Mahatma Gandhi

  • Tamil Nadu may be Periyar’s land, Bengal may be Tagore’s land, Gujarat may be Patel’s land, Kerala may be Namboodiri’s land, Maharashtra may be Shivaji’s land and so on. But the entire India is Gandhi’s land. The freedom we are enjoying today has its roots in the freedom struggle led by him. The land we reside is the land he and many other freedom fighters reclaimed from the British.
  • Gandhi and Gandhism are inseparable. But what is Gandhism? It cannot be paraphrased in one point; for it is a system of principles across various disciplines. The foremost principle is not submitting to any authority, no matter how powerful it may be. The second in line would be non-violence. If one has to use violence to achieve what he or she wanted, this world would be a battlefield that would lead to extinction of humans in a matter of days. Next would be the importance of truth. Man is made up of truth; lies and cunningness are just veils that hinder the sight of the inner eye. A good human is one who doesn’t let such veils get in the way of his vision.
  • In fact, till the arrival of Gandhi, the dream of independence was no more than just a dream. It was only after Gandhi’s arrival on the Indian soil, that this dream started shaping into reality. Some nationalists protested against the British, but their mouths were silenced with some concessions and favours from the British Government. It was Gandhi who united these protests under a single umbrella and made Congress an organisation that fought for Indian people. In Gandhi’s first meeting in Calcutta, with the Congress, he fired a question that changed the entire approach of the party – “All the people are there outside. What are you doing here seated inside this room?” Protests started breaking out throughout the country. Though there were protests before Gandhi’s entry, it did not use the power of the masses. Gandhi made every citizen participate in protests and rallies against the British. Women’s count in such protests saw a remarkable increase after Gandhi.
  • Satyagraha against the salt tax was the most significant move in Gandhi’s political career, for this was the period that the people understood the tyranny of the British Government entirely. If it is capable of taxing a basic necessity such as salt, it was clear that they had no motive to be in India except for money and enjoying authority. Even today we can see salt sacks outside provision shops. This action was started during Gandhi’s Satyagraha against salt tax, to show their support for Gandhi and to protest against the unfair tax.
  • Even though the entire country addressed him as ‘Mahatma’, he never accepted that name. There were multiple events at which he was asked “Everyone calls you ‘Mahatma’. Do you know magic?” He would laughingly reply, “I’m nothing more than a human. Pinching me would give me pain; beating me would give me wounds.” His simple lifestyle wasn’t something that he chose. During his days in South Africa, he used to wear coats and suits. After returning to India, he saw the state of common people. To be accepted by the common masses, he should live like the common masses. This is why he chose to live a simple lifestyle with not a touch of luxury. So did his choice to live a simple lifestyle have an impact? Of course, it did! When we say British rule, it doesn’t mean a direct rule by the British. It was the kings of the local lands who ruled and collected tax for the British. The British merely enjoyed the coffers those taxes filled. People compared the two – a king who enjoys grandeur while his subjects suffer and a fighter who renounced his comfortable lifestyle to fight for the people. The kings bore no weightage when Gandhi was the one they were being compared with. Still critics kept pushing unfair criticisms for his choice to travel by third class of trains. But people turned a deaf ear to such namesake criticisms and gave Mahatma a respect no one else had received till then.
  • Gandhi’s economic suggestions were quickly dismissed as impractical ideas. But if you notice keenly, it is his ideas that are at play today. We created cities; development moved in centimeters. We then created towns and districts; development moved in inches. When we start concentrating on villages, development will start moving in kilometers! Gandhi wasn’t entirely opposed to modernization. He praised the sewing machine as the world’s best invention; he traveled mostly by trains; he wore spectacles. What worried him about modernization was abuse of technology. Today’s generation are switching from screen to screen, searching for an escape from depression, not knowing that these screens are the very thing that started the depression.
  • Gandhi’s charkha is more than just a symbol. It was a revolution. It was a means of sustenance. Physical labour was associated with just one section of the society. With the introduction of charkha, physical labour became a thing that was common to everyone. Also, it served as a financial means for many women. Almost all villages of India will have old women who credit Gandhiji and his charkha for giving them a livelihood.
  • Today we have quite a few people who criticize Gandhi’s social views. While they are free to draw their own conclusions, it is also noteworthy that whatever problems you point out in Gandhi are the problems of India. If you think India’s problem is ignorance of caste bias, the same was Gandhi’s problem. If you think India’s problem is caste-based preference, Gandhi’s problem was the same. The only difference is that Gandhi studied, worked and lived a life so meaningful that a person taking 10 rebirths can’t equal it; but this country did not wish to progress and so bid him adieu with three bullets to his chest.
