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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 42, October 3, 2009

Gandhi’s Words in Present Context

Monday 5 October 2009

(On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s one hundred and fortieth birth anniversary on October 2 this year, we reproduce his following unforgettable words that are of abiding relevance in the current scenario.)


The purity of my striving will be put to the test only now. Today, I find myself all alone. Even the Sardar and Jawaharlal think that my reading of the political situation is wrong and peace is sure to return if partition is agreed upon. They did not like my telling the Viceroy that even if there was to be partition, it should not be through British intervention or under the British rule. They wonder, if I have not deteriorated with age. Nevertheless, I must speak as I feel, if I am to prove a true, loyal friend to the Congress and to the British people, as I claim to be, regardless of whether my advice is appreciated or not. I see clearly that we are setting about this business the wrong way. We may not feel the full effect immediately, but I can see clearly that the future of independence gained at this price is going to be dark. I pray, the God may not keep me alive to witness it. In order that He may give me the strength and wisdom to remain firm in the midst of universal opposition and to utter the full truth, I need all the strength that purity can give.

But in spite of my being all alone in my thoughts, I am experiencing an ineffable inner joy and freshness of mind. I feel as if God Himself is lighting my path before me. And that is perhaps the reason why I am able to fight on single-handed. The people ask me to retire to Kashi or to the Himalayas. I laugh and tell them that the Himalayas of my penance are where there is misery to be alleviated, oppression to be relieved. There can be no rest for me, so long as there is a single person in India lacking the necessaries of life. I cannot bear to see Badshah Khan’s grief. His inner agony wrings my heart. But, if I gave way to tears, it would be cowardly and, the stalwart Pathan as he is, he would break down. So I go about my business unmoved. That is no small thing.

But my be, all of them are right and I alone am floundering in darkness… I shall, perhaps, not be alive to witness it, but should the evil I apprehend overtake India and her independence be imperilled, let posterity know what agony this old soul went through thinking of it. Let it not be said that Gandhi was party to India’s vivisection. But everybody is today impatient for independence. Therefore, there is no other help.

(Early morning musings, June 1, 1947)

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It is said that my speechless nowadays are depressing. Some even suggest that I should not speak at all. This multitude of advisers reminds me of a painter who had exposed his painting in a shop window without glass, inviting the critics to mark the parts they did not like. The result was a daub. The painter had simply tried to show that it was impossible to please all the parties. He was, therefore, satisfied that he had painted a good picture. His business was to produce a work which satisfied his artistic taste. Mine is a similar case. I hope that I never speak for the sake of speaking. I speak because I feel that I have something to say to the people. It is true that I do not agree with what many of my closest friends have done or are doing. Whilst I am in Delhi and I have an opinion about some current events, I cannot help giving that opinion. And what are the differences that matter? If you analyse them, you would then find only one fundamental difference to which all the others could be traced. Non-violence is my creed. It never was of the Congress. With the Congress, non-violence has always been a policy. A policy takes the shape of a creed whilst it lasts, no longer. The Congress had every right to change the creed, when if found it necessary. A creed can never admit of any change. Now though, according to the Congress constitution, the policy abides, the practice has undoubtedly altered the policy. The technicians may quarrel with the fact. You and I cannot, must not. Why should not the makers of the present Congress change their policy in fact? The law will take care of itself. It should also be noted that in the constitution the word peaceful is used, not non-violent.

In Bombay, when the Congress met in 1934, I tried hard to have the word peaceful replaced by non-violent and I failed. Therefore, it is open to give the word ‘peaceful’ a meaning probably less than that of non-violent. I see none. But my opinion is irrelevant. It is for the savants to determine the difference, if any. All that you and I need to realise is that the Congress practice is not non-violent today in the accepted sense of the term. If the Congress was pledged to the policy of non-violence, then there would be no army supported by it. But she sports an army, which may eat up the civilians and establish military rule in India, unless the people listen to me. Am I to give up all hope of their ever listening to me? I cannot do that whilst there is breath left in me. And if the people do not wish to listen to my non-violent dirge, there is no reason for the critics to dissuade me from speaking to the public.

Let me make one thing clear. I have frankly and fully admitted that what we had practised during the past thirty years was not non-violent resistance but passive resistance, which only the weak offer because they are unable, not unwilling, to offer an armed resistance. If we knew the use of non-violent resistance, which only those with the hearts of oak can offer, we would present to the world a totally different picture of free India instead of an India cut in twain, one part highly suspicious of the other and the two too much engaged in mutual strife to be able to think cogently of the food and clothing of the hungry and naked millions, who know no religion but that of the one and only God who appears to them in the guise of necessaries of life. Not for them the sanguinary strife or cinema pictures showing them how efficiently to cut one another’s throats!

(Written message on July 14, 1947)

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Shaheed Saheb Suhrawardy and I are living together in a Muslim manzil in Beliaghata where the Muslims have been reported to be sufferers. We occupied the house on Wednesday, the 13th instant, and on the 14th it seemed as if there never had been bad blood between the Hindus and the Muslims. In their thousands, they began to embrace one another and they began to pass freely through places which were considered to be points of danger by one party or the other. Indeed, the Hindus were taken to masjids by their Muslim brethren and the Muslims were taken by their Hindu brethren to mandirs. And both with one voice shouted ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Hindu-Muslims! Be one.’ As I have said above, we are living in a Muslim’s house and the Muslim volunteers are attending to our comforts with the greatest attention. The Muslim volunteers do the cooking. Many were eager to come from the Khadi Pratisthan for attendance, but I prevented them. I was determined that we should be fully satisfied with whatever the Muslim brothers and sisters were able to give for our creature comforts and I must say that the determination has resulted in unmixed good. Here in the compound, numberless Hindus and Muslims continue to stream in shouting favourite slogans. One might almost say that the joy of fraternisation is leaping up from hour to hour.

Is this to be called a miracle or an accident. By whatever name it may be described, it is quite clear that all the credit that is given to me from all sides is quite undeserved; nor can it be said to be deserved by Shaheed Saheb. This sudden upheaval is not the work of one or two men. We are toys in the hands of God. He makes us dance to His tune. The utmost, therefore, that a man can do is to refrain from interfering with the dance and that he should tender full obedience to his Maker’s will. Thus considered, it can be said that, in this miracle, He has used us two as His instruments and as for myself I only ask whether the dream of my youth is to be realised in the evening of my life.

For those who have full faith in God, this is neither a miracle nor an accident. A chain of events can be clearly seen to show that the two were being prepared, unconsciously to themselves, for fraternisation. In this process, our advent on the scene enabled the onlooker to give us credit for the consummation of the happy event.

Be that as it may, the delirious happenings remind me of the early days of the Khilafat movement. The fraternisation then burst on the public as a new experience. Moreover, we had then Khilafat and swaraj as our twin goals. Today, we have nothing of the kind. We have drunk the poison of mutual hatred and so this nectar of fraternisation tastes all the sweeter, and the sweetness should never wear out.

In the present exuberance one hears also the cry of ‘Long Live Hindustan and Pakistan’ from the joint throats of the Hindus and the Muslims. I think, it is quite proper. Whatever was the cause for the agreement, the three parties accepted Pakistan. If then the two are not enemies, one of the other, and here evidently they are not, surely there is nothing wrong in the above cry. Indeed, if the two have become friends, not to wish long life to both the states would probably be an act of disloyalty.

(Editorial entitled “Miracle or Accident”, August 16, 1947)

I will give you a talisman.

Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.

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