Recollecting The Greatness Of Mahatma Gandhi
The credit for ending the long dark age of slavery goes principally to Mahatma Gandhi who launched and laid the freedom movement for 32 years against the mighty British empire and finally enabled us to be the master of our own destiny on August 15, 1947
India is a very unfortunate country as it remained under the subjugation of foreign rulers for 1400 long years. Slavery for such a long period decimates the country existentially. Thank God! India survived but not without body blows and indelible scars on its civilization, culture, heritage, psyche, educational development and religiosity. Had India continued to be governed under its own rulers from the days of king Harshvardhan, sky would have been the limit for her advancement in all the spheres and would have occupied a very dominant position in the comity of world nations today.
The first turning point in the dull and dreary history of India came, when Britishers arrived in Bengal in 1757. They took 100 years to consolidate all the fragmented states to rebuild into a vast country spreading from Afganistan to Burma. Now, at least, India became Akhand Bharat in 1858 though under British government. But simultaneously, British government played a big mischief. It did not merge the 565 states into the main body of India and kept them as separate islands under the princes to act as roadblocks against the spread of fire of nationalism at any time in the future. Britishers frequently said: “We never ruled India. We only taught Indians how to rule.”
The credit for ending this long dark age goes principally to Mahatma Gandhi who launched and laid the freedom movement for 32 years against the mighty British empire and finally enabled us to be the master of our own destiny on 15/8/1947. One can imagine his contribution to the people of India and her succeeding generations for ending the continuous slavery of 14 long centuries. In fact, his greatness was multi-dimensional. He exhibited great human qualities, i.e. truth, non-violence, simplicity, political asceticism, fight against untouchability and repression, Satyagrah (peaceful agitation), civility, humility with boldness, celibacy, glorification of the poor, control over lust and rage, total absence of hatred, malice and jealousy, and the sublime thoughts. These are the attributes of human personality, which Lord Krishna prescribes to Arujuna in the 16th chapter of the Bhagwat Gita to reach God and attain moksha. Probably Gandhiji imbibed these qualities from daily reading of the Bhagwat Gita before going to sleep. I doubt, if any other historical figure possessed such a heavy bag of qualities along with milk of human kindness. Rabindranath Tagore gave him the title of Mahatma.
When he arrived in India on January 9, 1915, the political and social landscapes were almost barren. There was some greenery on the economic front in the form of neworks of canal, railways and educational institutions. Lord Curzon had mulled to rule over India for 1000 years and called India a jewel in the British crown. The Tory government was working continuously on this hypothesis. Labour Party came in power very late. The art of divide-and-rule was perfected when separate representation was granted to Muslims in Morley reforms of 1909. Only Bal Gangadhar Tilak was visible on the political firmament who could be expected to start some kind of movement to attain Swaraj.
But he was a limping lion after his incarceration for five years in solitary confinement in Mandlay jail. Socially India was divided into Hindus, Muslims and Dalits with high boundary walls of mistrust. Gandhiji decided to fight against all the three (Raj, Hindu-Muslim divide and untouchability) simultaneously.
His arrival at this juncture looked as if Lord Krishna had fulfilled his promise made to Arjuna in 7th verse of Chapter 4 in the Bhagwat Geeta where he says: “When virtue subsides and vice prevails, I come to help the mankind.”His arrival was long overdue but better late than never. Gandhiji fought against the Raj peacefully throughout using Satyagrah as his Sudarshan Chakra. He had fought and triumphed a long battle against the white regime of Smuts (1902-1914) in South Africa to restore civil (read human) rights to Indians. When Gandhiji left Africa for India en route to England in July 1914, Smuts paid him very glowing tributes saying, “I do not feel qualified to wear the shoes gifted by him. But I am glad that the saint is leaving the shores. I sincerely hope forever.’’ General Smuts again told Churchill in London in 1942: “He is a man of God. You and I are mundane people.”
