Gandhi, The Man and His Message
“I shall not fear anybody on earth. I shall fear only God. I shall not bear ill-will towards anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall combat untruth by truth, and in resisting untruth I shall put with all suffering.”
—M. K. Gandhi.
THE MAN AND HIS MESSAGE
Mr. Mohandass Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi, is today the acknowledged leader of the three hundred million inhabitants of India. He is the author of the Non-violent, Non-cooperation movement, which has been adopted by the Indian National Congress as a weapon of passive resistance wherewith to win India’s freedom. In March, 1922, because of his public activities in India as a leader of his movement, Mr. Gandhi was sentenced to six years’ incarceration on the charge of promoting disaffection towards the British Crown. Recently released from prison by order of the British Labor Government, he has announced his decision to re-enter the arena of Indian political life. The jail life of two years, however much its rigors were mitigated by special care given him during his confinement, has left its indelible mark upon the weak and fragile constitution of Mr. Gandhi. Scrupulously true to his professions, honest and determined as ever in his resolves, Gandhi is ready once again to shoulder the heavy responsibilities that await him as leader of the struggling millions of India, in their fight for freedom. The news of his release, and his subsequent decision to resume his public activities, is hailed with the profoundest joy by his countrymen, confident as they all are in the ability and integrity of their adored and esteemed “Mahatma.” The effects of the soothing and bracing atmosphere of his dynamic personality, his admirers allege, is being widely felt all over. Far from cooling the enthusiasm of his followers, as was expected by his prosecutors, the confinement of Mr. Gandhi has on the other hand intensified their liking for him. Gandhi the Saint comes out of prison as Gandhi the Martyr, with all the halo that attaches to that name.
Who is this “egregious” Mr. Gandhi? What great forces revolve around his love-inspiring personality, and what huge potentialities lie hidden behind the calm, cheerful, confident look of this politician-saint of India, it is time for all lovers of truth and seekers after knowledge to calmly consider.
One fact stands out unique about this man Gandhi. Whoever has known Mr. Gandhi (and there are enough of the world’s most prominent scholars, students, missionaries, travellers, writers who have studied him close enough to pass their reliable judgments), irrespective of their missions, opinions and designations, they all agree as to the magnetic personality of Mr. Gandhi and to the supreme nobility and the sublime purity of his private and public life. His sweet, subtle sense of humor, and his profound confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth and justice as against falsehood and oppression never fail to influence and inspire anyone who happens to come his way. Even the very judge who, two years ago, sentenced him to six years’ incarceration could not resist the temptation to call him “a great patriot and a great leader,” and to pay him the tribute: “Even those who differ from you in politics look up to you as a man of high ideals and as leading a noble and even saintly life.”
Born at Ahmedabad (India) in October, 1869, of rich parents, his father being the prime minister of a native state in Deccan, Mr. Gandhi had all the advantages of an early education under careful guidance. His father, who combined in him the highest political wisdom and learning with utter simplicity and gentleness, was known all over Deccan as a man of firm convictions, and was respected and revered as an uncompromising champion of the just and the weak. A statesman by profession, Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the future illustrious hero of his country, was a veritable just man at heart. Mr. Gandhi’s mother was an orthodox Hindu lady, with stubborn religious conceptions, and she led a very simple, pure, and dignified life after the teachings of the Hindu Vedas. She was a very jealous and affectionate mother and took a religiously absorbing interest in the bringing up of her children. Mr. Gandhi, the favorite “Mohan” of his parents, was the center of all the cares and discipline of his loving relatives. He inherits in his person the determination of purpose and the tenacity of a powerful will from his father and the sense of religious and moral purity of life and conduct from his mother. After graduation from a native school in his home town, he was sent to England to finish his education there. He qualified himself for the Bar at the University of London, and on his return home was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of Bombay. While still in London, Mr. Gandhi had the misfortune to hear of the death of his mother. This was no simple loss, nor any slight shock, even for a Mohandass Gandhi. His companions and classmates can well recall to this day the picture of the young “stricken” Gandhi, passing his days of intense sorrow in solitary confinement, in voluntary seclusion, punctuated at irregular intervals by the sweet, melancholy tunes of his favorite violin. From the boisterous life of a rich London student he could find an escape only when he sat alone by his window, violin in his lap, and the dear departed mother in his mind. A product of the early favorable circumstances and all the advanced education, Mr. Gandhi is thus a highly cultured gentleman with finished and polished manners. He possesses a pleasant temperament with but a tinge of melancholy pervading throughout his life and conduct.
