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"IN times of crisis and difficulty," I asked Nehru recently, "do you inquire of yourself, 'What would Gandhi have done?'" Nehru reflected a moment before he replied. "It's a difficult question but I'll answer it frankly. In moments of crisis, political or personal, I do think of Gandhi but for a somewhat selfish reason. I think of him because I would like to recapture his serenity of mind, the calmness of spirit with which he used to face a crisis. But if you ask me, do I consciously inquire of myself, 'What would Gandhi have done?' well--no."
It was an honest answer and typical of the man. Here was Gandhi's heir whom the Mahatma in his own lifetime had named as his successor confessing that not in every moment of crisis did he turn instinctively for inspiration to the Master.
"And yet," Nehru went on, "Gandhi typified the spirit of India in a curious and characteristic way. He had the same strong core of tradition and thought to which he remained loyal. But outside that he could adjust himself and his views to the impact of others. He was resilient and flexible. He would bend but he would not break."
As I listened to Nehru I felt that that was probably how the Mahatma would have liked it, for Gandhi had never insisted that his followers should live in the image of himself. True, he was an exacting taskmaster who expected and insisted on scrupulous adherence to certain standards of conduct, of discipline and rectitude. But even within the idiosyncrasies of his own personal mode of life Gandhi was prepared to make concessions to others, whether in the way of diet, tobacco, tea or celibacy. It was one reason why he attracted such diverse individuals as the exuberantly extroverted Sarojini Naidu on the one hand and the saintly but astringent Vinoba Bhave on the other.
Looking back over the past ten years from January 30, 1948, when the Mahatma was assassinated, it would be pharisaical to pretend that Gandhi's ideas and teachings survive and shine as vividly as they did in his lifetime. Like Hinduism, Gandhism is much more than a way of life for, just as the mere observance of caste, ritual and the institution of the joint family does not constitute Hinduism, so also the adoption of ascetic habits, verging on the masochistic, does not in itself generate the "soul force" which is Gandhism. Paradoxically enough, while Hinduism is beginning to shed its outer habiliments such as caste and the joint family, the present-day exponents of Gandhism, with rare exceptions, prefer the façade to the faith. The result is a general debasing of Gandhian gold.
Service was the master passion of Gandhi's life, and although he was not the first Indian to preach political liberty he was distinctive in so far as he was the first to identify himself with the people. This quality of never standing apart from the people is what distinguished the Mahatma most clearly from the older school of Indian politicians. An English friend describes how he once asked Gandhi whether his service was done through love of the cause or love of the people. Gandhi's reply was characteristic. "For love of the people," he said, and added, "To serve a cause without serving persons is a dead thing."
To the end of his life Gandhi combined with a basic, often extreme conservatism a heterodox outlook on many matters, and the rebel was as strong as the puritanical streak in him. The rebel in Gandhi drew Nehru to the Mahatma.
"Sometimes," Nehru confesses in his autobiography, "his language was almost incomprehensible to an average modern." Many of his ideas appeared to the younger man to be mediæval and revivalist. Nehru recoiled from the Mahatma's idealization of poverty and suffering, his doctrine of wealth as a trust, his frequent stress on the religious and spiritual aspect of the civil disobedience movement, his attitude to machinery and modern civilization and his vagueness in defining political and economic objectives.
Yet behind Gandhi's gentle mien Nehru detected a resolute purpose. The Mahatma, he discovered, was different from the older school of Indian politicians in another respect, for while the latter had consisted largely of armchair politicians who delighted in marathon speeches and in the passing of long-winded resolutions, the Mahatma insisted on action. A wrong, he declared, should provoke not only protest but active resistance, and such resistance should be non-violent.
We come here to the core of Gandhi's teaching. Blended in the doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence are two of Christianity's outstanding principles--the precept of returning good for evil and the promise that the meek shall inherit the earth. The idea of using moral suasion rather than force is not new to humanity but to Gandhi belongs the credit of employing it as an instrument for political and social regeneration. In this the Mahatma was influenced greatly by the ideas of an American and a Russian, by Thoreau and Tolstoy.