Gandhiji had already made up his mind to replicate the experiment of Satyagrah to attain Swaraj before coming to India. Soon after his arrival he roamed in India for two years to study the social and political milieu as per the advice of Gokhale, his political Guru. Unfortunately, Gokhale died six weeks later and Gandhiji was left alone to guide himself. His first victory in the Satyagrah at Champaran in Bihar made him famous in India. This victory magnetized the budding leaders of India—Kriplani, Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ali brothers, Rajgopalachari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Abul Kalam Azad, who flocked to create a powerful band around him. These gentleman had made supreme sacrifices (Patel and Prasad left their practice, Subhash his ICS etc) and they were all little
The second victory of Satyagrah was achieved in Kheda district next year to obtain the exemption of land tax for farmers as a result of continuous crop failures for the last four years. It made the names of Gandhiji and his youth brigade a household cry. The opportunity to take on the Raj (Empire) from the front came in April 1919 when Gandhiji gave a clarion call to observe hartal on April 6 as a mark of protest against the passage of Rowlatt Act. The hartal was a grand success and gave a jerk to the Raj. The real long drawn out war started from here. He made three assaults on the Raj with small battles in between, for instance boycott of the visit of Prince of Wales and Simon Commission.
The first assault started on 1.8.1920 (The day Tilak died)–when he launched the non-cooperation movement against the weak findings of Hunter Commission on Jalianwala Bagh tragedy and the Treaty of Severs. The four-phase programme set for the movement was earth shaking and it peaked up in no time. For the first time Muslims and Hindus worked like brothers for the success of the movement. The foundations of the Raj were completely shaken. “The bridge between Hindus and Muslims is being erected,’’ remarked Lord Reading, the new Viceroy. But the violence at Chauri-Chaura police station near Gorakhpur killing 24 constables at the police station on 5/2/1922. Gandhiji could not bear this scale of violence and withdrew his movement to the great relief of the Raj. The British government for the first time realised that their days in India are numbered
The second assault was made in March 1930, when he started the famous Dandi March to break the Salt Law. The crowd had grown into a sea of humanity. American press termed Gandhiji as “Christ has been reborn in India”. The success of Salt Satyagrah made him a legend internationally. Churchill criticized the Viceroy Lord Irvin for calling Gandhiji at his residence for settling the Salt Law issue and said: “It is very nauseating to observe that a seditious Middle Temple lawyer now posing as faqir was striding half naked up the steps of the vice regal palace to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King Emperor.” Salt Satyagrah was seen as a campaign against the repression of basic human rights rather than a political lever. But the net gains of this movement were: 1) US government started taking interest in the Indian cause, 2) British government realised that the day of departure was approaching fast.
The third phase of the War of Independence started on August 9, 1942. Gandhiji asked the Britishers to quit and the movement was given the title of “Quit India Movement”. As soon as the news of arrest of Gandhiji, Kasturba and CWC members spread the next morning, people came on the streets in anger and started burning the post office buildings, uprooting railway lines and damaging the electric poles. India was now in great turmoil. Thousands of people were put in jails for a long time. Gandhiji was released after 26 months on medical grounds. Other leaders were released after 34 months. Indian masses were now restive. Sensing the general mood of the public, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, had even prepared a secret plan in 1944 to ship out British officials in case of any such conflagration.
The Labour government was knee deep in debt and there was grave fiunancial crisis. She owed one billion pounds to India. It is not known whether it was paid or not. There was shortage of food stuffs and long lines were visible before the food stores. Under the circumstances, Lord Attlee as PM rightly decided to grant independence to India and set June 30, 1948, as the deadline for transfer of power. He said: “This is the right time to pay gratitude to the people of India in exchange of contributions made by Indian soldiers during the war and secondly ruling India now required a special effort which British people were not prepared to make.” Lord Mountbatten, the new energetic Viceroy, did the job much earlier on 15.08.1947. Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled, the tricolour on the Red Fort. But the real General who achieved this feat was staying in a small house of a Muslim located in a narrow street in Calcutta to douse the communal fire.
565 states under the princes occupied half of the geographical area of the country. Their merger with India was achieved by Sardar Patel with some help of Lord Mountbatten. This was the second half of Indian Independence. Kashmir too was saved by him when Pakistan attacked the state. The division of the country could only be postponed and not avoided because of large geographical size of erstwhile India and communal divide. The governance in conformity with the proposals of Cripps Missionwas was also impossible. Looking back, it was the conspiracy of circumstances that caused the division and the holocaust. In such complex situations, events proceed in their own ways.
