Relevance of Gandhi

Gandhi and his interaction with the world through a million Gandhis

Radhakanta Barik

Gandhi over slept today and got off from his samadhi at the Rajghat by listening to the sweeping sound of the sweepers. After getting off he felt impressed with cleanness around him and his samadhi. This was his life's philosophy that all his disciples who went to stay with him in his ashram he requested them to do cleaning of toilet. It is recorded in the works of Dr B N Pande, the official historian of the Congress Party. (A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress—Vol. IV by B N Pandey) As he reached the Sabarmati Ashram he did not get any work for almost a week. One morning after the prayer Pande requested Gandhi to give him some work. Gandhi decided to do give him the work of cleaning the toilet. Being a Brahmin from Allahabad he felt embarrassed in the beginning and adjusted to the culture of work. With satisfaction and pride he had written his experiences. This was Gandhian way of destroying the caste hierarchy as Indian caste system is based on a binary model of kitchen vs toilet. Toilet work is being reserved for the low caste rather than it is every body's job to keep clean own toilet.

Gandhi after getting off from his sleep found Modi was standing in front of him. Then Gandhi as a good Gujarati told him'you have done a good work as the Prime Minister'. Modi after hearing Gujarati his mother tongue felt bad as a Hindutva person he is of the opinion,' Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan'. He answered in Hindi and Gandhi advised him to speak in Gujarati.

Next question Gandhi raises 'in my life cleanliness is a voluntary work by volunteers from all castes and all communities. 'Then Modi felt embarrassed by this opinion given by Gandhi. He replied, 'I am in power I need to enjoy my power by making my government to work for swatchata." As Gandhi said, 'But I am happy that you are taking swatchata seriously. But are you keeping mind or heart clean of any hatred. Modi felt further embarrassed. As a good Hindutva person I get involved in the business of hatred. Hatred against whom? Gandhi retorted. Then Modi answered hatred against any other community except Hindus. Gandhi replied this is against Hinduism. Hinduism believes in respect every community and respect each religion and temple or mosque. That is my prayer 'Iswarallaterenam, sabakasadmati de bhagawan.' After listening to Gandhi, he as the Prime Minister of India felt embarrassed as it is respecting each religion. Modi never recited this prayer of Gandhi. He has deep hatred against Muslims and Pakistan. But Gandhi answered "I believe in a dialogue with Pakistan". But Modi answered "I do not do this, for me enemy is enemy". Then Gandhi said "I have no hatred for anybody nor for Pakistan". "Pakistan is another child like Hindustan both should grow."

Gandhi told "you are celebrating surgical strike day by which encouraging the war phobia. This is against my principle of non-violence and non-cooperation". Modi answered, 'without war and without violence I am not happy.'

Gandhi told"I am unable to sleep in my Samadhi without peace and prosperity and swatchata of mind and heart". Modi does not want to disturb his sleep but for his actions he felt bad for the first time as the Prime Minister. Gandhi told 'I am Sanatani Hindu, what are you? There is no immediate answer from Modi. After some time, he told in Hindi "I am modern Hindu". Gandhi got puzzled. "I am in my banaprasth". Modi felt little bad and told "I am modern". "I don't believe in various stages of life". Gandhi replied 'I don't know modern Hindu, please help me'. Modi was kind enough to answer. 'What is required for my power, I practice it'. Gandhi replied 'any means is good for you. Even murder'. Modi remains silent. Gandhi told—'if required money power?' Modi remains silent. Gandhi added 'if requires communal riots?'. Modi remains silent. Gandhi being Sanatani now understands modern Gandhi.

Gandhi's soldiers were ready to fight against communalism. In the case of communal riot in Bhadrak, a Gandhian worker Sadangi went to the centre of riot and lied there with a request that unless they would stop the riot he would die there. With such a moral voice, riot stopped. That's the strength of million Gandhian workers. In another occasion, the Gandhian workers came to our area in 1930 they invited Dalits and upper caste people to embrace each other in front of thousands of people, after the incident, the practice of untouchability stopped in our area. It was led by Pradhan, an, ordinary leader of the Congress. it is a collective effort of the million Gandhis of India.

