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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

There is no doubt that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is one of the greatest leaders of the world. He is great because of his intellectual, moral, spiritual and political makeup. He developed and presented before his nation and the world a code of life that they found worth following. His style of living and enduring the problems, insults and miseries of life is matched by a few souls that ever breath on this earth. His political campaign helped immensely in gathering the people of India together so that they should be able to march together like a single whole for the achievement of an independent land. Gandhi played an important role in the liberation of his country. He had some weaknesses in his constitution and he fight well to eradicate them. He can be excused of these weaknesses because being human; everybody is prone to some faults, mistakes and blunders. Now let us discuss in some detail the life and political struggle of this great leader of India.

Gandhi is a virtuous man right from his birth. He lived his life in piety and strength of character. An instance from his early life will support this point of view. Gandhi was full of zest about South Africa, and boarded the Safari in Bombay on 19 April 1893. Told that all space in first class had been booked for the Governor General of Mozambique and his party, Gandhi had coolly gone up to the chief officer and asked to be ‘squeezed in’ somehow. After being surveyed ‘from top to toe’, Gandhi was given a spare birth in the chief officer’s cabin, not normally offered to passengers. The ship’s captain also befriended Gandhi, playing chess with him. After halts at Lamu Island and in Mombasa, the Safari reached Zanzibar, where the captain invited Gandhi and an English passenger on an ‘outing’. Gandhi found out what this meant when a tout took the party to a native brothel. Each in the party was shown into a room. Gandhi stood dumb with shame and ‘came out just as I had gone in’. As in Rajkot seven years or so earlier, he wondered about ‘what the poor woman must have thought of me’, but this time shame quickly ‘wore away’. The woman ‘had not moved him in the least’, but he blamed himself for not having refused to enter the room. He thought that a merciful God had again saved him, and that the shame he had briefly experienced was false.

Gandhi had the patience of a leader and the power of taking decisions at the right moment. His whole life is replete with examples of this kind; let me discuss here a few of them. On 31 May 1893, in the southern hemisphere’s winter Gandhi travelled in a first-class compartment in the train to Charlestown in Natal, close to the Transvaal border, from where a stage-coach would carry him to Standerton in eastern Transvaal and, after an overnight halt, to Johannesburg, a road trip of about 150 miles in all; from Johannesburg another train would take him to Pretoria. Gandhi did his homework for the complicated journey, and collected information that might prove useful, but the journey proved more difficult than he had anticipated. At 9 p.m. the train stopped at Pietermaritzburg, which was on a plateau and colder than Durban. A passenger entered Gandhi’s compartment, looked him ‘up and down’, left, and returned with one or two railway officials. Another official then arrived and ordered Gandhi to go to the van compartment.

‘But I have a first class ticket,’ said Gandhi.

‘That doesn’t matter. I tell you, you must go to the van compartment.’

‘I tell you, I was permitted to travel in this compartment at Durban, and I insist on going on in it.’

‘No you won’t.’

‘I refuse to move.’

A police constable was called, and Gandhi was pushed out. So was his luggage. The train steamed away. Gandhi walked to a dark waiting room, leaving the luggage where it was. It was bitterly cold but Gandhi’s overcoat was inside his luggage. Unwilling to invite another insult, Gandhi did not ask anyone about it, and shivered through the black night. At one point a man entered the room and ‘possibly wanted to talk’ but Gandhi was ‘in no mood’ for that. A storm raged inside him, and he also felt afraid the stranger

Returning to India entered his mind but was rejected as a cowardly option, He would stay and fight, and for more than his personal rights, for a shapeless specter had assaulted a belief deep inside of him – the insight, nurtured from childhood and confirmed by his three years in England, that all human beings, creations of the same God, were of equal value.  In Pietermaritzburg, he had committed no impropriety, yet he had been tossed out by a monster, not the man who threw him off the train, but a spirit in which the arrogance of power joined the arrogance of race. Emerging from the depths of his soul, young Gandhi’s decision to stay and fight was both political and spiritual. The two impulses had fused and spoken to him as one. If he had moved as ordered, he would have accepted the souls covered by brown and black skins were of lower value than the souls of white folk. But he knew that all souls had equal value and the leader in him refused to accept the discrimination and instead forced him to embark on a expedition to prove this belief to the whole world. He proved this on the 15 August 1947 when he liberates his country from the dominance of White men.

In a society where untouchable Hindus were considered as outcasts, Gandhi-the great leader considered them as his brethrens. He gave lessons to his people not to hate the untouchable as they are also the children of God. Gandhi admitted a young untouchable couple into his ashram, Dudabhai Dafda and his wife, who belonged to the Guajarati-speaking community of Dheds or Dhedhs that worked with hides. His wife and some people at the ashram strongly objected to this. Evidently, Gandhi told Kasturba-his wife that if she was unable to live with the Dhed couple ‘she could leave me and we should part good friends’. Kasturba yielded and stayed, but not Santok, Madanlal’s wife, though she had been a satyagrahi in South Africa. ‘There was a flutter in the ashram.’ Santok fasted in opposition to the admission of Dudabhai and his wife; Gandhi fasted back; Santok and Maganlal packed their bags, said goodbye, and left . Later, however, they returned, having, as Gandhi would say, ‘washed their hearts clean of untouchability’ (56: 178). But there was a flutter in the city as well, and in the ashram’s vicinity. Dudabhai and others in the ashram were roundly abused when they tried to take water from a neighborhood well, and money ceased to flow the ashram. But people loved their Gandhi and after some time a young industrialist in his twenties, Ambalal Sarabhai, quietly drove up with a wad of currency, handed 13,000 rupees to Gandhi, and went away (A 356-7). He and Gandhi had met only once before, in the Sarabhai home, to discuss prospects of an ashram in Ahmedabad, but Sarabhai had been impressed by Gandhi’s readiness to address caste inequalities, young Sarabhai had always found offensive. The tide soon turned, and Dudabhai and his wife, both showing forbearance, found increasing acceptance from neighbours, visitors and other ashramites. To Gandhi the incident showed ‘the efficacy of passive resistance in social questions’.

