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A hundred and forty years ago, this very day, was born a man in a middle-class Gujarati business family, who was to devise his own path and principles to redeem himself as a man, even as he was to head a revolution to redeem a nation and its people from the slavery of the mind, as well as that of an imperial power. The essence of his strength came from his belief in truth which he variously extracted from the collective wisdom of all religions, civilizations, and the concept of humanity that dawned on him. This is so clearly described in his favorite devotional song, ‘Vaishnav Jan…….’ (the true man of the Lord is the one who can empathize with the pain of another). Surely, the barriers of class, colour, religion, were meaningless if one was to respect a single concept of humanity.
(Mahatma Gandhi at Noakhali in December 1947: Did his faith in humanity fail him?)
For Gandhi, the victories of the battle within, were bound to bring successes in the battle without. He was an experimenter of the tendencies of the mind, and derived his worldly motivation as he restored order within. As a warrier of truth, who shared his own experiences, he trained a batch of learned men – Nehru, Patel, Maulana Azad, Gaffar Khan and others – to learn this unique discovery of strengthening oneself inside out, to be a winner. He reached the pedestal of a ‘saint’ or ‘Mahatma’, even though a very bright Churchill, even in his slanderous comment, conceded the term ‘The Naked Fakir (hermit)’ at the sheer arrogance of his simplicity. He finally fell to bullets from his own brethren ‘Hindus’, washing away even in his last breath the possibility of a communal thought, while a large part of the subcontinent burnt in communal violence. That was the ‘Partition’ of the land. The Mahatma’s lament perhaps was not the creation of two countries but the immediate, maddening bloodshed and violence between his own people, even as he spent a lifetime preaching ‘non-violence’ against the Imperial Power that was occupying his land. Worst still, he realized that one man, one lifetime was not enough to teach the blessings of ‘non-violence’ over any dogma, ritual or religion. Did the man fail?, Was it the failing of his faith, or his God? Or was it a mistake to prime so much goodness in the masses who were incapable to think beyond ‘a tooth for a tooth’.
Gandhi’s sublimation from the usual to the saint came in various stages. Having qualified as a barrister and settled in South Africa, his first instincts were legal, in terms of his fight for equality of the races. He knew his mind and his beliefs were his prime strengths. His concept of spirituality was the ability to defy and suffer, suffer long enough to change the opponent’s mindset from rivalry to embarrassment.
He set foot on Indian soil in the first decade of the 20th century. A military option was unthinkable, but that was not the reason for his ‘non-violence’. His strategy had already succeeded in South Africa, and he knew this was the shortest, safest route. He educated himself in the social stigma in the society, the rural economy, and the common man’s thinking. These were the ingredients of his army of ‘non-violence’. He studied with great astuteness the micro-economics at the level of the village hut. Economics and self-reliance were essential to lead a winning campaign. That made him the biggest marketer of all times. The trademark ‘khadi’ is still the Indian politician’s dress code, sans publicity, sans propaganda – what Kotler would say as the higher the vision, the easier the marketing. He was quite clear about the attributes of economy and self-reliance in fighting any national aggression.
His strategies did change from indifference towards the rulers, to aggressive campaigns, as he pressed the pedal harder. In came ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Swadeshi’– a ploy to deplete the rulers of revenues. ‘Dandi March’. Setting aside an illegal ‘salt tax’, and finally, in ’42, when England was wobbling in the throes of war, he sprang for the ‘knock-out’ by declaring the ‘Quit India Movement’. The British had no options but to call him for talks, to promise Independence, but seeking cooperation till the war was won.
Did Gandhi let go the crucial penalty at this stage? Because a later, negotiated liberation gave enough room for strife for leadership and stirred communal instincts. Perhaps not. Being what he was, weakening England and the Allies was to go against his own philosophy of universal human equality, giving Nazism a chance. There was another well-defined philosophy he had evolved to by then. It was his wish, that if the British leave, we should part as ‘friends’.
This last one is the final and relevant message for our times. Violence, devastation, suffering may not be preventable. Wars may occur for greed, hegemony, or revenge. If that be not preventable, the wisdom of the final message applies. ‘There is time to wind up, and do it while you are still in a position to ‘Part as Friends’.
Yes there was bloodshed and a painful, ‘Partition’ in the end. That’s the common man. Imagine if this had started 50 years earlier? No man, saint or prophet stays on. It’s the message that lingers.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.
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