With Thoreau he believed that in a time of injustice the place of the just man was in prison, and from the American he drew strength in his own way of life, in "the joy," as Thoreau put it, "of possessing all and owning nothing." It was to Tolstoy that Gandhi sent an account of his first non-violent campaigns in South Africa. Tolstoy's reply ends on a prophetic note: "Your activity in the Transvaal, as it seems to us at this end of the world, is the most essential work, the most important of all the work now being done in the world, wherein not only the nations of the Christian, but of all the world will inevitably take part."
To many this will seem an extravagant prophecy which indeed it was. But its interest lies in its irony, for there is no notion more mistaken or fanciful than the widespread belief that India and the National Congress Party were at any time, in Gandhi's lifetime or after, committed to non-violence as a creed. The Congress Party, including Nehru and other prominent leaders such as the late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, accepted non-violence but only as a method. With them it was an instrument of political practice, not an article of faith. The distinction is important for it explains many of the contradictions, seeming or real, in Indian policies at home and abroad since the Mahatma's death.
To Gandhi non-violence was a dogma, a creed and an article of faith, but the majority of his followers saw it only as a worthy means to a worthy end. They approached non-violence pragmatically whereas Gandhi's faith in it was absolute and immutable. Good means, he insisted, must lead to good ends while bad means could only vitiate and defeat the ends. In so far as he viewed ends as a projection of means he was often wont to regard means as ends and thus non-violence became with him a mission.
Most of the Congress Party, more especially Nehru, never shared this view. If they did, it is difficult to reconcile some of their actions with their speeches. Thus on the outbreak of the Second World War Gandhi urged that Indian aid should be given to the British unconditionally but that it should be of a nonviolent character. Nehru's view, like that of the majority of his colleagues, was different. India, they felt, should assist Britain in a war against Nazism even to the extent of armed support, but it could do so only as a free nation. Subsequently, differences arose over a later resolution adopted by the Congress Party which Gandhi interpreted as committing the Congress to nonviolence, even in external war. With this interpretation the majority of his colleagues, notably Nehru, Patel and Azad, disagreed, explaining to the Mahatma that their acceptance of the principle of non-violence was limited only to the country's internal political struggle and was never intended to be extended to external war. Significantly they also pointed out to him that the Congress had never applied the principle of non-violence to the Indian armed services and police since the Congress Party had frequently urged more rapid Indianization of the army.
Gandhi, having listened to them patiently, was adamant. "It is my certain belief," he said, "that only non-violence can save India and the world from self-extinction." But his colleagues would not be convinced, and so--not for the first time--the Mahatma relinquished the leadership of the Congress Party.
The interesting fact that emerges from all this is that neither India nor the Congress Party accepted Gandhi's doctrine of nonviolence as a creed. Even the Mahatma's effort to equate nonviolence with Hindu teaching was vigorously contested, not least by Hindus themselves, many of whom pointed to the Mahabharata, the great epic poem which has as its central theme the war between the Kauravas and Pandavas. In the Bhagavad Gita, which is an interpolation in the Mahabharata, Krishna addressing his disciple, Arjuna, urges him to play his part in the destruction of the enemy in war. Gandhi's attempt to explain this as symbolic of the eternal conflict between good and evil, right and wrong in the human soul, is not convincing for it cannot be reconciled with Krishna's address to Arjuna as a soldier whose duty it is to defend the community uninfluenced by fear. Nor in the Mahatma's lifetime was the modern educated middle class easily impressed by non-violence as a political faith. It seemed to them to lack an intellectual basis because violence by any rational thinking was permissible in defense of personal honor and against aggression.
