Bol, ye thora waqt bahut hai
Jism o zaban ki maut se pahle
Bol, ke sach zinda hai ab tak
Bol, jo kucch kahna hai kah le
(‘Bol’, Faiz Ahmed Faiz)
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi runs to more than ninety volumes, in a well-annotated series edited by a team of scholars headed by K. Swaminathan, a retired professor of English literature. Thinking, acting and writing simultaneously went with the naked fakir. And he is arguably one of the most contested, influencing figures of modern India. Hated and loved, worshiped and burnt, valorized and debased, the father of the nation took all with an austere and conscious attitude of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Tagore could not agree with Bapu’s views on the utility of Charka and celibacy as weapons in securing freedom from the British.
Ambedkar commented, “I hate all the mahatmas and firmly believe that they should be done away with. I am of the opinion that their existence is a curse to the nation in which they are born. They try to perpetuate blind faith in place of intelligence and reason.” (qtd. in The Public Intellectual in India p. 134). Of course there is a truth. And in India we are smilingly witnessing attacks on rationalists, the minorities, the dalits and other marginalized.
Disparaging articles, books, comments both in off line, online, in public spheres on Gandhi, if collected, may itself be a inexhaustible resource against Gandhian studies. But here I confine myself to the core values of Gandhi’s life and actions. And I belief Gandhi is not a saint, as he himself categorically declares so. He is a great commoner with all human weaknesses and faults. But very few have surpassed him in championing the cause of India before the British power. His reach to the common Indian masses inspires awe. Here I only highlight Gandhi’s own words on multiple issues which are and will be ravaging our nation.
For Truth Gandhi says,
But for me, truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only relative truth of our conception, but the absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God. There are innumerable definitions of God, because his manifestations are innumerable. They overwhelm me with wonder and awe and for a moment stun me. But I worship God as Truth only. I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him. I am prepared to sacrifice the things dearest to me in pursuit of this quest. Even if the sacrifice demanded be my very life, I hope I may be prepared to give it. (Intro. An Autobiography)
Author Santosh Bakaya wrote,
Gandhi was not a man with an impressive musculature, or stunning looks, only deceptively weak-looking human being with an exemplary moral strength, who could flex his moral muscles, bringing about an incredible metamorphosis in many a man bursting at the seams with belligerence—a strength which he acquired by self-introspection, self discipline, self-analysis and a rigid self-mastery. (Bakaya, Author’s Note)
Gandhi’s appeal transcends boundaries of caste, class, region and language. His well-documented deliberations on the power of non-violence or passive resistance, the abolition of untouchability, the upliftment of women, Hindu-Muslim cooperation and coexistence, village renewal and political decentralization inspired, inspire and will inspire people across the globe.
About passive resistance Gandhi says,
Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force. For instance, the government of the day has passed a law which applicable to me. I do not like it. If, by using violence, I force government to repeal the law, I am employing what may be termed body force. If I do not obey the law, and accept the penalty for its breach, I use soul-force. It involves sacrifice of self… (Makers of Modern India p.153)
“As soon as India accepts the doctrine of the sword, my life as an Indian is finished…I believe that the ancients of india, after centuries of experience, have found out that the true thing for any human being on earth is not justice based on violence but justice based on sacrifice of the self, justice based on yajna and kurbani—I cling to that doctrine and I shall cling to it forever. (Makers of Modern India, 159)
About Khilafat question Gandhi says,
It is a question, then, for the rest of the Indian population to consider whether they want to perform a neighbourly duty by their Mussulman countrymen and, if they do, they have an opportunity of a lifetime which will not occur for another hundred years, to show their goodwill, fellowship and friendship and to prove what they have been saying for all these long years that the Mussulman is the brother of the Hindu. (Makers of Modern India pp.157-58)
Today in reference to C A A (Citizenship Amendment Act) or N R C (National Register of Citizen) primarily Indian Muslims are singled out, and they need to claim their citizenship through a scrutinizing mechanism as be envisaged by the government in power. Muslims were butchered in Gujrat in 2002, they are being lynched open across the country, driven out of their homes, in Babri Masjid demolition case the accused are acquitted by the courts, judgment, in case of Babri Masjid and Ram Mandir issue, is given on the basis of belief and sentiment of the people by the apex court, intellectual are being threatened and killed, irrationality and fanaticism in public space run rampant. At this juncture Indian Muslims earnestly expect ‘neighbourly duty’ from their fellow neighbours.
