Mahatma Gandhi statue
Workers clean a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Mumbai (representational image) | Photo: Shashank Parade | PTI
Text Size:

Was Gandhi gay? Was he racist? Did he assault his nieces? Wasn’t his food faddism a bit too comical? Was he the enemy of Dalits? With questions like these, over the decades, Gandhi has been assailed and brought down by the holier-than-thou radicals of the world. In doing so, they have helped the world forget the central reason why Gandhi mattered: his political techniques of resistance.

You don’t have to agree with Gandhi on anything at all, and you could still be inspired by satyagraha, by non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Some years ago, when Anna Hazare sat on a fast, there were people who were irritated by his use of Gandhian means of politics. What a fraud, they said, he is not Gandhian, he’s an RSS agent. Yet, even Narendra Modi once sat on a Gandhi-style ‘Sadbhavna’ fast.

In fact, all that Ambedkar had to do to counter Gandhi during the Poona Pact, Osho wrote, was to sit on an indefinite fast himself.

The point is that Gandhian means don’t have to match Gandhian ends.

Research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, has shown that the most successful rebellions are the ones that use non-violent civil disobedience. The only condition is that a large number of people – 3.5 per cent of the population, according to her research – have to be involved in the movement. It is for this reason why anybody engaged in politics, Left or Right, must study Gandhi’s means of doing politics. By picking up a fistful of salt he challenged the British Empire. That is the sort of thing that makes Gandhi timeless and relevant regardless of his political ideology.

Also read: This is why Mahatma Gandhi forgave General Dyer even after Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Pick and choose

Gandhi is so vast that you can take from him what you like. He wrote so much, he was documented so widely, he has been debated endlessly, that you can make whatever you want of Gandhi. And yet the Left-liberal intelligentsia, the self-serving Congress party, the Lohiaite socialists, the radical Ambedkarites, and the brooding Communists have all conspired to bury Gandhi.

The burial of Gandhi has helped in the rise of Hindutva. Yet, the only people to whom Mahatma Gandhi matters is the Hindutva right. They cannot reject him as easily as they have discarded Nehru. Modi’s answer is to reduce Gandhi to sanitation. Sooner or later, they will find a way to appropriate Gandhi as a good Hindu as opposed to the bad Nehru.

As for the Congress party, the wider opposition, the Left-liberal intelligentsia — Gandhi is dead. He does not matter; worse, he does not show them the way anymore. Gandhi is seen by them at best as a relic of history not relevant to post-Independent India, and at worst as a casteist, racist, misogynist old man best not spoken about.

If the opposition were to take Gandhi seriously, they could learn a lot from him. They would learn political communication and campaigning from him. They would know the way out of intractable issues, such as communal politics. They could perhaps even learn how to assert morality in the face of injustice. The man who took on Indira Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, was inspired by Gandhian thought.

Also read: Mahatma Gandhi is arriving shortly

Event management Gandhi-style

Had the opposition learnt from Gandhi, they would have known that it is futile to do anything for a day. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who visits Uttar Pradesh like a tourist, will again be marching in Lucknow for a few hours Wednesday.

When Gandhi was undertaking his salt march, the very idea was to bring about greater public awareness and participation, making it a campaign that touched people. He could simply have gone to Dandi and picked up salt. The march was undertaken after a lot of preparation, with his followers going from village to village and telling people that the Mahatma would stop overnight there, and what he would like them to do.

Narendra Modi also goes about doing politics through planned events. His critics rubbish it as event management. Yet, these events capture people’s minds and result in 303 seats. If these critics were alive in Gandhi’s time, they would have criticised him for event management. The problem is that the opposition do not know event management, nor do they care.

It may be difficult to defend Gandhi’s views on economics in the modern world (though a world where consumption economies are bringing about climate change, one may want to look at them anyway). Ambedkar won over Gandhi on caste. Prohibition (which Gandhi backed) is certainly against individual freedom, although we cannot pretend alcoholism is not a widespread social problem. But we don’t have to follow every word Gandhi said. His power lay in the means, the ends can change with time and place. It is for these Gandhian means that liberal thought in India must reconsider Gandhi.

Also read: What Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could learn from Mahatma Gandhi 

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.

