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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 43 New Delhi October 12, 2019

Gandhian Values More Relevant Now

Sunday 13 October 2019, by Sandeep Pandey

Two central values that Mahatma Gandhi espoused were truth and non-violence. He used them successfully in his method of Satyagraha in an attempt to change the heart of his adversary.

There are organisations and countries which adopt violence as a tool to achieve their objective but ultimately come around to non-violent methods like dialogue and participation in democratic processes to resolve their issues.

The Naga National Council and National Socialist Council of Nagaland, after having failed to reach an understanding with the Government of India, launched a separatist movement for sovereignty. The Naga Federal Government and Naga Federal Army were also formed. Nagaland passed through a phase of violence in which atrocities were committed from both sides— the Nagas as well as Indian armed forces. NSCN leaders refused to meet the Indian leaders on Indian soil and meetings used to take place in Europe or South-East Asia. However, ultimately good sense prevailed and the Naga leadership decided to engage with the Indian Government in India. Even though the issue still remains unresolved with the Nagas, who want a separate Constitution and flag, they have agreed to the concept of peaceful co-existence with India.

At the end of World War II Korea was divided into two parts and there ensued a Korean war during 1950-53. North Korea was supported by the Soviet Union and South Korea by the United States. A long enmity persisted between North Korea and South Korea as well as between North Korea and the United States so much so that North Korea decided to develop nuclear weapons, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to face any eventuality. However, recently the three governments have held a series of meetings and decided to end their conflict and also to make the Korean peninsula nuclear weapons-free.

Even on the vexed problem of Kashmir where India has refused to talk to Pakistan about it saying that it is an internal matter, in a recent meeting with the United States President, Narendra Modi said that India and Pakistan were together before 1947 and he is confident that they can discuss their problems and solve them. This is after Donald Trump had indicated that he was willing to mediate a solution between India and Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, since taking over office, has made several overtures for dialogue without receiving a commensurate response from India. But he has demonstrated a goodwill gesture by agreeing to open the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib’s Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims to enter Pakistan without passport-visa requirement.

Even though in India Maoists and Naxalites continue to fight for their cause outside the parliamentary system, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended a ten-year civil war by signing a Comprehensive Peace Accord and joined a seven-party alliance to end monarchy in Nepal through a parliamentary process. Its most important leader, Prachanda or Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has held the position of Prime Minister twice. A monthly allowance was promised to members of the People’s Liberation Army of the CPN(Maoist) to stay inside the cantonment.

Last year about 35-40,000 farmers belonging to the All India Kisan Sabha, associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), organised a peaceful 180-km-long march from Nasik to Mumbai, demanding complete waiver of loans and electricity bills, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission Report and Forest Rights Act. On the final day, when inside the Mumbai city, in a rare gesture the farmers marched in early hours of the day starting at 1 am so that morning office-goers and school- children going to appear for the Board examinations would not face any commuting problem or harassment. In a country where assembly in large numbers could easily take a disorderly turn, this move of farmers won the sympathies of middle-class Mumbaikars.

The method of conducting peaceful protest, often resorting to fast, was Gandhi’s unique contribution to the world, popularly known as Satyagraha or ‘an appeal for truth’. A number of organisations, not all of them ideologically believing in non-violence, use Gandhi’s method of protest. Bhagat Singh fasted while in Lahore jail in support of Jatin Das’ fast to demand humane conditions for political prisoners. The Gandhian methods of padayatras and fasts, later adopted by Vinoba Bhave, Medha Patkar, Anna Hazare, Irom Sharmila and others, helped them build support for their causes and these leaders were held in high respect by the people and politicians alike because of their Gandhian methods.

Martin Luther King, inspired by Gandhi, enunciated that it is possible to resist evil without resorting to violence and to oppose evil itself without opposing the people committing evil. He believed that people who practice non-violence must be willing to suffer without retaliation. ‘The non-violent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.’

Nelson Mandela was a co-founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the militant wing of the African National Congress, and underwent training in employing arms but towards the end of his life he veered towards Gandhian principles. After 27 years in prison when he became the President of South Africa he called for national reconciliation, essentially pardoning in one stroke the Whites for all the crimes they had committed against the people of colour.

Khaled Mashal, the top leader of the Palestinian organisation Hamas, which has a government in Gaza but is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and Israel, in a private conversation in 2011 in the Syrian capital Damascus shared that he considered Gandhi as his ideal because Gandhi was an immense inspiration for all the weak people fighting against the strong powers due to the injustice done to them.

Even common people have used Gandhi’s method to voice their simple demands. We can find in India, sometimes merely individuals or families, on sit-ins outside government offices for redressal of some grievances. This method of attracting attention of the authorities is considered legitimate as often some official will usually enter into a dialogue with the victims or will take initiative to solve their problem. Dissent in democracy, based on the principles of non-violence and truth, is Gandhi’s unique contribution to fight for justice to the human society. Now dissent is considered an integral part of the idea of democracy.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is a leader of the Socialist Party (India).

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