Of Mahatma, Vegetarian food and Leadership
by Manya Ranjan TPP ’10
Leadership Development is a core course that TPP students go through in their first semester at MIT where we discuss leadership practices and the lives of great leaders. 2nd October gave us a unique opportunity to discuss one of the most inspirational leaders, not just of a generation, but of all times. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on the 2nd of October, 1869, gave freedom to India and went on to become one of the most influential leaders to have walked on this planet. Being from India, 2nd of October had a special place in my life and I thought that it was a good reason to spread awareness about the life and times of Gandhi to a class that was already pretty eager to know about him.
The afternoon started with me giving a short formal presentation on his life and then we had a long and very interesting discussion on what would have happened scenarios on Gandhi. I will get to that in a couple of minutes, but let us first go over some of the interesting points of his life.
Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869 in Gujarat, India. He got married only when 13 years old. He was a brutally honest person and confessed in his autobiography to have cheated in his school days. This is something unique to Gandhi and I don’t know of any other big leader in his league of honesty. If not for this mention in his autobiography, nobody would have ever come to know of this fact of his life.
He was not a born reformer; in fact his early life was like any other normal, but successful, Indian life then. Gandhi went to England to study law and returned to India to set up a private practice. His practice did click and work took him to South Africa. This is where the turning point of his life came, when he was thrown off a first class compartment for being a non-white, despite holding a valid ticket to the same. This incident shook him from within, and forced him to question his existence, his rights and his demands. He mulled over this incident for a long time and then decided to take the fight to the British rule there. He led a very successful non-violent protest against a draconian law in South Africa and the British had to accede to his demands, point by point. This impressed upon him the power of non-violent struggle.
Riding high on the success of South Africa, Gandhi made a grand entry into India. All the leaders looked upon him as the next wave, but he shunned the leadership of Indian National Congress, that was fighting for the Indian Independence completely. Gandhi realized that the freedom struggle is so separated from the common people, the masses. These learned and educated leaders were living on ivory towers and had no link with reality. This made Gandhi travel across the length and breadth of India and understand the people, their motivation and their problems. He understood the basic questions of leadership:
- Where do we come from?
- What are we?
- Where are we going?
Armed with this knowledge and the confidence in the non-violent methods, Gandhi launched a freedom movement that broke the back of British and forced them to leave India making this the most non-violent freedom struggle ever! During his later life, Gandhi got involved in the dirty religion politics and was assassinated for this reason on the 30th of January, 1948.
Gandhi epitomized simplicity, staying true to the roots, non-violence and was a firm believer in the equality of all castes, creed and religions and equality of the sexes. These are some qualities that make him relevant even today, after 60 years of his death! That Gandhi believed in Vegetarianism was reflected in the food that day, a pure vegetarian Indian meal!
Gandhi inspired a new league of followers, some of the illustrious of which are:
- Martin Luther King Jr
- Nelson Mandela
- Aung San Suu Kyi
- The Dalai Lama
The discussion revolved around a lot of what-if scenarios. We discussed what would have happened if India was ruled by a rogue like the Hitler instead of the still-cultured British! Some people also raised the question of Gandhi’s importance in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They were rightfully concerned that if Gandhi was the architect of undivided India’s freedom, he should command equal respect in the Indian sub-continent. Some questions were asked on his beliefs in certain things and the rationale for them. All in all, it was a very fruitful discussion. The great thing about Gandhi is that, even after hundreds and thousands of PhDs and Post Docs on this topic, nobody can claim to be an expert on his life!
We were honored to have amongst us another TPP alum, Chintan Vaishnav, who is currently pursuing a PhD in ESD. Chintan’s grandfather was a close associate of Gandhi in the freedom struggle and he put forward some very unheard of anecdotes about him that had the audience enthralled!
To summarize, I would like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. on Gandhi:
“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”