By Rajni Bakshi
From the central hall of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi to a statue at Union Square Park in New York, and across far flung corners of the world, M. K. Gandhi is loved and celebrated as an apostle of non-violence. Yet it is Gandhi’s little-known work on what it means to be truly civilized that might be far more crucial to the future of our species.
The multiple global crises – social inequity, financial turmoil and ecological imbalance – have made it imperative to revisit and pay close attention to Gandhi’s radical but more sustainable civilizational vision. Within India, both the economy and polity are in a state of distress. More than six decades after independence, India remains at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Twenty years of economic liberalisation have expanded the size of India’s middle class, but not raised the standard of living for the overwhelming majority of Indians. Globally, people are slowly acknowledging that the global financial system is fundamentally flawed and not just going through a cyclical low. We are also more sceptical now about the ability of the prevailing market culture to ensure even basic well-being for the seven billion people who inhabit the earth. At the same time, the human economy and nature’s eco-systems appear to be critically out of sync. Despite an increasing urgency for trans-national cooperation, there are persistent fears about a clash of civilizations – primarily between the West and the Islamic world, but also within multi-ethnic societies in large parts of the contemporary world. This paper explores how the Mahatma’s civilizational vision can serve as a new lens to understand contemporary global crises – identity-based conflicts, the failed promise of universal prosperity and the threat of ecological collapse. What we have here are not ready solutions but a framework which might help us to forge solutions.