• Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Is Gandhi irrelevant today? (Book Extract)

This might seem to be a silly question since Gandhi is exalted as Bapu ("the Father of the Nation"), revered as the glorified Mahatma ("the Great Soul"), and memorialized as Indias greatest martyr, who was assassinated on January 30, 1948, and gave his life for Indias freedom and independence. Nevertheless, large groups of powerful Indians do not really think that Gandhi is relevant for India.

Most prominent are those that Gandhi classified as "modern Indians," who identify with the worldview and values of Western "modern civilization." As portrayed in Gandhi's Hind Swaraj and other writings, most of these Indians adopt modern Western values and approaches, including their promotion of the modern "machine (technology) craze" and the proliferation of endless ego-defined needs and consumption. They now own and/or control the big corporations, the land and natural resources, the financial capital, the modern technology, the media, the military, and the politics.

They share the neoliberal, capitalist, globalized, and other anti-Gandhi values of their US counterparts. In terms of these shared economic and other values, priorities, and policies, they usually strike me as more American than I, as they embrace the models of development and other positions rejected by those of us in the USA: peace, justice, and environmental Movements.

Next in importance are those now in political power, who adopt an ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness) in which India is an essentially Hindu civilization and nation. This aggressive approach often includes the idealized, ideologically driven rewriting of Indian history and culture that results in a chauvinistic, often violent, Hindu nationalism. In such current formulations of Hindu India's exceptionalism - with a selectively distorted Hindu ideology that fails to address a history of casteism, class exploitation, and patriarchal oppression -India has the best ancient Vedic values, the best culture, the best morality, the best religion, and the blueprint of solutions for all contemporary crises. Gandhi's inclusive, pluralist, tolerant, nonviolent, and democratic approach is antithetical to such a political approach.

Other Indian groups considering Gandhi largely irrelevant for their present and future India include Ambedkerite and other Dalits (formerly best known as the "untouchables" who are below the lowest caste designation), the Adivasis (tribals, original inhabitants), and certain Maoist and other groups engaged in armed struggle.

There are also many rigid, conservative, and reactionary Gandhians, at times resembling religious fundamentalists, whose approach to their Gandhi - focused on such issues as chastity and opposition to birth control, prohibition of alcohol, veneration of cows, and embrace of simple living without modern conveniences-is also largely irrelevant to solving India's crises today.

(Extracted from "Gandhi after 9/11: Creative Nonviolence and Sustainability" by Douglas Allen, professor and former chairperson of philosophy at the University of Maine, US. Published with permission from Oxford University Press)


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