Here Nehru, by rationalizing those of Gandhi's teachings which were not easily acceptable to the sophisticated intellectual, did much to reconcile this class to Gandhi's leadership and induced them to follow him. "A worthy end should have worthy means leading up to it," he observed, in commending non-violence. But clearly he himself accepted it as a political weapon not because he respected it as an absolute creed but because he regarded it as the right policy in the conditions which prevailed.
One might almost say in the light of present-day events that Nehru used Gandhi's means to achieve what have proved to be largely his own political and economic ends. But this would be demonstrably unfair since at the time he could not have foreseen the future. That, however, is what has actually happened. The Indian Government of today, headed by Nehru, favors industrialization and high power projects, stands for a socialistic pattern of society, refuses to regard wealth as a trust and has put private enterprise on the defensive--developments at which Gandhi in all likelihood would have looked askance. On the other hand it is attempting to enforce prohibition over wide areas of India, to encourage the handloom, spinning wheel and small-scale industries, and to accelerate land reforms--measures which the Mahatma would have blessed. The Government has also been active in initiating birth-control clinics within ten years of the Mahatma's death. It will be remembered that Gandhi denounced artificial birth control as "sin" and preached the rarefied cult of brahmacharya which means chastity or voluntary restraint.
Only a few months ago I asked one of Gandhi's oldest English associates, H. S. L. Polak, who had worked with him in South Africa, how much of Gandhi's teaching he thought survived in India. "Ostensibly a great deal," said Polak. "In reality, very little."
I think he was right. The façade of Gandhism is there and many Congressmen still talk of the Mahatma as "the voice of conscience," but the voice, if ever heard, seems rarely to prevail. In the ten years of independence there have been more police firings on workers, students and other demonstrators, admittedly obstreperous, than there were in the ten comparatively quiescent years between 1932 and 1942 when the British raj held sway. According to a survey carried out by the central office of the Socialist Party, the police have opened fire on over a thousand occasions in the past ten years. (The exact figure is 1,020 for nine and a half years.) In all, 840 persons were reported to have been killed and 3,136 injured. These figures have not been contradicted by the Government. Of non-violence, save as an expression of India's foreign policy, there is therefore little evidence inside India--which is not to say that a state of turmoil persists (it does not) but that authority as represented by those in charge of law and order is more trigger-happy in independent than it was in British-ruled India.
Two facts explain this paradoxical state of affairs. In the first place, the majority of Gandhi's teachings, including his basic tenet of non-violence, were accepted by the majority of his followers not as doctrinal articles of faith but as practical weapons in the fight for swaraj. Other tenets, such as brahmacharya, were regarded as harmless fads springing from an excessively puritanical nature. Certainly Gandhi's attitude to sex and his ideas on diet appear curious not only to a modern but to a normal individual. It is difficult, for instance, to conceive of many persons (including Indians) subscribing to the Mahatma's theory that harmless beverages such as tea were dangerous and passionate drinks calculated to stir the animal in man.
The second explanatory fact arises from this highly repressive attitude which saw life as a series of taboos. Here Gandhi differed from his great contemporary Rabindranath Tagore who wrote lyrically of the joyous life and of the need for savoring thankfully the mundane and spiritual gifts of God. Gandhi saw life as renunciation. "There is no limit to the possibilities of renunciation," he preached. In this perhaps he reflected the older Hindu thinking--that austerity as expressed in extreme simplicity is the highest virtue. But as an English friend of Gandhi and India, Henry Brailsford, once queried, "Is it wholly admirable? This Indian road to God narrows and empties the universe. It achieves unity too easily by omission."
One need not necessarily subscribe to Brailsford's view to agree that a repressive life when practised by those to whom exaggerated austerity does not come easily leads to an unnatural way of living, productive of many complexes and contradictions. In the Mahatma's immediate entourage which adopted this repressive habit of life, these complexes and contradictions were abundantly manifest. They were by no means confined to an inner circle, for on the outer fringes there also popped up a series of minor Mahatmas who sought to mold themselves in their Master's image. Flaunting their outward austerity as a sign of inward grace, not a few of these individuals came to regard themselves as representing the authentic voice of the Mahatma. More than anything else this trend has been responsible for the slightly shop-soiled hypocrisy which characterizes some Congress circles, and detracts from the intrinsic virtue of much of what the Mahatma taught.