Gandhi had love for the city of London where he got his education and started interacting with the leading intellectuals and thinkers of the world. He learnt the basic philosophy of life that he had to respect bread labour and non-violent political action against the exploitation. He lived his whole life with doing some manual work and intellectual labour. This encouraged Tagore, Gandhi and Zakir Hussain for developing basic education for school children. This was practiced during the post independent schooling system. Gandhi wrote his first book Hindi Swaraj in South Africa but released the book in the city of London. Another world thinker Karl Marx spent his intellectual productive time in the city of London where his major books Das Capital got written and released in this city not in Berlin. As Gandhi is a great communicator he wanted to speak to Marx. Let us imagine that both met in the city of London. Then Gandhi raises a question that "I speak for the poor and marginalized. That helps me to live like a naked Fakir according to Churchill, the former Prime Minister.That gave me pride to live with simple dress and simple food. This encouraged me to share experiences with the poor". Marx got fascinated by listening to a thinker like him who spent his whole life for the poor. Marx replied, "I always think of the poor. But I try to answer to your question: why one is poor. This question I answer in my book Capital." Gandhi felt encouraged by Marx's words and having the same wave length in their thinking. Gandhi wanted to know "what are your findings?" Marx told his famous labour theory of value. "Labour is the basis of creation of value." This encouraged Gandhi to feel closer to his bread labour and argued with Marx. Marx told, "he supports the laboring masses for their wage and dignity to life". Gandhi told Marx "Yes, I support the poor to fight for real wage and dignity. But he or she has to do work every day and cannot abstain from labour process." Marx told him "They can abstain from the labour process for getting their real wage".Gandhi and Marx both worked for the betterment of laboring people. This brought the simple truth which encouraged Marxists of India to lead simple life and work for the poor and marginalized. EMS Namboodirpad wrote his book 'Mahatma and Ism" a classic and worked for the poor. He brought the land reforms legislation in Kerala as the chief minister. This benefited the poor which transformed Kerala into a modern society. EMS and Jyoti Basu led very simple life and struggled for the common masses by bringing synthesis between Gandhi and Marx on Indian soil.

Gandhi was very much fond of conversation with anybody or somebody. That makes him interested to travel in the train by which he could converse with a good number of people. He did not ignore the high ups who wanted to keep in a dialogue with him. Even some important people knew him and but was not interested in a dialogue with him. He never ignored them. One of the high up persons was Savarkar who was known to people of his province Bombay. Moreover, both had a close affinity with Pune where Savarkar used to live in. For the first time he confronted him in the city of London on the occasion of release of his book: Hindi Swaraj. Gandhi in this book developed a social theory of Indian society. Indian society got mediated between family and community not religion that brought him to a conclusion that people belonging to various religions had been living in a peaceful coexistence and sharing the common space. They used to lead peaceful life on nonviolent lines. That helped him convinced of the fact that Indian people could lead the nonviolent political struggle against injustice. He met Savarkar in 1909 a known person from India who was on study tour to London to prove a point that religion could be the basis of nationalism in a violent manner. By looking at the book by Gandhi he retorted," I do not believe in nonviolence but violence as a means." Gandhi replied without any hesitation, " I do not believe in violence but only nonviolence." He remembered the face of Savarkar. After coming back from South Africa to India he met Savarkar in the city of Pune where he used to visit his political guru Gokhale. He took a step for having a dialogue with Savarkar but the important person of the Pune city refused to hold a discussion. Gandhi realised after sometime that Savarkar had been living in his village in Konkon of Bombay province which was the most beautiful place on the sea shore. He thought that was the right to time to discuss with Savarkar as he had been living in a beautiful place. Gandhi took pains by going to his village in Konkon but could not start a dialogue. This convinced of him, perhaps fascists were people who had no link with the books and racialists had no travelling experience. His dialogue went and hit the stone wall of the house of Savarkar.