As a patriot and a leader of an oppressed people struggling for freedom, Mr. Gandhi belongs to the category of the world’s great liberators such as Washington, Lincoln and Mazinni. As a saintly person who has dedicated his whole life to preaching the gospel of love and truth, who has literally lived up to his preachings, he ranks among the world’s great sages like Buddha, Jesus and Socrates. But as a unique combination of a political agitator and a saint (with the motto, “I believe in loving my enemies”), an untiring and unresting promoter of a huge mass revolution on the one hand, and an unyielding and absolutely uncompromising champion of non-violence on the other, he stands out supreme, unequalled and unsurpassed.
His theory of a non-violent mass revolution aiming at the dethronement of a powerful, well-established and fully equipped militaristic government, like the British Bureaucracy in India, though strange and unpractical at first thought, is yet very simple and straightforward.
“Man is born free, and yet,” lamented Rousseau, “he is everywhere in chains.” “Man is born free, why should he refuse to live free?” questions Gandhi. Freedom is man’s birthright. With unlimited liberty in thought and action, he could live in perfect peace and harmony, only if all men would rigidly observe their own duties and keep “within their own rights.” But men as they are, and not as they should be, possess a certain degree of animal nature. In some it is subdued, while in others, let loose, it becomes the cause of disturbance and dislocation of the rest. To safeguard against such encroachments on their “natural rights” and privileges, men have organised themselves into groups called “states.” By so doing each voluntary member of this family (or state) foregoes some of his personal rights in exchange for certain individual privileges and communal rights to be sought under its joint protection. The government of a country is thus a matter of voluntary choice by its people to carry on such functions as shall conduce to the highest good of the maximum number. When it goes corrupt, when instead of protecting its members from every form of evil and disorder, it becomes an instrument of the forces of darkness, a tool of corruption, citizens have it as their inalienable right to demand a change in the existing order. They might first attempt at a reform. Should such attempts come to nought, the right of revolution is decidedly theirs. It is indeed their right, inviolable and fundamental, not only to non-cooperate with a government, but to permanently refuse as a matter of duty, sacred and divine, their cooperation, direct and indirect, with a government which has been responsible for spiritual decadence, for moral degradation, for political degeneration of their country. Gandhi explains his attitude thus:
“We must refuse to wait for the wrong to be righted till the wrong-doer has been roused to a sense of his iniquity. We must not, for fear of ourselves or others having to suffer, remain participators in it. But we must combat the wrong by ceasing to assist the wrongdoer directly or indirectly.
“If a father does an injustice, it is the duty of his children to leave the parental roof. If the head-master of a school conducts his institution on an immoral basis, the pupils must leave the school. If the chairman of a corporation is corrupt, the members thereof must wash their hands clean of his corruption by withdrawing from it; even so, if a government does a grave injustice, the subject must withdraw cooperation, wholly or partially, sufficiently to wean the ruler from his wickedness. In each of the cases conceived by me, there is an element of suffering whether mental or physical. Without such suffering, it is impossible to attain freedom.”
“The business of every god-fearing man is to dissociate himself from evil in total disregard of consequences. He must have faith in a good deed producing only a good result; that in my opinion is the Gita doctrine of work without attachment. God does not permit him to peep into the future. He follows truth although the followingof it may endanger his very life. He knows that it is better to die in the way of God than to live in the way of Satan. Therefore whoever is satisfied that this Government represents the activity of Satan has no choice left to him but to dissociate himself from it . . . .”
