If there has been a political figure with a legacy so untouched and untarnished, it has to be Mahatma Gandhi. Orwell wrote of Gandhi, a year after he was assassinated, “compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!” Such appreciation from a scathing critic of everything, speaks volumes about what Gandhi was able to achieve and how he won and how he enabled millions of Indians to win.
Of course, to what extent Gandhi’s tactics actually managed to gain independence for Indians is debatable and so is his role in framing the new independent India. Gandhi, if one will remember, was completely sidelined by the Congress party towards the end of the Independence movement, and ignored during the Constitution making process, although no sensible person can blame them for the latter, given that he had proposed an anarchic and regressive model of a constitution of India.
But Gandhi still remains the most relevant thinker and political figures of all time, a figure who will and must remain relevant for all times to come. 20th Century was full of revolutions, on both sides of the political spectrum, the left and the right. But it was only Gandhi who managed to hold together, or rather bring together a nation which has always been so divided on lines of religions, race, caste and regions. If you look at the history of revolutions around the world, there have never been many successful revolutions which have borne violence, but the Indian independence movement truly stands in isolation and as a precedent for how a society can be radically transformed without millions of people having to be killed.
Like the Communists in Russia in the early half of the 20th century and the Nazis in Germany a few years later, history has been a witness to what people with good intentions for their people can do and how revolutions have been nothing but a means to an end for some people with vulgar ambitions and a vulgar thirst for power. Isn’t it horrifying to imagine someone like Lenin or Stalin at the helm of the Indian independence movement? Yes, sure the British would be out of India a bit sooner, but so would the rest of India, be in shambles.
Gandhi understood a priceless lesson – that revolutions breed anarchy and that if you try to change a system with violence, you not only stand the chance of begetting more violence from the opposition, but also encouraging your followers to be active participants in it. Now this has been the exact mindless argument that some right wingers put forth, that why must India not cater only to the Hindus when the states in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are? Well, because if we do in fact take pride in what we are as a nation, then we must take pride in all our people and do follow the things that we ourselves point out to be bad.
“An eye for an eye turns the whole world blind” as Gandhi once wrote did in fact prove to be his rallying point behind all his actions. And it stood the test of time – in fact had it not been for the peaceful transition of power and the years of peaceful and non-violent movement that opposed the British occupation, we might never have had such a peacefully co-existing India and we might even have succumbed to fascism, like many independent countries around that time did. Changing something is not as hard as sustaining the change or changing something for the better. A 100 years after the Russian revolution, the Russians still haven’t rid themselves of a Czar, nor have they rid themselves of the capitalism against which they built the modern Russia on. As Zizek puts forth the question, “what about the day after the revolution?” because a revolution is not a war against outsiders, it is a war against ourselves, and while waging wars against ourselves, there will be people as there have been people, like Lenin or Stalin, or Hitler or even Mao, who would wage revolutions not because they want justice, but more for their thirst of power.
It’s very easy to urge to basic human and their animal instincts to make them rise up against others, but it certainly is the hardest thing to do – to convince people with love, and to appeal to their love in their heart, to use their love for the better of a society and a country. Gandhi showed us how, and that is why, he will ever remain the most relevant political figure of all time.
Swagat Baruah is the founding editor of Catharsis Magazine.