The role of Gandhiji in South Africa was thoroughly angelic and absolutely without any flaw or blemish at any stage. However, he made some mistakes in leading the national movement in India. Gandhiji was never a good planner or a schemer or a tactician or a strategist. He took decision by instincts and his followers always believed in his infallible ways. He always kept his cards close to his chest. He held no discussions with CWC (Congress Working Committee) with regard to his presentation at the Second Round Table Conference to be held in London. His extempore speech, which was impressive but lacked articulation. CWC never had a brain storming session to prepare the master plan for a road map for the freedom movement. Salt Satyagrah was a flashy idea and still it got a roaring success. Boycott of the visit of Prince of Wales was unnecessary. Likewise boycott of Simon Commission (Lord Attlee was one of its members and he was 100 per cent pro-India) was unnecessary and it cost the life of Lala Lajpat Rai and finally the deaths of Bhagat Singh and his associates.
People criticise Gandhiji for sacrificing Sardar Patel for Jawahar Lal Nehru to become the Congress President in 1945. Gandhiji did this for two reasons. He felt genuinely that Nehru could handle international affairs better and minorities will feel scared under Sardar Patel. But the manner in which the entire operation was carried out was shocking. Being a nationalist of very high order, Sardar Patel acquiesced to the will of Gandhiji,but he never forgave Kriplani. However, he maintained complete hold over the organisation. Other three mistakes of Gandhiji were not preventing Ali brothers from parting ways with him and the Congress in the 1928 Congress Session at Calcutta, compelling Sardar Patel (at the instance of Nehru and Mountbatten) to pay Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan under the agreement for division of the assets and pampering Jinnah by holding seven meetings at his residence in 1944-45. His most un-Gandhian act was when he did not rebuke his colleagues who criticised seriously ill Subhash Boss at Tripuri Session in 1939 for reserving his right to constitute the Congress working committee. Subhash resigned his presidentship in disgust. This incident showed the dark side of Congress politics even in those days. But Gandhiji was essentially a human being and to err is human. These mistakes have to be weighed considering his monumental efforts to fight against the Britishers and attain freedom without firing a single shot.
The history of world is replete with great ironies and anti-climaxes. One such anti climax came on January 30, 1948, when Nathuram Godse fired at the frail body of this great epoch maker and that too at the prayer meeting at Birla House and extinguished his life for good. He was the soul of India and now there was total darkness all around. His death was similar to the deaths of other great epoch makers like Abrahim Lincon, Martin Luther King and Kennedy brothers. But his ultimate death occurred when we Indians (including Congress Party) completely forgot him and his ideals. In modern times only Nelson Mandela stands close to his stature. I am still surprised why Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded to Gandhiji though his name was recommended three times. But acceptance of awards and prizes dents the greatness of an epoch maker and we should have no regrets for this mistake of the Nobel Prize Committee.
His work to fight against untouchability was also angelic. He admitted a low cast young man Duda Bhai and his wife in his Ashram in June 1915 and made a salutary statement, “Hindus would not deserve freedom from the alien rule if they continued to treat a portion among themself as untouchables.” He detested the word ‘’untouchables’’ and gave them a new respectable epithet—Harijans (Men of God ).
The Poona Pact on September 24 as a result of fast unto death by Gandhiji in the jail was signed between Ambedkar and Congress leaders demolished the wall of hatred between the Harijans and the Hindus. Defying hoary prohibitions, temples across India were thrown open to the Harijans. Brahmins and Harijans dined together. Padmaja Naidu called this event a catharsis and cleansing of Hinduism.What more he could do for them.
His final grand moment as messenger and apostle of peace came on October 28,1946, when he travelled by train to Calcutta to reach Noakhali where communal rights had flared up viciously. There he lived with villagers, walked with them and slept in their huts for four months till permanent peace was established there. Thereafter, he returned to Bihar in the first week of March 1947 and stayed there for few weeks to restore peace. He again reached Calcutta on August 9 to pour a pot of water over raging fire. Eid day fell on August 18. Half a million Hindus and Muslims attended his prayer meeting at a football ground. This was the Gandhi effect like the messenger and apostle of peace . He held a three-day fast on September 1 to bring the communal violence under complete control. Lord Mountbatten paid him the richest tributes for his role in extinguishing the communal flare-up when it was in the top gear in Bengal and Bihar. He said: “In the Punjab we have 55000 soldiers but large scale rioting is taking place there. In Bengal, our force consist one man (Gandhiji) and there is no rioting. May I be allowed to pay my tribute to the One Man Boundary Force and his Second in Command, Mr Suhrawardy.’’
By Ramniwas Malik