Gandhiji's Weeklies : Indian Opinion, Young India, Harijan
- Jitendra Desai
Here is a tale of a journalist for whom life was devotion, sadhana. The newspaper to him was a means of his pursuit of life. His writings were the quintessence of experiences in the life of a sadhaka. It was an attempt to explain to his readers his pursuit of truth which he called satyagraha. He never wrote a word without proper thought and scrutiny or to humour anyone. There was not the slightest overstatement anywhere in his write-ups. They did reveal to the readers the true picture of satyagraha in South Africa and the freedom struggle in India. But besides that, it also conveyed the glimpses of the collective experiment conducted by a seeker of truth.
He had hardly any acquaintance with the newspapers whatsoever until he was 19, when he went to England to study law. But as soon as he developed the habit of reading newspapers there, he also imbibed the urge to communicate so natural in a journalist.
But, I had found my feet now. I had not yet started upon my regular
studies. I had just begun reading newspapers, thanks to Sjt. Shukla.
In India I had never read a newspaper. But here I succeeded in
cultivating a liking for them by regular reading. I always glanced
over the Daily News, The Daily Telegraph and, The Pall
I had not to spend a lifetime in England, I said to myself What then
was the use of learning elocution ? And how could dancing make a
gentleman of me ? The violin I could learn even in India. I was a
student and ought to go on with my studies. I should qualify myself
to join the Inns of Court. If my character made a gentleman of me,
so much the better. Otherwise I should forego the ambition.
Although born at Porbandar in India his life was largely shaped abroad particularly at Durban and Phoenix. During two decades of his stay in South Africa this Barrister-at-Law was transformed into a seeker of truth.
In 1893 Gandhiji, the young Barrister, sailed to South Africa to assist Sheth Abdulla's litigation. The day after his arrival there Sheth Abdulla accompanied him to see the Law Court down there. Gandhiji went there wearing his own Indian turban. According to the convention of the court he had to take it off while he was in. But he did not do so for that meant to him compromise of his self-respect. On the Magistrate's order to take off the turban he preferred to quit.
This incident awoke the journalist in Gandhi. He wrote to the editor of a newspaper a letter on the right to wear the turban and the humiliation involved in taking it off.
I wrote to the press about the incident and defended the wearing of
my turban in the court. The question was very much discussed in the
papers, which described me as an 'unwelcome visitor'. Thus the
incident gave me an unexpected advertisement in South Africa within
a few days of my arrival there. Some supported me, while others
severely criticized my temerity.
Of his associates in South Africa there was Madanjit who ran a press called the International Printing Press. He sought Gandhiji's help and guidance in launching a newspaper called the Indian Opinion. Gandhiji gave his consent. Mansukhlal Nazar was appointed its editor, but the major editorial burden devolved on Gandhiji's shoulders.
I had no notion that I should have to invest any money in this
journal, but I soon discovered that it could not go on without my
financial help. The Indians and the Europeans both knew that, though
I was not avowedly the editor of Indian Opinion, I was
virtually responsible for its conduct. It would not have mattered if
the journal had never been started, but to stop it after it had once
been launched would have been both a loss and a disgrace. So I kept
on pouring out my money, until ultimately I was practically sinking
all my savings in it. I remember a time when I had to remit £ 75
On reading this report, Gandhiji set out for Natal. Meanwhile he came to be acquainted with Mr. Polak, the editor of the Critic, who accompanied him to the station to see him off. While parting he handed over Ruskin's Unto This Last to him saying, "It is good reading during the journey. Please go through it; you will like it."
As Gandhiji observed, the book had a magic effect on him. Once he started reading the book, he could not put it aside. It cast a spell on him. The train took 24 hours to reach Durban. During these twenty four hours Gandhiji discovered a new instrument for his pursuit of meaningful life - it was "ashram" life, the austere living based on the principle of universal emancipation, Sarvodaya.
On the surface, Gandhiji might appear to be a social reformer or a politician. But essentially he was a seeker of truth. He aspired to realize God and attain salvation right in this life if he could. His writings occasionally reveal this, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely. He has recorded this in one of his articles in the Navajivan in 1924.