From this taint happily Nehru has been free. He did give up smoking at one stage during his association with the Mahatma, but as a matter of discipline and not as a virtuous gesture. In more recent years his diet has been predominantly vegetarian but the reason he gives for eating less meat is that he finds the habit "coarse." Although Nehru is inclined to agnosticism, Gandhi once described him as "nearer God than many persons who profess to be His followers."
I remember asking Nehru some years ago, when the Mahatma was alive and the Congress Working Committee was meeting for a busy and protracted session, whether he could find time to see me. He puckered his eyebrows fretfully, for his day was very crowded, and then suddenly he smiled. "I know," he said. "Come and see me during Gandhiji's prayer meeting. I'm never there!"
It might have marked the beginning of the secular approach. Yet I feel he is less than just when he describes the foreign policy he now pursues as rooted in Indian tradition and deriving from Gandhi, the Buddha and Asoka. It is true that these great sons of India preached peace and good will to all men, and that in so far as non-alignment represents good will to all men it is in line with ancient tradition. But neither Nehru nor the Congress Party has at any stage accepted non-violence as a doctrine or a creed. Indeed they repudiated this concept of non-violence in Gandhi's own lifetime. Many Hindus repudiate it as contrary to Hindu tradition. Perhaps some might also see significance in the fact that of the three men, one, Gandhi, was assassinated by one of his own countrymen, while the religion preached by another, the Buddha, was gradually edged out of India and mainly flourishes abroad, in Thailand, Ceylon, Japan and elsewhere. Prophets rarely flourish in their own country.
Moreover, the Mahatma's conception of non-violence or ahimsa was never passive. He certainly never compromised with evil for he insisted that a wrong should not merely provoke protest but that it should be actively resisted. The practical expression of ahimsa was satyagraha which literally means "the power of truth" but is generally described as "soul force." Satyagraha, which came to be known in its political form in India as civil disobedience, was described by Gandhi as the weapon of the strong, not the weak, its motive force arising from a feeling of inner strength and its practice calling for self-discipline. For satyagraha inflicted physical injury on none but the exponent who by enduring the maximum suffering without thought of counter-violence sought to shame or inspire the wrongdoer into doing right.
I think Gandhi would have approved wholeheartedly of Nehru's foreign policy of non-alignment, as the majority of thoughtful Indians do; and indeed Nehru proclaimed his policy even in the Mahatma's lifetime. Where Gandhi might--and in all likelihood would--have differed from Nehru would have been in some of the attitudes adopted and emphasis placed in implementing the policy. He would certainly not have approved of carrying non-alignment to the point of being privy to anything wrong or evil. I feel he would have come out as unequivocally against the Soviet butchery in Hungary as the French butchery in Algeria. And not on the ground of violence alone but on the ground of wrongful oppression. Although his belief in the intrinsic goodness of man--which again is at the root of the Christian doctrine of saving souls--led him to appeal equally to Roosevelt and to Hitler during World War II and did not permit him to differentiate between Communists and non-Communists as human beings, he was implacable in his opposition to what he felt was evil.
"I do not know," he told some Indian Communists who tried to convert him as far back as 1924, "whether Bolshevism is for the good of Russia in the long run. But I do know that in so far as it is based on violence and denial of God it repels me. . . . I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes."
Gandhi believed in the spiritual nature of man, and for him a world or doctrine which denied the existence of God was meaningless and abnormal. It is here that modern India departs markedly from the Gandhian tradition, for to the Mahatma individuals were more important than governments and he worked passionately to uphold the individual's right to freedom of opinion and action. In a curious and distinctive way he was more concerned with individuals than causes. On one occasion he held up a meeting of the Congress Working Committee whose members had come hundreds of miles from various parts of India while he listened gravely and earnestly to the pleas of a widow who was there to consult him on a personal problem.