Gandhi made his famous speech in 1920, and in the eve of 2020, Gandhi was proved false. He said that Hindus in next 100 years would not get a chance to stand by their Muslim brothers. But unfortunately the chance again comes to Hindus. They should express their solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters to resist the said unconstitutional bills and acts. “I am not ant-government; but I am anti-untruth—anti-humbug and anti-injustice…So long as the Government spells injustice, it may regard me as its enemy, implacable enemy…You may consider that I have spoken these words in anger because I have considered the ways of this Government immoral, unjust, debasing and untruthful. I use these adjectives with the greatest deliberation. (Makers of Modern India, 160-61)
About untouchability Gandhi opines,
We are guilty of having suppressed our brethren; we make them crawl on their bellies; we have made them rub their noses on the ground; with eyes red with rage, we push them out of railway compartments—what more than this has British rule done?…We ought to purge ourselves of this pollution. It is idle to talk of swaraj so long as we do not protect the weak and helpless, or so long as it is possible for a single Swarajist to injure the feelings of any individual. Swaraj means that not a single Hindu or Muslim shall for a moment arrogantly think that he can crush with impunity meek Hindu or Muslims. (Makers of Modern India, P.163)
About Hindu-Muslim Unity his stand follows,
Each must respect the other’s religion, must refrain from even secretly thinking ill of the other. We must politely dissuade members of both the communities from indulging in bad language against one another. Only a serious endeavour in this direction can remove the estrangement between us.” (Makers of Modern India, p. 173)
Let us take a vow with Gandhi,
‘With God as witness we Hindus and Mahomedans declare that we shall behave towards one another as children of the same parents, that we shall have no differences, that the sorrows of each shall be the sorrows of the other and that each shall help the other in removing them. We shall respect each other’s religion and religious feelings and shall not stand bin the way of our respective religious practices. We shall always refrain from violence to each other in the name of religion.” (Makers of Modern India p.174)
“If all of us are God’s creation, why should we fear one another or hate those who do not hold the same belief that we do?” (Makers of Modern India . pp. 176-77)
Gandhi on RSS,
” A member of Gandhiji’s party interjected that the RSS people had done a fine job of work at Wah refugee camp. They had shown discipline, courage and capacity for hard work. ‘But don’t forget’, answered Gandhiji, ‘even so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini. He characterized the RSS as a ‘communal body with a totalitarian outlook’.” (qtd. in Partha Banerjee’s Gandhi’s Killers India’s Rulers, 2020)
Gandhi on Consumerism,
One of the most important Gandhian concepts relates to virtues of a simpler life, a life of more limited needs, distanced from the lure of endless consumerism. Life’s fulfilment is to be sought not in pursuit of consumption and sensuality; rather by self-control access to higher, more creative and socially useful forms of satisfaction can be achieved. This again is in tune with the urgency of protecting environment and sustainability.
For Gandhi the idea of integrating Economics with Ethics was a central one. He rejected as harmful any GNP growth recorded on the basis of increased consumption of alcohol and intoxicants , or plunder of people and nature. These concerns of Gandhi sit well with many concerns raised by senior professional economists as well as others regarding the need to judge progress in more meaningful terms than just growth of GNP. ( https://bit.ly/3or07aL )
As to Retaliation he warns,
“Men there are who ask and so also women who ask: ‘Is it human to refrain from retaliation?” I say it is human. Up to now we have not realized our humanity, we have not realized our dignity; we are supposed to be, if Darwin is to be believed, the descendants of monkeys, and I am afraid that we have not yet shed our original state.( Makers of Modern India pp.177-78)
What I am just now combating is the position that is taken up by the finest writers in Europe and by some of the finest writers even in India: that man, as a class, will never be able to arrive at a stage when he can do without retaliation. I have a fundamental quarrel with that position. On the contrary, I say that man, as man, will not realize his full destiny, and his full dignity, until he has been so far educated as to be able to refrain from retaliation.” (Makers of Modern India, p. 179)
…unless India takes up this position, she is a doomed nation and with her all the nations of the world. India is a continent, and when India takes up the doctrine of force, as Europe today seems to have taken it up, then India becomes one of the exploiters of the weaker races of the world.” (Makers of Modern India p.179)
“When I despair, I remember that through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end they always fall—think of it—always,” affirmed Gandhi.
So in the end we find a ray hope in Gandhi’s saying. And I end this article with this happy note.
Bakaya, Santosh. Ballad of Bapu. Vitasta: New Delhi, 2015.
Chari, Chandra & Uma Iyenger (Eds.) The Public Intellectual in India. Aleph: New Delhi, 2015.
Gandhi, M. K. An Autobiography. Navajivan Publishing House: Ahmedabad, 2011.
Guha, Ramchandra (Ed.) Makers of Modern India. Penguin Books:New Delhi, 2012.