There are a few situations where I question Gandhi’s approach to dealing with a problem. Take fasts, for example.
In his lifetime, Gandhi fasted for many issues ranging from stopping mob violence to preventing Untouchables from having separate electoral ballots. It seems that his fasts unto death were just a method of coercing others into obeying him. There was no “teaching someone the error of their ways”, but rather people ceded to Gandhi’s demands because they realized they had more to lose if he died as a result. Seeing how this “moral enlightenment” obviously wasn’t occurring, I don’t see what the difference would have been had the army been sent in to stop the rioting by force. In either situation, the people would not have been any more enlightened to the error of their ways, except in the latter situation less people may have died.
One problem I see is that Gandhi had no peers, only followers. In essence, Gandhi’s words became the “Rule of Law” in India during that time. That’s why I believe his influence on most Indians died with him. Though Gandhi may have lived with the underprivileged, there wasn’t anyone that stood as his equal, not even Jawaharlal Nehru or Vallabhai Patel. There wasn’t anyone who was in any position to question Gandhi’s beliefs or authority. They were basically forced to follow what Gandhi said, whether agreeing with it or not. Thus after he was assassinated, there was a vacuum and India was once again left as a nation of followers.
For me, this is what separates Gandhi from rising into the realm of great people in history. Great leaders seek to free their people from the chains of mental slavery. They voluntarily give up their political power and their ultimate authority in order to give their kith and kin a sense of empowerment, something Gandhi did not do.
Gandhi may have asked Indians to spin their own thread, but he was always a level above the average Indian. This is what prevented him from ever truly leading Indians down a path of self-empowerment and self-determination. The inferiority complex, which has always been at the root of the problem, was thus never eliminated. Contrast this to the examples laid by the Sikh Gurus, such as that of Guru Gobind Singh in raising the Khalsa.
Despite being a Guru and the word of God to his followers, Guru Gobind Singh repeatedly lowered himself to the level of his followers in order to instill in them a sense of power, authority and sovereignty. It was the flame of self-respect and empowerment that he spent his entire life inculcating in his people that sowed the seeds of a nation that would prosper.
Upon initially baptizing the first five Sikhs into the Khalsa Panth in 1699, the Guru himself bowed before his own followers and begged them to baptize him into their own way of live, to in essence accept him as one of their own. It was at this point that he became a Guru only in name. He chose to give up his absolute authority as Guru and take on the path of a disciple, something that a being in his position had never done before.
Guru Gobind Singh voluntarily gave up his total say in matters related to Sikhi and, instead, entrusted his Sikhs to take up such issues in his place. There are many instances in Sikh history where Guru Gobind Singh was ordered to do something by the Khalsa. There was even such an occasion that he was fined by other Sikhs for what they felt constituted a “waiver of faith”.
Here was a situation where his own followers were fining a head of a faith, a prophet, for what they thought violated an article of the faith. The Guru happily obliged and paid his dues, happy at the sense of empowerment that had grown amongst his Sikhs. By the end of his life, Sahib Guru Gobind Singh had dispersed all of his power to his people, for his people.
By sacrificing everything he had for them, Guru Sahib gave his Sikhs a sense of dignity in his own physical lifetime; something Gandhi never had the privilege of seeing.
If we take India to be the microcosm of Gandhi’s teachings and influence, I don’t see how we can come to any other conclusion except that Gandhi’s ways are a complete failure, even after only fifty years of his death. Gandhi preached non-violence. Non-violence was totally abandoned in India. Gandhi preached self-empowerment, yet the average Indian is no more empowered before Gandhi than after Gandhi. Gandhi preached peace, yet India is constantly drifting toward war in one form or another. Gandhi wanted his people to “love the British” who were oppressing them. That was the foundation of his beliefs in the power of non-violence. Yet the fact remains that “love” was the last way to describe the way in which Indians viewed Britain, even despite the fact that India was created without a war.
In conclusion, though I may not have a strong admiration of the man himself, there is a profound appreciation of what Gandhi preached. I am a full-fledged believer in non-violent civil disobedience. It has many practical uses today and most definitely in the future as well. At the same time, I do not believe in the extremism that Gandhi did, which makes it impractical and thus lays the seeds for it to be abandoned in the future, as it has been in India today.