  • Now let’s get to the criticisms laid on Gandhi. Most of these are based on his viewpoints he had during his early years. It assumes that a person can never grow or learn from his mistakes, and that a person doesn’t waver from his point of view come what may. To answer that, do any of us believe the same things we believed as children? We thought the earth was flat; with due proof, we accepted that the earth is round. As children, we didn’t know anything about stereotyping, gender bias and caste bias. We learnt that only as we started moving with the society. But why does that justification not hold good for Gandhi? Post 1940, there was a radical shift in his beliefs and points of view, as he got more in touch with the roots of India and its problems. It is during this period that he started championing inter-caste marriages. He declared, “If you want me to bless a wedding, either the groom or the bride has to be from an oppressed sect.”
  • Ambedkar was staunch against the Congress. No member of the Congress expressed his or her support for Ambedkar’s actions against untouchability. In 1947, Nehru compiled the list for the minister cabinet and sent it to Noakhali through a messenger. Even before seeing the list, Gandhi wrote, “Add Ambedkar’s name to the list.” How did he write so even without seeing the list? He knew well that no one in the Congress, except him, would align with Ambedkar. It was a tough task to say no to Gandhi and Nehru knew that well, thanks to his years of friendship with Gandhi. This is how a man who strongly opposed the Congress, became the Law Minister of India with the support of Congress.
  • Another criticism of Gandhi is that he hindered the Poona Pact. But it is forgotten by those critics that Gandhi was the one who put in a lot of efforts in bringing the pact to its final stage. He did not have a problem with the pact; he had a problem with the separate electorates system for the oppressed, which was demanded by the pact. If he had not raised the issue, the oppressed would be isolated to particular geographical areas and this would push them further down the ladder of progress. Also, the fact that the British who had no intention other than exploiting India for their progress, were now giving special preference to the oppressed made Gandhi think twice about the pact. The British had successfully created a divide between religions in 1929 by giving the Sikhs and Muslims separate electorates. Over the years, Gandhi learnt to always have a cynical eye for the moves of the British. It was due to this cynical eye that the seats for the oppressed classes increased to 148. After Ambedkar met Gandhi in Yerwada jail, Ambedkar commented, “He has protected me indeed!”
  • It cannot be denied that India is a country that is highly sensitive about issues like caste, religion and languages. A clash between different sections of people is likely to occur anytime. And there were quite a few brutal clashes that history has in store for us. But this number of clashes would have been much higher if not for Gandhi. He united people of all classes, languages and beliefs. It took him over 30 years to do that, but still no other leader has united Indians like he did. He spread the virtues of love, tolerance, and brotherhood to avoid friction. But that doesn’t mean his philosophy was guided by the country only. When most of his contemporaries stuck to the ancient definition of running a nation, Gandhi was the only one to give it a multifaceted approach. When the entire India was burning with rage against Pakistan, Gandhi was the only one who saw this issue with the eye of a humanitarian, and suggested that we give them their fair share. When everyone was quick to hold Pakistan as their enemy, Gandhi was the only one who was sane enough to say “Why do we have such a rage against them? After all, were they not our citizens till yesterday?”
  • Gandhi taught us how to lead people to rise against injustice and how to protect such followers. The Chauri Chaura incident was a turning point in our freedom struggle. Protestors lit fire to a police station, killing 20 policemen. That was a time when the freedom movement was at its peak. If Gandhi’s motive was to regain independence by any crook, he would have ignored the incident, or worse, he could have instigated more such incidents. But he was set on achieving it in the right way. So, he called off the entire movement. The protests stopped, but the spirit of the protests didn’t really burn out. Many Congress leaders tried to pacify him to not put a halt to the movement. They explained, “people are spirited to protest incessantly and that we should not let such spirit go down the drain. The protests are at the highest point. If we continue, the British may actually budge out of the country.” Motilal Nehru and Chittarankan Das started a separate faction within the Congress. But not heeding any such comments, Gandhi kept up his determination of achieving independence without the use of violence. He deeply believed that an eye for an eye renders the world blind.
  • His depth of fearlessness is what made the world put him on a pedestal different from those given to other leaders. ‘My life is my message’ – this statement of his is a testament to such fearlessness. He may be criticised, praised or ignored, but in one form or the other, he will always keep inspiring people of all generations. His words “Be the change you want to see” are enough to turn anyone’s life around. May the spirit of Gandhi guide humanity to the path of uncompromising morality.