Gandhi and Modernism
Often a comparison has been made between Gandhi ji and Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter was modern and Gandhiji is moderately considered to be a revivalist. It is difficult to classify important personalities in this way just like asking “Were Buddha, Mahavir and Christ modern?” They are modern as long as their life and teachings have meaning and significance for humanity.
Gandhiji’s thought were pre-eminently Indian, in spite of many influences from the west. If we are to understand Gandhiji’s thought in its proper perspective, we must assign to the word ‘modern’ its proper content. In India it is used for a person whose external life is patterned after the west. The influence of colonial culture created an elite class in India who were highly influenced by western culture and adopted it as their way of living. This is one variety of moderns. The other is of those whose outlook of life is rational, scientific and democratic. Gandhiji was not modern in the former sense but if we analyses from rational, scientific and democratic point of view we can say that he was modern.
If we view the religious aspect of Gandhiji, he was a rationalist. He believed in God whose existence he admitted ,he could not logically prove. For him truth was God. He believed that whoever holds moral value was spiritual and godly. He never indulged in the form and ceremonies of Hindu religion. Gandhiji believed in formless attributes of God. But does belief in God is against rationality and science? All great scientist of the world have believed in some higher power than what they discover in their laboratories.
Did Gandhiji believe in science? Even the village cultivator and potter believe in science. In spite of his believe in God, the cultivator employs all the science he knows in cultivating land. So does the potter. They know that only prayer will not bring a fruit for them. They have to work to get the desired fruits. The only drawback is that these villagers, as they believe in God also believe in superstitions which have grown around them for centuries and which may be against science and rational thoughts. Gandhiji was against such superstitions and always believed in inquiring before adopting.
Gandhian scientific approach is the idea of gram swaraj. He wanted to provide work for half starved millions of unemployed and underemployed living in villages. This he thought could be done through the revival of spinning wheel and other cottage and village industries
He was modern in many aspect from his contemporaries. His philosophy on caste system. untouchability, inequality for women and superstitions in society were more progressive than others. He rejected customs that were against the reasons. He wanted revision of shastras to eliminate such passages which assigned an inferior position to women and lower caste. His stand against undemocratic, antisocial and irrational practices are evidence of his broad outlook for a society we dream of.
Today we talk about cleanliness of surroundings, avoiding wastage of food, wastage of resources , tolerance and understanding in society , upliftment of weaker sections and eradication of poverty democratic way of life, adherence of truth and moral law, selfless service towards society .We are only reiterating Gandhi an principles. We can say that Gandhiji was modern even before we thought of modernism.