What's the Relevance?

5/30/07 - Since Gandhi’s death in 1948, many might argue that his influence has waned. Even those who admit his current importance to India may question his relevance to the modern world. However, Gandhism continues to play a vital role in world politics. As such, it is imperative that non-Indians properly understand that philosophy and its founder.

Gandhi is to India what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were to the United States. He was a primary leader in Indian political movements in both South African and India and his political philosophy prevails in India. All politicians there acknowledge him as their political, philosophical, and spiritual forbearer, even worshipping at his tomb, Raj Ghat. As mentioned elsewhere on this website, he is even worshipped as a god by many Hindus. For the 2007-08 budget, the Indian government dedicated 300 million Rupees ($7.5 million) "to continue the work of Gandhiji."

Furthermore, the American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. is commonly held to have been strongly influenced by Gandhian philosophy, as have other world leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Stephen Biko. He is upheld as a hero and role-model by many liberal American politicians, peace activists, and academics. Even the United Nations honored him, choosing his birthday as an "International Day of Non-Violence."

As documented in the Gandhi and Blacks section, Gandhi was a first-class racist. Just as the truth should be known for its own sake if Adolf Hitler were hailed as a champion of the Jews, so the truth should be known that Mohandas Gandhi, long considered a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement, viewed Africans as lower than dirt. This truth is certainly distressing enough. However, the relevance of knowing the truth about Gandhi goes beyond his faux image as an egalitarian.

Despite India’s refusal to commit to non-proliferation, the U.S. Congress recently passed a bill authorizing the sharing of nuclear technology and materials with India. This rubber-stamp of India’s nuclear ambitions exempts all eight of her military nuclear reactors from international oversight. Only a few months after this extreme accommodation towards India, the FBI arrested two Indian nationals, including Cirrus Electronics CEO Parthasarathy Sudarshan, for stealing U.S. missile technology and shipping it to Indian Government agencies. Yet, because of India’s dedication to what is perceived as nonviolent Gandhism, our government willingly assists India’s nuclear program.

India’s recent activities hardly demonstrate the “nonviolent passive resistance” allegedly taught by Gandhism. Yet they should come as no surprise if one looks beyond the image of Gandhi painted by the Indian Government’s historical propaganda.

In 1984, after the Indian invasion of the Sikh Golden Temple and slaughter of several thousand Sikhs, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (no relation to M.K. Gandhi) appealed to Gandhism as a justification for her authorization of the military action, saying, “Mahatma Gandhi, in his time, accepted that necessity.” She was right. Gandhi supported achieving political ends through bloodshed, saying in 1922, “I would have India become free even by violence rather than that she should remain in bondage.” Years after this comment, Gandhi endorsed the Indian military’s annexation of Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagarh, states which currently remain in “bondage” to India. In 1961, after seizing Goa, Diu, and Daman, Prime Minister Nehru, a close friend of Gandhi’s till the latter’s death, truthfully commented that the military venture was “entirely in keeping” with Gandhi’s philosophy. These invocations of Gandhism are propaganda clearly used to assuage the Western conscience about India's shadowy massacres of minorities.

On the surface, there is not much wrong with Gandhi’s willingness to resort to violence in pursuit of freedom. After all, it was through violence that we in the U.S. achieved independence. What is disturbing, however, is that his support of violent means is hidden behind a veneer of nonviolence. The reality of Gandhian philosophy, which is fervently embraced in modern-day India, is a commitment to deception and violence cloaked in pacifist terminology.

This sham pacifism is eagerly abandoned at any sign that violence might better benefit Gandhism’s cause du jour. For example, Gandhi once said, “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.” Yet in 1920, as recorded in Vol. 21, p. 133 of Gandhi’s “Collected Works,” he wrote: “When my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence.” The nonviolent resistance of Satyagraha would hardly have been useful in preventing Gandhi’s death, so of course others more capable of violence than himself would have been justified in defending him, his unwillingness to “kill for [any cause]” be damned!

Comparing controversial figures to Nazism has now become cliche, but in Gandhi’s case it is almost unavoidable. He brought such comparisons on himself, as in 1940 when he said, “Hitler is not a bad man,” or in 1941 when he wrote Hitler, saying, “Nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents.” Little has changed since Gandhi’s admiration for Hitler. In India today, Hitler is considered a “trendy tyrant,” a dictator who is praised for his leadership abilities, whose “Mein Kampf” is a best-seller, and who placed third as “most ideal leader” in a 2002 poll of Indian college students. Gandhi, of course, was everyone’s first choice.

India is one of the largest, most powerful nations in the world. Assisted by the white-washed image of Gandhi and his philosophy, India has achieved much success by using Gandhism as a double-edged sword. While earning accolades for its adherence to the popular pacifist image of Gandhism, Indian leaders have simultaneously used Gandhism to justify such bloody actions as the annexation of Kashmir and the destruction of the Golden Temple. Additionally, as India emerges as a superpower and continues to make deeper political inroads into various African and Latin American nations, it becomes even more necessary to understand India’s guiding philosophy.

After all, If Nazism were the guiding philosophy of such an important nation, we would have cause for extreme concern. What Americans must realize is that Gandhism, the “nonviolent” ideology espoused by the same man who said, on June 16, 1947, “if we had the atom bomb, we would have used it against the British,” should inspire just such concern.