Albert Einstein while singing paeans for M.K.Gandhi aptly said that “ Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth ” Analyzing this statement on Gandhi’s 151st birth anniversary compels us to challenge the conventional notions of greatness in a world plagued with material achievements. He carves a Himalayan height in crass commercialization of the great with his holy soul that was pristine in thoughts, speech and actions. He remains amongst those rarest of rare saints who walked in the garb of a politician. He commands highest regard for both past and posterity.
His gospel of truth, non-violence, satyagraha, swadeshi, self-purification, self-rule, sarvodaya, trusteeship, spiritualization of politics and ethical religion is all pervading at a time when the destructive forces seem to be in the ascendant world over.
Gandhi as a politician was less of a Machiavelli and more of a moral philosopher who could hardly agree that ‘politics’ is often bereft of ‘ethical self’ as the two seek altogether different objectives. For him, all life is one piece including politics. He treated ‘ethics’ as a lighthouse of all human behaviour including politics. Although ‘Sanatan dharma’ always guided him as a beacon yet his ethics was based in moral teachings of all religions.
Explaining about the reasons that drew him to politics, Gandhi said –“To see the universal and all-pervading spirit of truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means !”
Apart from Gita, Buddhist literature influenced his ideas of ‘Non-Violence.’ Upanishads inculcated his faith in ‘non-possession’. He was greatly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount after reading the new testament of the Bible. He thus endeared the principle of ‘overcome evil by good’ and ‘love your enemies.’ He was greatly moved by teachings of LaoTse and Confucius, the life of Gautam Buddha. His contacts with Gujrati mystic philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra alias Raychand bhai strengthened his moral convictions.
The western thinkers like Ruskin, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Emerson moulded and inspired his moral and political philosophy greatly. He learnt the technique of civil disobedience, non-payment of taxes and idea of minimum Government from American philosopher Henry Thoreau. Ralph Emerson gave him the idea of ‘self-rule’ Ruskin’s ‘Unto this Last’ instilled in him the dignity of labour, while Leo Tolstoy’s classic masterpiece ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’ boosted his belief in philosophical anarchism.
It was Tolstoy’s impression that sprouted his critic of modern civilization based on exploitation. The principles of non-violence, self-reformation, simplicity of life, virtual celibacy as engines of moral growth were imbibed upon him much due to his extensive readings of Leo Tolstoy.
He believed that if politics were to be an instrumental blessing for mankind, it must be forged with highest ethical and spiritual values. He loathed politics of expediency as he strongly believed in purity of ‘means’ as well as ‘ends’. He advocated that ‘right means’ should be adopted for the pursuit of ‘right ends’. He debunked the idea that ‘end justifies the means.’
He observed that – “They say ‘means are after all means’. I would say ‘means are after all everything.’ As the means, so the end. Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is the proposition that admits no exception.” ( Selections from Gandhi by Nirmal Kumar Bose,1948) . He firmly believed that if we take care of means, end will take care of itself. This is the reason why Gandhi had opposed Subhash Chandra Bose’s idea of ‘enemy’s enemy is your friend’ during second world war when he was trying to seek the help of Nazi Germany against England for achieving Indian independence.
Gandhi was vociferous advocate of truth and non-violence in both politics and religion. He states , “All religions are founded on the same moral laws. My ethical religion is made up of laws which bind men all over the world.” He believes that we have to climb the mountain by different paths, from the points where we happen to be, but that which we seek is the same.”
He emphatically contends that all religions reach the same destination. He unequivocally states that “It’s not the Hindu religion which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which purifies ever.” He added that ‘Truth is God and God is Truth.’ He was wary of dubious religious men and had once said that ‘most religious men I have met are politicians in disguise.’
In his considered opinion, an authority founded on fear and coercion will never succeed in inspiring love and respect among people. Aggressiveness and self-righteous altruism in politics does not lead to any progressive expansion of human self or the nation.