Gandhi fought the two battles against imperialism and communalism. Many of the foot soldiers who were working on the grassroots level as a part of million Gandhis went with him. A gentleman Mr Sethi belonging to Dalits with just primary school education walked with Gandhi to Nuakhali in singing Tagore's song 'Akela Cholo' He is from a village of Jagatsingpur district of Odisha which had a large number of Gandhi's working soldiers who worked as religious reformers and organizing protest against the practice of untouchabiltiy and went with Gandhi's slogan of salt satyagrah to the nearby sea. That resulted in creating a reformed society in Jagatsinghpur where the practice of untouchability is absent. Their children went to schools to get education. In every village these Gandhis created community schools which is an educated district of India. For instance some of the people started learning sloks related to marriage and death anniversary belonging to lower castes organised their functions without inviting the priests. These Gandhis belonging to the fishermen community became the backbone of these reform movements. Gandhi realized that unreformed society cannot enjoy independence even if the Britishers would leave this place. Caste orthodoxy and religious division were the biggest enemies of the Indian freedom struggles against imperialism. When he visited Puri refused to go to the Jagannath Temple as the Dalits were not allowed to enter into the temple. In protesting against this practice he refused to have a darshan of Lord Jagannath. Today the practice is continuing as the priests harass the dalits including the present President of Indian Republic where no protests happened against the priests. We all request the District collector to abolish the hereditary system of priesthood and introduce the selection of priests on the basis of merit from all castes. Till today no step has been taken in this direction.

There were million Gandhis in India before Gandhi. He realized this sociological tradition prevailing in our society. He had many eyes for looking at the same social phenomenon. In an interview with a leading Odiya writer KalindiPanigrahi regarding his famous novel Matir Manisha which has been made into a film by the famous director Mrinal Sen. I realized this social trend. The story is a heart touching story where the elder brother uses passive resistance against his own younger brother to bring him back to nonviolent path of living. Panigrahi heard this story in the year 1928 from a villager while he was on inspection tour as a Cooperative Inspector. He was an established story writer and used this story writing his classic Matir Manisha. I was looking into the social history of the island of 22 villages where 19 villages have experienced violent murders except three. By probing this point I found in these three villages there was little Gandhis who did not allow violent conflict leading to murder. This is an all India trend which Gandhi could realise while he was travelling all over India before taking interest in Congress Politics. He started civil disobedience movement in the early 1930s which became a successful non -violent movement against the British rule. This movement was possible because of the million Gandhis present in each part of Indian subcontinent. They joined with him in leading the Salt Satyagrah in each part of India. Many Gandhian workers joined his temple entry movement which became the big success in Kerala. This happened in Vaikum temple of Kerala. Recently the Supreme Court's intervention in the temple affairs is against the Gandhian spirit of leading social reforms movements.

 Supreme court' s judgment regarding the Sabarimala temple removes gender barrier and throws open to women of all ages. This is a welcome step regarding equality and justice. But a question arises here that this is the country of Gandhi and Ambedkar. Kerala is the place Gandhi made a success for his fight against the practice of untouchability. About ninety years back Kerala shows the way regarding the temple entry movement. Social reformers within Kerala took the leadership regarding the movement but Gandhi gave his mantra of nonviolence struggle to them. In the Vaikum temple there was a temple entry movement when the priestly class opposed the movement but they were ready to have a dialogue with Gandhi. This is the strength of Kerala which is a literate and enlightened society. Internal reformers are ready to fight for justice. Gandhi argued with the priests to prove their point of view by showing the ancient texts which approved the restriction on the untouchables for an entry into the temple. It is a fascinating debate between the priests and Gandhi where priests could not show the texts which have barred the entry of the untouchables into the temple. They accepted Gandhi's point of view that is liberalism based on dialogue. Kerala society is today hundred percent literate and highly skilled society. But the society has lost its soul of enlightened leadership in social religious domain who can take up the issue of temple entry movement for women into the Sabarimala. But they allowed the intervention of Judiciary which is a good thing but it would have better if the social reformers would have taken up the issue of women which would have accelerated the process of social revolution.

[Prof Radhakanta Barik, Retired Professor in Political science and a story writer in Odiya.]

Vol. 51, No. 49, Jun 9 - 15, 2019

Your Comment if any