The Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi and His Ideas

“Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is the last article of my faith…”

– Mahatma Gandhi, at a trial court on March 18, 1922 after he was arrested following the calling off of the Non-Cooperation Movement.

The apostle of truth and non-violence, one of the greatest upholders of peace and harmony humanity has witnessed, and the leader of India’s freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas continue to inspire generations. From Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States to Nelson Mandela in South Africa and many other leaders and people around the world who have stood and fought against oppression and injustices of various kinds have been inspired by the ideas, principles and the life of the Mahatma.

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In this essay, some of the most important ideas of the man who changed the world by being simple and humble yet strong and determined are looked into.

View on Modern Civilization

Mahatma Gandhi considered that modern civilization is grounded in a fatally flawed theory of mankind which takes note neither of morality nor of religion. Modern Western Civilization was completely body-centered and materialistic. It attributed to mankind selfishness and infinite multiplicity of wants. It led to a life devoid of meaning and purpose because it had no guiding moral principles.

People in the West and around the world today have slowly realized the callousness of this modernity. Today we see people embracing minimalist and simple lifestyle and slowly turning away from extreme materialism.

In his Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi also argued that despite all its egalitarian pretensions, modern western civilization is discriminatory, exploitative and violent. All this was manifested in the practice of imperialism that the Western world once aggressively followed.

Today, imperialism is a rejected idea and the very practice of it in any form is condemned by the world community.

The people’s slow appreciation of a life which is not entirely materialistic and rejection of exploitative practices such as imperialism are testaments to the relevance of the ideas of Gandhiji.

The Principle and Idea of Satyagraha

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‘Satyagraha’ literally means ‘holding onto truth’. According to Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha is ‘love-force’, ‘soul-force’, or ‘truth-force’- the force which is born of truth and love or non-violence.

Satyagraha is different from both passive resistance and violence. The core principle of Satyagraha is to oppose the tyranny but not the tyrant. A satyagrahi should be ready to give up his life rather than take the opponent’s life.

Satyagraha leads to the conversion of enemies into friends, and peaceful resolution of conflict which is mutually accepted. The purpose of Satyagraha is to substitute force-obedience by willing-obedience and involuntary cooperation by voluntary cooperation.

The Gandhian method of peaceful resolution of conflict is the basis of conflict resolution that has been guiding the United Nations and many other parties in conflict in the contemporary era. The world community endorses the idea of peaceful resolution of conflict in regional, national and international disputes. In this context, Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas are becoming increasingly relevant.

The Idea of Swaraj and Swadeshi

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‘Swaraj’ means ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-restraint’. For Gandhiji, Swaraj is a constitutional, democratic political order as well as the economic independence and self-sufficiency.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that ‘Swadeshi’, meaning economic independence and/or self-sufficiency, is necessary for putting Satyagraha into practice and winning Swaraj meaningfully. He was of the view that freedom was bound to remain a mere philosophical abstraction unless the vast masses had some gainful employment. Therefore, he actively supported village construction, employment of the masses, etc.

Realizing the importance and relevance of Gandhian philosophy of village development and meaningful employment of the masses, the Government of India has been actively pursuing various programs to develop villages and provide employment. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the largest employment guarantee scheme in the world at present, is one fine example.

Sarvodaya- Welfare of All

Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ also means ‘Sarvodaya’ which means ‘freedom for all’ and/or ‘welfare of all’. Sarvodaya philosophy envisioned what Gandhiji called ‘Ramrajya’, which is Gandhiji’s version of ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’.

Though considered idealistic and a utopia, Mahatma Gandhi championed ideas of equality, freedom and justice in his philosophy of Sarvodaya. He wanted a society free from inequalities, exploitation, discrimination and injustices. Is not this what many people especially the youth fighting for? Today, we condemn injustices, we fight against exploitation, and we dream for an equal and just society. The Anti-Slavery March in London against a CNN released undercover footage of what appeared to be a slave auction in Libya (2017), fight for practical ending of caste discrimination in our country, call for gender equality, demand for fundamental right to work- all of these reflect the willingness and urge to ensure a just and equitable society.

Adherence to Just Ends and Means

Noble end demands noble means. The end of an action would be good only if and to the extent the means are good. Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed that ‘end’ is as much important as the ‘means’. Such a noble and truthful dictum remains eternally relevant.

TOWARDS CONCLUSION

Though Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas and principles are appraised and accepted by many, they are not free from criticisms.

Some scholars argue that since Gandhiji largely concentrated on the darker side of modern civilization, he overlooked some of its great achievements and strengths. Since he saw it from the ‘outside’, he oversimplified it and did not fully understand its complex structure.

Mahatma Gandhi’s stress on khadi and simplicity at the cost of huge industries and ostentatious life is considered an anachronism. Critics argue that huge industries are needed for economic self sufficiency.

Besides, critics say that Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (non-violence) are very limited. India fought war against Pakistan and China; moreover, non-violence can hardly solve the problems created by nuclear weapons.

Further, some critics argue that in today’s politics, ‘end’ justifies ‘means’; none of the politicians seem to adhere to the Gandhian dictum of ‘just means and just ends’.

Though some of these criticisms hold ground, it does not mean that having some of these limitations make Gandhian principles and ideas out of place.

