Gandhi's relevance to the modern world

30 Apr 2017

Last week I was lucky enough to spend three days in London to participate in several events with Indian peacemaker Rajmohan Gandhi and his wife Usha. Rajmohan, a grandson of the renowned Mahatma, has upheld his grandfather’s message of non-violence and found ways of applying it to contemporary issues. He has written a monumental biography of the Mahatma entitled ‘Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire’ which has been hailed as “an impeccable exercise in objectivity”.

The Gandhis were visiting London on the invitation of Initiatives of Change (IofC), an international trust-building movement of which he was the international President in 2009-2010. IofC UK, together with several partner organisations, arranged a series of public and private events for people to hear Rajmohan’s perspectives on some of the pressing issues of today. Over 400 people filled a beautiful old chamber in the Institution of Engineering and Technology for a talk on ‘Our World at the Crossroads: Perspectives on the Way Forward’, while 170 thronged in Committee Room 14 in the Houses of Parliament for a lecture organised by the Balfour Project. Later, the Gandhis met informally with Muslim leaders in the Goodge Street Mosque.

One of the prominent themes of Rajmohan’s talks was the power of hatred in the modern world. Is there a remedy for hate? “Bombs do not obliterate anger or hate,” which, as we well know, are among the chief causes of violence.

“The twin components of [Mahatma] Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle, ‘fear not’ and ‘hate not’, were both difficult to practice, but the first found wider acceptance than the second,” said Rajmohan. “Jawaharlal Nehru wrote that, thanks to Gandhi, ‘that black pall of fear was lifted… to an amazing degree…’ Hatred, however, proved more resistant than fear. Gandhi had often warned his compatriots that hate was a master, not a slave, that it could not be confined to one channel, saying, for instance, in 1926: ‘We cannot love one another if we hate Englishmen. We cannot love the Japanese and hate Englishmen. We must either let the law of love rule us through and through or not at all. Love among ourselves based on hatred of others breaks down under the slightest pressure.’” [Emphasis mine]

Closely linked to this core principle of Gandhi was the belief that all people are of equal worth, regardless of race, religion or any other difference. You could say that he was killed because of this belief, since his insistence that Muslims were as important as Hindus led a Hindu extremist to assassinate him.

Rajmohan is deeply concerned about the direction of India today.

“Today’s India is indeed a young, lively and confident land… Yet influential sections in India have succumbed to the temptation of intolerance, to a belief that nothing is more important than putting minorities in their place. A national religion is being championed, and the patriotism of followers of other religions is being questioned.

“Suddenly it seems that the constitutional assurance of equal rights for all, of the equal value of every life, may after all only be a paper promise.

“Word of disquieting incidents has probably reached you here. Those who kill humble Muslims for allegedly eating or storing beef, or for transporting a cow, are seldom caught and, it would seem, never punished. … In some parts of India, impartiality from the police or the courtroom can no longer be assumed. Acquittals seem common for Hindus and rare for Muslims.

“Just when Indians appeared to be ready -- economically, intellectually and technologically – to play a major global role, India’s democratic and pluralist Constitution faces threats, and the reputation of Hinduism, the great religion to which eighty percent of Indians belong, is at stake.

“Just when it seemed that India with its secular constitution and plural society, holding around one billion Hindus but also close to two hundred million Muslims, 25 million Christians and 20 million Sikhs, might assist a diverse world in getting along, the country witnesses pressures of the kind that several Muslim-majority lands have faced for some time now.

“Many in India are troubled. The world should be too.”

Back to the question of hate. "Hatred kills us. It does not kill the enemy," Rajmohan points out. Can hate be cured? “Who knows?” he says. “But we can continue praying, and we can accept a few simple if hard truths. One, double-speak does not work. Two, imposed solutions do not work. Three, the past must be squarely acknowledged."

"Listening, seeing ourselves in the Other, and the Other in us, and, with God’s grace, forgiving. If there are better ways for building a better tomorrow, I would like to be told what they are."

[Rajmohan has a website:]