Jawaharlal Jasthi

Is this book 'A True Revolutionary and a Radical Thinker by Dr Nagasuri Venugopal'—another biography of the Mahatma? No, definitely not. It is not even the intention of the author to write one. Then, what is it supposed to be? It is an honest attempt to show the multifaceted personality of the great man which was ignored or underestimated by the authors who wrote so much about him.The most reputed editors of Telugu daily papers have also commented that Gandhi was irrational and did not like science and scientific outlook. The author being himself a qualified journalist felt disappointed to see such comments about the Mahatma. He took trouble to search all the literature on Gandhi and picked up the details of his personal life to prove that he was always a progressive person with high regard for science and scientists. He tried to bring the real Gandhi nearer to the readers in Telugu and wrote this book in Telugu entitled Asalainaviplavavadi.. sisalainasiddhantakarta (meaning A True Revolutionary and a Radical Thinker).

All the writers tried to stress on his political importance as a leader of freedom movement and as a spiritualist who prays every day. He is acknowledged to have contributed Satyaagraha and non-violence. As a spiritualist he never visited any temples, but he used to pray every day. Obviously, he was not an orthodox spiritualist. In fact he adopted to religious teachings only to ensure that people come nearer to him and heed to his call for unity in the fight for freedom. The very fact that people of all religions followed him is proof enough that he succeeded in that attempt. But once the country became independent, all the suppressed and controlled animosity between different religions, provoked by self interested politicians, flared up to prove man is the wildest of all animals. It brought in the worst carnage of human history. He could control even that to some extent by putting his own life on line. His heart refused to derive any kind of satisfaction on achieving the long standing dream of independence from colonial powers. It was not as he expected. He could not digest it. The learned author brought out the various instances where Gandhi was able to pacify the wild emotions and prevented carnage.

Satyaagraha and non-violence are accepted as the most valuable contributions of Gandhi. Most of the Indians, including the Telugu people were under the impression that Gandhi developed those concepts while fighting for freedom of India. The author explained that the concepts took shape while he was in South Africa supporting the local people and Indians who migrated and settled there. Then itself they realized that they cannot resort to violence against the mighty force of the state. It would only result in blood shed and the victims would be from their own cadre. So "passive resistance" was considered as an alternative way of resisting violence. But Gandhi felt the name was not carrying the full weight of the concept. Somebody suggested "sadagraha" as its name. It was explained as "Sat + graha" that is, understanding the Truth. Gandhi modified it as "Satyaagraha". People are told that it was Rabindranath Tagore who called Gandhi "Mahatma." The author of this book unearthed the hidden fact that Gandhi was called Mahatma on 8 November 1909 for the first time while he was in Africa. It was Dr Pranjivan Mehta who described Gandhi as Mahatma in his letter addressed to Gokhale.

Gandhi had basic convictions that he never wanted to compromise. God was one such conviction accepted as the ultimate truth. At the same time he was also not so rigid as to refuse to accept reasonable modifications even in basic faiths. The renowned atheist GoRa stayed with him for some time in the Ashram and had bouts of discussions and deep arguments about God and Truth. GoRa was able to convince Gandhi that Truth is different from God and also that Truth is superior to the concept of God. Gandhi did not discard the concept of God and GoRa also did not insist on that. But to accept superiority of Truth itself is a big change on the part of Gandhi. Nobody can blame Gandhi as an orthodox religious bigot. He was willing to change if persuaded rationally.

But his dependence on religion to bring together all people earned him the label of orthodox and antiscientific attitude which is far from truth. In fact it is the main burden of this book to dispel that concept. The author Dr.Nagasuri , himself having made substantial contributions for popularization of science in Telugu, could not relish that scientific attitude of Gandhi was not brought out to the public. He zealously tried to prove that Gandhi had immense respect for science and scientists. He had respectable relations with eminent scientists of the day. His only complaint with them was that they should come closer to the people instead of living in ivory towers. If he was not progressive in his outlook he could not have earned the respect of scientists like C V Raman, Mashelkar, Yellapragada, H J Bhabha. Dr P C Ray. In fact C V Raman used to conduct lectures in honor of the memory of Gandhi every year in his Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore from 1948 until his death in 1970.

At one stage he had to exhort people to use the spinning wheel to make cotton thread for weavers. It has become a source of ridicule without understanding the context of it. There was a movement to discard all the imported goods of which a major part is textiles. Even now we see countries restricting imports for various reasons. To fill the gap it was necessary to supply thread to the weavers. The only equipment available in all the villages was the spinning wheel. When Gandhi gave the call its use has become a domestic industry and many of the rural people, particularly women, got engaged in the process. But Gandhi did not overlook the fact that it was a very rudimentary equipment, not giving proper value for the work on it. But it was what was available. Simultaneously he was trying to improve it. He invited designs for it, conducted competitions and offered rewards also. Consequently the spinning wheel took different shapes resulting in reduction of work and increasing production of thread giving better remuneration. Even then it was not adequate, we know. But it served a purpose then.