While Mahatma Gandhi criticized modern western civilization, he also appreciated many of its aspects such as rationality and scientific spirit.

Mahatma Gandhi was not also totally against big industries. He simply wanted that the common masses were not exploited by interested capitalists who were greedy and profit-mongering- a concern shared by many in the world today.

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The great scientist Albert Einstein was right when he said of Gandhi:

“Generations to come, it may be, none will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

The message of the Mahatma, the enlightened soul, might mean differently to different people. Yet, the core of Gandhian philosophy such as notions of forgiveness, cooperation, reconciliation, and non-violence for a lasting peace and harmony are universally accepted and eternally relevant. It is for us to re-examine and look into his philosophy, life and ideas, and see how it can help us improve our world.

*****

Anyone who wishes to make an attempt to understand Gandhi and his philosophy should make it mandatory to read the following books:

Other noteworthy books on Mahatma Gandhi you can explore:

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How to write a good essay?

This article may have to do more particularly with the question: How to write a good UPSC essay?*

Yet, any person who wants to write a good essay will find it useful.

Why is a candidate expected to write essays in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination (CSE)? Why was essay introduced in the UPSC CSE, known as the mother of all written examinations?

As per the report that suggested essays as part of CSE Mains Examination, the candidates writing the examination are expected to possess:

  1. linguistic skill;
  2. capacity for comprehension;
  3. ability for critical analysis;
  4. capacity for integrated thinking;
  5. assimilation of ideas; and
  6. clarity of expression.

These are what UPSC is looking from a candidate and his/her essay- whether he/she possesses these attributes.

Further, in the UPSC CSE (Mains) syllabus for the essay part, it says:

Candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.

This short three-sentences syllabus tells how one should write UPSC essays. Let’s look closely at what the syllabus is saying:

  1. There will be multiple topics.
  2. The candidates are expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay.
  3. The candidates should arrange their ideas in orderly fashion.
  4. Concise writing.
  5. Effective and exact expression.

Now, what is demanded in a UPSC essay can be summed up as follows:

A candidate writing a UPSC essay should possess at least the first set of six qualities and it is desirable that the essays are written in a well-structured manner (more or less in the way as provided in the syllabus).

***

Introduction, Content, and Conclusion

An essay should include an introduction, the main body/content, and a conclusion. How to write these parts of an essay?

An introduction should give a crux of the whole body. It should be able to tell the reader what he is going to find in the whole essay. An introduction of an essay may be started with suitable quotes or with raising the right questions. Ideally, it should be written in one paragraph.

Writing the main body/content of the essay is all about rich content, arrangement of ideas, and choice of words. Taking cue from what UPSC demands, the main content of the essay should reflect the comprehensive, integrated and critical thinking of the writer. This means, while writing an essay, one should be writing about the subject from various perspectives and one should provide a critical analysis of the topic/subject. One should do so by looking at the subject from political, social, economic, cultural, technological, administrative perspectives. One should be able to assimilate these ideas and express with clarity. The content of the essay should be close to the subject of the essay. The ideas should be arranged in orderly fashion. And, effective and exact expression is very important. And, always keep in mind that the first six set of qualities mentioned in the first section of this article and the UPSC syllabus on essay should be the guiding principles when attempting to write UPSC essays.

The conclusion of an essay is also very important. A conclusion should be visionary, optimistic, practical. It should provide a ray of hope, a positive ending. One should never introduce a new idea here. One may take a position on the issue in the conclusion. However, it should always be balanced and optimistic.

Other than the above central requirements of an essay, one must also keep in mind few general things while writing an essay. One should always use formal languages and avoid unparliamentary languages. Use titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms. etc. while mentioning the names of prominent figures. It is also advisable that one should avoid using confusing languages. Instead, use simple, easily understandable language. Make the essay easily readable and understandable. Also, the tone and temper of the language of the essay should not be radical or extreme.

A person writing UPSC essays should keep in his/her mind the Constitution of India, the preamble, human rights, ideals of freedom struggle such as democracy, equality, justice, liberty etc. It should be clearly reflected in the essay that the person writing it has empathy for the downtrodden and marginalised sections of the society. Being pro-poor, pro-women, pro-children, pro-differently-able etc. are signs of having empathy!

Make the essay connected from one paragraph to the immediate following paragraph. Each paragraph should ideally have one idea. By the end of one idea, build the background for the next idea. There should be a flow in the essay and that’s what UPSC means by the arrangement of ideas in an orderly fashion.

You may or may not use subheadings; it’s clearly upto you.

Finally, few things one should be familiar with or do to produce a good essay for UPSC:

  • Constitution of India (the preamble being very important);
  • Ideals of India’s freedom struggle;
  • Human Rights;
  • Writings of prominent personalities such as Amartya Sen, Abdul Kalam etc.
  • Highlights of Global Reports such as World Development Report, World Happiness Report etc.
  • Keep updated with current socio-economic and political developments.
  • Know some quotes of say Buddha, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.
  • Wide reading of any area of literature is always useful.
  • Practice previous years’s questions.

*I am writing this article after watching a VisionIAS workshop on the art of essay writing. It’s very helpful and you can watch it too on YouTube.