Apostle of Ahimsa
“Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and
blood walked upon this Earth.” – Albert Einstein
Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy lives on over 70 years after his death. His universal teachings continue to inspire people around the world. The country commenced the celebrations of his 150th birth anniversary on October 2.
Gandhi’s legacy has been carried down for generations. His teachings continue to inspire people the world over – from Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama through to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mahatma Gandhi’s life and philosophy have become legend. His teachings are popular throughout the world. But Gandhi, who was once portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the Oscar-winning film by Richard Attenborough, was not always the icon proudly presented on the Indian rupee. He also had his dark side, especially in his younger years. It is said that he often acted violently toward his wife Kasturba at the beginning of their marriage. His transformation into the spiritual and intellectual leader of the Indian struggle for independence was a long process – one aspect that fascinates so many of his followers.
Gandhi’s teachings are convincing, consistent, and coherent. Gandhi expert Michael Nagler believes that is the reason they are still modern today. “He had the courage to go against the trend of the times, which was a disastrous trend, and to rediscover an ancient wisdom and craft it in a way that modern (people) could use it and understand it. And I think he made the greatest discovery – that non-violence was a key organizing principle that anybody could use in almost any situation.”
Gandhi’s philosophy is based on three principles: non-violence ( ahimsa), the fight for truth ( satyagraha) and individual and political freedom ( swaraj). In his fight for peace he sought advice from the teachings of Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed. Gandhi also believed that pure faith could unite people of different religions. “I can see that in the midst of death, life persists. In the midst of untruth, truth persists. In the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence, I gather that God is life, truth, light. He is love. He is the supreme good.”
He was born on Oct 2, 1869, at Porbandar, on the Kathiawar peninsula and came of a Bania family with official traditions. His father had been Prime Minister of the little native state. He was officially betrothed three times before he was old enough to realize it. His first two fiancees died; the third engagement, resulting in a marriage that lasted more than sixty years, came when he was only 7. The marriage took place when he was 13.
“I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterous early marriage as mine,” he wrote in his memoirs.
In his early years, he was never an exceptionally good pupil. After studying law in London and trying to get work as a barrister in Bombay, he went to South Africa in 1893, where he faced racial discrimination. He created the “Indian Opinion” newspaper for the 60,000 Indians living there. Thus began Gandhi’s transformation from a shy, non-involved citizen into an active, outspoken leader in politics.
In 1914 he returned to India and in1920 he became the leader of the Congress Party. In 1930 he held his most spectacular demonstration of non-violent protest when he protested for the right of Indians to produce and sell salt in the so-called Salt March. For demanding the immediate independence of India he was sent to jail in 1942 for eight years. Sociologist Ranjana Kumari believes his selfless commitment has gone unparalleled. “Of course it is difficult to live by Gandhi’s teachings in this age of capitalism and globalization in which material possessions are gaining importance.” Though it is difficult, she says, each person who does manage to go by his teachings does a lot of good for humanity.
Some hail Gandhi as a saint-like icon while others believe his philosophy is irrelevant. But what can be said is over 70 years after his death, his memory lives on and serves as an inspiration but also as a warning.
In India, Gandhi established the acknowledgment by leading through example, he established himself as a slave of the people of India, empowering the general public. He made it his policy to practice what he preached, even the small things like spinning yarn to make his clothes. He resorted to simple and poor living, just like millions in the country, hence people looked at Gandhi as one of their own, they could see their own sufferings in him.
Jinnah Beaten Up
Gandhi was killed because his assailants perceived that he supported the idea of Pakistan by dividing India. He was also the leader of the greatest Muslim movement in history, the Khilafat Movement, whose leaders were not too enamoured of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Arun Shourie, in his book The World of Fatwas, says Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali used to kiss the feet of Mahatma Gandhi for leading the Khilafat Movement. Hamza Alavi, in Ironies of History: Contradictions of The Khilafat Movement, writes that Jinnah was physically beaten up by Shaukat Ali for opposing the movement. After 1947, Khilafat was not in the Pakistani textbooks although most of the anti-Pakistan Khilafat leaders were accepted into the pantheon of Pakistan’s Islamic nationalism. Why not Gandhi?
