Forum: Is Mohandas K. Gandhi relevant anymore?
No, he has been turned into a little tin god
By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
Every year, on October 2nd, Mahatma Gandhi is trotted out, pious
homilies are delivered, "Raghupathi Raghava Rajaram" is chanted
desultorily by bored schoolchildren, and that's that. For the other
364 days, Gandhi quietly gathers dust in a closet. It's much like Mother's
Day, the one day of the year some people think of their mothers.
There is something about the fulsome adulation of Gandhi that is
disturbing, and I think I have finally figured out the reason. It is cognitive
dissonance: it is hard to reconcile the fact that those who praise
Gandhi the loudest are often those who least practice his ideals—viz.
politicians. The stench of hypocrisy surrounding the homily-deliverers
is creating a miasma around Gandhi himself. There is an entire industry growing up around the Gandhi name. For instance, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi (no relations), have landed at the United Nations this year, in the hope that some goodwill will rub off: fortunately for them, some ancestor of theirs was clever enough to change his name from Ghandi to Gandhi. Nice little bit of prestidigitation there.Then there are all those people in blindingly white khadi kurtas, shirts, and dhotis. They wear this allegedly to benefit poor handloom
weavers (whose cause Gandhi espoused). But white khadi has become
such a symbol of venality and corruption that it is a good thing khadi
marketers are now trying to make the fabric multi-colored and its wearers
upscale fashionistas.The fact of the matter is that Gandhi would have been an embarrassmentif he had lived much past Independence. He would have
been the garrulous old man, the uncultured poor relative, whom the Nehruvians would have had to explain away to their new friends the Soviets
and the Chinese. They would have had to put up with the old man's obstinacies. Their entire worldview militated against his. Where Gandhi saw agriculture and smallscale village enterprise as the way to uplift the
rural masses, Nehruvians were partial to Communist-style heavy industry and big dams ("the temples of modern India"). Where Gandhi praised the civilizational ideal of the righteous king, Rama, Nehruvians were impressed by an obscure imported god called dialectical materialism. Today, the government of India declares Rama non-existent and its ally the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) calls him a drunkard. The gods of Indians are, in order: Cricket, the vengeful Semitic gods of West Asia, and, most seductive of the lot, Mammon. In the age of mega-malls and Koffee with Karan, Mahatma Gandhi is no longer relevant. Future generations will question if he ever existed, not with the sense of wonder that Einstein intended, but brutally, with derision. To them, he will be
another sanctimonious myth, an antediluvian shibboleth.
--Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Mumbai, India.
Yes, Gandhiji's ideals will always be relevant
By RAJESH C. OZA
As long as the perplexing dualities of life—truthfulness/duplicity,
war/peace, home/away, and change/continuity—are part of the
human condition, Gandhiji's life remains a theoretically sound and
real-world practical lesson for how to live, learn, and love. In Gandhiji's
autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the lesson's
teacher uses experimentation to test his hypothesis and storytelling to
bring the truth to life.
In dismissing Gandhiji as an irrelevant traditionalist, critics forget
that we live in a postmodern world and Gandhian theory is fundamentally
postmodern in privileging individual agency. Since theory is only
relevant if it is practical, and practice is rigorous if it is grounded in
theory, let's consider life's dualities through the bifocals of relevance
Truthfulness/Duplicity relevance: from Mumbai, where Mammon is
king, to Manhattan, where Mahatma is a rice brand, the world is full of
white lies and red deceptions (non-existent weapons of mass destruction
as justification for war fall at the bloody-red end of the spectrum).
Postmodern rigor: Gandhiji practiced satyagraha to seize the truth in all
aspects of life; in a world where individuals socially construct their own
realities, satyagraha serves as a framework that encourages us to hold
fast to our own truths without kneeling to some absolute truth.
War/Peace relevance: the cycles of conflict and calm are inevitable
personally and globally. Postmodern rigor: with its double meaning,
swaraj is one of the most sophisticated Gandhian concepts because the
personal self-control which was Gandhiji's prerequisite for independent
India's self-rule movement also serves as a moral governor for imperious
hegemony. When mobs at malls, masjids, or mandirs are led into
turmoil and terror by those with little self-control, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience are actively required. H o m e / A w a y relevance: at birth,
humans experience the liberation and disorientation associated
with being thrust into a foreign world—and then for the rest of our lives we move about searching for home. Postmodern rigor: Gandhiji conceived sarvodaya for socioeconomic uplift in and beyond one's home. This well-traveled diasporic also recognized boundary-less globalization, insisting, "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible." Change/Continuity relevance: countries, companies, and kin embarking on national, organizational, and familial transformations inevitably
confront resistance in endings, new beginnings, and the transitional states in between. Postmodern rigor: if we all followed Gandhiji's nonviolent aphorism to "be the change you want to see in the world," there would be more ahimsa in the world (and perhaps less need for changemanagement consultants).
--Rajesh C. Oza is president of the OrganiZationAlignment Consulting Group.
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