Gandhi and Satyagraha – Validity and Relevance – Part Three

By Dr C. Sheela Reddy, PhD Assistant Professor, Dept. of Political Science & Public Administration, SV University, Tirupati

A three part series of a paper presented by Dr C Sheela Reddy at the Satyagraha Centenary Conference in New Delhi, India

Relevance of Satyagraha in the Twenty-first Century

Is satyagraha relevant to the present-day society or the twenty-first century? The answer is not a simple "yes" or "no”. When we try to decide whether it is relevant to the present day society, the fundamental thing we have to consider is the nature of the present-day individual. Gandhi was well aware of the increasing influence of materialistic considerations on the modern society and individual. According to Gandhi, the main objective of satyagraha was to eradicate the evil or to reform the opponent. In the present socio-economic political system, there is a dire necessity to wean the individual away from the influence of wealth, luxuries and power. Gandhi said long back that “this bountiful earth has enough to meet the needs of all, but it does not have enough to meet the greed of a few.” These words have been proved to be prophetic in this age of globalization. The rich few are advocating mindless mechanisation to facilitate jobless growth and are propagating the ‘philosophy of compete or perish’. In this process, the earth’s resources, air, water and minerals are being furiously consumed and wasted. It is the right time to follow the alternative way taught by Gandhi. Gandhi demonstrated how non-violent Satyagraha can resolve individual and national conflicts. The only requirements are goodwill and cooperation. The choice for humanity is really between ‘compete and perish’ or ‘cooperative and survive in peace’. One can only hope that humankind will make the right choice for its own survival.    

Satyagraha would be a viable alternative to other methods for the peaceful resolution of disputes and conflicts. And in all walks of life, wherever there is scope for conflict and disharmony, the practice of the principles of truth and nonviolence in the smallest way possible, would definitely make a great contribution in bringing about peace and harmony.

Satyagraha as an ideal and as a great weapon of conflict resolution will always serve as a great inspiration to the people of all generations to come, both in India and elsewhere. The usefulness of truth and non-violence will always be relevant wherever the goal is prosperity, welfare and development. Without truth and non-violence there cannot be peace and without peace there cannot be development. Satyagraha in some form or the other was adopted by various sets of people at different times in history. But it was left to Gandhi to perfect the technique by which mass resistance could succeed in achieving enduring results without resorting to force and without leaving a legacy of bitterness behind. The technique acquires great importance in the modern world when instruments of coercion and destruction are concentrated in the hands of a few rulers in every country. Those who serve the cause of freedom or collective welfare have no other efficacious weapon left, except satyagraha.

Today, not a single country of the world is in a position to maintain its existence or to function in isolation, no matter how mighty it is. Countries are so interdependent, that, to act united has become a compulsion. In such a state it is not possible even for a country, where a particular group of dictators snatches the freedom of the people, to ignore international call. Through a collective decision in the UNO the dictators of such a country may be first warned for a Non-Violent Non-Cooperation and Boycott including Restrictions. If there is no success in it then under the leadership of UNO, further steps can be taken according to conditions of time and space, keeping in mind the safety and difficulties of innocent people. Such types of actions are, in fact, under the domain of non-violence. They are forward steps of Satyagraha, because there is no ill-will in it. After all Satyagraha means pursuit of truth; it is a search for truth and determination to reach truth. Its means is non-violence, which is the only means to create a sustainable culture of peace. So, if it is applied in international sphere, its outcome will, definitely, be benevolent and welfaristic.

Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political manoeuvres and trickeries but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. He was the only statesman to stand for a higher human relationship in the political sphere. He believed in the dictum that an ounce of practice is worth tons of theory and offered an alternative world vision. The vision envisages a life in harmony with nature, a life of simplicity, a life which recognizes the pain in others, and a society which ensures minimum for everybody to live like decent human beings. Such a world vision extols the virtue of “vasudhaiva kutumbakan” (world is one family). This world vision of Gandhi was dismissed as utopian by the champions of unlimited growth. Can we afford to have unlimited growth in a finite world? This is one of the major challenges facing humanity in this millennium. If man is the measure of everything, an answer to this challenging question is to be found by man alone. Knowing this truth Gandhi insisted on individual change. The reform of individual is prior to the reform of society. Gandhi said “I feel myself related to every other individual in this world and realize that I cannot be happy until the smallest of them is happy”. Such an enlightened spirit, wisdom and conscience need to be dawned on individuals and nations to make the world a safe heaven for all. Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha was not simply a strategy for opposing evil without using violence rather it was a whole way of reconstructing society, using love and striving for truth.