Support Our Journalism

18 Comments Share Your Views


  1. UK was on its knees for the USA help after the 2nd world war. If the war had gone on for another year, UK’s condition would have been a disaster. Gandhi got a break. The same non violence under Hitler or Saddam Hussein would have been met with mass klling of innocent people. Fate allowed Gandhi to win but fate also made UK a helpless broke British empire. It just could not manage. itself and India.

  2. Gandhi the freedom fighter has been projects since his entry into politics as a panacea for all the ills faced by India. Forget his ideosyncracies. Everyone has them. But, continuing to adhere to his ideas can, and has harmed our development. His ideas are regressive and will take India into 19th century. Sooner the country forgets his mixed bag ideology, the better for the country.

  3. Shah who has zero knowledge about History of freedom struggle and teaching of Gandhiji once said Gandh was Chatur bania. These guys use him as object for political gain

  4. Now after losing war with Hindutva staunch secus like Shivam remembers Gandhi. Secus who did their best to destroy Gandhism & Hinduism and try to replace it with Nehruism now want same Gandhism to save them from “Hordes” of Hindus coming from same spiritual foundation that Gandhi came from.

  5. Once Gandhi was the leader of the aspiring Indians. Like most leaders in history he had an expiry date. Same can be said about Nehru. Now aspirational group have different aspirations and different leaders.

    • It is not the personality but his innovative approaches, radical thought and immense courage that is appreciated. Such qualities never go out of fashion. We appreciate leaders in our offices and public life because of similar qualities. His approach to solve complex problem can be applied to any commercial or personal situation, only conditions being sincerity and persistence.

      Gandhi used his understanding of the collective British psyche, and their justice system to beat them in their own game. A mighty empire, which had all the means to get him assassinated, was left confused. You could argue that even Bhagat Singh couldn’t care less, but the difference was that Bhagat Singh – though a great patriot – was straightforward. Gandhi, on the other hand, was shrewd and innovative. The best part was that Gandhi was a politician par excellence without any lust for power. It is not without reason that you will find Gandhi statues right in the centre of Manhattan and London, not to speak of many other cities.

  6. You and your gang is not liberal in it’s true sense.
    You are nothing but morally ethically challenged gang member who constantatly supports the likes of Sonia,Stalin,Mamta
    Lali, Pawar and all other corrupt anti modi politicians. That is the core of Indian liberals.Just being anti modi.
    No principle but feels authoritative enough to preach others.

  7. If Mahatma Gandhi was an Event Manager, there was a lot of substance and simplicity to the themes he chose. All within the overarching theme of winning India freedom from colonial ruler. Today the overarching theme should be the removal of mass poverty. 2. It is too early to be sure, but it seems the people of Kashmir, battered by violence, have decided that they will adopt Gandhian means of non violent non cooperation.

    • Kashmir people were never violent as you are implying. If you feel they are non violent now only and that too because of your leader Modi then you are wrong. Looks like your bhakti for Modi has reached beyond limits and leading to delusions.

    • Strange you should say that, sir. Half way across the world, in Houston, the Leader of the House of Reps, chose these two personalities to be the symbols of India’s greatness that the United States admired.

  8. I won’t be too harsh to state that Shivam Vij wants to ride the Mahatma wave because he is unable to ride the Sonia/Rahul/Priyanka wave. However, he is as confused as ever by equating liberals with the opposition leaders.

    Unfortunately the Mahatma did not live long enough to see the constitution of India come into action. However, if he were alive today, his advice to Pandit Nehru’s descendants might surely have been something like this: the best way to serve your country is to serve your constituency; fight and win elections; use your funds and develop your constituency as a model for other MPs to emulate; debate policies in the Parliament; try to give full attendance as MP; be a positive leader in thought and action in true spirit of the Parliamentary democracy; and earn your place as a leader of the nation, as its Prime Minister.

    As far as Anna Hazare is concerned, he failed in the most basic Gandhian principles which was consistency and persistence. Gandhi never chickened out of any situation. He kept going.

  9. An eye opener for congress and opposition at present times . But i think congress party never really admired his principles or perhaps it was hubris of being an only dominant force in political arena . Although they have played a smart politics based on opportunism rather than any ideology over the years . While on the other hand RSS have effectively adopted some of his principles without ever acknowledging it . Mr. Vij correctly mentions “Gandhian means don’t have to match Gandhian ends ” .


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here