The November 16 presidential election will mark a crucial phase if not a turning point or new page in the history of independent Sri Lanka. If we need a personality with a vision and goals to change the corrupt and unjust system we have today it needs to be someone who could grow or be transformed into the calibre of a Mahatma Gandhi whose 150th birth anniversary was marked on October 2.
According to the Indian government, Gandhiji’s life and soul continue to animate humanity transcending national and international boundaries. His contribution to human development is far too great and varied to have been forgotten or to be overlooked. The world today recognizes him as a far more compelling social innovator than humanity ever realized. Gandhiji’s life is a story of heroic effort to establish the values of Truth and Non-violence in human life. In pursuing this he became a Mahatma from a mere ‘Monya’ or beloved child. He also became ‘The Father of The Nation’, saving India and Britain from mutual hate and revenge. He focused on Truth and Non-violence in India’s struggle for freedom. This created an atmosphere which made it possible for other Asian and African countries to free themselves without bloodshed from the hold of the European countries which had subdued them in the nineteenth century.
Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful resistance movement became known as ‘satyagraha’ or ‘satya kriya’ – a policy of passive political resistance. Through this process Gandhi toppled what was believed to be the world’s most powerful empire though Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described Gandhiji as a half naked fakir when he went to Buckingham Palace wearing a loin cloth. A fakir is an ascetic who lives solely on alms. Gandhiji said, “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” and added “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” He also believed “a nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of its people.” Gandhiji believed that poverty is the worst form of violence and that is why poverty alleviation needs to be given top priority if the world is to effectively tackle other issues like climate change, disarmament and peaceful conflict resolution through inter-religious and inter-racial dialogue instead of war or violence.
Mahatma Gandhi believed that the policy of an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind. That is why he was committed to the non-violent resistance movement based on the Sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes.
Being born in a middle class family and brought up in that atmosphere till Gandhiji joined school and received instruction according to the system then prevailing, he lived, dressed and dined in the way children of that class did. Later, he went to Britain for studies and changed his dress to suit the conditions of that country. But in food and certain other matters, he remained true to the lesson he had learnt early in life. On his return to India after being called to the Bar, he passed through difficult times as all beginners have to do and it was as a lawyer that he went to South Africa to help a client. He had, however, to spend many years there as the condition of Indians and the treatment they received demanded that he should serve them rather than return to India. His struggle with the authorities brought about a considerable change in his life and by the time he returned to India, he had already become a Mahatma. Many analysts recall one particular incident in South Africa. Gandhiji being a lawyer was allowed by the Apartheid or white supremacist regime to travel first class or second class in a train. But he travelled in the packed third class compartments reserved for those who were considered third class citizens. When reporters asked him why he did so Gandhiji replied, “I travel third class because there is no fourth class.”
On January 30, 1948, a Hindu extremist assassin’s bullet ended the physical existence of Mahatma Gandhi but made him immortal. He departed with the name of God on his lips and left an indelible legacy to the world –‘My life is my Message’. Sri Lanka needs a Gandhiji whose life was his message.