I do not consider myself worthy to be mentioned in the same breath
with the race of prophets. I am a humble seeker after truth. I am
impatient to realize myself to attain moksha in this very
existence. My national service is part of my training for freeing my
soul from the bondage of flesh. I have no desire for the transitory
kingdom of earth. I am striving for the Kingdom of Heaven which is
moksha, salvation. To attain my end it is not necessary for me
to seek the shelter of a cave. A cave-dweller can build castles in
the air whereas a dweller in a palace like Janaka has no castles to
build. The cave- dweller who hovers round the world on the wings of
thought has no peace. A Janaka though living in the midst of 'pomp
and circumstance' may have peace that passeth understanding. For me,
the road to salvation lies through incessant toil in the service of
my country and that through of humanity. I want to identify myself
with everything that lives. In the language of the Gita I
want to live at peace with both friends and foes. Though, therefore,
a Mussalman or a Christian or a Hindu may despise me and hate me, I
want to love him and serve him even as I would love my wife or son
though they might hate me. So my patriotism is for me a stage in my
journey to the land of eternal freedom and peace. Thus it will be
seen that for me there exists no politics devoid of religion. It
subserves religion. Politics bereft of religion is a deathtrap
because it kills the soul.
Thus Mahatma Gandhi opened up a new avenue in the area of the pursuit of truth. Moreover, he hoped to spread the principles realized by him in the course of his experiments with truth, and thus give the benefit to the wider world. There were twin instruments : the ashram, which was the centre of the activities of the community as a whole and the newspaper for the propagation of his ideals and experiments with truth.
The newspaper was thus to Gandhiji a vital means of his pursuit of truth. To write for it was to him like the devotional counting of the beads of a rosary. In 1904, the year in which he set up Phoenix Institute, he shouldered the responsibility of editing the Indian Opinion to propagate the ideals of Unto This Last, Sarvodaya. While reading Ruskin's book, he made a remarkable change both in his life and work and shifted both the Indian Opinion and the International Press from Durban to Phoenix. His reflection, on the very first night at Phoenix, came to be remarkably momentary :
It was no easy thing to issue the first number of Indian Opinion from Phoenix. Had I not taken two precautions, the first issue would have had to be dropped or delayed. The idea of having an engine to work the press had not appealed to me. I had thought that hand- power would be more in keeping with an atmosphere where agricultural work was also to be done by hand. But as the idea had not appeared feasible, we had installed an oil-engine. I had, however, suggested to West to have something handy to fall back upon in case the engine failed. He had therefore arranged a wheel which could be worked by hand. The size of the paper, that of a daily, was considered unsuitable for an out-of-the-way place like Phoenix. It was reduced to foolscap size, so that, in case of emergency, copies might be struck off with the help of a treadle.
But the first night was unforgettable. The pages were locked, but
the engine refused to work. We had got out an engineer from Durban
to put up the engine and set it going. He and West tried their
hardest, but in vain. Everyone was anxious. West, in despair, at
last came to me, with tears in his eyes, and said, "The engine will
not work, I am afraid we cannot issue the paper in time."
The machine still needed repairs.Next morning the engineer put in one more effort to run the machine. It worked. There were shouts of joy all around. At last the newspaper number could be issued in time.
In the words of Gandhiji:
For me the failure of the engine had come as a test for us all, and
its working in the nick of time as the fruit of our honest and
So long as it was under my control, the changes in the journal were
indicative of changes in my life. Indian Opinion in those
days, like Young India and Navajivan today was mirror
ofpart of my life. Week after week I poured out my soul in its
columns, and expounded the principles and practice of Satyagraha as.
I understood it. During ten years, that is until 1914, excepting the
intervals of my enforced rest in prison, there was hardly an issue
of Indian Opinion without an article from me. I cannot recall
a word in those articles set down without thought or deliberation,
or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to please.
Indeed the journal became for me a training in self-restraint, and
for friends a medium through which to keep in touch with my
thoughts. The critic found very little to which he could object. In
fact the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a
curb on his own pen. Satyagraha would probably have been impossible
without Indian Opinion. The readers lookedforward to it for a
trustworthy account of the Satyagraha campaign as also of the real
condition of Indians in South A frica. For me it became a means for
the study of human nature in all its casts and shades, as I always
aimed at establishing an intimate and clean bond between the editor
and the readers. I was inundated with letters containing the
outpourings of my correspondents 'hearts. They were friendly,
critical or bitter, according to the temper of the writer. It was a
fine education for me to study, digest and answer all this
correspondence. It was as though the community thought audibly
through this correspondence with me. It made me thoroughly
understand the responsibility of a journalist, and the hold I
secured in this way over the community made the future campaign
workable, dignified, and irresistible.
One of the objects of a newspaper is to understand the popular feeling and give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects.
In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realized that
the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is
a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges
whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen
serves but to destroy If the control is from without, it proves more
poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when
exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how
many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who
would stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The
useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on
together, and man must make his choice.
Source: The Editor Gandhi and Indian Opinion