Gandhi was beyond hate and fear
By M.V. Kamath
Mahatma Gandhi : His life and ideas; Charles F. Andrews; Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai, pp 301, Rs 250. 00
Has Mahatma Gandhi lost his relevance to our times? Or is his leadership and thought still relevant to us? There are many among us who have no use for the Mahatma´s ideas and philosophy. They would do well to read Charles F. Andrews´ wholesome study of the man, whom he always referred to by the Mahatma´s first name, Mohan. Indeed, Andrews is probably the only one in his time who could call the Mahatma affectionately as Mohan. For Andrews, now a long-forgotten figure, knew Gandhiji well.
A contemporary (1871-1940) of the Mahatma, Andrews came to India as a missionary educationist and stayed on to become not only as Gandhiji´s ´best friend´, but in Gandhiji´s own words, “the highest living representative of Christianity”. Understandably, this is not a complete biography. In the first place Andrews did not set out to write the Mahatma´s ´biography´. His objective was to present, in his own words “the main principles and ideas for which Mahatma Gandhi stood in the course of his eventful career, with documentary evidence”.
It may be remembered that one of the best biographies of Gandhi was written by a French philosopher, Romain Rolland. In his preface to his book Andrews says that “after writing the different chapters, it was encouraging to me to find later that the outline of my own picture was not far removed in the special light and shade and contour from the character which Romain Rolland had drawn… Quite unconsciously my personal reading of Mahatma Gandhi´s ideas has in a great measure coincided with his.” That is high praise, indeed. Unlike Romain Rolland, however, Andrews could speak with authority because he had personal knowledge of the Mahatma. Unfortunately, Andrews predeceased his friend. And since he died in 1940, he had no opportunity to present the post-1942 Gandhi and the Partition of the country and the Mahatma´s assassination in 1948. But no matter. If any one man understood in all its nuances the way Gandhiji lived and thought, it surely is Andrews, none other.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I deals with the religious environment, the background of Hinduism, the so-called Hindu-Muslim problem, the Christian contact, the religious meaning of Swadeshi, the ethics of khaddar (khadi), etc.
Before he was sentenced to imprisonment in the early twenties Gandhiji admitted that “by a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody”.
Part II deals with Gandhi´s confession of faith in 1909, the passive resistance movement in South Africa, the setting up of the famous Tolstoy Farm, and following Gandhi´s return to India, of satyagraha which he initiated, the Bombay riots in 1921 of which Andrews writes: “Probably no greater shock has ever come in recent years to any national leader in midst of an heroic struggle than that which Mahatma Gandhi suffered in Bombay in 1921”. What Andrews would have said had he witnessed the riots following the Partition of India is another matter.
Of special significance is Andrews´ chapter on the Hindu-Muslim problem, a portion of which is worth reproducing. Wrote Andrews: ” One of the gravest difficulties to be overcome in India in order to obtain national unity has always been the direct antagonism between Hinduism and Islam. While the latter religion has acted as a purge, it has also stirred up bitter hatreds; and these have gone deep into the heart of the Hindu people.
Perhaps there is no more acute religious strife in the East today than that between Hindus and Mussalmans. During long periods this bitterness may fall in abeyance among the masses. The natural kindliness and good-nature of the people of India may reassert itself. But sooner or later, a past history has shown a wave of fanatical hatred seems to sweep over the country and then all the deep-seated passions come back to surface in terrible forms”.
Andrews recalls history only to support Gandhiji´s”supporting the Mussalmans in what he held to be a righteous cause”, namely, the Khilafat agitation. Understandably, Andrews defends the Mahatma when the latter, for example, suspended Mass Civil Disobedience following the Chauri Chaura incident. There has never been and it is very unlikely that there ever will be another person of Andrews´ eminence who would defend practically every action that the Mahatma initiated.
But to read this book is to realise the impeccable logic of the Mahatma´s actions which only an Andrews could understand and interpret. The Mahatma was beyond hate and fear.
Before he was sentenced to imprisonment in the early twenties Gandhiji admitted that “by a long course of prayerful discipline, I have cease for over forty years to hate anybody”. As the Mahatma put it?and as Andrews quotes him?as having written: “I do NOT?hate the domineering Englishmen, as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to us… Mine is not an exclusive love. I cannot love Mussalmans or Hindus and hate Englishmen. For if I merely love Hindus and Mussalmans because their ways are pleasing to me, I shall soon begin to hate them when their ways displease me… A love that is based on the goodness of those you love is a mercenary affair, whereas true love is self-effacing and demands no consideration.”
To understand Gandhi? presently one of the most misunderstood of all Indian leaders of the twentieth century?one has to read this book. Andrews presents the Mahatma in his true pristine form, which is both its strength as well its relevance. The Mahatma, of course, sometimes said contrary things. But he is both charming and somewhat naive as when he wrote: “Truth, is always changing and if I hold on to what I said earlier, it would be wrong. My perception or understanding of a situation must be based on truth as it appears to me today”. Gandhiji advised his readers and followers to take the last statement on any subject to be his stand on that particular issue. A very brave and honest thing to say. Even in regard to non-cooperation which Gandhiji perfected, he had his own doubts. He called it “a dangerous experiment in itself, unnatural, vicious and sinful… but a sacred duty at times.? Only a Gandhi could say a thing like that. To all critics of the Mahatma, then, a word of advice. Criticise Gandhi by all means, but read this book first. It is a comprehensive study of the man, of which, alas, there are so few.
Jaico has done a real service to India by republishing it after all these years under the general title: ´Innovators of the Spirit, Teachers for our Time´.
The tragic thing is that Andrews himself did not live to see his book published because he passed away months prior to the publication.