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Gandhi: The Ideology, The Controversy, The Enigma

By Tanmaya Kothari


It was the day of Gandhi’s 78th birthday, 2nd October 1947, the father of the nation had lost all desire to live as the nation was in a violent frenzy and hate (partly due to his own faults). He desired "the aid of all-embracing power to take me away from the vale of tears". He genuinely felt that his words did not carry weight and "it would be best that the god took him away". Only four months later, precisely on 30 January, 1948, Nathuram Godse killed Gandhi.


Gandhi continues to be an enigma during his life and even so after his death. He is subject of all disciplines of academics- ranging from scientists, social sciences, psychoanalysts to athletes. The unravelling of his personality and life still continues through academic research and often with fictional accounts by psychoanalysts like Sudhir Kakar and Asis Nandy. Each study is so revealing that it paves the way for further research on Gandhi’s personae.


Gandhi’s most controversial experiment of sleeping with naked women is usually on seen with a negative perspective which wasn’t the intended one. We should explore such an experiment with a perspective that educates people of the Mahatma’s spiritual pursuit not for personal benefit but for the humanity.

Gandhi’s concept of chastity was not even related to avoidance of women. In the two experiments he did with Brahmacharya (celibacy) beginning from 1945, Gandhi strived to attain the idea of the state of mind where awareness of sex between genders got eliminated. All in all, he tried to reach the stage of ‘ardhanarishvara’ where distinctness of women and men gets blurred.


Now, due to this very reason, Manu, Gandhi’s grand niece who in 1946 accompanied Gandhi to Noakholi, wrote a book on Gandhi titled BAPU, My Mother. Manu used to share her bed with Gandhi till the time he was killed as she always saw Gandhi as a maternal figure. Gandhi felt that the ideals of truthfulness, non-violence, chastity and equanimity (sthitaprajna) as approximate characteristics of divinity.



Though he called himself as practising 'sanatani Hindu', his abiding faith in the message and love of other religions was steadfast and never got attenuated in face of communal violence. Far from it, Gandhi preached that the faithful of all religions to be true to their faiths, spread love, peace and truthfulness. Gandhi was averse to the divine guidance which does not pass the critical test of reason. For him, the religion was the means to serve humanity, an embodiment of God.


His abandonment of orthodox hinduism drove fundamentalists nuts and often they fell in to the category of apostasy.


Gandhi was large homespun woollen shawl. At first, it looks very plain to the eye, but we can detect the beauty of the strong patterns and contrasting shades of folk art. Gandhi was an enigma during his life and still is a mysterious figure in history with many still contemplating his ideologies.


THE GANDHIAN IDEOLOGY


  • Gandhian ideology is the set of religious and social ideas adopted and developed by Mahatma Gandhi, first during his period in South Africa from 1893 to 1914, and later in India.

  • Gandhian philosophy is not only simultaneously political, moral and religious, it is also traditional and modern, simple and complex. It embodies numerous Western influences to which Gandhiji was exposed, but is rooted in ancient Indian culture harnessing universal moral & religious principles.

  • The philosophy exists on several planes - the spiritual or religious, moral, political, economic, social, individual and collective.

    • The spiritual or religious element, and God, are at its core.

    • Human nature is regarded as fundamentally virtuous.

    • All individuals are believed to be capable of high moral development, and of reform.

  • Gandhian ideology emphasises not on idealism, but on practical idealism.

  • Gandhian philosophy is a double-edged weapon. Its objective is to transform the individual and society simultaneously, in accordance with the principles of truth and non-violence.

  • Gandhiji developed these ideologies from various inspirational sources vis Bhagvad Geeta, Jainism, Buddhism, Bible, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Tolstoy, John Ruskin among others.

    • Tolstoy's book 'The Kingdom of God is within you' had a deep influence on Mahatma Gandhi.

    • Gandhiji paraphrased Ruskin's book 'Unto this Last' as 'Sarvodaya'.

  • These ideas have been further developed by later "Gandhians", most notably, in India by, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan and outside of India by Martin Luther King Jr. and others.


Truth and Non-violence are the twin cardinal principles of Gandhian thought-process


  • For Gandhi, truth is the relative truth of truthfulness in word and deed, and the absolute truth - the ultimate reality. This ultimate truth is God (as God is also Truth) and morality - the moral laws and code - its basis.

  • Nonviolence, far from meaning mere peacefulness or the absence of overt violence, is understood by Mahatma Gandhi to denote active love - the pole opposite of violence, in every sense. Nonviolence or love is regarded as the highest law of humankind.


Gandhi developed Satyagraha during his time in South Africa. It was his method of non-violent action.It means the exercise of the purest soul-force against all injustice, oppression and exploitation.


  • It is a method of securing rights by personal suffering and not inflicting injury on others.

  • The origin of Satyagraha can be found in the Upanishads, and in the teachings of Buddha, Mahavira and a number of other other greats including Tolstoy and Ruskin.


  • Sarvodaya- Sarvodaya is a term meaning 'Universal Uplift' or 'Progress of All'. The term was first coined by Gandhi ji as the title of his translation of John Ruskin's tract on political economy, "Unto This Last".

  • Swaraj- Although the word swaraj means self-rule, Gandhi ji gave it the content of an integral revolution that encompasses all spheres of life.

    • For Gandhi ji, swaraj of people meant the sum total of the swaraj (self-rule) of individuals and so he clarified that for him swaraj meant freedom for the meanest of his countrymen. And in its fullest sense, swaraj is much more than freedom from all restraints, it is self-rule, self-restraint and could be equated with moksha or salvation.

  • Trusteeship- Trusteeship is a socio-economic philosophy that was propounded by Gandhi ji.

    • It provides a means by which the wealthy people would be the trustees of trusts that looked after the welfare of the people in general.

    • This principle reflects Gandhi ji’s spiritual development, which he owed partly to his deep involvement with and the study of theosophical literature and the Bhagavad Gita.

  • Swadeshi The word swadeshi derives from Sanskrit and is a conjunction of two Sanskrit words. ‘Swa’ means self or own and ‘desh’ means country. So swadesh means one's own country. Swadeshi, the adjectival form, means of one’s own country, but can be loosely translated in most contexts as self-sufficiency.

    • Swadeshi is the focus on acting within and from one's own community, both politically and economically.

    • It is the interdependence of community and self-sufficiency.

    • Gandhi ji believed this would lead to independence (swaraj), as British control of India was rooted in control of her indigenous industries. Swadeshi was the key to the independence of India, and was represented by the charkha or the spinning wheel, the “center of the solar system” of Mahatma Gandhi’s constructive program.

By Tanmaya Kothari






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