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The Dissident and the Mahatma

NEW DELHI – With the Nobel Peace Prize presented this month in the absence of this year’s laureate, the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, it might be wise to think of a man who never won the prize: Mahatma Gandhi. Despite that omission, there is no doubting Gandhiji’s worldwide significance – including for Liu.

The Mahatma’s image now features in advertising campaigns for everything from Apple computers to Mont Blanc pens. When Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi swept the Oscars in 1983, posters for the film proclaimed that “Gandhi’s triumph changed the world forever.” But did it?

The case for Gandhi-led global change rests principally on the American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who attended a lecture on Gandhi, bought a half-dozen books about the Mahatma, and adopted satyagraha as both precept and method. In leading the struggle to break down segregation in the southern United States, King used non-violence more effectively than anyone else outside India. “Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence,” he memorably declared. “We must meet the forces of hate with soul force.”

King later avowed that “the Gandhian method of non-violent resistance...became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, and Gandhi furnished the method.” Last month, Barack Obama told India’s Parliament that were it not for Gandhi, he would not be standing there as America’s president.