His commitment for non-violence was so unwavering that he went to the extent of calling off Non-Cooperation Movement(NCM) after he learnt that an unruly mob had set a police station on fire at Chauri Chaura on 4th Feb,1922 that killed 22 policemen and 3 civilians. ‘Non-violence is not the resort of the weak, it is power of the strong’ , he reiterated.
The term ‘Swaraj’ appeared in his writings for the first time in 1905. He wrote a series of articles on Swaraj for Indian Opinion that subsequently appeared in the book form with the title ‘Hind Swaraj.’ Gandhi’s concept of ‘Swaraj’ was multi-dimensional. He gave the clarion call of “Swaraj within the empire if possible and without if necessary.” Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ had dual implications. It meant freedom from alien rule and freedom for all countrymen, especially the most underprivileged including peasants , workers, and women .
Swaraj was multifaceted as it included within its sweep political, social, economic and moral emancipation of the countrymen. His Swaraj aspired for withering away of all social distinctions. His economic Swaraj meant ‘economic freedom for the toiling millions.’ He espoused for removal of misery of the ‘Daridranarayan.’ He wrote in the Young India that “The Swarajof my dream is the poor man’s Swaraj.” The moral dimensions of Swaraj constituted ‘self-restraint and ‘self-rule’ as integral elements.
Democracy for him is not a matter of phrases but of social realities. All his public activities in South Africa and India can be understood only if we know his love for the common man. He defines democracy as “ the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic, and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of common good of all.”
He believed in the concept of self-government and popular sovereignty. People get the Government they deserve and self-government can come only through self-effort. He believed that people are the roots and the state is the fruit. If roots are sweet, fruits are bound to be sweet.
In his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, he wrote that ‘My Self-Government depends entirely upon our own internal strength, upon our ability to fight against the heaviest odds. It will be an individual self-government or self-rule’
He criticised ‘state’ as soulless and violent machinery, while the individual has a ‘soul’, he said. Thus state can never shed its violent nature and so we need a Sarvodaya society which will be a stateless democracy, self-regulated and self-enlightened. Sarvodaya implies welfare of all secured by conscious effort of everyone in the community. He gave primacy to simple technology over heavy industries.
He preferred ‘production by masses’ instead of ‘mass production.’ He advocated doctrine of ‘trusteeship’ and urged landlords and capitalists not to consider themselves as sole proprietors of their possessions , but only as ‘trustees’ of the gift bestowed upon them by God for the service of humanity. He highlighted that ‘the earth has enough for everybody’s need , but not greed.’
He strived relentlessly for the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity till his last breath. He undertook a fast of 21 days in September 1924. Communal friction was the cause of deepest distress for Gandhi as Hindu-Muslim unity had been his chief concern for thirty years. Swami Shradhanand, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Mohammad Ali had organized a peace conference in an attempt to convince him to give up fast. On eleventh day of fast, when Gandhi’s condition deteriorated,Mr.Andrews and Dr.AbdulRahman visited him. Gandhi asked Mr.C.F.Andrews and bishop Westcott to sing to him Christian hymns during evening prayers which had for long been a favourite with Gandhi-
Lead, kindly light, amid encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I’m far from home,
Lead Thou me on.
Lead Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
His clout transcends all political leaders of his times because he espoused the cause of humanism and non-violence when the entire world was tottering to devastation and destruction under imperialist rulers like Hitler, Stalin, et cetera. His reputation is more universal than most of the greatest statesmen and leaders of nations. His personality is more beloved than any or all of them.
We see in M.K.Gandhi the characteristic of India at its inspired best. Sir George Lloyd, the then governor of Bombay said that ‘Gandhi was the most colossal experiment in the world history.’ Perhaps his greatest achievement was that he instilled tremendous self-confidence & resolve amongst his countrymen who were being exploited at the hands of a mere thousand Britishers. He was one of greatest mass mobilisers India has ever witnessed. He remains a ‘Mahatma’ forever.
(The writer is a legal intern at Delhi)