Home / Opinion / Columns /  Gandhi’s timeless advice: Be the change you wish to see

On 2 October every year, his birth anniversary, India and the world remember Mahatma Gandhi and renew their commitment to his ideals and universal life lessons.

In independent India, Gandhi has been the biggest influence on our collective consciousness. And he will likely always be the biggest influencer that India has produced in the modern age. For me, too, the Mahatma is my biggest inspiration.

For every Indian, there is a unique Gandhi. Most admire his patriotism and nationalism, along with his fierce sense of duty towards the nation and fellow citizens. Many appreciate his simplicity and spirituality, as also his love and compassion. Many others like his espousal of Swadeshi.

Gandhi’s ideals of Truth, Non-Violence and Non-Cooperation in the face of an oppressor, and his devotion of a lifetime in service to the nation have been observed to unite Indians like no other personality.

His global imprint is so powerful that Albert Einstein famously said that “generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth".

There are many life-changing ideas and experiences of Gandhi that I would like to talk about. However, if I were to pick one idea that Gandhi symbolizes very powerfully, it is: “Be the change you wish to see in the world." This is extremely relevant in the current context.

In a world coping with a devastating and once-in-a-century pandemic, and also having to deal with strife in several parts while having to counter major global problems like climate change, we can all be Gandhis in our own unique ways. All of us can, thus, work to bring about the positive change that we wish to see around us.

Let me begin with a small example. As industry leaders, we have tried to promote the idea of Swadeshi. At our steel plant in Odisha’s Angul, one of the ‘temples of Modern India’, we are producing steel by using the clean technology of coal gasification, with only Swadeshi coal in use.

Apart from the stalwarts of our freedom struggle, I also learnt a lot about the philosophy of Swadeshi and self-reliance from my father, and the founder of our business group, O.P. Jindal.

In this piece, however, I would like to talk more about how, inspired by Gandhi, I have tried to bring about change in my own little ways in various walks of life. I would like to argue that we can all be the change we wish to see around us.

As a student in the US, I used to proudly display our national flag. When I came back to India after my studies in 1992, and wanted to display the tricolour with pride and respect on our plant premises at Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, I was stopped from doing so by the local administration in 1993, citing the then Flag Code. I then waged a decade-long legal struggle for my right as a citizen to fly the tricolour.

In 2004, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement, allowed every Indian to display the tricolour at home and other private spaces, establishments and public offices with pride, honour and dignity. I would urge you all to display our beloved tiranga every day and be inspired by it to do your best for the country. Gandhi liked the idea of a national flag that represented the country’s unity in diversity, and inclusion of people belonging to various religions.

As a public representative, I have been concerned about many national issues. I moved a private member’s resolution for a Zero-Hunger Act in 2006 in the Lok Sabha. It led to the enactment of the National Food Security Act.

That was followed by multiple measures like ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ and those to tackle malnutrition, among others. Gandhi’s ideas about education, or “Nai Talim", were part of his larger view of an ideal society.

We have set up universities and schools. O.P. Jindal Global University, for example, is our way to pay society back and also a tribute to the far-sighted builders of modern India.

Education is a lifelong process. Gandhi also showed us how one should be ready to learn and evolve. In 1909, as also in 1926, he wrote that “Machinery is the chief symbol of modern civilization; it represents a great sin." He had a more evolved and nuanced understanding of the issue with the passage of time. In 1934, he wrote: “Mechanization is good when the hands are too few for the work intended to be accomplished." I have learnt to have an open mind.

By being individual agents of change, an idea so beautifully and powerfully conveyed and established by Gandhi, if all of us, in our own individual capacities, do our jobs well and diligently, we will be able to build the nation of our dreams. Inspired by Gandhi, we should be able to say: “My life is my message."

To conclude, I dream of an India where Tagore’s poetic vision of a place “where the mind is without fear and the head held high" is a constant companion of Gandhi’s ideals of nationhood, civilization and our collective future.

Naveen Jindal is chairman of Jindal Steel and Power, chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University, and a former Member of Parliament.

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