"Who can judge?" remarked a spectator who told me of this incident. "His sense of values is probably more true than ours."
Socialism sees society not in terms of individuals but as a conglomeration of groups, of classes and masses, of workers and capitalists, of peasants and landlords, of various forces operating at different strata to change the face of society. This is how Nehru and the Congress Party view India today, and it is here that they deviate most significantly from the Gandhian outlook and tradition. For to the Mahatma society meant individuals not groups, and he saw India as much in the faces of a peasant or a landlord as in the eyes of a child or a teacher. Gandhi was primarily a humanist and only next a politician. He was more concerned in achieving the ultimate slowly than in seizing on an immediate advantage and exploring it. This explains his weakness as a purely political negotiator. He was more interested in the purpose than in the mechanism of modern politics.
He functioned, it is true, in opposition to an established alien order whereas Nehru and the Congress Party operate today as the government in power. Political, economic and social values tend to change when viewed from different and opposite vantage points. This partly explains the movement of the Congress away from many of Gandhi's teachings, but the divergence is also influenced by the sharp difference in attitude or approach. The Gandhian emphasis was on the individual whereas the present-day Congress stress is on the State. Men appear differently when seen as individuals or as members of groups. The group outlook blurs the individual image. Gandhi put the human personality higher than the leviathan of the State.
On the domestic and foreign planes this difference of approach has led to an imperceptible but none the less definite demarcation between Gandhian precept and Congress practice. Socialism utilizes the machinery of the law and the State to set right what it believes to be an inequitable order of things. The ethical ideal of socialism is not far removed from Gandhism, but according to the Mahatma change should come through conversion and not through compulsion. The same motivation inspires Vinoba Bhave's movement in bhoodan or voluntary renunciation of land, the spirit which animates it being in line with Gandhian teaching and tradition. Compulsory acquisition of land with or without compensation would be strictly contrary to Gandhian principles. To state this is not to justify the Mahatma but merely to point out the divergence between his precept and Congress practice, for looked at from a modern point of view Gandhi's attitude seems perilously close to that of England's Victorian Liberals who opposed the Factory Acts on the plea that they infringed the freedom of the individual.
Just as Gandhi saw satyagraha as active resistance to wrong and evil and would therefore never have been quiescent on the international plane towards what he believed to be oppression or injustice, so also his concern with the individual would have far outweighed any attraction he might have felt for a particular ideology. In his eyes the Americans and Russians would not signify members of two opposing blocs but men, women and children belonging to the great company of the human race, and a wrong done to an American or a Russian would equally arouse his protest and resistance, for it would be a wrong done to a human being, quite irrespective of his political affiliations. Were Gandhi alive his influence, I feel, would have been exerted decisively in keeping India's policy of non-alignment, of which he approved, really non-aligned. He would have done so in the spirit in which he wrote during the Second World War, "I will not hurt England or Germany to serve India."
The twin stars of Gandhi's teaching were ahimsa, or non-violence, and satya, or truth. Truth, like love, is a many-splendored thing, and its effulgence shines with a varied glow on individuals and governments. Truth presents a different facet to a politician when in office and when out of it. And to the politicians of the Congress Party now in office it appears to be a slightly different article from what it was when they followed the Mahatma in the battle for freedom. The Congress is no more or less fallible than political parties the world over. Truth is the first casualty when men climb to power. The nishkām (desirelessness) which Gandhi preached as an ideal regarded office only as a means of public service.
In his autobiography Nehru recounts a conversation which reveals Gandhi's uncanny prescience on things relating to his own people and country. The conversation took place some 15 years before independence, and in the course of it Gandhi inquired of Nehru how he visualized the future of the Congress and what form the organization should acquire when freedom came. Nehru replied that when independence came the Congress should cease to exist as a party. Gandhi demurred.
