The Heirs of Gandhi

Shown above are the Filhos de Gandhi (Children of Gandhi) at Carnaval in Salvador, Brazil. The photo is by Isadora Dunne.

In an earlier post I expressed the belief that someone in the Indian government, in responding to the Mumbai attacks, would ask the question that every good Christian, and every citizen of the world, ought to ask several times a day:

What would Gandhi do?

My friend Mridula, who is on the scene, offered this comment: “Steve, from inside the country, I have very little faith in the capabilities of Govt. of India. But I am quite sure a very large part of the population will not want a war over this. Action, yes; war, no.”

Well that’s good news. I still fondly hope that this recent terrorist attack will be dealt with by international law enforcement instead of national armies, and provide a model for younger countries like the United States.

But it raised a question in my mind: “Where are the heirs of Gandhi?”

I guess I had always supposed they would be in India, although there is no rational basis for this supposition. After all, Gandhi was the heir of Henry Thoreau and Abraham Lincoln.

The last heir of Gandhi in the United States was shot on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. His name was Martin Luther King and all we have seen since his assassination have been people who have tried to imitate his sincerity.

Gandhi and Lincoln and Martin Luther King had the ability to rally decent people to action, whether they were simple people with limited education or professionals or business people or intellectuals.

Liberals in this country were outraged when Ronald Reagan seized control of the nation’s symbolic universe with myths about welfare queens and Medicare scams and then tripled the national debt and robbed the treasury, grinning all the while.

Well they might be outraged. This success of his was emblematic of their failure.
Gandhi never had any trouble engaging simple people in his cause They were his most loyal minions, because he knew how to frame the issues — the spinning, the salt, the civil disobedience — go read up on it. It’s a very important demonstration, not just of how it’s done, but of how it’s done flawlessly.

And the educated types were enthusiastic, too, because they understood what he was doing. One of his most devastating weapons was not philosophy but humor. He would have made mincemeat out of Ronald Reagan in a debate, but alas his like was not to be found, at least at that time in that place. Too bad.

Which brings to mind those delightful words that I utter from time to time to cheer myself up during a frigid January in New England. Not over and over, just once in a while: President-Elect Barack Obama.

Has a nice sound to it, doesn’t it?

Now let’s face it. The chances of the United States as a nation adhering to the principles of Gandhi, and Lincoln, and Thoreau are slim to none, but it’s remotely possible we might draw a little bit closer to them.

For the true heirs to Gandhi I look to Salvador, Brazil, where people actually understand what he was talking about.