It was indeed an epic journey reading the three long books on Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha.
1 Gandhi before India
2 Gandhi: the years that changed the world and
3 India after Gandhi: the history of the world’s largest democracy
Guha gives a fresh perspective on Gandhi with his objective and scholarly approach. He keeps the readers spellbound with his stories, anecdotes, comments and conclusions with his distinct style of narration.
In these three books Guha gives a comprehensive account of Gandhi’s life: how he evolved with circumstances; the books and people who influenced him; how he became the Mahatma; his politics and spiritualism; and how he used his pioneering methods of satyagraha, civil disobedience and fasting to achieve outcomes. Guha gives the contexts of Gandhi’s actions with details of how his admirers encouraged him and how his critics tried to pull him down.
Gandhi united Indians from different languages, religions, castes, ethnic groups and socioeconomic groups and directed their energy to freedom movement, abolition of untouchability, social reforms and communal harmony.He was the first one to make such remarkable contribution to India’s unity in diversity.
Despite not being a charismatic orator, he inspired people with his many thousands of speeches. He spoke to all kinds of audience ranging from peasants, workers, professionals, intellectuals, political parties, religious gatherings and conferences. His speeches stopped communal violence, saved many lives and drove people to social reform and personal purification.
Gandhi was a prolific writer. He wrote thousands of articles, letters, pamphlets and petitions to governments. Besides responding on or explaining policy issues, he took the trouble to write in detail, when people asked for help in personal matters about love, marriage and religion.
Gandhi felt perfectly at home in his austere ashrams, in the houses of village peasants, in the British jails, the mansions of rich industrialists and in the Buckingham Palace. Tatas, Birlas and Bajajs donated money and extended support to Gandhi’s ashrams, campaigns and movements.
He is perhaps the only leader who walked the maximum miles across India meeting people, addressing meetings, resolving problems, preaching social reforms and religious harmony. He walked and fasted even in his old age when the doctors advised him against overstraining. He walked in the hot summers and through all kinds of terrains.
He went on fasting and self sacrifice to persuade governments to stop undesirable legislations and communities to stop conflicts.
He experimented with food, nutrition, nature cure and celibacy. He went overboard in the practice and preaching of abstinence from sex by trying to enforce this even with young people including his own sons.
Gandhi was attacked viciously by Jinnah and Ambedkar who considered themselves as rivals. Gandhi responded to their criticism with reasoning and arguments, while showing respect and courtesy to them. The Communists had called him as an imperial stooge and one Andhra communist leader went all the way to Gandhi’s place of birth to spit on a Gandhi memorial.
Gandhi’s life was an open book. He admitted his weaknesses, changed his course several times when he realised the need and accepted the advice of others on many things. It was Rajaji who stopped Gandhi (in his sixties) from his pursuit of spiritual marriage to the Bengali beauty Sarala Devi. Gandhi was influenced by Tolstoy, Gokhale and some others who had enlightened him.
Conservative Hindu Sanatanists tried to kill him with a bomb in Pune but fortunately his car got delayed and the bomb fell on the wrong car . They showed black flags protesting against his campaign to abolish untouchability and opening of temples to the Dalits. Eventually it was another fanatic Hindu Godse, who assassinated him with the grouse that Gandhi was too generous to the Muslims.
In contrast, the British rulers treated him with due respect and courtesy even while acknowledging that he was the biggest danger to their Indian empire. While convicting Gandhi, a British judge openly expressed his personal anguish about his legal burden of having to punish a great man. A British government circular in the forties had asked the civil servants to start referring to him as Mahatma. While there were a few racist detractors such as Churchil, overall, the British showed remarkable tolerance and reverence to him. Thank God India was not a Portuguese, Spanish or French Colony. They would have killed Gandhi long before..
At the same time, Gandhi had never called the British as enemies. He showed respect and friendship to the British and he just wanted them to be true to their own principle of freedom which India deserved.He showed such respect to all his other opponents and opposing ideas.
Gandhi was responsible for inspiring and nurturing thousands of value based political leaders and followers. Under his inspiration, thousands of Indians gave up their jobs and sacrificed their lives for the nation. There were many foreigners who devoted their lives looking after him, supporting his causes and participated in his many experiments with life. He set an example with his actions and sacrifices. He never asked anyone to do what he would not do. The leaders who imbibed this spirit laid the foundation for the free India.
My admiration for Gandhi has increased after reading these books. I have also become a fan of Guha, who has portrayed, analysed and interpreted Gandhi with objectiveness and clarity based on his original research.
Guha’s books on Gandhi deserve to be made mandatory reading in schools and colleges as well as in management schools and civil service curriculum. Obviously some beliefs, teachings and practices of Gandhi do not fit in today’s world. But the success of Gandhi in uniting Indians and achieving freedom and social reforms will certainly ignite and inspire the minds and hearts of young Indians.