Mahatma Gandhi was a genius in symbolizing his socio-political and spiritual message. No Gandhian icon has endured more as a synonym for his personality and philosophy than his humble spinning wheel. He worked magic with this simple machine by imparting a mass character to India’s struggle for freedom. He also used it as a powerful symbol for his advocacy of a new global order, based on the ideals of truth, nonviolence, morally guided self-governance, justice, universal brotherhood and sustainable development.
However, we confront a strange paradox here: The spinning wheel has become largely irrelevant today, even though the message it iconified has become more relevant than ever. Does Gandhi’s timeless message have a new technological carrier that can become the spinning wheel’s avatar in the twenty-first century? Yes. It is the Internet.
Supported by an original and incisive exploration, this book argues that the Internet, and the many digital technologies spawned by it, have the potential to actualize the Mahatma’s ideals. In the process, this book also dynamites the widespread misconception that Gandhi was against modern science and technology.
After surveying modern science’s unmistakable journey from man’s outer reality to his inner reality, this book makes an optimistic prediction-‘The marriage of modern technologies with swaraj and satyagraha, understood in the Gandhian sense, will shape tomorrow’s just and nonviolent world’. however, it also places a cautionary caveat: The Internet’s potential to inaugurate a new phase in human evolution can be realized only if the world’s affairs, and also our individual lives, are radically re-ordered along a strong ethical axis. Hence the book’s inspiring call to denizens of the digital world to become ‘Internet Satyagrahis’.
Music of the Spinning Wheel is a meticulously researched re-projection of Mahatma Gandhi as a techno-savvy seer for India and the world-yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Music of the Spinning Wheel presents Mahatma Gandhi’s life and mission in an altogether new and integral light, through the prism of the possibilities and perils of the Internet Age. Perhaps for the first time in Gandhian literature, this book discovers a correlation between the amazing potential of the Internet, which is the ‘species mind’ of humankind, and the moral message of the spinning wheel. It also highlights the abiding relevance of this saint-scientist’s probing approach to every aspect of life-from economics to education, from nature cure to environment protection, from sex to women’s empowerment, and of course from politics to peacemaking.
Sudheendra Kulkarni served as a special aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) between 1998 and 2004. He played an active role in conceptualizing and driving several landmark initiatives of the Vajpayee government –among them, the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Information Technology, New Telecom Policy, National Highway Development Project, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (a national programme for rural connectivity), and a national scheme for urban sanitation. An activist of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for many years, he served as its national secretary and also as secretary to its former president L.K. Advani, who was India’s deputy prime minister. He has passionately championed the cause of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims, and also peace and better relations between India and Pakistan. Since the middle of 2009, he has been working as chairman of the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai, an independent public policy think tank. He is a columnist with the Indian Express and also writes regularly for many other publications on a wide range of subjects.
In addition to being actively associated with the BJP’s policy research wing, Kulkarni is guiding a team effort to prepare the BJP’s VISION 2025 document, whose emphasis is on good governance and pro-poor development. His other major activity is related to the national campaign for cleaning up the River Ganga.
Mahatma Gandhi Remains a Deeply Enigmatic Figure In India and the world. Easy to admire, difficult to understand in his totality, and almost impossible to follow, even in parts. There is very little about his outward personality –his attire, his extremely frugal food habits, his observance of a day of silence once a week, and his unconventional views on sex – that can conceivably endear him to the modern man living in the most consumerist and hedonistic era in human history. Yet, Gandhi has become the most popular and venerated Indian around the globe. There is something about the inner truth of his life, the glow of which remains undiminished with the passage of time. We may call it Gandhi’s Truth since his lifelong extraordinary description. It not only sheds light on the failures and falsities, injustices and inadequacies, of the world we live in, but also shows the way forward.
