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Contexts of Gandhi’s Leadership in Modern Era


Contexts of Gandhi’s Leadership in Modern Era

The issue of leadership in India is closely related to the socio-economic phenomena, mythology and religion. Although India was never a theocracy, its religious and social values were so closely intertwined at the level of individual and group behaviour that the more free or liberal atmosphere which in the West is associated with the separation of church and state did not develop except in some outstanding instances. Custom and tradition were pervasive and here people hardly rose to the level of making conscious choices between theological paths : for the rest of the Hindus the theological path, as well as the path of life and secular morality, was strictly prescribed.  Both the charismatic personalities – Gandhi and Nehru tried to separate politics not only from religion but also from development as well. They viewed religion as an integral part of Indian society. Gandhi never denied being a religious man.  In fact he said, “Most religious men, I have met are politicians in disguise but I who appear to be a politician am at heart a religious man.” Nehru knew how powerful an influence religion was in India, practically among all communities.  Religion beats a hearty retreat before the advancement of reason. Right from the days of Khilafat Movement onward he had seen how the largest religious minority had preyed upon the mind of the ignorant and poor masses in the name of religion.
Socio-political milieu of Gandhi
This social and political vacuum was filled by the rise of a remarkable man, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who became a symbol, worldwide, of something humankind desperately needs – Truth, Ahimsa and Goodness.  He passed the test of being called a very great man. To quote Isaiah Berlin, “To call someone a great man is to claim that he has intentionally taken a large step, one far beyond the normal capacities of men, in satisfying, or materially affecting central human interests ………. . Similarly in the realm of action, the great man seems able, almost alone and single handed, to transform one form of  his life into another ……. . Permanently and radically alters the outlook and values of a significant body of human beings.  With his coming Gandhi viewed a long struggle lay ahead, struggle not only with a foreign power, but also with the Indian people themselves. He realised clearly that the urbanised middle class alone did not provide a sufficient basis for national awakening. The task before him was to penetrate the masses, to arouse them from their state of apathy and isolation, to provide them with self-confidence and a positive élan in place of both the defensive postures of the moderates and inferiority complex of the ‘anti-Western radicals. Gandhi used an uncommon moral force in politics and proved successful in giving to the Congress a new direction, a powerful organisational base, and a mass following. He made Congress democratic and a mass organisation. Democratic it had been previously also but it had so far been limited in franchise and restricted to the upper classes. Now the peasants rolled in and in its garb, it began to assume the look of a vast agrarian organisation with a strong sprinkling of the middle-classes.  The Congress under the leadership of Gandhi evolved a new technique of action perfectly based on peaceful methods and non-submission to what was considered wrong. In his plan the call of action was two-fold. The action involved in challenging and resisting foreign rule ; and there was the action which led us to fight our own social evils. In a very short period of time from 1918 to 1920. Gandhi captured the imagination of the world in general and of Indians in particular. The masses were lying prostrate till he came. He gave them an awakening, chetna and courage and hope. They instinctively felt that he genuinely cared for them. They believed him because they felt he understood what was in their hearts and minds. They trusted him he seemed to them an exceptionally spiritual champion of their interests.
Timely interpretations of Gandhi
Gandhi, as one of his political styles, reinterpreted traditional for modernist purposes. Without  hesitation he rejected tradition where it was redundant for national purpose. He was as much a creator of new traditions as an interpretor of old ones; underlying both was a desire to shift and reconstruct given situations for the fulfilment of new purposes. He seemed to them to link up the past with the future and to make the dismal present appear just as a stepping-stone to that future of life and hope. And not the masses only but intellectuals and others also, though their minds were often troubled and confused and the change-over for them from the habit of a lifetime was more difficult. Thus he effected a vast psychological revolution for his opponents and many neutrals as well. This was the cause that by the age of fifty, Gandhi had become a world figure, without the aid of TV, radio, the jet plane, the fax machine, e-mail, PR agencies and all the paraphernalia that the IT revolution has produced to enslave our minds. But how this amazing phenomenon occurred ? The answer is both simple and complex. The message was original, spirituality simplified : Be truthful, be fearless, be non-violent. But there is something more than the message – the character, integrity and personality of the messenger.  Speech writers spin out clever statements and speeches for leaders and politicians. But these, with a few exceptions are soon forgotten.
A bridge between old and new
There is no doubt in the fact that Gandhi consciously connected the nationalist movement with India’s great past, and thus succeeded in mobilising both the modernist and the traditionalist segments of Indian society. But such a penetration of the movement into the hinterlands of  India became possible through the induction of several smaller Gandhis, Tilaks, Patels and Nehrus in the various regions and at levels close to the grass roots of Indian society. It made the programme of the movement concrete and vivid in the eyes of the relevant public, as it was closely associated with the exemplary life histories of these leaders who gave up everything to become part of the movement. Even the legitimacy of the movement was never questioned and resulted in a massive consensus on both ideological goals and the means employed to achieve them.   In one sense the Congress, was a highly amorphous and eclectic organisation with a pragmatic leadership that accommodated various strands of thought and commitment. In another sense, however, the Congress had a distinctive ideology, an ideology that went much beyond the winning of independence, and involved almost a blueprint for the future.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G. Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India. Email- rajkumarsinghpg@yahoo.com

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