takes the shape of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The civilized world is likely to echo the view of UN chief Antonio Guterres that such brazen invasions are unthinkable in this day and age but we have all the evidence in this demonstration of savagery by Russia that the world is retrogressing steadily into a state of anarchy and lawlessness.

It needs to be noted, though, that some of the most glaring instances of the flouting of international norms relating to peace and law and order in recent decades took the form of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The trend was set for the exercising of might with impunity as never before by the foremost powers in the mentioned theatres of conflict.

Accordingly, the prime powers are going to any lengths currently to establish their global supremacy but they are leaving the world in unprecedentedly bad shape. Needless to say, the stage is being set for increasingly barbaric bloodshed and violence, since the aggrieved in these war zones are unlikely to opt for pacifism in the face of the fierce aggression that is being unleashed on them. Russia is currently re-learning this lesson of history.

Considering the continuing relevance of the teachings of the Mahatma and the respect he continues to command among people of goodwill worldwide, it is imperative on the part of the world community to ensure that the collective conscience of the world is continued to be nourished by his moral teachings. While in the short and medium terms, the international community should seek to broaden the membership of the UN Security Council, to enable countries, such as India, to be in this vital organ, with a view to checking the excessive power wielded within the body by recalcitrant states, in the long term the systems need to be in place to continuously nourish international norms relating to peace with the core teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

The latter process could be initiated at multiple levels. It could even begin at school level through the intervention of member governments of the UN, since the Mahatma was an internationalist and his moral teachings are in tune with the core values of the world’s civilizations. The effecting of qualitative changes in the moral outlook of people takes time but given the steady descent of the world into lawlessness there is no choice but to take up these challenges without further delay.

The urgency of taking on these tasks is underscored by the fresh insights the Mahatma provided into some core concepts of the world’s greatest religions. For example, with regard to the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism, he is on record as having stated: ‘Nirvana is not like the black, dead peace of the grave, but the living peace, the living happiness of a soul which is conscious of itself, and conscious of having found its own abode in the heart of the Eternal.’ (See page 55 of ‘Gandhi and Sri Lanka, 1905-1947’, a Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Publication, with the permission of the Navajivan Trust).

It is plain to see that the world would stand to gain substantially through continuous international efforts to expose the hearts of people to the Mahatma’s timeless teachings.




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