Gandhi’s Death Anniversary: Reflections
On 30 January 65 years ago Mahatma Gandhi was shot while attending a prayer in New Delhi. Every day he used to attend prayers, which served two purposes: to pray to God for well being of mankind, and to meet visitors and interact with them. Before closing his eyes eternally he uttered thrice Ram, the Hindu God, considered an ideal to be emulated in practical life.
Two famous songs Gandhi used to listen during these prayer sessions included: Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je pid parai jane re (the person is divine, who feels other’s pain); and Raghupati Raghav Rajaram (a prayer to Ram). The first song was written by the 15th century Gujarati saint-poet Narsinh Mehta, a prayer full of devotion and love, imploring human beings not to immerse in their well being, but to care for others. The spirit behind the song is: service to mankind is service to God. The second one is a prayer seeking divine grace for the well being of mankind. This song is still popular in India, and sung on many occasions. Gandhi was not only listening to the prayers but also following them in practice. Hypocrisy is foreign to him. A noble thing learnt is meant for practice. For him, there is no separation between thought and practice. A British educated, renowned lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi left the riches except a loin cloth to ‘experiment with truth’ in India.
Religion had impacted Gandhi’s politics. He was influenced by his mother, a pious lady, and listened from her stories of Hindu scriptures. But his religion is not a religion of exclusion. The opposite is true. For him, all religions are paths to God-realization. Religion does not mean ritualism or dogmatism. Gandhi would argue if ritualism or dogmatism is an obstacle against God-realization, better they be shun. They are utilitarian so far they help seeker to move closer to God. He wrote that all religions are like different flowers which make the garden beautiful. While India was burning in communal fire with Hindus and Muslims killing each other after the partition of the subcontinent, Gandhi instead of attending the independence celebrations in Delhi marched to far flung areas to douse the fire. He insisted that new-born Pakistan must have its due share in resources of undivided India. He was killed by a fanatic Hindu, who saw in activities of Gandhi strains of anti-Hinduism.
Gandhi’s religious views influenced his action. When an inmate of his Ashram cut a small branch of a tree in a careless action, Gandhi’s anger was without limit. He saw life in everything, both animate and inanimate things. For him, in an animal or a tree dwells God, as in a human being. Gandhi’s politics is spiritualized politics. The prayers, readings from scriptures deeply influenced his thought and action. He was called a politician among saints and saint among politicians. His vision of an ideal state is what he termed Ram Rajya (Kingdom of Ram or God), a place in which Truth reigns supreme. Ram, the Hindu God, is considered an ideal king who followed the rules honestly and did not hesitate to be harsh on his family members if the rule demanded. The mythology says, not only human beings, but also animals had the right to seek justice from King Ram.
For Gandhi, the poor must factor first in policy making. He offered an advice to policy makers. What is famously called Bapu’s talisman, he exhorted policy makers, “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 (freedom) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.” Juxtapose this to Rajiv Gandhi (a former prime minister of India), who confessed: one rupee that central government releases for poor is reduced to 10 paisa (1 rupee = 100 paisa) at destination. Though Indian currency notes display the image of Gandhi, the massive corruption at higher and lower echelons of administration displays a stark contrast. The irony is clear. Though Gandhi is worshiped as father of the nation in India, the real working of Indian polity has sacrificed him in the altar of corruption, communalism and self-aggrandizement. On the question of self-aggrandizement, Gandhi’s views were very clear. He says, earth has for everybody’s need but not for anybody’s greed. He led by example. He led a frugal life. When King George V enquired, during Gandhi’s visit to Buckingham place in 1931, why the Indian leader had put on scant cloth Gandhi’s reply was: The King had enough on for both of us.
In Gandhi’s life philosophy there is no disparity between the inner and the outer. The person who is honest and truthful in his inner core can not be dishonest and corrupt in his activities. Gandhi articulates well that there is no limit to human greed. Greed not only leads to corruption and demoralizes public and private life but also concentrates wealth in the hands of the few at the cost of the many. He argues a different kind of economic arrangement in society in which the rich will not be the possessor of their wealth, but a trustee of it, not for self-indulgence but for the greater well being of society. The Gandhian dream of an ethical India, in which rich and poor have same life-values, has apparently crumbled if one looks at India today.
Gandhi once commented that if women of the world unite they can kick atom bomb like a foot ball. For him, women and men are equal. Women with their power of compassion can make a better world than their male counterparts. He was almost an icon among women. When he visited London suburbs and working class areas in 1931, women flocked in large numbers to meet him. As displayed by media, the old frail man was surrounded by women during his visit to textile workers in suburbs of London.
He was concerned at arms race that was picking speed during early days of the cold war. At Asia Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1947, he argued for a non-violent, peaceful world, where nations whether in Asia and Africa, or in other continents, would realize their full potentials in the spirit of harmony and brotherhood. As colonialism was still a raging phenomenon those days, Gandhi in this conference raised the pitch to fight against this menace through non-violence. In his words, “I do not want merely to appeal to your head. I want to capture your heart … In this age of democracy, in this age of awakening of the poorest of the poor, you can redeliver this message with the greatest emphasis. You will complete the conquest of the West, not through vengeance, because you have been exploited, but with real understanding. I am sanguine, if all of you put your hearts together–not merely heads–to understand the secret of the message these wise men of the East have left to us, and us if we really become worthy of that great message, the conquest of the West will be completed. This conquest will be loved by the West itself.”
Gandhi’s ideas related to alcohol, animal-killing and Brahmacharya (celibacy, a crude translation) are almost extinct from public debate. His autobiography is full of accounts how he struggled in his inner life to conquer desire. He conquered desire. He was a noble soul. It is apt to quote Einstein, who pays a fitting tribute to Gandhi, “A leader of his people, unsupported by any outward authority; a politician whose success rests not upon craft or mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force; a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot; a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior. Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, currently part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India. He specializes on areas of conflict, peace and terrorism, and strategic dimensions of Central Eurasian politics.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Feb 2013.
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