This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation. Gandhi was a man of deeds and not of abstract theories; his philosophical ideas were aimed at solving immediate problems for society and the state. This important milestone is a good opportunity to look at Gandhi’s teachings and their implementation in the reality of India in 2019.
One important change to note is the significant shift from Gandhi’s policy of adopting the Palestinian narrative vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to current Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s smashing this approach.
Gandhi was a leader who established a movement of non-cooperation and civil rebellion, and who brought the sub-continent of India to her independence after hundreds of years of British control. He is perceived not merely as a central political figure but as a moral authority because of his teachings, as well as one who embodied his central philosophy due to the ascetic way of life that he adopted.
Through his knowledge he arrived at the root of social problems, predominantly those that related to Indian society. These were the problems that were of most critical importance during his life, and some of them still exist today. He argued on more than one occasion that his life was a message, and therefore one can see that all of his views are interwoven into the story of his life. Moreover, for Israelis today there is great relevance to Gandhi’s teachings. Non-violence, release and independence are concepts that Israel tackles on a daily basis.
Gandhi’s goal was the fulfillment of independence for India as a state. In order to fulfill his goal, he called upon a way of life that demanded engagement in spiritual work and personal responsibility. In addition, when Indian independence was achieved in 1947, he did not rest for a moment and instead continued to lead Indian society to improve itself as he deemed fit.
On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu nationalist. In general, it might be said that from the beginning, Gandhi espoused a pro-Arab and anti-British attitude. He thought that the Jews shouldn’t try to settle in Palestine before receiving Arab approval, because he felt Palestine belonged to them, just as England belonged to the British. For Gandhi, accepting the demands of the Zionists would cause a justification for the demands of the Muslims in India. Jawaharlal Nehru, his political partner, proceeded decisively in Gandhi’s path.
India today is the largest democracy in the world, liberated from the burden of British colonial rule in the mid-20th century and, like many other countries, it has had to deal with a considerable number of internal and external challenges. Cultural, religious and social-class rifts have led to complex foreign relations with its neighbors, the countries of the South Asian sub-system. It quickly became a regional power and had a significant influence on the international system. Today, India’s ambitions have changed. If in the past it was satisfied with being a regional power, its current aspirations are to become a world power.
For decades, Congress Party rule continued in Gandhi’s path. But in the recent past it lost its political grip – and its ideological rival, the BJP right-wing party, is leading India in a different way. Modi’s second term has brought with it change that conflicts with Gandhi’s concepts, whether by repealing section 370 to revoking the special status of the Jammu-Kashmir state, or the Supreme Court’s decision on the fate of the building of a temple in Ayodhya.
All of this also follows the pragmatic line that Modi leads in foreign policy and, more importantly, toward Israel. His visit in 2017 to mark 25 years of the normalization of relations is an important event in India’s grasp of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whereas Gandhi and the rest of the country’s leaders adopted the Palestinian narrative, Modi changed course with a unilateral visit to Israel, granting Israel legitimacy by adopting the Israeli narrative. The remainder of Modi’s tenure will ultimately determine whether or not Ghandi’s legacy is relevant.
The writer is a doctoral student in political science at Bar-Ilan University. This week she will address a conference jointly organized by the Sir Naim Dangoor Center for Universal Monotheism at Bar-Ilan University and Zefat Academic College, marking the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.