Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mandela and Gandhi


This post is dedicated to two of my greatest heroes from the last century.

Though, being an Indian, I was quite familiar with Gandhiji's philosophy,but about Nelson Mandela, I knew very little except that he was a great freedom fighter from South Africa who was awarded Nobel Piece Prize. It was with the intention to know the man better that I started reading his autobiography and I found myself glued to it till the very end. The last time, I remember reading a book so keenly was The Da Vinci Code. The man was in prison for three decades and still, the very day he came out, he championed the same cause for which he was jailed. How many of us would have done that after 27 years in prison ?

In that aspect, the story of Mandela is more humane than that of Gandhiji and hence more interesting. Gandhiji's autobiography is exactly what it says, 'his experiments'. Reading accounts about Gandhiji from other authors, I got the feel that he had an aura around him and everyone who came near him was charmed by it, be it fellow Indians or foreigners. On the other hand, Mandela won over his proponents and opponents by his pure hard skills.

Both were from well to do families in their respective communities. While Mandela belonged to family of tribal chief and was groomed to be a counsellor of the chief from his childhood, Gandhiji's father was the Deewan (Prime Minister) of Porabandar. Consequently, both of them had excellent education. Gandhiji went to England at the age of 21 to pursue his Law study while Mandela became one of the first black lawyers in his country (this was before his active involvement into African National Congress).

The similarities between the two end here as they took entirely different paths in different timelines of history.

While Gandhiji, propagated non-violence as a principle and an instrument of the brave people, Nelson Mandela used non-violence as a strategy and took arms when non-violence didn't seem to yield results. Gandhiji's strategy was simple and always the same, Truth and Non-violence. Also, while Gandhiji believed in mastering the senses to achieve spiritual growth and had made the pursuit of truth his life-mission, Mr. Mandela's mission was Freedom from Apartheid and for that, he was ready to embrace any means. For example, when in Jail, he stole newspapers, lied to jail authorities many times and acted in a way which Gandhiji would never have done. Gandhiji, on the other hand was an open book throughout his life.
Mandela enjoyed worldly pleasures (he married thrice), whereas Gandhiji had a more spiritual/non-materialistic outlook towards life. He took a vow of celibacy in 1906 and remained a celibate life-long since then.

In terms of their leadership style, both were very similar. Both Mandela and Gandhiji were prepared to go against the popular opinion for what they believed in. While Mandela cheered for South Africa's rugby team going against the popular opinion, Mahatma Gandhi called off the civil disobedience movement at its peak (in spite of vociferous opposition from the congress leaders including Nehru ) when the crowd in ChauriChaura killed 22 policemen. Both were inclusive leaders who cared for the minority in their respective countries. Unfortunately, Gandhiji was shot dead by a fellow Indian for championing precisely the same cause. He couldn't live to implement his ideas on Gram Swaraj and Ram Rajya which he so passionately believed in. Although, Mandela got an opportunity to build the South Africa of his dreams, it won't be false if I say that he also did face opposition in his country for promoting his values.

More than 60 years after Gandhiji's death, Gandhian thoughts are making a fashionable comeback in India on the heels of a popular movie  and reflected in the Jan Lokpal movement by a Gandhian and anti-corruption crusader , Anna Hazare. I hope Mandela's principles too, continue to motivate the future generations equally.

Both these personalities inspire you in different way. While Gandhi gives you a better philosophical grinding which can safely take you through the darkest of hours, Mandela inspires you by his deeds. Great souls do not come in a particular mould and hence its foolish to compare the two (which is precisely what I did :) ).

P.S.: I found a similar article in New York Times an interesting read on the same subject.

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