Difficult To Understand Gandhiji
I have greatest regard for Gandhiji and have stayed for more than ten times at Vinoba’s Ashram sometime at a stretch for fifteen days. Vinoba had the highest respect for Gandhiji and Vinoba introduced a big change to my life. But Gandhiji is beyond my understanding. I am too small to write this article, with hesitation.
A young Bengali revolutionary boy Khudiram Bose murdered Mr and Mrs Kennedy in 1908. He was hanged. Gandhiji wrote: “Indian people will not win their freedom through these methods.” He did not praise the boy for sacrificing his life for the country.
The signs of the First World War appeared in 1917. Gandhiji considered his moral duty to help the British and he went to the extent of practising even rifle shooting. The British won the war. The Indians expected more power in administration from the British. The disappointment led to protests against the British. One such was in Amritsar in a meeting in a garden called Jalianwala Bagh. Gen Dyer fired indiscriminately. People jumped in the wells to avoid being shot, Gen. Dyer made some people crawl in the narrow streets to teach people a lesson of revolting against the British. The whole country was angry. Gandhiji by that time was moving very successfully on the road of becoming undisputed leader of the country.
People expected Gandhi to obtain fruitful results in view of his sympathitic attitude towards the British but a violent Rowlatt Act was imposed on India. This made Gandhiji start a non-cooperation movement but when the movement reached its climax, Gandhiji withdrew the movement because one police station was burnt in Chaurichaura in UP in 1922. The masses were angry with him. Madan Lal Dhingra shot Gen Dyer dead in London in revenge for Amritsar. He was given death sentence. Gandhiji said: “Those who believe that India has gained by Dhingra’s act and other similar acts in India made a serious mistake. Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind.” His struggle against South African Government for getting dignity for non-Whites was totally non-violent.
Then comes the famous case of the trio—Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. The Congress session was to be held in Karachi in 1931. Lord Irvin seemed to have a feeling that any gesture of goodwill towards Bhagat Singh will go a long way towards creating a favourable climate in India for the British. He expected such a request from Gandhiji. But Gandhiji was by nature allergic to the very idea of violence and revolution. The tremendous publicity, which Bhagat Singh was getting, would not have gladdened Gandhiji’s heart that India was on the verge of getting independence and it seemed to rob him of his hard-earned glory. Gandhiji is said to have told Lord Irwin that if the boys are to be hanged they had better be hanged before the Congress Session than after it. Such attitude showed Gandhiji’s contempt of the sacrifice Bhagat Singh was making of his life for the country.
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were to be executed on March 23. The new president of the Congress was arriving on March 24. Gandhiji did raise the subject with Lord Irvin but it was raised mildly. It appears that though Gandhiji had not taken a sympathetic view in the initial stages, but later his conscience might have pricked him that he had been unfair to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Gandhiji normally had un-interrupted sleep even in difficult times; Two days before Bhagat Singh’s execution was to take place, he got up at 1 AM at night and wrote a letter to Irvin to reconsider Bhagat Singh and others. He asked Devdass Gandhi (Gandhiji’s son) to carry this letter personally to Irvin which was done at 8 AM. Irvin expressed helplessness and Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were executed on March 23, 1931. It created an anti-Gandhi atmosphere in the country. Karachi session of the Congress had to face angry slogans of “Gandhi go back, down with Gandhi”, “long live Bhagat Sing”.
DP Das wrote in a sarcastic tone: “It will be rash to run into a cynical conclusion about Gandhi … Gandhi wanted to save the pact from being wrecked. There is no reason to believe that the pact was more important than the lives of these three partriots. Three days after the execution, he again tried to justify his action, ‘There can be no excuse for suspicion that I did not want to save Bhagat Singh. But I want you to realise Bhagat Singh’s error.’ At the same time Gandhi also said on April 29, 1931: ‘These heroes had conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism’.”
Now comes the most difficult Gandhiji. Subhash Chandra Bose was looking forward to the Second World War taking place any moment. He felt that this was a golden opportunity for India to compel the British to seek the cooperation of India. He was the President of Congress and was keen to be the President for second term. He had the blessings of Rabindranath Tagore who also wrote to Gandhiji to bless Subhash. Subhash was making a storming tour of the country. Lakhs of people were coming to the meetings of Subhash. Subhash wanted that scientists such as Dr Meghnad Saha and Prafulla Chandra Roy associate with Congress to advise them to form a sound economic base for the country. He wanted a planning commission on the lines of Soviet Russia. Subhash had built a good rapport with Nehru. He was delivering lectures against Government of India Act of 1935. He was praising the revolutionary movement of Italy and Ireland. He wanted the Congress to give an ultimatum to the government and if independence was not granted in that period Congress would start non-co-operation movement throughout the country. Gandhiji and Subhash had a detailed discussion in the Bhangi Colony. Gandhiji suggested Subhash to make the language of the ultimatum slightly soft.