At a time when India has been witnessing rapid erosion in ethics in politics, economics and public life in general, Gandhi is admired for practising the moral principles that he preached. As India and much of the rest of the world continue to grapple with the challenge of religious disharmony, his lifelong mission of trying to create harmony across various social barriers continues to evoke widespread adoration for him. Indeed, his mission culminated in his martyrdom for the cause of amity between Hindus and Muslims, and also between India and Pakistan. Ironically, it was a Hindu extremist, Nathuram Godse, who assassinated the greatest Hindu in modern times. This fact of history makes his message especially relevant, both for India and the world, considering that the cause for which he sacrificed his life is as salient today as it was in his own lifetime.
Above all, admiration for him stems from his uncompromising advocacy of nonviolence, which was the defining element of Gandhi’s Truth. It is not that most people who admire him for this reason truly believe that the ideal of a nonviolent world is ever realizable. Nevertheless, they see in him the source of their own hope in a just and peaceful tomorrow. It is a hope men cannot live without. He nurtures that hope both at local and global levels. For example, the United Nations (UN), which is the closest the international community has come to establishing something akin to a world government, may not have made much headway in de-militarising international relations and creating a new world order based on peace, justice and universal brotherhood. Yet, when it declared, in 2005, that Gandhi’s birthday on 2 October would be observed each year as the day of Nonviolence, it acknowledge him as a modern-day prophet of peace.
What is curious about Gandhi’s Truth is that it is neither easy to grasp, nor easy to reject. His admirers appreciate some aspects of his life and message, but find it difficult to comprehend or agree with other aspects. Similarly, his critics may scoff at some of his actions and teachings, but usually, they too express varying degrees of appreciation for what he set out to achieve and, especially, for the sincerity and single-minded focus he brought to bear to his mission. Thus, it is easy to find critics among his admirers, and admirers among his critics.
The one aspect of Gandhi’s Truth that is most enigmatic is his outlook –or perceived outlook- towards science and technology. By and large, both his admirers and critics contend that he was opposed to science, technology, machinery and modernity. We are currently in the most technologically advanced era in history. Science and technology have transformed the world in unimaginable ways. They are also the principal factors behind the unprecedented material prosperity that some sections of the global community have been enjoying and others are eagerly hoping to be a part of. This has persuaded many people in India and the world to believe that Gandhi, with his insistence on khadi, village industries and maximum local self-sufficiency, sought to stop the onrush of development aided by modern science and technology. Therefore, on the yardstick of technology-driven progress, many of Gandhi’s admires and critics alike consider him irrelevant to our times.
According to historian B.R. Nanda, who was one of the greatest interpreters of Gandhian philosophy: ‘Gandhi’s views on industrialization did not commend themselves to the Indian intelligentsia, and even to many of his colleagues in the Congress leadership. To many of his eminent contemporaries-scientists, economics, industrialists, radicals, socialists, communists-Gandhian economics seemed a throwback to primitiveness; to a utopian pre-industrial position which was untenable in the modern world.’
Gandhi himself was aware of the widespread skepticism about his advocacy of khadi and the charkha. ‘Many people think’, he wrote in an important booklet titled Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place, on 13 December 1941, ‘that in advocating “Khadi” I am sailing against a headwind and am sure to sink the ship of Swaraj and that I am taking the country to the dark ages.’ Even as late as in September 1944, he gave vent to the divergence between his views and those of many senior Congress leaders on the issue. Speaking at a meeting of the All India Spinners’ Association (AISA) at the Sevagram Ashram near Wardha in Maharashtra, he said: ‘The Congress did accept the charkha. But did it do so willingly? No, it tolerates the charkha simply for my sake.’
But was Gandhi really opposed to industrialization and to modern science and technology? Did he, with his unusual ideas on development, seek to take India back in time –to the ‘dark medieval age’, as some of his critics claims? Or was he a visionary who not only foretold moral degradation and the looming crisis in sustainable development that both India and the world are currently experiencing, but also showed an alternative path of development that is pro-people, protective of the environment and also promotive of human evolution to a higher level? Was he utopian in his insistence that science, economics and ethics must go together, or was his insistence a warning that the world has ignored at its peril? Would he have shunned the Internet, arguably the greatest technological invention of mankind, or embraced it? What would he have said about nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and other breathtaking promises of science and technology in the twenty-first century?
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