To some of his contemporaries he appeared like a conundrum, irrepressible and unpredictable, but to the vast multitude of Indians, he was a Mahatma, a true messiah, who came to uplift them from the morass of despair and degradation, and who fought the British Raj not with the power of muscles but with his spirit.
Truth and non-violence were his watchwords, and he stuck to them even in the most provoking situations which would leave an ordinary person in a fit of rage.
Satyagraha, the doctrine which he enunciated, was aimed as much at self-improvement as at changing the mind of the opponent. Evil was to be met not by evil but by good. “It is easy for you to love your friends, but I say unto you, love your enemies”, he admonished. The only way to purge the world of evil was to overcome “anger by love, untruth by truth, and himsa by ahimsa.”
Mahatma Gandhi’s firmness of purpose and great moral will has carved out for him an envious place in history. In South Africa he fought racial discrimination in such a valiant manner as even his detractors, like General Smuts, came to recognize his inner strength. He forgave those who assaulted him physically or insulted him in other ways. “As for me, nothing better can happen to a satyagrahi than meeting death in the very act of satyagraha”, he wrote. Mahatma Gandhi was sure that anyone who held on to truth was bound to win n the end. To quote him: “The world rests upon the bedrock of satya or truth, Asatya, meaning untruth, also means non-existent’; and satya or truth means that which is’. If untruth does not so much as exist, its victory is out of question. And truth being ‘that which is’ can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of satyagraha.”
Mahatma Gandhi regarded suffering as an essential concomitant of sacrifice. Suffering formed the crucible from which the new man grew. While armed struggles or revolutions aimed at the destructions of opposite forces, Mahatma Gandhi laid stress on the annihilation of inner vices. Satyagraha marked the power of the self was characterized by love, fellow-feeling and non-resistance. Retaliation was insufficient, nay, repugnant to the metamorphosis of the other party. On the other hand, self-suffering could transmute the oppressor. In Young India (August 11, 1920) Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Suffering is the mark of the human tribe. It is an eternal law. The mother suffers so that her child may live. Life comes out of death. No country has ever risen without being purified through the fire of suffering... It is impossible to do away with the law of suffering which is the one indispensable condition of our being. Progress is to be measured by the amount of suffering undergone... the purer the suffering, the greater the progress.”
It may, however, be clarified that Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of political action was not born of fear or escapism. Rather he disapproved of the passive non-violence of the coward. He regarded a coward “as less than a man”. “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our breasts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence”, he said. On another occasion he remarked, “I have said more than once that if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women, and our places of worship by force of suffering i.e. by non-violence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.”
However, Mahatma Gandhi’s faith in the doctrine of revolution which brought about a “change of heart” without incurring violence, dominated his writings and speeches. Addressing a Christian gathering in India, he quoted Shelley to corroborate his point:
The Dandi March characterizing the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930 again brought the Mahatma into limelight. Although Mr. Brailsford, a British journalist, described it as “the kindergarten stage of revolution”, it proved to be a grand milestone on the way of freedom. Subsequent events like his pact with Lord Irwin, his statements at the Round Table Conference, his fasts for self-purification and for bringing about communal amity, his opposition to the proposals of Sir Stafford Cripps, his slogan of Quit India and the powerful movement which followed it revealed the charisma around him, and made him out as a fearless patriot who struggled for the freedom of his motherland. But far from being a narrow nationalist, he was cosmopolitan in his outlook: “My mission is not merely brotherhood of Indian humanity. My mission is not merely freedom of India. But through realization of the freedom of India, I hope to realize and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man.”
Mahatma Gandhi was a humanist to the core, and he incessantly worked for the amelioration of the oppressed and ostracized masses. To him, all human beings were basically one, irrespective of the caste or creed to which they belonged." The only way to God”, he said, “is to see Him in His creation and be one with it. This can only be done by service of all.” He ridiculed those who tried to keep an air of superiority around them." God did not create men with the badge of superiority or of inferiority, and no scripture which labels a human being as inferior or untouchable, because of his or her birth, can command our allegiance.”
