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Letters from Downunder

Shaping a Nation

Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless,
 whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism
 or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
                          'Non-violence in peace and war.’  (1942) vol. 1, p 142

(October, 2010) Mahindra Karamchand Gandhi, to give him his full name, was surely one of the greatest reformers the 20th century: Freedom from colonial rule, political and social reform, passionate advocate of non-violent resistance, and opposition to all forms of tyranny were his mantra and his legacies. Many great leaders in the civil rights movement took up his teachings and practices, including Martin Luther King, but only Gandhi earned the title ‘Mahatma’, or great soul.

I thought that in this edition of the News-Journal it would be appropriate to pay tribute to this passionate believer in passive resistance, protest and truth, as he was born on October the second in 1869. He died on January 30, 1948 aged 79, so perhaps his legacy has been somewhat forgotten by now, but as you are all in the middle of elections I thought it might be good to revisit some things he achieved – and their relevance today. In fact, in some ways things are not all that different from the India of 1921 and America at present: One in seven then were living in poverty, the same proportion as in America now; Wealth was visible everywhere, but the great majority had to scramble for food and shelter; elections were held every few years in which only the privileged could vote, electing ministers who would toe the ruling line, and across America today only the truly motivated seem to vote for the party they consider the lesser of two evils.

Gandhi developed and preached Satyagraha, resistance to tyranny through civil disobedience, which he based on the concept of Ahisma. This is the belief and practice of total non-violence, the telling of the truth at all times, simplicity, and faith. His inspiration spread throughout the world, and has always been met with threats, imprisonment, torture, deprivation and death, the weapons of conservative, entrenched powerful elites. The art of defending some of one’s rights in a democracy used to be safely left to government, but when that body is under the sway of the elite and powerful, resistance becomes less an art, more of an implacable stand. When a nation has been led, like a cow to slaughter, to willingly to live on other people’s money and to taste the easy living that brings, but is then made to carry the inevitable repayment of debt, the disquiet, despair and wrath that follows evolves to protest, anger and violence. But violence always brings more than revenge - just further suffering.

From this distance it is easy to see the spur behind such uprisings at the Tea Party, for who wants to give up the comforts of middle class content and opportunity, who wants to admit that the American Dream was built on illusions? The age of reality, not the Age of Aquarius is with you now, and rather than try to re-establish that golden age, it would be better to consider Mahatma’s legacy. It has never been easy, comfortable or safe to be a peaceful protester, but it is nearly always that road that should be taken, for the eventual alternative is civil war.

Gandhi also had the facility of writing down ideas and ideals that are readily understood while being pertinent through the ages. He was also a father, not just of resistance, but of one son - and most fathers want to leave something of note for their children to consider after they have left this life. Sometimes it’s an example, sometimes a record of achievement, sometimes a book or other writing. And occasionally it’s a set of ideals, although it takes a rather special person to come up with something meaningful and farsighted, something that has resonance down the ages

Below is a set of such insights, the first seven of which were given to Gandhi’s only son Rajiv at the last meeting they ever had. They are the things that occur in a society when ethics, honesty and verity have been replaced by greed, self-interest and spin, and were written after a lifetime of striving to bring justice, fairness and recognition to a nation that had been ruled by foreign interests for several hundred years.

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle
  • Rights without responsibilities

The last of these was added by Rajiv, who helped carry on his father’s work.

I wonder if you might dwell on each of these and measure both yourself and your candidates against them. Avoid anyone who says yes to most of them, vote for anyone who can say no to them, and good luck. If you are one of the latter, run for office.

PS: We have a female Prime minister now, sworn in 5 weeks ago with support of the Greens and a couple of independents. She’s trying to reform parliament and get a sane and useful dialogue going with the conservative opposition. They are saying no way.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker