Index > Events > 2006 > Gandhi Jayanti Frankfurt 2006 - Keynote speech by Arjun Singh

Gandhi Jayanti Frankfurt 2006 - Keynote speech by Arjun Singh,
Minister for Human Resource Development

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Gandhiji is not to be studied and seen as a static person but as an ever changing and growing personality; as he himself said, " In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject."

Gandhi was the main leader of India's anti-colonial struggle but he primarily came to lead the struggle because he saw Colonialism as the symbol of domination and oppression of the weak and downtrodden. Gandhi saw himself rightly and primarily as a champion of the downtrodden. He was clear in his mind that there were other problems to which he wanted to devote attention in his own lifetime and which he hoped to attend to after gaining independence for the country. For example, he devoted a large part of his efforts in addressing the issues related to the discrimination against the downtrodden.

Gandhi began his political career as the champion of the suppressed and the discriminated Indian community in South Africa. There itself he experimented with his technique of non-violence and satyagraha as a mode of powerful resistance. Similarly, after coming to India, he first took up the cause of peasants of Bihar in eastern India against the exploitation and suppression of the indigo planters. The second struggle was the championing of the cause of the peasants of Gujarat in western India against excessive colonial taxation. The third was the cause of the Ahmedabad textile mill workers. It is only when he saw all these struggles as emanating from the dominant logic of colonialism that he took to fighting its source.

But even while devoting his major energy and struggle against colonial rule, he kept devoting a large part of his time and efforts to the fight against domination of lower caste by upper castes, that is, for the liberation of the downtrodden. This he carried out throughout his life between 1920 and 1948. But there were two periods, one in 1927-28 and another in 1933-34, when he specifically gave up all politics and toured the entire length and breadth of the country for fight against Untouchability.

Gandhi also devoted a great deal of effort to raise the status of women in the society, freeing them from the male domination or as we would say, for woman's liberation. It is interesting to note that his primary objective for raising a battle for the uplift of the women and the lower castes was that of arousing the people against these evils and in the process integrating the whole of country men in the process of national awakening. Gandhi did not believe that through legislations these evils could be obliterated, although, he did not oppose the legislative process either. He believed that social change ultimately emanated from change in thinking and behaviour and that in this regard legislation could only play a secondary role.

One of the major misunderstandings regarding Gandhi's life and thought is the belief that he opposed the use of machinery for productive and social purposes. He contradicted this view several times and pointed out that he opposed only the use of machinery for displacing human labour but favoured it when it lightened the burden on human beings. In other words, he was for the economic development that simultaneously generated full employment.

One of Gandhi's ever-present passions was for civil liberties.

He repeatedly said that 'Civil Liberties are like the water of life and I have never heard of water being diluted.' We may not forget that two of his four mass movements in India were on the question of right to speech and freedom of the Press. Actually speaking, Gandhi's passion for democratic values had something to do with his belief in achieving right ends with the help of right means. He injected this idea in the minds of the countrymen at large very effectively. The fact India could be a successful democracy after Independence whereas many other African and Asian countries that got independence around the Second World War fell prey to totalitarianism stems from Gandhi's untiring insistence on using right means to achieve right ends.

In fact, his passion for Civil Liberties and Human Rights was one of the reasons why he was one of the passionate opponents of Fascism. He played a major role in persuading the National Congress, the party spearheading India's struggle for independence, to organise a boycott of the Japanese attack on China in 1926-27, 1936-37 and in 1938. He went to the extent of saying that if any war was justified, it would be the war against Hitler for what he was doing to the Jews of Germany.

Nor was Gandhi a chauvinist in any sense of the term. In the 1920s, he supported the Burmese people demanding a separate nation for themselves, as he believed that the Burmese have a tradition and culture of their own different from India and they deserved a separate national identity.

Gandhiji constantly preached to his followers that Indian peoples' struggle was not against the British but against Colonialism. He also therefore tried to reach out to the British. It is remarkable indeed that in a 6o years long struggle of the Indian people against the British Colonialism, the total number of Englishmen who died at the hands of Indians during the entire period would be less than 100.

His greatest contribution was in making the Indian struggle for independence a mass movement. What is even more relevant is that he interwove this movement with a social and ethical agenda - the use of right means to achieve right ends, the simultaneous struggle against internal social evils - untouchability, low status of women. He led by example and it is due to his strong and personal commitment to secularism, truth, non violence and social reform that modern India has held on to these values despite many pressures and provocations.