"I think the Congress should continue," he said, "but on one condition. It must pass a self-denying ordinance that none of its members should accept a paid job under the State. If any one of its members desired such a post he should resign."
What was in the Mahatma's mind? Clearly he visualized the possibility of power corrupting the fine fibre of Congress character, of dulling the spirit of service, of blunting honesty, and of eventually influencing Congressmen in their capacity as ministers and officials to stand apart from, instead of with, the people as he had always taught them to do. Paradoxically but perhaps significantly, the political power of the Mahatma over his colleagues waned as independence approached, though his moral authority over them and the country was still strong enough to compel the Indian Government soon after partition to hand over to Pakistan 53 crores of rupees ($106,000,000) which the Mahatma felt belonged rightly to the latter.
Yet it would be unfair to infer from all this that Gandhism in India today is more honored in the breach than in the observance. The ideals which Gandhi symbolized and which he attempted to impress on his people were uncommonly, even transcendentally high, and not many men were as well equipped as the Mahatma either in experience or character to maintain such demanding standards. Despite the drawbacks and deficiencies inherent in the Indian situation and people, Gandhi has left on his country the stamp of his moral impress. This survives.
It survives in many ways. If Nehru, by insisting that India's struggle for freedom could only have a global significance as part of the broad stream of world progress, made Indians aware of others, Gandhi made India aware of herself. He imbued his countrymen with a sense of dignity, service and self-respect. He put spring into their tired muscle and taught them to hold their heads erect again. "Do not fear and do not hate," he adjured them. "Above all, reform must start from within." He was a hard, exacting taskmaster, "the beloved slave-driver" as one of his followers called him, but he practised all that he preached.
What was satyagraha with its message of self-discipline but "reform from within"? The same principle inspired his creed of swadeshi which might be translated as "made in, or belonging to, one's own country," but to Gandhi it had a special connotation with again an underlying stress on self-discipline. The swadeshi movement aimed at encouraging the manufacture and use of indigenous, homemade products. Within the Congress Party it took the form of popularizing khadi or homespun cloth. It thus came to signify two things--self-sufficiency and the duty to employ your neighbor. "So when we find," wrote Gandhi, "that there are many things that we cannot get in India, we must try to do without them. . . . Once we adopt this swadeshi rule of life, a burden will roll off our backs and, like Bunyan's Pilgrim, we shall go on our way rejoicing, freer than we were." To reduce one's personal wants to a minimum was the Mahatma's conception of the swadeshi way of life.
Gandhi's message of swadeshi survives but of some of its manifestations today, such as heavy industrialization, he would probably not have approved. The Mahatma's opposition to industrialization was focussed mainly on the big machine which in his opinion tended to displace labor and to create unemployment. He was not against all machinery. "What I object to," he once explained, "is the craze for machines, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labor-saving machinery. Men go on saving labor till thousands go without work and are thrown on the open streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labor not for a fraction of mankind but for all. I want the concentration of wealth not in the hands of a few but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not philanthropy but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might. The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to atrophy the limbs of man."
In a country of arrested economic growth such as India with small capital resources and a vast reservoir of labor, small-scale industries and handicrafts must necessarily supplement the bigger industries in the towns and cities. Gandhi's solution was the charkha or spinning wheel, and he was fond of saying that India could spin her way to swaraj. In the charkha he saw another symbol of self-sufficiency. I doubt if he would have approved of the new India's Five-Year Plans, for his approach to economic planning was basically different, having its roots in the villages. He would at the very least have questioned the priority given to heavy industrialization with its concomitants of modern machinery and multi-purpose power projects. "Power," said Nehru in a recent broadcast, "is the foundation of all development today." He is right. None the less it is difficult to conceive of the Mahatma approving or blessing India's strenuous efforts to industrialize.
