Gandhi’s teachings have been contentious. They were contentious when Gandhi was alive and they continue to be contentious today, more than 60 years after his demise. There has always been a solid faction backing Gandhi’s thoughts and ideas, while several others have derided them as backward, patriarchal, utopian, chief among them being the Ambedhkar school and feminists.
Gandhism was born at a time when there was a need for a philosophy to fight the yoke of imperialism in India and elsewhere. Thus, Gandhism, had an intention of providing an alternative to the reigning economic, political structure of British India. Imperialism had entrenched its grip over India, and by the time of Gandhi, different methods of dealing with British rule had come and gone, like Moderates and Extremists and even more radical methods, based on terrorism and violence. The inability of all these methods, made it mandatory for India to devise another method of facing the imperial challenge and Gandhism arose as the main alternative which a majority of Indians identified with, lending it credence and legitimacy.
The two running leitmotifs of Gandhism, found in almost all his doctrines and teachings, are that of non-violence and the urgency attached to the fact of separating Western/European civilization from Indian civilization. In trying to conceive whether Gandhi remains relevant in the contemporary world, it is important to take stock of changes in the world context which have occurred in the past 60 or so years since Gandhi’s death.
This paper attempts to examine whether Gandhi’s values and ideals are in any way relevant in the contemporary period by taking Gandhi’s ideas and applying them to today’s contextual reality, in the economic, social and political sphere. The risk of being anachronistic is diminished by the fact that the paper will simultaneously be pointing out similarities in today’s world with that of the time when Gandhi was alive. The analysis is based on writings as they appeared in Harijan, Young India and other such writings of Gandhi.
Gandhi for the World and India
The following portion of the paper will outline and reflect on some Gandhian principles which can be applied in the world and in India. Few of Gandhi’s ideas will be taken up for discussion and will be applied to modern day realities and exigencies in order to assess whether Gandhian principles remain relevant.
First, is the question of Swaraj. According to Gandhi- ‘Swaraj means self-rule and self-restraint.’ ‘Real Swaraj will come…by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused.’ ‘Swaraj….is complete independence from alien control and complete economic independence.’ Keeping this rationalization of Gandhi in mind regarding the concept of Swaraj, it is apt to state that for much of the Global South, who although free from imperial rule, is still reeling under neo-colonialism and other stains of underdevelopment and much of it is due to external influence and control over global economic policies, trade patterns, price determination and currency value. Gandhi’s concept of Real Swaraj is apt for today’s Global South, for all those who are trapped by foreign machinations of world trade, trapped by international organizations working to advance a capitalist agenda which favors monopolies and enhances sweatshops are other malpractices which continue to harass the masses of these countries while other countries benefit. Independence from imperial rule did not deliver the masses from foreign control. Foreign economic control continues in its insipid form and ruins the ability of the people from attaining economic independence. In this context, Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj comes handy.
Second, is the question of Democracy. According to Gandhi-‘Democracy is a great institution and therefore it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy…is not avoidance of democracy but reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum.’ ‘True democracy….has to be worked from below by the people of every village.’ This conceptualization of democracy is important for the world at large for there are populations in every country, rich or poor, which feel that democracy does not reach them. Democracy is an ideal form of government and very government and its people require to continually work towards achieving perfect democracy, which remains elusive. Democarcy as Gandhi had said, can be abused, Gandhi’s version which said that democracy had to be worked from below is useful to ensure freedom of the poorest of the poor so that h/she may be able to work towards bettering his/her situation.
Another aspect is Gandhi’s views on socialism. According to Gandhi-‘…in Socialism all the members of society are equal…’ ‘…the mania for mass-production is responsible for the world crisis’. ‘Nature produces enough for our wants …if only everybody took enough for himself…there would be no pauperism….I am no socialist …but [we]…should follow this rule.’ Gandhi had stated that he was not a socialist but he did ascribe to the view that equality for all members of society is the ideal to which one should strive to. He mentioned world crisis in his time, and this world crisis continues today in the form of civil wars, poverty, unemployment, and he blamed mass-production as its cause. These thoughts of Gandhi are relevant even in today’s world.
 Young India, 19-3-31.
 Young India, 29-1-25.
 Harijan, 2-1-37.
 Young India, 7-5-31.
 Harijan, 18-1-48.
 Harijan, 13-7-47
 Harijan, 2-11-34
 Speeches and writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p.384.