What are the major aspects of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s personality? To borrow a phrase from the world of business, can we call him a disruptor? After he appeared on the scene, both the condition and direction of Indian politics went through a humongous change. It has been more than seven decades since he left us, but Bapu has become a tradition, which gets reaffirmed and rejuvenated after every conflict or controversy.

Not just India, but dissenters and protesters around the world have learnt from him. Recently, a deluge of people took to streets in Hong Kong against the attitude of Beijing. The reason behind this huge protest was a law under which the courts in mainland China were authorized to run trial on residents of Hong Kong. Despite several threats and pressures, the protests continued and the all-powerful Beijing had to finally bow down. The seeds of this movement were sown in 2014. At that time, the demand was for freedom and people were united against Chinese hegemony. This movement had drawn the attention of the entire world and everyone wondered why a government which did not hesitate to crack down on Tiananmen protesters was so restrained this time? Professor Chan Kan Ming, one of the leaders of the Hong Kong protest, answered this query. He said: “We took inspiration from Gandhi in the 40s and from Martin Luther King in the 60s." This is not just the only example. I will narrate an incident I witnessed.

In 1997, the then Indian prime minister I.K. Gujral was on a visit to three countries. In the initial phase of his visit, he went to Uganda and South Africa. I was a part of his delegation to Uganda. There, we got the opportunity to understand the initial struggles of Gandhi. In those days, Uganda was ruled by Yoweri K. Museveni. He had told us, “As a Christian, I used to follow the principle of an eye for an eye, but since I came to know Gandhi, it feels that his path was more correct. There is nothing better than forgiving those you detest." After two days, we got the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela. He was a famous Gandhian.

When I look back, Gandhi seems to me to be the innovator of resistance. He defeated repression, exploitation and hatred with a strong and forgiving tolerance. To make the impossible possible was the first and foremost aspect of Gandhi’s personality. Bapu knew that the truth cannot be kept hidden. Gandhi was the nurturer of that Hindu tradition which has the capability of taking everyone in its fold without any discrimination. It is a well-known fact that there was no difference between his individual faith and social objectives. The Noakhali episode is an example of how effective he was. When guns could not douse the fire of riots there, Gandhi sat on a fast until death. When his condition deteriorated, people of Hindu and Muslim communities came to him asking for his forgiveness.

Now, let’s come to Gandhi’s ‘disruption’. In the politics of the 18th and 19th century, the elite dominated. The experiences of South Africa and Champaran had made him understand the importance of public participation. Bapu explained its importance to the elite Congressmen. As a result, the All India National Congress started knocking the doors of the common man. The people had been exploited for years, but they had huge aspirations. Despite having many limitations, the same people helped form Independent India. Gandhi cleared the dust lying for centuries on the soul of India. After that, there was no need for any other mechanism, technique or tool. From here, the world’s largest democracy started taking shape. It is important to mention here that Gandhi definitely insisted on his principles, but he knew the difference between insistence and prejudice. He knew if truth and non-violence leave the path of understanding and reason, then it will fall into a chasm of degeneration. This is why he announced the withdrawal of his movement after the Chauri Chaura incident. Despite the opposition of his partymen, he did it again and again as he understood the limitations of people and the power of the ruling class. He did not provide the oppressors with an opportunity to oppress, rather he was able to soften their attitude by his ability of tolerant reasoning. That is why former South African prime minister Jan Christiaan Smuts, or viceroys of India, became his admirers. This effort to win the trust of enemies was unprecedented.

The human nature is strange. Gandhi, who earned immense respect and love through transparency, love and equanimity could not remain untouched with hatred. The same hatred he kept fighting against, ultimately took his life. But even 71 years after his death, he remains relevant because he had become an ideology. Ideologies and thoughts don’t die, they can’t be killed. His admirers often say, Gandhi hasn’t died, he is still among us.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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