October 2nd 2021 marks the 152nd anniversary of Gandhiji, the ‘beloved’ father of our nation. Gandhi was known all over the world for his efforts for non-violent freedom movements. Over the course of his life, he gave several speeches about his vision for the future of the Indian subcontinent, the most prominent one being the speech he gave at Chatham House in 1931. Sitting next to Philip Kerr, the Marquess of Lothian, who would soon become the Under-Secretary of State for India, Gandhi announced: ‘I seize every opportunity I can of coming into touch with British public opinion and putting before them the purpose of my mission. I hope the words I speak to you this evening will find lodgement in your hearts.’ His mission? Obtaining Indian independence from the British Empire.
In his speech, he detailed the three main points that summarized his vision for the future; Religious pluralism, Non-violence and Independence. He emphasized these three facts because he believed that if we could achieve these three basic but necessary aspects of our society, we would pave the way for a better future.
India is one of the only countries in the world that has attained the moniker of ‘unity in diversity’. This signifies that we as a society have come together and learnt to live in harmony despite our social, religious and spiritual beliefs. Gandhiji was a staunch believer in respecting the minorities of the country, no matter which religion they belonged to. He wanted to believe that his fellow countrymen would follow his lead and treat everyone as equal, minority or not. Kapil Komireddi, author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India, believes the partition of British India was the moment when Gandhi’s dream of religious harmony in India collapsed: ‘India declared itself a pluralistic country in 1947 in which all religions were equal, but in order for this vision to be realized, it had to overcome the memory of partition. Repeated wars with Pakistan, however, have not allowed India to overcome that memory.’
But as it is very evident in our country today, that sentiment is not visible among many Indians. In today’s world, the debate around religion is like a grenade whose pin has been pulled, hard to approach and even harder to talk about. With the rising tide of Hindu nationalism and the central government essentially fanning the flames of the movement, Gandhiji’s dream of religious pluralism seems to be becoming a thing of the distant past.
Gandhiji’s name is synonymous with non-violence. So it makes sense that non-violence would be one of his pillars for an ideal society. His vision of a non-violent democratic state does not exist in today’s world and probably never will. With India becoming a nuclear power in 1998 and with its military and intelligence might, it is a formidable military power on the world stage. This along with India's involvement in foreign affairs on the international stage is not completely in line with Gandhiji’s principles.
And finally, his principle of Independence. When he gave this speech in 1931, India was still under British rule and he was vocal about his dream of a free India. He didn't just mean independence from the British, but independence and equality on all fronts. After 1947 India had a bumpy road with its quest for independence for its people. There have been several instances in our history as an independent nation where our fundamental rights have been taken from us, Emergency comes to mind. More recently, in the last 8 years, there have been several periods when our fundamental rights have been in danger. We live in a time when the freedom of speech, expression and even the right to equality has been repeatedly violated over the last 8 years and things don’t seem to be getting any better. The new IT laws, farm laws, the amendment to the cinematograph act, etc are all examples of these violations. Now more than ever, the freedom of the press in India is under fire, with raids being conducted in the offices of social media giants like Twitter and in news agencies that are openly critical of the central government.
With the country being so divided right now, whether it be politically, socially or in the aspect of religion we seem to be heading down a path of no return. Gandhiji might have not been the perfect man, but his ideologies still have an impact in today’s world. With little updates to his thoughts and ideas along with proper implementation, we might see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Bhardwaj, G. (2020, April 1st). Gandhi shares his vision for India. Chatham House. https://www.chathamhouse.org/publications/the-world-today/2020-04/gandhi-shares-his-vision-india
Dr. Shubhangi Rathi. (n.d.). Relevance of Mahatma Gandhiji's Ideology in the Context of Indian Democracy. https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/indian_democracy.html
D. Raja. (2021, September 29th). What would today’s government have done with Gandhi and Bhagat Singh? The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/what-would-todays-government-have-done-with-gandhi-and-bhagat-singh-7538274/