Gandhi encouraged students to study science and even sent students to MIT. One of his grandsons, Kanuram Das Gandhi was a graduate from MIT. Gandhi used to think in a different way from his contemporaries. Steve Jobs was all praise for Gandhi for his different way of thinking. That helped Jobs to succeed in his ventures by inventing different gadgets of practical use. R A Mashelkar, the former Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research called Gandhi's way of thinking as "Gandhian Engineering" The basic principle is "More from less for more". Insist on less inputs and get more output. That is after all the basic principle of any economic activity. Along with C K Prahlad, the renowned management consultant, Dr Mashelkar wanted to popularize the concept of Gandhian Engineering. But the untimely death of Prahladput an end to the effort. It was the duty of Prahlad to make managements accept the concept while Mashelkar explains what it is. The author Dr. Nagasuri succeeded in establishing that Gandhi was not only interested in science, but also has become an inspiration for scientists and innovators.

It is true that Gandhi did not give a full picture of the economy he wanted. Such a picture was drafted by E F Schumacher in his SMALL IS BEAUTIFULpublished in 1973. Even Dr Ram ManoharLohia was of the same intention and liked Gandhi for it. When he visited America he was repeatedly asked to describe how the socialist economy could be in practice. It was not a subject to be explained in an interview or discussion. It needs a book and that was supplied by Schumacher in 1973. By that time neither Gandhi was there nor Lohia. This concept of Gandhian Engineering was on similar lines as "Intermediate Technology" suggested by Schumacher. Gandhi did not concentrate much on this aspect as winning freedom was of immediate requirement and in his opinion, development matters can wait till then.

Gandhiji never differentiated between his personal and public life. It was an integrated life, no dichotomy. But when the man is trying to teach morals to the public his personal life would be dissected and displayed under microscope. More criticism was directed against his practice of celibacy. It is stated that after observing the delivery of his fourth son by his wife (which he had to help as a midwife) with fragile health he felt itinhuman on his part to seek family pleasures and decided to lead a celibate life from then onwards. There is also another version on this. While in Africa he was moved by the struggles of the poor people to make both ends meet. In such a life there would be no place for any pleasure or comforts. Gandhi felt guilty to lead a life of pleasure while others are suffering for want of minimum necessaries. It is reported that he decided to forsake pleasures of family life without consulting his wife, but she conceded without murmur. It was a voluntary celibacy. That started when he was in Africa. After coming to India, seeing the poor peasants half clad, he decided to discard the London style of dressing and restricted himself to a rough cloth around his waist and a towel covering the chest. That gave him immense respect among the poor people and helped identifying Gandhi with the people of India. His convictions were so deep that he presented himself in the same attire while attending the Round Table Conference in London.

Immediately after coming from Africa, he was made to realise the inequalities in the Indian society. In the meeting arranged by his admirers there were people of all levels—common men, educated people and also business magnates and zamindaars. He felt constrained to tell his hosts on the face that the riches were not meant for display but only for welfare of the needy. To tell it on the face of his hosts requires courage of conviction and integrity. He came to India with intention to ameliorate the conditions on Indians. They are expected to be his followers. But what is the use of followers who do not understand him? And how do they understand unless you are frank enough?

He must have noticed the tension prevailing between the two main religions in the country. Naturally he decided it his priority to build bridges and help tolerance. He was careful enough to give no scope for any doubt in this regard. He preached tolerance between all the religions. He had to say all religions are respectable if he has to get cooperation from all the people. He should not have been ignorant of all the havoc played by religions and in the name of religions throughout history. But he never mentioned it with reference to religions.

But he did not hesitate to condemn atheism blaming it for violence. He was careful to concede that he does not know much about Bolshevism as then it was a nascent theory coming into practice and declined to express any opinion about it. But at the same time he did not hesitate to condemn atheism blaming it for violence. Atheism had to take the blame as it was associated with communism. There was no other political party or 'religion' associated with atheism and there was no evidence that atheism promoted violence but for its association with communism. Atheism is an anathema as it denies theism, but theism is the corner stone of all religions which Gandhi had to use as part of his strategy to unite the people and to involve them into his fight for freedom which was the goal of his life. The distinction between religion, spiritualism and theism is largely blurred.

Having fought the colonial rulers in Africa, Gandhi came to India with an intention to fight for the mother land and make it free from the colonial rule. He made it the purpose of his life. He selected the tools required for the purpose and applied the same with skill and dexterity. He was a great strategist having short time and long time aims. His first aim was to get freedom for the country and later to develop the country in his own image. He knows the importance of education, science and technology and economic planning. But they come after getting independence. Naturally he did not allow any compromise on his shorter aim. He devised and designed his plans carefully. To convince himself he adopted the principles of ethical and judicial norms. He was on a righteous path so that there would be no need to compromise which helped him stay firm on his demand.

The author Dr Nagasuri Venugopal took upon himself the delicate responsibility to present the human side and also the greatness of the person—the Mahatma. He showed that Gandhi was not so orthodox as many people tend to estimate. He showed the progressive side of his life and also the humane side. It would not have been possible without dedicated effort, unearthing the many incidents that were buried under the thousands of pages of the vast literature on this great man.

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Vol. 53, No. 35, Feb 28 - Mar 6, 2021