The Resurrection of Gandhi
by Aditya Todi | Stanford University
If there is something this year will be remembered for, then it will definitely have to be the number of large protests that sprung up around the globe. Whether it was the Arab Spring, the unrest in London, Spain, Greece and other Western European nations, anti-corruption showings in India and now the Occupy Wall Street protests, this has definitely been a year ripe with momentous social change. There seems to be a growing disillusionment with governments and the “system” at large. Over the summer, I got to closely follow the Anna Hazare- led anti-corruption protests in India and, more than anything, the protests have reaffirmed that Gandhian ideals of non-violence and peaceful civil unrest are still effective today and are gaining widespread popularity amongst the youth.
Anna Hazare has perfectly embodied the age-old phrase, ‘It’s never too late’. Hazare, at age 74, led a religiously and ethnically diverse country of over a billion people to believe that they could come together and unite against a malady they all suffered from: corruption. Corruption in India (as in many other parts of the world, notably Latin America) is a huge problem, and the system has forced people to bribe officials to get anything from a birth certificate to a death certificate. At a time when news tends to get stale within a matter of days, Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption continued to penetrate into the living rooms of the Indian household for weeks. In fact, the protests were closely being watched and covered by renowned international news agencies such as BBC, CNN, and The New York Times. The Indian government gradually bowed down to the people’s pressure and was ready to negotiate with Anna Hazare and his demands for a stronger Jan Lokpal Bill. This bill would bring the Prime Minister under the Lokpal’s purview as well as give the ombudsman body an independent authority to register FIRs (initial police reports in India), investigate corruption matters, and follow up with the Supreme Court to ensure justice. Importantly for countries around the world, there are vital lessons that India’s people movement teaches us about civil society participation and media power.
A striking part of the Anna Hazare-led protest was that it was a truly democratic one, managing to unify citizens from different stratas of society. How often does one get to see a Dalit (the lowest of low in the caste system, often referred to as “Untouchables”) walking in the same protest and shouting the same chants as a Bollywood film star? When was the last time that those behind bars and those guarding them united together to fight for a common cause? As much as it has been an unusual protest, it has been one that demonstrates a building anger. With a serious lack of accountability, the political parties in electoral and liberal democracies are failing to deliver the promised values of democracy. While the “democratic” government continues to fail many of those in transitioning democracies, as democratic citizens, one must be able and ready to channel the building anger in an effective way. Peaceful protests, writing to constituents, creating awareness, and joining civil organizations are a few ways in which one can send their message across and create a sense of accountability that is lacking. Citizens from different ethnic, racial, religious, and economic backgrounds must be able to come together and join in creating pressure to quicken the problem solving process. Until we as citizens exercise our power in a positive manner, it will be hard to expect our political leaders to do so.
Another interesting facet of the movement has been the power that the media has wielded. When Hazare first arrived in Delhi and started his fast unto death on April 5, even he was taken by absolute surprise to see his campaign grow exponentially. The sheer coverage of the media was able to generate growing support for him amongst the public. Even the news channels that had so often gotten used to showing re-caps of the dramatic Indian soap operas had joined hands to telecast the movement. Questions may be asked of the media’s biased involvement, but I see very little wrong in taking a stance and asking for justice for a long pending case. The media had done so in the past, and it must continue to do it again. The passive citizens behind newspapers, in front of the television sets or surfing the internet, should be informed of the timings and venues of public gatherings, discussions, and demonstrations. Simultaneously, the media should also act as a medium to pass information about fundraising for such campaigns. A free media is a strong pillar of any democracy, and those associated with it must be willing to act as a catalyst during times of democratic reforms, such as those in India, Nepal, and the Arab world.
It is hard for our generation to fully understand and grasp who Gandhi was. In fact, even the writers and people who came in contact with him while he was alive often say that they could not fully comprehend Gandhi. 63 years after his death, Gandhi is beginning to be resurrected amongst the Indian youth, and the legacy he has left behind is just starting to come to light.Aditya, a Voices Contributor for NextGen Journal, is currently a Junior studying at Stanford University, CA. He is from Nepal and hopes to work with increasing civic engagement and bettering education in Nepal.