The Congress session opened in an amicable atmosphere. But Rajagopalachari proposed that if the world war took place we should trust the British and let them take proper decisions. The Congress got divided in left and right groups. The left group criticised Rajaji and seventy-three left group members boycotted the session. A small delegation of left group came to meet Gandhiji. Nihar Majumdar spoke in an agitated tone: “Bapu, how long this begging policy of Congress will continue? Have we mortgaged our mind to the British?” Gandhiji was not as usual sweet self. He said: “Majumdar, if you do not like Congress policies you should keep quiet and if necessary leave Congress. At least Congress will remain pure.”
Subhash was shocked at this attitude of Gandhiji but when young Hari Vishnu Kamath resigned from ICS and came to meet Subhash Chandra Bose he was inspired. He asked Kamath: “Why have you resigned from ICS?” Kamath said: You had resigned from ICS for the country and I have resigned from ICS to serve you.” Subhash was reading Visweswariya’s book Planned Policy for India these days. The pervious year a resolution was passed on industrialisation under the presidentship of Nehru. Eighty-years-old Visweswariya came in the Congress session. He blessed Subhash and advised him to remain firm on his path. Scientific progress alone can change the face of this country.
The Second World War was drawing near. The British were keen to get Congress cooperation for the war. Subhash Chandra Bose was the Congress President. The election for next Congress President was to be held in two months at Tripuri. Gandhiji blessed Subhash initially to seek the co-operation of Jinnah. Various Congress leaders assembled in Wardha including Maulana Azad, GD Birla, Nilratan Sarkar. Their advice made Gandhiji change his mind.
Subhash had taken the blessings of Rabindranath Tagore who had written to Gandhiji to help Subhash to be the President of Congress for the second term. One midnight Vallabhbhai Patel and KM Munshi disturbed Gandhiji and told him that Subhash had been secretly meeting the Germans. Gandhiji said: “His desire for independence is extremely strong and he can do anything to achieve the goal.” Gandhiji told about his meeting with Subhash and his brother Sarat Bose. Subhash and Sarat were pleading for giving an ultimatum to the British. They were even rough with Gandhiji. For the first time in the history of Congress there was likely to be an election for Congress Presidentship. Gandhiji supported Pattabhi Sitaramayya and said his defeat would be his defeat. Election took place and around eleven o’clock at night, the Congress election office in Allahabad announced that Subhash had won getting 1580 votes against Sitaramayya’s 1377. He met Gandhiji, stayed with him for two days and left for Calcutta. Subhash developed 105 degree temperature in the train. Subhash reached Calcutta. Doctor Gilder the physician of Gandhiji took aside Nehru and said that Subhash needed to be admitted in a hospital immediately.
Subhash started a movement for abolition of Holwell monument a symbol of shame for Indians. The government arrested Subhash who started a fast unto death. Subhash dying in jail would have been a violent situation against the government. He was released and strict watch was laid around his house. Subhash said that he was withdrawing from politics and would undertake spiritual practices. To start with, he would not speak or see anybody for a few days. His food might be kept outside his room and he would have it if he felt like.
In spite of all the police watch Subhash Chandra Bose disappeared from the house and reached Italy and Germany. Gandhiji praised a few years later that while we were only discussing the situation. Subhash played with his life and took the risk of going to Germany in the midst of violent war.
Then comes 1945. Hindu-Muslim riots were at worst in Bengal and Bihar. Gandhiji went for his famous Noakhali tour risking his life along with his lady disciples. There he started his bold experiment on brahmacharya (celibacy). He used to sleep naked with his naked young girl disciples. The country was passing through a very difficult phase. Gandhiji was great. But a few years later, I happened to meet one of these, Manu Gandhi at Raipur in the ashram of Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Atmanandaji introduced me to her and Manu said that she was disturbed and even now did not feel normal. I have the highest regard for Gandhiji and have stayed for more than ten times at Vinoba’s Ashram sometime at a stretch for fifteen days. Vinoba had highest respect for Gandhiji and Vinoba introduced a big change to my life. But Gandhiji is beyond my understanding. I am too small to write this article, with hesitation.
Shree Eknath Ranade, who built Kanyakumar’s temple of Vivekanand at the southern end of India on the tri-junction of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Pacific Ocean, established Vivenanand Kendra in Delhi. They used to organise lectures of Swami Atmanand in Delhi. He would invite questions from the audience after the lecture and would say that he would not entertain any questions relating to Gandhiji.
Gandhiji is too complex to be understood and a lot of research would need to be done on him to understand him even better.
By LN Jhunjhunwala
(The author is Chairman—Emeritus, LNJ Bhilwara Group)