Although Mahatma Gandhi professed full faith in Varnashrama Dharma, he was opposed to the caste system in its degraded and degenerated form. He believed in the equality of the sexes, and regarded women as power. Communal riots, caste clashes and incidents of brutality against Harijans and other depressed sections of society perturbed him, but he did not lose faith in the basic goodness of human beings. “Humanity is an ocean”, he said. “If the few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
“With folded arms and steady eyes,Truth was for Mahatma Gandhi, an end and non-violence the means. In fact, they were so intertwined that it was practically impossible to disentangle them.“They are like two sides of a coin, or rather a smooth, unstamped metallic disc: who can say which is the obverse and which the reverse,” he said.In his view, means were like the seed, and ends like the tree. Hence right means alone should be applied to achieve the desired goals. During his satyagraha campaigns Mahatma Gandhi tried to ensure that the people fought with their moral strength and did not harbour any ill will towards the British. It is another matter that almost all his non-violent movements ended in violence.
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage had died away.”
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage had died away.”
After returning from South Africa in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi gave a new to the Indian national movement. He saw India groaning under political servility and social oppression, and pledged to redeem its lot. To begin with, he founded a Satyagraha Ashram where his disciples could get sufficient training in self-help, suffering and self-control. At that time he had much faith in the British sense of justice, and hoped that the Raj would do the needful for the Indians at the earliest." I have discovered”, he wrote, “that the British Empire had certain ideals with which I have fallen in love, and one of these ideals is that every subject of this British Empire has the freest scope for his energies and honour, and whatever he thinks is due to his conscience." During World War-I he did not embarrass the British in any manner but helped them in their hour of need. But after the War, he became clear about the nefarious British designs to rule India by fair means or foul means.
Even before, Mahatma Gandhi had challenged the exploitative social order, and fought for the cause of the downtrodden and the distressed. In 1917 he exhorted the indigo planters of Bihar to protest against the unjust treatment meted out to them by the English landlords. Like a true satyagrahi, he defied the Government order to leave Champaran and continued to face the British might with courage.In 1918 he struggled to improve the working conditions of workers in the textile mills of Ahmedabad, and resorted to fast to exert moral pressure on mill owners.
In 1919 Mahatma Gandhi made a fervent appeal to the British to withdraw the Rowlatt Bills which would deprive Indians of their civil liberties. The brutality of General Dyer at the Janllianwala Bagh, and the perpetration of State terrorism at many other places tantalized the Mahatma, who poured forth his deep anguish to the Viceroy in these words: “Events that have happened during the past month have confirmed me in the opinion that the Imperial Government have acted…..in an unscrupulous, immoral and unjust manner, and have been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend their immorality. I can retain neither respect nor affection for such a government.”
The Non-Co-operation Movement of 1920 proved to be the first major experiment in satyagraha as the whole nation rose up as one man. But Mahatma Gandhi withdrew it, despite severe criticism, when a violent incident occurred at Chaura Chauri. He announced that India was still not ready for waging a non-violent struggle against the Raj.
Mahatma Gandhi was convinced that the Western brands of Socialism and communism were based on certain assumptions which were rooted in the belief that man was basically wily and selfish. He disapproved of the idea of class war, and intended to establish Rama Rajya in which there will be complete harmony between labour and capital, and the landlord and the tenant. He promoted spinning, favoured cooperative farming and deprecated the lust for money, especially of big industrial houses: “The mad rush for wealth must cease, and the labourers must be assured not only of a living wage but a daily task that is not mere drudgery.”
Mahatma Gandhi applied the principle of trusteeship to both industries and land. He wanted the ruling chiefs and landlords to realize that they were only the trustees of the property and had the right to honourable livelihood “no better that enjoyed by millions of others.” The rest of their wealth belonged to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community. But he did not intend to create wedge between the capitalist and labour classes. “In fact capital and labour will be mutual trustees, and both will be trustees of consumers”, he said.
Mahatma Gandhi had a frail body, but within him was concealed a volcano, not molten matter but of spiritual courage.In an age marked by increasing violence of social and political tensions, he demonstrated that moral force could overawe the force of armaments, and that true victory could be achieved only through love and compassion.