Gandhi In The 21st Cen­tury

His main les­son for con­tem­po­rary so­ci­eties: moral­ity mat­ters, not just bar­gain­ing power

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas - Gau­rav Dalmia

Al­bert Ein­stein’s ode to Ma­hatma Gandhi – “Gen­er­a­tions to come will scarce be­lieve that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth” – was tech­ni­cally in­cor­rect. Only a few years ago, an in­ter­na­tional sur­vey by PWC ranked Gandhi as the third most ad­mired leader of all time, af­ter Win­ston Churchill and Steve Jobs. Gandhi, born 150 years ago, con­tin­ued to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of lead­ers at­tempt­ing to change the world. He in­flu­enced Martin Luther King Jr’s 1955 Mont­gomery Boycott, the sem­i­nal event in the US civil rights move­ment. Viet­namese rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Ho Chi Minh con­sid­ered him­self Gandhi’s dis­ci­ple. He is a hero to Jack Ma and Al Gore. Gandhi also in­spired John Len­non’s mu­sic. Imag­ine!

Gandhi’s work con­tin­ues to light many lamps. The fore­most qual­ity he brought for­ward was courage. He re­fused to suc­cumb to the sta­tus quo of un­earned author­ity. When thrown off a train in South Africa for re­fus­ing to leave his first class com­part­ment, leg­end has it, he sat all night in the freez­ing cold at the train sta­tion won­der­ing whether he should fight for his rights or re­turn to In­dia.

Nar­row ra­tio­nal­ity would have steered some to­wards the lat­ter. How­ever, his ide­al­is­tic bent dom­i­nated his stand. He protested the next day and was al­lowed to board the train. Mod­ern day en­trepreneur­s – in pol­i­tics and busi­ness – re­peat­edly find that the world re­wards courage more than in­tel­lect.

In a world driven by bar­gain­ing power, he in­tro­duced moral­ity. He re­jected the bar­ri­ers cre­ated by ac­ci­dents of his­tory and am­pli­fied by hu­man nar­cis­sism. He went af­ter In­dia’s so­cial fault lines. Over time, one has seen such morally ide­al­is­tic stands be­ing re­peated by many, whether chal­leng­ing the sins of such hal­lowed in­sti­tu­tions as the church in many parts of the world, or the left move­ments in many coun­tries, or the cur­rent protests against Chi­nese high hand­ed­ness in Hong Kong.

Lever­ag­ing truth al­lowed Gandhi to scale his move­ment. Many move­ments do not reach their promised po­ten­tial be­cause they are of­ten fu­elled by am­bi­tion or op­por­tunism. Gandhi did not al­low this to con­tam­i­nate his move­ment be­yond a point. The Tu­nisian Na­tional Di­a­logue Quar­tet, which won the No­bel Peace Prize in 2015 amongst 273 nom­i­nated con­tenders, is a re­cent ex­am­ple of de­vo­tion to the greater good.

It took on the chal­lenge of build­ing a plu­ral­is­tic democ­racy af­ter the Jas­mine Rev­o­lu­tion of 2011. Con­sciously sidestep­ping per­son­al­ity driven agen­das, it coopted the labour union, the na­tional in­dus­try con­fed­er­a­tion, the hu­man rights body and the le­gal as­so­ci­a­tion. Vic­to­ries of an unadul­ter­ated cause are quite alike.

Gandhi sep­a­rated prob­lems from peo­ple. Churchill dis­liked him. Gandhi did

Mod­ern day en­trepreneur­s – in pol­i­tics and busi­ness – re­peat­edly find that the world re­wards courage more than in­tel­lect

not re­cip­ro­cate. In1915, the man who would years later de­liver the pow­er­ful Quit In­dia speech at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bom­bay, raised a toast to the British while ad­dress­ing the Madras Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, em­pha­sis­ing the good as­pects of British so­ci­ety. He would of­ten call him­self anti-in­jus­tice, not anti-British.

Gandhi used the pur­pose-over­per­son­al­i­ties mantra to lead the free­dom move­ment’s Dream Team. He had dif­fer­ences with his pro­tege Jawa­har­lal Nehru. Gandhi looked for so­lu­tions to so­cial chal­lenges within peo­ple, Nehru wanted to bring them from out­side. He had fun­da­men­tal is­sues with Bhim­rao Ambed­kar on whether con­tem­po­rary Hin­duism was a bane or a boon for In­dian so­ci­ety. Still, he let Ambed­kar shape the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Gandhi prac­tised dis­trib­uted lead­er­ship well be­fore it was bril­liantly ar­tic­u­lated in the re­cent book ‘New Power’ by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. Busi­ness schools need a case study on Gandhi’s lead­er­ship style, so multi­na­tion­als can bet­ter man­age their star-stud­ded teams and avoid management feuds that oc­ca­sion­ally rock the cor­po­rate world.

Gandhi was a lib­eral, who built on the tra­di­tions set by John Locke in the late 17th cen­tury. To me, Gandhi’s most pro­found words are: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my win­dows to be stuffed. I want the cul­ture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as pos­si­ble. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” This sim­ple, yet pow­er­ful state­ment would well serve to­day’s world of ide­o­log­i­cal my­opia and self-im­posed au­tarky. Mr Trump, hope you are lis­ten­ing.

Gandhi’s is a story of a young man of strong con­vic­tions and priv­i­leged up­bring­ing, who came out of his com­fort zone and trans­formed him­self into what Churchill called a “half naked fakir”. He was not pre­or­dained for this great role. His ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess came from fol­low­ing his call­ing. Af­ter his un­spec­tac­u­lar le­gal ca­reer in Gu­jarat led him in his mid-20’s to move to South Africa, chance events en­abled him to de­velop and re­fine his po­lit­i­cal ideas and emerge as an in­de­pen­dent-minded com­mu­nity leader.

He left an im­pact on Gopal Kr­ishna Gokhale, pres­i­dent of the Congress party. At Gokhale’s prod­ding, Gandhi moved back to In­dia at the age of 46 and was in­flu­enced by his men­tor’s mod­er­ate pol­i­tics. By 1920 – within five years of re­turn­ing – he had be­come the icon of In­dia’s quest for free­dom. His utopian world­view had earned him the ti­tle of Ma­hatma, con­ferred on him by none other than No­bel lau­re­ate Rabindrana­th Tagore. Over the next quar­ter cen­tury, he be­came the fa­ther of in­de­pen­dent In­dia. Such is the his­tory of great­ness!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.