On Gandhi – Part 3

Written by  //  September 15, 2010  //  National Politics  //  1 Comment

This is the third part of my series on Gandhi. The first two parts can be found here and here.

In the previous post, I examined the counter-intuitiveness of Gandhi’s ideas and argued how only a truly remarkable person could accomplish the difficult tasks of being the leader of a troubled, beaten and bickering nation, and give it direction and a road map that would enable it attain independence. Importantly, the goal of Gandhi’s struggle as a leader was not merely to give India independence from the British, but to also free the people from their own narrow shackles, orthodox boundaries and lack of conviction and give enough mileage so that the people could learn to govern themselves on their own without needing an outside agency to make the most important decisions.

Nehru gives the tribute to Gandhi in his autobiography with glowing reverence according him the highest respect:

“Of course these movements exercised tremendous pressure on the British Government and shook the government machinery. But the real importance, to my mind, lay in the effect they had on our own people, and especially the village masses. Non-cooperation dragged them out of the mire and gave them self-respect and self-reliance. They acted courageously and did not submit so easily to unjust oppression; their outlook widened and they began to think a little in terms of India as a whole. It was a remarkable transformation and the Congress, under Gandhi’s leadership, must have the credit for it”

This widening of outlook, creation of awareness, showing the oppressed masses new possibilities, arousing the conscience of the people to work together, acquire a collective identity and give themselves self respect and opportunities for better future, were the key achievements of Gandhi’s great struggle, for which he made countless sacrifices, created uniquely brilliant tools for protest, and held his faith even in the most difficult and troubling times, when the very fabric of his vision was under threat from forces beyond his control.

In examining the strength of his faith, let me take two historical examples here, which indicate the length he was willing to go to to hold on to his convictions and beliefs.

(1) The first example is from 1922. The Non Cooperation movement was in full momentum, going from strength to strength and for the first time in many decades, the people of India had a feeling of revival and vigor. At the helm of affairs, Gandhi was doing the task of framing important policies, giving direction to the movement and determining the direction of the nation.

Then Chauri Chaura incident happened in Feb, 1922, and all of a sudden without any warning, without any possible rational justification, Gandhi called off the entire movement. Most political leaders of the nation derided him for a strategic blunder, the pundits declared that this was possibly the worst decision, to call off an entire movement based on a single stray incident of violence occurring in a remote district in Uttar Pradesh. Even many ardent supporters failed to see the rationale behind Gandhi’s sudden decision, when the movement could have achieved greater success and led the Congress to demand great concessions from the British, possibly hastening the process of Swaraj or total independence. However, Gandhi would have none of it. He stood his ground and sternly refused to lead any movement that went against his fundamental tenet of non-violence.

This single incident goes onto show the inner strength of the man, and his ability to go against the interests of the very people for whom he stood. For Gandhi, faith in non-violence was of far greater importance, and a free India, that used violence to attain the goals of its freedom, was not an India that Gandhi had in his mind. It was of paramount importance, that the foundation of the free nation be built on principles rather than expedience and Gandhi’s moral vision was uncompromising. A nation that used violence against others to advance its goals was fundamentally a nation that lacked the core moral values, in Gandhi’s opinion, and had no place in the direction that he had envisaged.

(2) The second incident concerns Gandhi’s vision of a united nation, built on the principle of secularism, where every religious faith was respected.

Needless to say, as history went on to show, Gandhi’s dream was eventually shattered by the turn of events which saw a brutal civil war that would divide India into two landmasses, on a religious basis, the very thing that Gandhi had tried to prevent in 30 years of his struggle.

However, we should not undermine Gandhi’s efforts as futile. Let us understand the turn of events in Bengal in 1947. As the nation was celebrating the newly found freedom, with most major leaders in the ceremonial halls of New Delhi, Gandhi stood alone, unperturbed and silently fasting in Calcutta. Independence at the cost of religious harmony meant nothing to him, and he wanted to accomplish as much unity as he could that his failing body at 77 would allow him to in the last chapter of his life, in which he had tragically seen most of his life work on religious unity come to nought by historical forces that he could not quell.

Deeply troubled, fallen, ignored by his own people and feeling hurt and isolated, Gandhi undertook long fasts in Calcutta to salvage as much as he could on his own. As the events in Calcutta were unfolding and there was large scale violence all around, Hindus killing Muslims, Muslims going for Hindu blood and the British armies hopelessly tried to contain the relentless stream of violence by beating people with clubs and sticks, Gandhi carried out his fast in Calcutta, that would greatly help contain the violence.

One British soldier stationed in Calcutta remarked “One single man would accomplish the impossible task of containing massive violence, which thousands of armed and equipped soldiers were failing to do”.

These two incidents go on to show the strength of Gandhi’s faith, and can perhaps help us form better understanding of the man and the nation that he led to the horizon of freedom, at the end faltering in his idealistic vision, but still never leaving his principles even as intense disasters raged and tumultuously shook his country.

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