1. Civilisational Warrior
Mahatma Gandhi, a pivotal figure in Hindu history, was the first to confront the British Empire through civilisational politics.
Fully cognisant of the civilisational might and vulnerabilities of the Empire, Gandhi employed Hindu civilisational ethos as a superior alternative with universal presence in the peripherals of Christendom itself.
While incorporating such universal yet then-peripheral ethical elements from the West, such as Leo Tolstoy’s indigenous Christian values, Gandhi resolutely preserved the Hindu identity in the national movement he launched.
To him, the 'Swarajya’ he advocated surpassed Western definitions of atomistic independence.
To him, Swarajya encapsulated a sacred Vedic vision which has reincarnated in contemporary civilisational discourse.
His strategy of non-violent resistance, deeply embedded in Vaishnava movements, metamorphosed civil disobedience into a morally superior weapon against British imperialism.
With an intuitive grasp of the power of burgeoning global media networks and the evolving Western psyche, a grasp that could come only to a shrewd political visionary, he tactfully appealed to their positive aspects while prioritising Indian civilisational interests.
Despite some setbacks, Gandhi's overall accomplishment stands as a monumental civilisational victory for India over the West.
2. Visionary of Decolonised History
Today there is not a single Hindutva writer who does not quote the Gandhian Dharampal.
The seed for writing The Beautiful Tree, which dealt with the indigenous Indian educational system that was destroyed by British colonial rule, came from Mahatma Gandhi.
Dharampal shattered the colonial myths and revealed the glory of India’s science, technology, and civil resistance movements that spanned over centuries. His works offered a rich and authentic alternative to the distorted colonial and colonised histories that were imposed upon India.
Discovering the hidden dimensions of history of India and weaving a holistic historiography became the life mission of Dharampal.
Today his multiple volumes provide a coherent data-filled alternative to the dominant conventional colonial and colonised historical narratives.
It was the intuitive conviction and forceful assertion of Gandhi’s intuitive conviction in this embodied and decentralised history of the Indian nation that fuelled Dharampal’s mission.
Additionally, Gandhi focused on the Bhakti saints.
Acharya Vinobha Bhave, who was both a teacher and a disciple of Gandhi's, pointed out this aspect of traditional Indian history that is far more pervasive and more of a people’s history than the Western model of political and economic history writing.
We owe this new perspective to Gandhi, though his dream of decolonising history is still incomplete.
3. Challenger of Hindu Conscience to Eradicate Social Evils
Nothing brings as much bitterness to Gandhi's mission from all the concerned sides as his movement to bridge Hindu society, then essentialised with caste inequalities and its worst inhuman manifestation, untouchability.
The British saw in this feature of Indian society a rationale for its imperial civilising mission. Christian evangelicals saw in this abominable social condition a moral and spiritual justification of them taking the Gospels to the downtrodden.
Caste supremacists saw in this aspect an assertion of their superiority over their own brethren. The Shankaracharyas and other orthodox heads saw in untouchability and child marriage the essence of their eternal religion.
The emerging strong educated voices from the scheduled communities saw nothing admirable in Hindu religion and any reason to participate in the freedom movement.
Gandhi brought all these diverse forces to confront him.
He put his own life at stake when the British wanted to separate the scheduled communities from the rest of the Hindu population through separate electorates.
He earned the wrath of every casteist and every orthodox religious head when he became the voice of the voiceless marginalised sections of Hindu society.
Slowly, one piece of legislation after another opened up Hindu temples for entry by all Hindus.
Slowly, untouchability started getting challenged.
The "caste Hindus," and mostly the Brahmins among them, heeded the voice of the Mahatma. They adopted the children of the scheduled communities as their own. They opened up temples and led all communities into the temples in a procession.
But all these effects were too little, too slow for leaders and thinkers like Dr B R Ambedkar, who saw Gandhi as betraying them to caste Hindus.
At the end of the day, one has to say that Gandhi was providing a medicine for the disease of the mind called caste, birth-based varna, and untouchability, not only to Hindu society but to himself.
His own views transformed from accepting birth-based varna to emphasising inter-caste marriage as a condition for his blessing.
He did all this as a proud Sanatani Hindu.
Hindu society owes Gandhi eternally for boldly creating a discourse of social emancipation within a Hindu spiritual framework.
4. Formulator of an Alternative Socio-Economic Vision
Gandhi’s economic model was the famous Trusteeship model.
Capitalists laughed at it as impractical idealism. Marxists scorned at it, for they saw it as religious marijuana peddled on behalf of the Bourgeois for delaying the impending inevitable red revolution.
But Gandhi pressed on with this model. And this model goes far beyond an economic model. Gandhi’s idea of Trusteeship was inspired by the ancient Vedic concept of yajña, or sacrificial service, which he saw as the essence of Indian culture and spirituality.
In 1936, a Christian missionary from the United States (US) who was working in north India published a book titled The Hindu Jajmāni System: A Socio-Economic System Interrelating Members of a Hindu Village Community in Service.
Needless to say, the book serves to this day as the standard model for understanding community services relations among communities in Indian villages.
It portrays the system as predicated upon Brahmin superiority and a fatalistic acceptance of their destinies to serve by the ‘lower castes’.
But the term Jajmāni itself comes from Vedic yajña. The transforming of every economic activity and social relation as yajña also has in it the hermeneutic space which transforms every artisan, irrespective of his caste, into the status of a Brahmin conducting a yajña.
