Gandhi, Lenin and Reagan’s Comparative Influences and ‘Canonizations’

By Dr. Myint Zan

Newspaper reports around the world in the past several weeks were dominated by news items of the deaths of two former leaders of ‘Asian extraction’: former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and former President Suharto (many news items did refer to him as former dictator) of Indonesia. Suharto died –if not of ‘old age’- in old age but Benazir’s death was tragic: she was assassinated.


Especially since the British colonialists left the Indian sub-continent political assassinations of leaders or former leaders in that region have not been new.  In fact 30 January 2008 was the 60th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948 and this occurred less than six months after India’s independence.


As I wanted to read the contemporaneous reports –or at least one report- of the Mahatma Gandhi assassination I searched Time magazine’s archives and found the report of Gandhi’s assassination under the title ‘Of Truth and Shame’ (February 9, 1948).


Since January 21, 2008 was also the 84th anniversary of Vladimir’s Lenin’s death in 1924 I looked up  Time’s archives  and   Lenin’s death was also covered  just over 24 years earlier: it  was reported and analyzed under three news items cum analysis ‘Death of Lenin’, (January 28, 1924), ‘Cold Death’ (February 4, 1924) and ‘Apotheosis of Lenin’ (February 11,1924). .As I read the contemporaneous obituaries of Lenin and Gandhi a few thoughts came to my mind and I take this opportunity on the 60th anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination to present them.


·        “Iffy” history: Lenin (born 22 April 1870) was over six months younger than Gandhi (born 2 October 1869) but died of natural causes exactly 24 years to the month before Gandhi’s life was cut short by assassin’s bullets. This thought comes to mind as a matter of ‘iffy’ (‘what if’) history: what if Lenin’s and Gandhi’s longevity are ‘reversed’? What if Lenin lived as long as Gandhi (until 1948) and Gandhi had died in 1924? Would the Soviet Union’s and India’ history perhaps even that of the world changed –or not?

·        In the 1978 edition of the book The Hundred: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History author Michael H. Hart ranked Lenin as the 14th most influential person in history. In the revised 1992 edition of his book Hart ‘downgraded’ Marx, Lenin and Mao to ‘lower ranks’ but all three still made the list.  Gandhi gets only an ‘honorable mention’ in both the 1978 and 1992 editions of Hart’s book. Hart explained that Gandhi’s ideas as not having that much influence-in real terms- even in India.


Gandhi’s decades long non-violent struggle or resistance against the British colonialists did help obtain India’s independence. Among others the late Martin Luther King’s Jr.-whose birthday also fell in January and who like Gandhi was felled by assassin’s bullets- can be said to have been (partly) inspired by Gandhi’s non-violent methods.


But would Gandhi’s non-violent resistance methods and civil disobedience campaigns against British colonialism work even with other colonial powers such as that of France, Spain and Portugal not to say the tyrannies of Nazism and Stalinism? Coming back to other Asians struggle against other non-British colonialists it is to be noted that it took Ho Chi Minh’s different political and military strategies and efforts –not to say that of General Võ Nguyên Giáp and the battle of Dien Bien Phu to free (North) Vietnam from French colonial rule.


Finally soon after their deaths both Lenin and Gandhi were ‘canonized’ (not literally, technically or theologically of course). Indeed, Time wrote (February 11, 1924)  that  ‘a movement to canonize Lenin as a Bolshevik saint was reputed to be gaining strength’. Lenin’s widow soon after his death  asked not to hero-worship Lenin but for about sixty years and more the Soviet Union and many people throughout the world perhaps did just that. As regards Gandhi Time also wrote in 1948 ‘Gandhi’s ashes were not cold before the world had begun to vulgarize his saintliness’.


One wonders both in terms of ‘canonization’ (I repeat in the non-technical and non-theological sense) who have been more canonized by their followers and admirers Lenin or Gandhi?


In terms of influence I have already impliedly stated  my view that Lenin’s influence  exceeded that of Gandhi (please note that this does not  involve any moral evaluation of their persons or philosophies)  but in terms of ‘canonization’ I cannot refrain from being some what banal and refer to Time and most of the American media’s canonization of the ‘Great Communicator’ Ronald Reagan whose 97th birthday  falls (were he in his own words not ‘called to the Lord’ in June 2004 ) on February 6, 2008.  Even great admirers of Reagan such as the conservative American columnist George F. Will once wrote that some people in the United States have begun to ‘Leninize’ Ronald Reagan in a comparable way the Soviets have ‘canonize’ Lenin. .


Every presidential aspirant from the Republican party of the past 20 years has repeatedly invoked Reagan’s name and cloaked themselves as the new ‘Ronald Reagan’. Even the ‘change’ candidate Barrack Obama- a Democrat- has recently joined in the ‘fray’ to praise –though not fully claim- the mantle of Reagan.


Airports, aircraft carriers, buildings and major roads in the United States  have been named  after Reagan though one should admit no major city’s name in the United States  as yet have been changed to ‘Reagangrad’  a la ‘Leningrad’ (now changed back to St. Petersburg).  In its February 1924 obituary of Lenin Time wrote that ‘it will be a century’s work to “estimate” Lenin”. Estimates of Lenin and his actions could still create divergent views depending on one’s ideology and inclinations more than three quarters of a century after his death. My view is that the ‘vulgarization’ in the form of ‘canonization’ of Lenin, one of the last century’s most influential intellectual,  and later ruthless revolutionary and leader and that of Ronald Reagan -one of America’s and the world’s ‘greatest salesman’ /politician-  have been more intense –indeed vulgar – than those that have been  accorded  to Mahatma Gandhi. Certainly, Gandhi’s personality and life as pointed out by critical biographers –and naturally being human- is not faultless, not to say saintly.  My view though is that Gandhi, regardless of his actual influence and the effectiveness –some would say ‘rightness’ of his philosophy, deserves more admiration and reverence than the very ‘un-saintly’ Lenin and the vulgarly ‘canonized’ if not (in the sense that I have explained above) ‘Leninized’ Ronald Reagan.




Dr. Myint Zan

School of Law

Faculty of Business and Law

Multimedia University



E mail

Tel + 60-13-6006679




Comments are closed.