For over a period of twenty-five years, he rendered, willingly and ungrudgingly, his voluntary services, his hearty cooperation, with the British Empire whenever it was threatened and stood in need. Though vehemently criticised when it went wrong, yet he never wished its destruction until his final decision of non-cooperation in 1920. For he felt, that in spite of its abuses and shortcomings, the system was mainly and intrinsically good. Mr. Gandhi gave immense proofs of his unshaken loyalty to the Empire and his firm faith in British justice, through invaluable and trying services on the occasion of the Anglo-Boer War (1899), the Zulu Revolt (1906) and the Great European War (1914). On the two former occasions, in recognition of these services he was awarded gold medals, and his name was each time mentioned in the dispatches. Later, on his return to India, he was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal by Lord Hardinge in recognition of his humanitarian services in South Africa. These medals he determinedly, though remorsefully, returned to the Viceroy of India on August 1, 1920. The letter that accompanied them besides other things contained this:
“Your Excellency’s light-hearted treatment of the official crime, your exoneration of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, Mr. Montague’s dispatch and above all the shameful ignorance of the Punjab events and callous disregard of the feelings of Indians betrayed by the House of Lords, have filled me with the gravest misgivings regarding the future of the Empire, have estranged me completely from the present Government and have disabled me from tendering, as I have hitherto wholeheartedly tendered, my loyal cooperation.”
His statement before the court at the time of his conviction in March, 1922, in which he pleaded himself guilty, reads thus:
“From a staunch loyalist and cooperator, I have become an uncompromising disaffectionist and non-cooperator.... To preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me .... If I were set free, I would still do the same. I would be failing in my duty if I did not do so I had either to submit to a system which has done irreparable harm to my country, or to incur the mad fury of my people, bursting forth when they heard the truth from my lips .... I do not ask for mercy. I am here to invite and to submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a crime, but which is thefirst duty of every citizent. ....Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which, in its totality, has done more harm to India than any previous systemt..... It is the physical and brutal ill-treatment of humanity which has made many of my coworkers and myself impatient of life itself.”
Following his public announcement of the non-cooperation policy he embarked upon an extensive tour of the country. Wherever he went he preached he preached disaffection towards the existing government. The chief distinction between Gandhi and other librators, the chief difference between him and other leaders was that he wanted his countrymen to love their country, and yet not to hate their enemies. He further enjoined them to love their oppressors, and through love and suffering to bring them to light, so that their own eyes could see what in his was their mistake. “Hatred ceaseth not by hatred; hatred ceaseth by love,” was his sole plea.
Mr. Gandhi’s whole political career is inspired by a deep love for his suffering countrymen. His heart burns with the desire to free his country from its present state of thralldom and helpless servitude. India, the cradle of civilization and culture, for ages the solitary source of light and of wisdom, whence issued the undying message of Buddhist missionaries, where empires flourished under the careful guidance of distinguished statesmen, the land of Asoka and Akbar, lies to-day at the tender mercy of a haughty conqueror, intoxicated and maddened by the conquest of a helpless people. “Her arts degenerated, her literatures dead, her beautiful industries perished, her valor done,” she presents but a pitiful outlook to the onlooking world. Gandhi, the heroicly determined son of the “Bharat,” calmly reviewing the situation, feels the impulse to save his motherland from the present state of “slow torture, emasculation and degradation,” and suggests to his countrymen the use of the unique yet powerful weapon of non-violent non-cooperation. Through this slow process of “self-denial” and “self-purification” he proposes to carry his country forward till the goal of its political emancipation and its spiritual freedom is fully realized. Political freedom might be secured by force, but that is not what Gandhi wants. Unsatisfied with mere freedom of the body he soars higher and strives for a more sublimer form of liberty, the freedom of the soul. To the question, “Shall India follow the stern example of Europe, and fight out its political and economic independence?” Gandhi replies with an emphatic and an unqualified “No.” What has Europe’s powerful military and material organisation done to insure its future peace? Answers Romain Rolland: “Half a century ago might dominated right. To-day things are far worse. Might is right. Might has devoured right.”
