Gandhi in America – article by Pro.Philip Koshi
History was made on the evening of the 7th of December, 2011, at the Council Meeting of the Town of Davie, South Florida. For on this day, by a unanimous resolution (8-0) the Council approved the installation of a 7 foot cast bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, on 63 cents of land in Falcon’s Lea State Park.
This is the first such statue in the state of Florida and the 7th in the United States of America. New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta are the other cities to be graced by the benign presence of arguably the greatest human being of the 20th century.
The historic resolution, among other things, had the following description of Gandhi: “ Gandhi is one of the most fascinating iconic figures of peace in the 20th century, who led nationwide campaigns to ease poverty, expand women’s rights, build religious and ethnic amity, end untouchability and increase economic self-reliance…Gandhi’s words have served as an inspiration for many great leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was convinced by Gandhi’s actions that it was possible to achieve victory in an unarmed struggle…”
The 43,000 strong Indian population in Florida owes its eternal gratitude to the untiring, ceaseless and relentless efforts, made by Joy Kuttiyani, member of the Board of Parks and Recreations, of the Town of Davie, to make a dream come true.
The Town of Davie is a 115 year old community of citizens that embrace diverse cultures, values and progressive ideas.
What then is the relevance and importance of a statue? Mankind has erected statues from very ancient times. They were mostly that of war heroes, political leaders and religious persons. This tradition continues unabated to this day though it might be said that the exclusive list has been expanded to include personalities in the field of music, sports, films and arts.
In fact, statues are found in almost every country of the world. It rightly serves as a means of communication and helps to mould the lives of its citizens. It certainly stands to remind one of their accomplishments and the need to emulate them for the well-being of a society and nation.
At this juncture, it is vital to examine the influence of Gandhi, not only in India but also across the world, especially in the United States of America.
Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, and an American, issued a statement in 1939, on the occasion of Gandhi’s 70th birthday. He said: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” Another American, General George C. Marshall, the American Secretary of State said: “Mahatma Gandhi had become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind, a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires.” These were very encouraging words that lifted the pride and morale of every Indian.
However, Mahatma Gandhi has also come in for a lot of flak in India itself. Some believe that he was too lenient towards his opponents and gifted away the sovereignty of the nation. Some others are of the opinion that his relevance is minimal in the changing geopolitical and military context of the Indian sub-continent.
All said and done the fact remains that even after 63 years of his assassination there has been no other leader to rival him in the political spectrum of India. He is the single Indian leader whose name reverberates in every corner of the earth.
The fascinating and mesmerizing story of Gandhi in India began on the 9th of January, 1915, when he returned from his stay in South Africa. Historians have aptly referred to this event in the popular phrase, ‘And then came Gandhi.’ A lack-luster, leaderless movement for India’s independence gained meaning and purpose when Gandhi redefined the political philosophy of India’s teeming millions. A pioneer of Satyagraha – a philosophy founded upon ahimsa or total non-violence – he went on to practise it and lead his people from the front.
Gandhi led a modest life in a self-sufficient residential community. He wore the traditional Indian dhoti, woven with yarn, spun on a chakra. He ate simple vegetarian food. He undertook long fasts as a means of self-purification and social protests.
The one incident that shaped his social activism and awakened him to social justice was when he was thrown off a train at Pietmaritzburg in South Africa for refusing to move from the first-class compartment to a third class one. This was undoubtedly a turning point in his life.
Gandhi exhorted his fellow Indians to undertake a form of unarmed struggle against the might of the British Empire. His perseverance, persistence and faith in his philosophy and in its practitioners, his people, began to bear fruit and eventually the English had to quit the shores of India. In the process they lost the ‘jewel in the crown’ (India). The British, who fancied themselves in the phrase, ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire,’ were forced to come to terms with the reality of the one man army called Gandhi.
Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England, did not hide his distaste and dislike for Gandhi, when he thundered: “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King- Emperor.
In contrast, years later, in 1948, when Gandhi fell a victim to an assassin’s bullet, Jawaharlal Nehru eloquently summed up the heart-broken feelings of his fellow Indians, when he said: “The light has gone out of our lives…There is darkness at noon.”
The most popular advocate of Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, in America, has been the civil rights leader, the late Martin Luther King Jr. Many a time he openly acknowledged his indebtedness to Gandhi for helping him to shape his political ideology. King’s experimentation with Gandhi’s formula had brought manifold dividends to the Black population of America. Gone are the days when American restaurants, public places and housing communities carried the abusive sign “Dogs and Blacks prohibited.”
Given this fact how then does Gandhi fit in with the mind-set of an average American? Has Gandhi graduated from being a mere object of curiosity to that of a revered leader, worthy of emulation? Is America, then, slowly turning around, giving up on arms and ammunition and embracing the pacifist, high-end moralist approach? It is a matter of common knowledge that the West and America, in particular have been attracted by the tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga, transcendental meditation, A.R.Rahman’s “Jai Ho” etc.
Since the end of the Second World War American soldiers have seen combat in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and in other regions of the world. All too often it has had a disastrous ending. The quest for an alternative to war is a hard task for the Americans. This is one area where Gandhi pioneered with significant results. Is it any wonder then that America is beginning to embrace Gandhi. As a patriotic Indian American it is my desire that there be not just 7 statues but 50 statues of Mahatma Gandhi.