The village community projects would have had his warm endorsement. To Gandhi the basic fact of economics was that man must eat. His views on politics and economics, because they were fundamental, appear to many to be elementary. They were founded deep in an understanding of the human personality and in an appreciation and awareness of the basic needs and desires of India's common man. Among the many enduring lessons which Gandhi taught is his insistence on the dignity of manual labor. The charkha symbolizes self-sufficiency but it also demonstrates the beauty and value of working with one's hand. Gandhi's sense of social service took many forms, from his passion for nursing the sick to performing the most menial tasks such as cleaning latrines. There was no trace of squeamishness in his make-up.
If he imbued many in India with a sense of service he also set up both for himself and others an exacting code and a meticulous standard of conduct and performance. He set scrupulous standards which the people of India came instinctively to expect from their leaders and which, despite a marked deterioration after the Mahatma's death, continue to influence and to govern the conduct of public men and affairs. Therein lies Gandhi's greatest legacy--the spread of a moral climate of thought, behavior and action which serves as the "voice of conscience" to many thousands of Indians, just as the Mahatma himself relied on what he called his inner voice which was really his sense of intuition.
Alongside the setting up and observance of standards, Gandhi made another distinctive contribution. He taught the Indian people to respect the simple way of life. This lesson lives. If in the process he tended sometimes to idealize poverty, he strove more than any of his countrymen to lift the common man from the degradation of poverty.
Of the many times I have seen Gandhi and Nehru together over the years one incident comes back vividly to mind. It was at the meeting of the Congress in Bombay in August 1942 when overnight the entire Congress executive was clapped into jail. Nehru was speaking. "There is nothing beautiful about poverty," he declared passionately. "I hate poverty." Gandhi, immersed in a pile of papers, looked up quickly, for Nehru's declaration was an oblique though unconscious rebuke to his idealization of poverty. The Mahatma smiled, and in his smile was all the indulgence of a fond father for a slightly willful son.
The relationship between Gandhi and Nehru highlights another remarkable trait of the Mahatma which derived from his human, individual approach to all persons. Apart from his ability to attract followers of the most diverse personalities and temperaments, Gandhi was able to transmit to many of them his own inspired sense of dedicated service. Notable among these was the late Thakkar Baba who worked selflessly for many years among the so-called untouchables and aboriginals. Vinoba Bhave is another--some say the only genuine Gandhite alive today. But working unknown and unsung in the villages far away from the floodlight which beats fiercely on Delhi are many hundreds of humble Indian men and women inspired with the dedicated zeal of the Mahatma.
The cause of the untouchables which Gandhi regarded among his prime missions is unhappily not receiving the same close personal and national attention which it did when he was alive. True, the Indian constitution makes the practice of untouchability a criminal offense. But there are vast areas of rural India where this pernicious practice continues to flourish. Were Gandhi alive he would have tramped the countryside using his great moral authority to exorcise this scourge. But the Congress Party is now in office and, sad to relate, the business of winning elections has even led it to compromise with casteism in areas where votes depend on pampering the susceptibilities of caste. Here perhaps is the most illuminating and devastating commentary on how far the Congress Party has strayed from the Gandhian way. What the Mahatma foresaw many years ago when he advised Congressmen to impose a self-denying ordinance on themselves has unhappily come to pass. But millions of humble Indians exercising neither office nor authority continue to remember the still, small voice of Gandhi.
The late Charles Andrews, who might be described as the Mahatma's closest English friend, recalls a scene in South Africa when Gandhi, tired after the labors of the day, sat in the twilight under the open sky with an ailing Zulu child on his lap. He asked Andrews to sing his favorite hymn, "Lead Kindly Light." "I can remember," writes Andrews, "how we all sat in silence when the hymn was finished, and how Gandhi then repeated to himself the last two solemn lines:
And with the morn those angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since and lost awhile."
Who knows but that the message of Gandhi for India has only been lost awhile?