The time is right for another global Gandhian moment

In other words, in Gandhi’s mind, the citizen always stands higher than the state.
In other words, in Gandhi’s mind, the citizen always stands higher than the state.


  • The Mahatma represents for us a meaningful grammar of politics that we have already forgotten

The 2nd of October, celebrated every year in India and around the world as the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, is a great opportunity for Indians and citizens of the world who are not suffering from the ‘success syndrome’ to review the relevance of the ideas and ideals of the Mahatma. I sometimes amuse myself by bringing Mahatma Gandhi back to life, in my mind, and showing him the political posters and ideological spaces where his name and portrait are used in India and around the world. In my imaginary encounters with Gandhi, he is always perturbed and perplexed by the incredible sights and sounds of politics of the 21st century. Though I prefer not to be called a ‘Gandhian,’ I believe that Gandhi is a better ‘cosmic companion’ than most corporate leaders and technocrats who are currently ruling our world.

I think the reason why Mahatma Gandhi can still make our lives seem ineffably meaningful and empathetic is that he still represents for us the grammar of politics that we have already forgotten. If Gandhi had only left us an account of his life, as he did in his famous autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth, or if he had simply retreated to his ashram in Ahmedabad, without worrying much about the future of the Indian subcontinent and the world, he would probably have lived a hundred years and been a page of Indian history, like Patel, Nehru and Azad.

However, as things turned out, Gandhi was read, appreciated and practised by non-Indians like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Vaclav Havel and many others who tried to forge a peaceful human community in a plural world by challenging the conventional motto that “might is right."

The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and democratic changes in South Africa and Chile sparked a more pragmatic and realistic sense of non-violence in international relations. As such, the developments that followed begged an interrogation of the relevance of the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence and question of whether the transition from a dictatorship to a more democratic system could occur peacefully and without violence. Truly speaking, to understand the Gandhian Moment in politics as an exceptional phenomenon, an act of dissent and resistance against the idea of absolute power, one needs to know how to preserve the passion of politics, while deepening and enlarging the responsibility of the political. At any rate, the core of Gandhi’s theory of politics is to show that the true subject of the political is the citizen, and not the state.

In other words, in Gandhi’s mind, the citizen always stands higher than the state. For Gandhi, it is not the subject that is the consequence of sovereignty, but it is sovereignty which is subordinated to the political action of the subject.

The major shift in focus that appears in the Gandhian Moment of politics is from the everlasting idea of deriving political decisions from the primacy of the political as well as that of the ethical. Therefore, the pursuit of moral life in politics takes Gandhi to an argument in favour of the responsibility of citizens. Gandhi’s critique of modern politics leads him to the idea of “shared sovereignty" based on the ethics of interconnectedness and togetherness. That is to say, the Gandhian approach to the idea of a dialogical community is based on his theoretical and practical efforts to find a balance between epistemic humility (as an antipode of fanaticism) and a need for transparent political action. Clearly, the Gandhian concept of “common good" is formulated in the idea of self-realization and self-regulation of non-violent citizenship.

Interestingly, for Gandhi, being a member of a non-violent community denotes an ontological effort to capture the idea of political agency beyond a national state.

Gandhi was very aware of the fact that the democratic spirit can be shaped and preserved only in the shadow of a civic citizenship. He also knew well that democracy is not only a set of institutions, but a vital ideal of living together that involves constant passionate, active and responsible intervention in the public sphere. In this respect, the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the creation and cultivation of a public culture of citizenship guarantees everyone the right to an opinion and action as an ethical commitment to norms of transparency, negotiation and mutual respect.

Contrary to those technocrats who claim that Gandhi was a traditionalist because he preferred to walk rather than be carried around by a Mercedes, it should be noted that his critique of modern civilization did not mean a return to the past. It was actually a move forward in history and human moral progress. Gandhi not only saw the need for fundamental change in the modern world, but even recognized its inevitability.

That is why his ideas have inspired so many moral leaders around the world. As we can see from the experience of non-violence around the world in the past 100 years, the Gandhian Moment is not a dream, but an ethical vision of global responsibility and transformation, which achieves its full meaning and essence when it is made flesh in exemplary human actions like those of King, Mandela, Tutu and Mother Teresa.

Today, once again, the time is right for the emergence of a global Gandhian Moment in the 21st century.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.


Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App