Deepmala 38 – Who should be our Role Model: Mahatma Gandhi or Bill Gates?

I gave an address at the University of Roorkee, some four years ago. There was a gathering of about 1500 students. There was a question-answer session. One student asked me a difficult question. He wanted to know who should be the role model for the new generation of scientists, engineers and other professionals like him. Should it be Mahatma Gandhi or Bill Gates?
Bill Gates has converted knowledge into wealth and has become the richest man in the world. Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand provided a model which, may be considered totally opposed to Bill Gates, because Gandhiji applied eternal values to life without any material gain.

In the new world order, there seem to be almost unlimited possibilities of harnessing knowledge for material gain. The fine art of converting wealth out of knowledge has been demonstrated by Bill Gates. He has become the idol of the new generation of professionals, who gain specialised knowledge in their respective fields.

If Mahatma Gandhi’s model is used, they would have to, the student felt, go for denial of material progress, which would make them lose out in the global economic race.
This dilemma has to be especially resolved in the Indian situation. I recollect, in this context, an incident at a seminar, organised by CSIR with Unilever, a large multinational corporation in Bangalore some time ago.

The Seminar was inaugurated by Mr. P. Chidambaram, former Union Finance Minister, who was India’s leading light for liberalisation and had worked hard to ensure that India gets her rightful place in the global economy. The traditional lamp had to be lit for the inauguration of the seminar. Mr. P. Chidambaram took off his shoes to light the lamp.
This is what India is all about: Indian values such as this, which make the country’s Finance Minister take off his shoes to light the traditional lamp. The symbol of light which represents divinity, harmonises with modem science and technology. This harmony provides us the guiding principle which is based on Indian values.

This is what Mahatma Gandhi’s role model is also all about: the application of eternal values of life to the business of living. Mahatma Gandhi had said that religion divorced from life has no meaning.
We can have enduring success in the new global order only by applying the eternal principles of life and values, embodied in our culture and ethos. Bill Gates may be successful in material terms, but his success is based on the principle of material success at any cost. Such wealth cannot be sustained. The means are as important as the end, as Mahatma Gandhi had taught us. It is only by applying this principle of rightful ends for rightful means, that we should strive to make our place in the new global order.
Thus in my view, I answered the student, Mahatma Gandhi should be the role model for our new generation of scientists, technologists and other professionals, in the new economic order. Only then would the success of Bill Gates eventually not only follow, but would also be sustained. As the Bible says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”. I do not know as to whether the student was satisfied but on reflection after four years, and especially as I am getting older, I am even more convinced about this answer!