No people, no nation has ever won or can ever win real freedom through violence. Violence implies the use of force, and force is oppressive. Those who fight and win with force, ultimately find it both convenient and expedient to follow the line of least resistance; and they continue to rely upon force in time of peace as well, ostensibly to maintain law and order, but practically to suppress and stifle every rising spirit. The power may thus change hands and yet the evil process continues without a moment’s break. Non-violence does not carry with it this degeneration which is inherent in the use of violence. Mr. Gandhi is highly eloquent on this score when he says:
“They may forget non-cooperation, but they dare not forget non-violence. Indeed, non-cooperation is non-violence. We are violent when we support a government whose creed is violence. It bases itself finally not on right but might. Its last appeal is not to reason, nor the heart, but to the sword. We are tired of this creed and we have risen against it. Let us not ourselves belie our profession by being violent.”
“Non-violence is complete innocence. Complete non-violence is complete absence of ill-will against all that lives,—and in its active form, good will towards all life. It is pure love, as I read it in the Hindu Scriptures, in the Bible, in the Koran. Non-violence is a perfect state. It is a goal towards which mankind moves naturally, though unconsciously. Man does not become divine when he personfies innocence in himself. Only then does he become truly man.
“Restraint is the law of our being. Highest perfection is unattainable without highest restraint. Suffering is thus the badge of the human tribe .... Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment.....”
“One must love one’s enemies while hating their deeds; hate Satanism while loving Satan” is the principal article of Gandhi’s faith, and he has proved himself worthy of all his lofty professions by his own personal conduct. He has passed through all the trying years of his stormy life and stood firm in his noble convictions, with his faith unchallenged, his veracity unquestioned, his love untainted, and his courage undaunted. No criticism, however sharp and cutting, no abuse, however base and bitter, did ever taint the large and loving heart of Gandhi. In the knowledge of his life-long political associates, members of the Indian National Congress and other such organizations, Mr. Gandhi, even at moments of the most violent excitement and heated controversies, when criticisms were showered upon his program in the most light-hearted manner by his younger and inexperienced colleagues, and when he was made the target for the bitterest sarcasm of his older associates, he is never known to have revealed, even in the tone of his voice, the slightest touch of anger or the slightest show of contempt. His limit of tolerance has not yet been reached.
During the last year and a half of his free life in India when he guided the destinies of his countrymen as leader of a great movement Mr. Gandhi once again gave unmistakable proofs of the vastness of the all-inclusive horizon of his love. That his love is not reserved only for his compatriots, but that it extends even to his bitteres enemies in its undiminished intensity and lustre, he revealed clearly throughout the most critical period of his life. His enemies, the British bureaucrats, used all the cards in their hands to discredit him in the eyes of his countrymen and the world outside, and to nip his whole movement in its very bud. Calumnies were heaped upon him from all sides. He was called a “hypocrite,” an “unscrupulous agitator,” a “disguised autocrat,” with the vast number of his followers branded as “dumb-cattle,” hundreds of thousands of whom were flogged, imprisoned and in some cases even shot for no other offense than that of wearing the coarse, hand-spun “Gandhi cap” and singing the Indian national hymn. Even in such trying moments he remained firm in his faith, true and loyal to his lofty professions. Evidence as to the undisturbed, peaceful condition of his mind and spirit is amply furnished by the following statements which he gave to the Indian press in those turbulent days.
“Our non-violence teaches us to love our enemies. By non-violent non-cooperation we seek to conquer the wrath of English administrators and their supporters. We must love them and pray to God that they might have wisdom to see what appears to us to be their error. It must be the prayer of the strong and not of the weak. In our srength must we humble ourselves before our maker.
