I stand before you to speak on Gandhi who was shot dead some sixty years ago but who is still alive. He is still the most frequently mentioned individual in the world and is still the centre of the controversies some of which were raised by his actions and beliefs. Every year at least three or four books are written about him in some part of the world or other and he is being constantly discussed at several seminars and intellectual discourses all over the world. The date of his birth has been proclaimed as the Non-violence Day by the United Nations Organization. In our terror-stricken world of today, his teachings are even more relevant than they were when they were preached in the first half of the twentieth century.
The world to-day hails
him as a Mahatma - a Great Soul - a Saint. Gandhi always resented the title
and found it intensely painful. He never cared for any beatification and
insisted that he was an ordinary man who was trying his level best for the
realization of the Divine Presence.
Gandhi was not born a
saint but chiseled himself into one by intensely agonizing experiments in
austerity and discipline. He chose to call his biography “My experiments
with Truth,” It is very difficult, if not impossible, to project Gandhi in
few minutes. Sixty years after his death, he still remains a sort of enigma.
The flood of copious literature on Gandhi does nothing to solve the mystery.
Unlike most of us, Gandhi
continued to grow and change till the last moment of his life and he never
worried about contracting himself. “In my search for Truth, I have never
cared about consistency.” Like Emerson, he rejected consistency as the
virtue of small minds. He was bold enough to proclaim that ‘If my readers
find any inconsistency in my views, they should reject the older ones and
believe in the later as my views might have changed.’
Gandhi was a multiplex
personality so full of contradictions. He was a shrewd politician who
implicitly trusted all his enemies and who never aspired for any position of
power or pelf. Gandhi was a revolutionary who was very conservative and a
man of peace who was continuously making trouble all around him. He was an
intensely religious person who rejected the rituals and ceremonials of all
religions including his own. He prayed daily for Divine guidance and claimed
to be led by an Inner Voice but that voice was always filtered through the
razor sharp brain of a seasoned lawyer. He was a democrat whose companions
often complained about the dictatorial style of his decision making. He
never had any formal authority but held in his frail hands the fate of 300
millions of Indians who implicitly trusted his word. For thirty years Gandhi
was the face of India.
He was many men in one.
He was a political leader par excellence, a social reformer, an
educationist, a dietician, a great environmentalist, a naturopath but above
all a seeker for spiritual bliss. Gandhi never hesitated to practice what he
preached and believed and was ever ready to experiment with any new idea. He
was ever ready to meet those who disagreed with him and to carry on a
dialogue with them.
Gandhi often said that
his life is his message and his life and teachings can greatly contribute in
finding the solutions to the problems that plague the world today. There are
so many aspects and achievements of Gandhi but I am going to focus only on
one of his contributions that I consider to be the most significant one.
All through his adult
life Gandhi struggled hard to fight the Evil in personal and public life
whenever and wherever he faced it. The problem of Evil and how to fight with
it has been an age old problem faced by entire Humanity ever since the
primordial period of the human history. The usual answer to the Evil as
pronounced in all the ancient codes of Hindus and also in the code of
Hammurabi was to do evil to the evil doers. Eye for an eye was and still
remains the accepted policy of all civil societies and in international
relations. The violence that we use against the criminals and the violence
in war differ only in their quantitative dimensions; the quality is the same
but the volume of violence seems to condone the crime. A murderer is
punished with death whatever be his motive. But a killer on a massive scale
is a hero in war. Ancient Indian texts advise to do evil to the evil doers.
Buddha advocated a policy
of indifference to the problem of Evil. Do not participate in violence, do
not support or approve of it but keep away from the evil act. Conquer evil
with Good and anger with patience.
Christ chose the path of
peace and reconciliation by tolerating or submitting to the evil, to turn
the other cheek and to give away the coat to those who snatch away our
shirt. We all are sinners and we have to seek forgiveness from God who is a
kind and generous father of humanity. We ought to forgive the evil doer as
when he is sincerely repentant of his evil deeds. Christ would leave it to
the divine dispensation to do justice and he hoped for a kingdom of God
where violence will disappear and when the meek shall inherit the earth.
