Article published in the Gandhi magazine 2013
The Gandhi Foundation and India
The Gandhi Foundation does sterling work in promoting Gandhian values. The foundation aims to promote five core values:
- Non Violence to replace war and aggression
- Egalitarian Economics, emphasising self reliance and simple lifestyle
- Grassroots democracy
- Tolerance and Pluralism
- Respect for animals.
These are indeed laudable values and they apply to all countries and cultures. There is however an increasing tendency to concentrate only on India and I get the uneasy feeling that the Foundation might unwittingly have become a mouth piece for those who have a vested interest in promoting their own personal agendas. I was particularly concerned with the articles published in the last issue of The Gandhi Way. Both the Peace award recipients Dr. Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam make serous criticisms of India and its political establishment. Dr. Sen claims that 20% of the 70 million Adivasis and other minorities have been purposely starved, dispossessed, physically violated with impunity, falsely imprisoned and barred from fair judicial process. These are serious allegations and the Foundation should have given an opportunity for someone from the Indian High Commission to answer these allegations. Bulu Imam a ‘ committed Gandhian ‘ is skeptical about a Gandhian solution to the Adivasi problem. Satyagraha he believes works only if the opponent has a moral susceptibility to injustice like Christian Lord Irwin. The inference here is that if you are a Christian even an imperialist one who has forcibly occupied your land, you are better than the heathens in charge now! Dr.Felix Padel in his piece wants an investigation into the links between corporate elites, politicians, armed forces, bankers, big philanthropists and media owners. This is a conspiracy theory which is baseless and nonsensical. The armed forces for one are completely apolitical in India. Antony Copley in his article titled, ‘ Gloomy thoughts on India today ‘ is beside himself in what he sees as an apocalyptic vision of India’s rampant capitalism and its economic self destruction. In the absence of any other global model what is India supposed to do? Does Antony seriously believe that India can step back from the world economic order? Where will the jobs for tens of millions of people come from? Change is a fact of life and like all people of the world Adivasis will also have to accept change. There is no question that their interests should be safeguarded.
Has Antony questioned the rampant capitalism here in the UK? Did he raise his voice at the drilling of oil in the North Sea? It is all very well for us to sit here in our comfortable homes and idealise life styles of people far away. Building of dams, harnessing of water from rivers, mining, the destruction of rain forests in South America, these are all ecologically damaging methods of wealth creation but which country is not guilty of these activities? Antony claims that the Raj set aside protected areas and sought to shore up the way of life of the forest people. Really? Two hundred years of colonial rule striped India of its fabulous wealth and reduced it to penury.
With all its faults India is the world’s largest democracy. This is a country which started with nothing in 1947. Many prophets of doom did not expect India to last very long. Today India has a population of over a billion, it is not a country but a subcontinent and it remains free and united with its immense diversity. India is a role model to many of its neighbours and many other countries. It is a living proof that people, despite all their differences can live together. The Hindu majority of the country are inheritors of a civilization in which freedom of thought and pluralism has deep roots, well before western democracy arrived. Mahatma Gandhi was a son of that ancient civilization and he told boldly what Hindus have always said that all religions are valid and Ahimsa or non-violence is the supreme principal on which to live by. India will always prefer negotiations to violence. Adivasis do have genuine grievances but they need to be wary of who represents them. What Indians will not accept any more is moral lectures by individuals or countries especially when they are agenda driven. Neither will India tolerate secessionist movements. The unity of India will not be negotiable. India is a land where persecuted Zoroastrians, Baha’is and many others have found a safe home. The Jewish people have lived in India for centuries without any issues at all. The Gandhi Foundation needs to focus its attention on countries where there is no freedom, democracy or right to practice ones religion. It needs to look at the horrific violence mankind unleashes on the animal kingdom, it needs to promote vegetarianism. Above all the Gandhi Foundation needs to be vigilant in how it is represented.
Nitin Mehta MBE