Interestingly, six years before William Henricks Wiser published his book, Gandhi wrote in detail from the Yervada prison about this dimension of yajña present in Karma Yoga, so natural in the villages.
With the removal of the abominable caste abuses, exploitations, and untouchability, the Jajmāni system has the ability to create a distributive system of resources. Services in a village society can then become a model for scaling up to even a global financial model — a yajña model of international trade.
While Reverend Dr Wiser provided outdated quotes and centuries-old biased anecdotal instances to justify his negative characterisation of the Jajmāni system, Gandhi in his essays on yajña as a model of village artisans provided contemporary and real-life examples.
Unfortunately, Gandhi’s insights into the social dynamics of Indian reality have been largely ignored by the post-colonial Indian social scientists, who have chosen to follow the Western frameworks and paradigms.
Gandhi’s idea of Trusteeship remains relevant today, as we face the challenges of globalisation, inequality, and environmental degradation.
It offers us a way to rethink our economic and social relations in terms of service, cooperation, and compassion.
It invites us to rediscover our cultural and spiritual heritage, which can inspire us to create a more humane and harmonious world.
5. Important Link in the Hindu Eco-Dharmic Vision
During the time of Gandhi, ecological activism was not a fashion. Respect for life was a principle only for eccentrics. Gandhi brought respect for all life to the centre of a political discourse during the freedom movement by emphasising on cow protection.
Cow veneration was portrayed by the British as a silly Hindu superstition. Educated Hindus, except a handful of orthodox minority, were not ready to stand by cow protection. Even those who did, did so as an article of dogmatic faith rather than with conviction of heart.
Gandhi made cow protection and veneration the highest symbols of human civilisation, in that cow-worship was to him a human expression of gratitude and respect to all life.
He wanted cow protection and veneration to be followed up with scientific technologies for cow care and also use of cow dung as manure, and so on.
His mission was taken up by Joseph Cornelius Kumarappa, a great alternate economist and a champion of alternate technologies.
Kumarappa's advocacy of biogas technology and bio-slurry use harnesses a completely different dimension of benefits from the cow to the Indian agrarian economy as an argument for cow protection.
Another Gandhian who emphasised the relationship between cow protection and soil nutrient management was K M Munshi.
Gandhi also insisted on taking cow protection out as an outreach programme to non-Hindus, particularly Muslims.
In other words, he wanted the workers of the Congress party to take the message of the values of cow protection — the values of Sanatana Dharma — to every brother and sister of other religions.
Had this been implemented properly, at least in post-Independent India, convincing every non-Hindu of the Dharma of cow veneration would have been the single-largest and deep Ghar Wapsi programme in terms of values rather than just forms.
Unfortunately, the Nehruvian State slipped back into the colonial stereotype of cow worship as a religious superstition.
6. Resistance to Conversions — Conceptual and Pragmatic
Mahatma Gandhi did not believe in imposing anything through the State Constitution. He valued the transformation of the human heart over the authority of the law.
It was a position that would alienate him from many people — even his own loyal followers. But there was one thing that Gandhi wanted to ban by law and that was religious conversion. If he had the power to legislate, he would stop all conversions, he said.
The Mahatma vehemently opposed the conversion of faith. He regarded the social work done by missionaries with the ulterior motive of conversion as no social work at all. It would only lead to calamity.
He often remained silent when his Congress colleagues would collaborate with his political rivals from the Hindu Mahasabha to prevent conversions.
He also dismissed the rationale for converting the tribal communities based on the claim that they were not Hindus. He saw the tribal communities as Hindus, as the very land and herbs of the soil.
He applied his principle of Swadesi to religion as well. He urged everyone to respect and follow the native religion of their land, which for him was Hindu Dharma.
He saw Hindu Dharma as a way of life, not a dogma or a creed. He saw it as a source of strength and unity, not of weakness and division. He saw the missionary activities as a form of Western Imperialism, which sought to destroy the rich and diverse culture of India.
Gandhi's views on this matter are still relevant and have inspired many organisations that have resisted conversions in rural and tribal areas.
Gandhi achieved this not by launching campaigns /against conversions, but by initiating movements that empowered villagers and tribals with education, health, and self-reliance, while preserving their spiritual heritage.
7. ‘Eshwar Allāh Tero Nām’
Perhaps, for the Hindutvaites, the most hated part of the Gandhian legacy is the line ‘Eshwar Allāh tero nām’, sung as part of the ‘Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram’ Ram dhun.
However, this line could very well be the highest expression of Hindutva from Mahatma Gandhi.
This Ram dhun, now part and parcel of every national event in India and sung by millions including Hindus and Muslims, goes against religious monopolistic theology.
It brings in one of the highest frameworks of Hindu civilisation for understanding religious pluralism and engages Islam with it. This can well be a framework for incorporating other religions as well.
This vision of Gandhi that has its roots in Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has been elaborated by Acharya Vinobha Bhave in the Prarthana he wrote, the famous and melodious ‘Om Tat Sat Sri Narayana Tu’.
While in Gandhi’s Ram dhun Allah becomes another name for Ishwar, which is Brahman viewed through the maya, in Vinobha Bhave’s composition he brings Ahura Mazda, Yahewah, Jesus, Allah, Tao, all as expressions of Atma Linga — the divinity that resides within us all.
This is an expression that defines in a way the spirit of India as well as Hindutva. Mahatma Gandhi gave it to the world and made the world accept it. Almost.
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