By Brinder Aulakh Anand October 2002 Mahatma Gandhi may be viewed as too idealistic in today’s world but his concept of nonviolence is more significant in the present context for mankind’s survival Even in Mahatma Gandhi’s lifetime, people had wondered if his thoughts could inspire the masses. There was a feeling that Gandhi was too idealistic. That nonviolence would not work. But he succeeded in launching some of history’s major non-violent movements. Gandhi emphasized subsistence over abundance, and felt that the stage of overabundance for all would not be reached for a long time. We must first provide the necessities for millions of people. He was opposed to endless multiplication of wants, which he was certain could not make for a healthy, happy and harmonious life. In the year 1931, actor Charlie Chaplin asked Gandhi what he felt about the rapid technological advancements. Gandhi said: ‘My primary concern is the gravity of chronic unemployment of millions in India’s villages.’ Chaplin suggested: ‘But if you could find other work for your unemployed and ensure equitable distribution of wealth, you would not then despise machinery?’ ‘Certainly,’ replied Gandhi. So, Gandhi was not necessarily anti-technology. But his priorities were different. Take, for example, his hunger strikes. Fasting struck the British as a thinly disguised method of coercion. Gandhi was aware that his fasts exercised a moral pressure but the pressure was directed not against those who disagreed with him but against those who loved him and believed in him. He sought to prick the conscience of the latter and convey to them something of his anguish at a monstrous social tyranny. If his self-crucifixion could demonstrate his sincerity to the teeming millions of India, it was worth it. To Gandhi, his fasting was, in his own words, ‘the same kind of coercion which Jesus exercised upon you from the cross’. In retrospect, the revolution brought about by Gandhi’s nonviolent mass struggle was a unique historical event. It was not quick. Or easy. It took him 25 years to conduct this campaign. And he had to count out the primary emotion that usually leads to such freedom struggles-hatred for the oppressors, and the violence accompanying it. He had to educate people, conduct the campaign in such a way as to change the psyche of the masses. So, anybody who desires to follow his path has to understand his methods, his strategies and acquire something of his courage and faith. The concept of nonviolence is more relevant for the present because if we cannot counter the forces of violence there will be no future for mankind. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and non-existence.’ -As told to Arundhati Bhanot B.R. Nanda, former director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, has authored many books on Gandhi including Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography, In Gandhi’s Footsteps: The Life and Times of Jamnalal Bajaj, and In Search of Gandhi. He has been honoured with the National Fellowship of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi and the Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial prize. He received Padma Bhushan in 1988.
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