Gandhi displayed great leadership qualities during the Khilafat Movement.[1] He tried to alleviate differences between the Muslims and the Hindus. Gandhi assembled the two nations together and led them very tactfully against the Britishers. By the use of non-violent non-cooperation movement he presented his demands to the white rulers of the sub-continent and pressurized them in a masterly way to accept them. There is no doubt that Muslims failed to get there demands accepted from the Britishers but this movement, led by Gandhi, mitigated to a great extent the rivalry between the two great nations of the sub-continent and this is Gandhi great achievement.  Non-violence remained hallmark of his socio-political philosophy as he describe it that “when I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall – think of it, always” (Gandhi, 1927). He further reiterated this socio-political ideal in his solution to German Nazi dilemma. He says;

The German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province. But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both?[2]

Gandhi is a marvelous leader is also proved by the way he dealt with the Cripps mission, that come to India in 1942 to solve the constitutional problems of India. Offering ‘different items palatable to different tastes’, it contained three elements designed to satisfy the Congress. One, full dominion status for India after the war, with the right of secession from the Commonwealth. Two, a post-war Constituent Assembly (which the Congress had been demanding from the 1930s) for which provincial legislatures could elect members. And three, for the here and now, a national government composed of representatives of the leading political parties. It had attractions for the princes too. They would have the right to send nominees to the Constituent Assembly and to decide the future of their states, a provision implying a right to declare independence. And it had something for Jinnah. At the end of the war, even as India acquired the right to become a dominion, every province would have the right to stay out and become a separate dominion equal in status to the Indian dominion. Invited to New Delhi to meet Cripps, Gandhi could not swallow the potential for balkanization, nomination by princes, or a clause in the scheme that placed India’s defence during the war wholly in British hands. Confirmed in his belief that Churchill had resolved not to ‘abandon [India] voluntarily’,” he quickly returned to Sevagram, but not before using blunt language with Cripps: ‘If this is your entire proposal to India, I would advise you to take the next plane home. “

However, Azad, Nehru, Patel, C R and the rest of the Working Committee remained in New Delhi for talks with Cripps. Annoyed at Patel for ‘stay[ing] on and on in the capital’, Gandhi termed the talks an exercise in ‘churning water to obtain butter’.” Probed by Azad, Nehru and C R, Cripps at first agreed that in a national government the Viceroy would only be a constitutional head. The three Congress negotiators also objected to defence remaining with General Wavell. On this issue Cripps tried to accommodate the Congress demand but was thwarted when Churchill cabled him to say that he would reject any arrangement over defence that did not have the full agreement, directly communicated to him, of Linlithgow and Wavell. Not getting anything like the national government they had in mind, the Congress leaders, at last formally turned down the scheme. Something that Gandhi had done a long time ago. While welcoming the secession clause as ‘a recognition of Pakistan by implication’, Jinnah, too, rejected the scheme because it only gave provinces and not what he called ‘the Muslim nation’ the right to separate.”

Gandhi was, however, not been able to give due time to his family which created many problems for him and his family. It can be considered as weakness on his part, it can also be considered as fault on his part too as it turned out into emotional breakup in the family.  Let me relate an episode from his life. Gandhi’s eldest son, now 27, was in Bombay when his parents landed, and accompanied them on some of their travels, and there were long father-son talks. But the gulf was not bridged. After Gandhi reimbursed Laxmidas’s family in Rajkot for expenses incurred on Harilal, a formal separation occurred. On 14 March 1915 Gandhi wrote about it to Naraindas, brother of Chhaganlal and Maganlal and like associate: ‘(Harilal) has parted from me completely. He will receive no monetary help from me, Gave him Rs 45 and he parted at Calcutta. There was no bitterness. Let him take any books or clothes of mine that he may want (14: 382).

Shortly after Shanti’s birth Harilal wrote a disparaging ‘Half-Open Letter’ to his father and had it printed and circulated ‘among a fairly wide circle’, including Gandhi. At the last minute he dropped a plan to send the letter to the press. It contained bitter charges: ‘Our views about education are the main reason for the difference of opinion of the last ten years….You have suppressed us [sons] in a sophisticated manner … You have…never encouraged us in any way … You always spoke to us with anger, not with love…..You have made us remain ignorant … I asked to be sent to England. For a year I cried. I was bewildered. You did not lend me your ears … I am married … with four children. I cannot … become a recluse. Therefore I have separated from you with your permission.’ (Krishandas, 1951)

Works Cited

Gandhi, M.K. (1940), An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments With Truth,

            Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

Gandhi, M.K.  (1956)The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings. Homer

            Jack (ed.) Grove Press, New York.

Krishnadas. (1951). Seven Months with Mahatma Gandhi. Ahmedabad: Navajivan.

[1]  This movement was started by Muslims of India against the abolition of institution of Khilafat (Ottoman Empire) in Turkey after WW I by the British.
[2] Homer Jack. (1938). The Gandhi Reader. Harijan. (November 26) pp.317-318

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