"In the moment of our trial and our triumph let me declare my faith. I believe in loving my enemies.....I believe in the power of suffering to melt the stoniest heart.....We must by our conduct demonstrate to every Englishman that he is safe in the remotest corner of India as he professes to feel behind the machine gun"
“There is only one God for us all, whether we find him through the Bible, the Koran, the Gita, the Zindvesta or the Talmud, and He is the God of love and truth. I do not hate an Englishman. I have spoken much against his institutions, especially the one he has set up in India. But you must not mistake my condemnation of the system for that of the man. My religion requires me to love him as I love myself. I have no interest in living except to prove the faith in me. I would deny God if I do not attempt to prove it at this criical moment.”
It must be remembered that all this was at a time when Mr. Gandhi held an undisputed sway over the hearts of his three hundred million countrymen. Setting aside all precedence Mr. Gandhi was unanimously elected the dictator of the Indian National Congress with full powers to lead the country in times of emergencies. A word from Mr. Gandhi was sufficient to induce the suffering millions of struggling India to sacrifice their lives without regret or reproach. No man ever commanded the loyal allegiance of a greater number of hearts, feeling at the same time so meek.
Through the successive stages of “self-denial” and “self-purification” he is gradually preparing his countrymen for the final step in his program, the civil disobedience. Once the country has reached that stage, and his program is carried through, the revolution will have been accomplished without shedding a drop of blood. Wrote Henry David Thoreau: “When the officer has resigned office, and the subject has refused allegiance, the revolution is accomplished.” That will be the dawn of a day, brighter and hopeful, promising and bright. The forces of darkness and of evil will have made room for those of light and of love. But this shall not be, unless Gandhi’s policy is literally adopted, and ultimately triumphs. He explains:
“The political non-violence of the Non-cooperator does not stand the test in the vast majority of cases. Hence the prolongation of the struggle. Let no one blame the unbending English nature. The hardest fiber must melt in the fire of Love. When the British or other nature does not respond, the fire is not strong enough.
“If non-violence is to remain the policy of the nation, we are bound to carry it out to the letter and in the spirit. We must then quickly make up with the English and the Cooperators. We must get their certificate that they feel absolutely safe in our midst, that they regard us as friends, although we belong to a radically different school of thought and politics. We must welcome them to our political platform as honored guests; we must receive them on neutral platforms as comrades. Our non-violence must not breed violence, hatred or ill-will.
“If we approach our program with the mental reservation that, after all, we shall wrest power from the British by force of arms, then we are untrue to our profession of non-violence. ... If we believe in our program, we are bound to believe that the British people are not unamenable to the force of affection, as they undoubtedly are amenable to the force of arms.
"Swaraj is a condition of mind, and the mental condition of India has been challenged .... India will win independence and Swaraj only when the people have acquired strength to die of their own free will. Then there will be Swaraj.”
Such in brief is the man Gandhi. Laurels of praise and messages of affection have been heaped upon him from all quarters. As a true specimen we shall, in concluding, give the simple sketch of Gandhi from the attistic pen of his honest admirer, Mr. Romain Rolland:
“Soft dark eyes, a small frail man, with a thin face and rather large protruding eyes, his head covered with a little white cap, his body clothed in coarse white cloth, barefooted. He lives on rice and fruit and drinks only water. He sleeps on the floor—sleeps very little, and works incessantly. His body does not seem to count at all. His expression proclaims ‘infinite patience and infinite love.’ W. W. Pearson, who met him in South Africa, instinctively thought of St. Francis of Assisi. There is an almost childlike simplicity about him. His manner is gentle and courteous even when dealing with adversaries, and he is of immaculate sincerity. He is modest and unassuming, to the point of sometimes seeming almost timid, hesitant, in making an assertion. Yet you feel his indomitable spirit. He makes no compromises and never tries to hide a mistake. Nor is he afraid to admit having been in the wrong. Diplomacy is unknown to him, he shuns oratorical effect or, rather, never thinks about it, and he shrinks unconsciously from the great popular demonstrations organized in his honor. Literally ‘ill with the multitude that adores him,’ he distrustsmajorities and fears ‘mobocracy’ and the unbridled passions of the populace. He feels at ease only in a minority, and is happiest when, in meditative solitude, he listens to the ‘still small voice within.’ ”