Mahommed, the prophet of
Islam agreed that God is a loving and generous father of humanity but he
insisted that Evil must be countered with Justice that is impartial but
stern and swift. No one is above justice and none ought to be allowed to
Hindus believe that good
or evil is the Karma of the individual and will automatically lead to its
reward or punishment. The iron law of Karma leaves no ground for any
forgiveness. It is an inexorable process of nature and just as none can
escape or evade the force of gravitation so also no one can evade or escape
Karma. We need to do nothing for getting the guilty punished as he or she
will be punished by Nature itself.
Gandhi was both a staunch
Hindu and a good Christian. The Archbishop of Canterbury declared Gandhi to
be the only Christian in the contemporary world even though he was a devout
Hindu, Gandhi dared to think out of box and struck a different chord.
Arguing that the policy of an eye for an eye would soon leave the whole
world blind in no time and warning that submission would only multiply evil,
he sought to fight against Evil but to love the Evil doer.
He chose to separate the
act from the actor and the deed from the doer. He fought one without hating
the other. He argued that to fight evil with evil will only multiply evil.
The evil must be fought by love and eliminated by converting the evil doer
from the bottom of his heart. Punishment is only external and physical
suffering would not change the inner mind and heart of the evil doer.
retaliation will not reform the evil doer. So the only way to fight the evil
is by non-violence because violence can never totally eliminate evil from
the mind and heart of the evil doer. What is needed is the change of heart
and that can be done by resisting all evil with love and nonviolence. Even
the worst of man has a particle of good in him and we must appeal to that
innate goodness so that evil is transformed in to good.
about the innate goodness of Man, of every man even of the evil doers,
Gandhi sought to separate the act from the man, the evil from the evil
doers. He fought against evil without fear but also without hatred. The evil
is to be totally eradicated even from the heart and mind of the evil doers.
Gandhi always laid very great stress on change of heart and adopted an
The technique was
Satyagraha and the instrument was Ahimsa. He picked up the principle of
Ahimsa as taught by ancient Indian thinkers and converted Ahimsa from a
spiritual practice to a weapon of war against Evil. Though the term is the
same, Ahimsa of Gandhi is as sharply different from the Ahimsa of Buddha and
Mahavir as chalk is different from the cheese. Non-violence for Gandhi is
not for the submitting cowards but a virtue of the resisting heroes. It
needs sustained activism and a readiness to sacrifice one’s all to challenge
and fight the evil wherever one finds it.
Satyagraha is often translated as Passive resistance but there was nothing
passive in the life or approach of Gandhi. A Satyagrahi strives to appeal to
the better side of the oppressors and the exploiters. They can be made to
see and feel the evil they are doing by witnessing the sufferings of their
victims. Even the worst of the oppressors is a human being and is never
totally devoid of goodness that can be touched and activated by the
sufferings of the innocents. The evil is never and nowhere to be tolerated
or submitted to. But such a total rejection of evil and refusal to submit to
it ought to be accompanied by love, self sacrifice and voluntary sufferings
without a trace of violence. Such is the way and the only way and the most
effective way of cleansing the evil from the minds and hearts. Such
non-violence ought to be total—in deeds, words and thoughts. From time to
time Gandhi prescribed the details of the methodology of non-violence of
Satyagraha which is the weapon of last resort.
Gandhi was never an
armchair philosopher and his theories were the product of his experiences in
the battle field of public life. Gandhi practiced what he preached and was
singularly free from fear and hatred. His enemies turned in to his friends.
Gandhi fought against English Empire and he was one of the most prominent
factor in destroying it but to day he is the darling of the Englishmen. Two
prominent Englishmen- Lord Mountbatten and Sir Richard Attenborough have
given him high tributes though it took a Jew to understand Gandhi in his
Einstein proclaimed that
future generations will refuse to believe that such a person could exist in
flesh and blood. But Einstein was slightly out of focus in his dating.
Because we need not wait for the future generations because even this
generation finds it hard to believe that Gandhi ever exited.
Gandhi failed against his
opponents and also with his followers. Satyagrah in South Africa and in
India ended without achieving the goals that Gandhi has set up and the
successive Satyagrahas in India—1921-23, 1929-32 and 1942-45 became more and
more violent and more and more destructive.
But then prophets seldom
succeed. Every prophet in the world has failed but they are the glorious
failures of History and it is through such failures that humanity gets a bit
more refined and a bit more ennobled.