Gandhi wanted Hindus and non-Hindus to live together and wanted Pakistan as a peaceful neighbour. Pakistan succumbed to extremist ideology and can hardly govern itself today. But India was not supposed to succumb to the same aetiology of state failure where people are scared on the streets, the judges scared in the courts and the media forced to hide the truth. The hope for peace inspired by a great man from within Hindutva, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has quickly faded. If the next election is won by the BJP, it might have enough numbers in Parliament to remove the word “secular” from the Indian Constitution.
Greatest Leader of S Asia
Mahatma Gandhi has to be celebrated because he represented an important milestone in India’s intellectual evolution. Judging from the numbers he was able to mobilise in his movement, he will remain the greatest leader of South Asia for a long time. Vivekananda thought Hinduism could be the staple of Indian civilisation only if it could borrow monotheism from Islam and end its internal rifts. Gandhi thought of a Hindu-Muslim synthesis based on non-violence and tolerance.
Living symbol Of India
As was perhaps inevitable in the case of one who was the center of violent controversies for more than half a century, there were others who had very different views about the Indian leader, even contending that he was no better than a scheming demagogue. But, whatever view history may eventually take, there can be no contradiction of the statement that the emaciated little man in shawl and loin cloth made himself the living symbol of India in the minds of most foreigners.
Gandhi adopted the spinning wheel as a sort of symbol of economic independence. He advocated the home manufacture of khaddar, or homespun cloth, to replace the imported goods from the cotton mills of Lancashire. Hartals, or other local strikes, were called and there were many burnings of stacks of foreign-made cloth. The general boycott was accompanied by rioting, looting of shops and unrest throughout India.
Lived in London Slums
In London, he lived in the slums, familiarizing himself with the condition of the poor. He also visited the Lancashire mill districts, where he was both cheered and booed.
On his way home he stopped in Rome and had a conversation with Premier Mussolini, but because of his scanty costume he was not permitted an interview with the Pope.
He lost no time in instituting a new civil disobedience campaign on Jan. 4, 1932, and was promptly sent back to his old Yerovda Jail.
Hated Nazis More
For almost three years during the early part of the World War, in complete control of the Congress party, pursued a cautious policy of enlarging his support among the Hindu millions, and constantly seeking independence from the British. He hated Nazis more.
The Gandhi viewpoint was that whether it caused chaos or not, the British must leave India on the promised date and let India work out its own fate. By this time the British were convinced that partition was the only solution that would be accepted and finally Gandhi reluctantly went along, declaring: “Partition is bad. But whatever is past is past. We have only to look to the future.”
Gandhi did not participate in the independence observances held throughout India. At the moment of victory he sat on a wooden cot in a Calcutta hut, scorning the result of his decades of labor and fast. He announced his intention of living with the Hindu minority in Pakistan, the predominantly Moslem state created by partition.
`Returned to Sanity’
Riots swept across much of India, with scores killed and injured in communal clashes. Gandhi started in Calcutta his first fast in independent India. It would end, he said, only when Calcutta “returned to sanity.”
After he had been assured that there would be no more rioting in Calcutta, Gandhi broke his fast. He was credited with having restored peace to India’s largest city. Crowds of Moslems and Hindus made their way to his camp and surrendered guns, swords and ammunition they had used in the riots.
“If the peace is broken again, I will come back and undertake a fast unto death and die if necessary,” he said.
He went to New Delhi, where he continued his efforts to end the communal strife, which had broken out more violently than ever along the Punjab border and in Delhi itself. Daily he exhorted all non-Moslems to accept Moslem neighbors as friends and brothers.
However, he told the Hindu Youth Organization that “if the Dominion of Pakistan persists in wrongdoing there is bound to be war between India and Pakistan.”
On Oct. 2 he celebrated his seventy-ninth birthday (Hindus are counted a year old at birth), which had been declared a national holiday by the Government of India.
He started a new fast on Jan. 12, 1948, declaring that he would continue until greater unity between Hindu, Sikh and Moslem communities was achieved. This fast was ended after five days, when Hindus and Moslems in Delhi agreed to live in peace.
Nathuram Godse shot Bapu thrice and killed him. But he was inept and incapable of succeeding without the support of an organisation. The accused enjoyed countrywide support, easy and unlimited funds and supplies. This could not have been possible without organisational involvement. There were two organisations with whom all the accused were closely associated – the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. For some strange reason, despite clues and confessions, these two organisations were never investigated.