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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi | Exploring the Mahatma

" The Mahatma was more right when he was wrong than we are when we are right... Many of us are correct in our little correctness and are small in the process. But the Mahatma was incorrect in many things and yet he was correct in the sum total and big in the very inconsistencies. In the end, he seldom or never came out at the wrong place. "

Before starting to write anything about MK Gandhi, we should think about the above lines which Acharya Kriplani wrote about him. He was a multi faceted personality.

Very often he has been grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted. One reason lies in the tendency to treat him as an unchanging person. Both his admirers and critics have often quoted him without consideration of time, place and context. Despite these adorations and criticisms, Gandhi was a profound political leader and thinker who constantly experimented with HIS truth and hence changed and developed his understanding of society.

He maintained the good ( if not highest ) standards of morality in politics;

- a great political strategist who evolved and practiced politics of the capture of state power through a prolonged mass movement;  

- an orthodox religious believer who stood for the social liberation of women (however, some of his views about the women would tantamount to misogyny today) ;

- the ending of caste oppression and discrimination ( here also his views are controversial but overall he worked for the depressed classes ); and

- in general, application of reason to all aspects of social life;

- a person who had the vision of a world where all conflicts would be resolved through use of non-violent means.


Despite being called a 'philosophical anarchist' for his defiance of constituted authority, and his method of struggle dubbed as 'a form of blackmail', Gandhi remained committed to HIS truth and kept the purity of means in the achievement of his objectives.

Gandhi was, apparently the reverse of a man of action, who stirred the Indian masses to the depths, who swept the veteran leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak into oblivion, and who controlled the national movement for almost three decades. He raised a family and used them as specimens for his experiments, he assumed the leadership of the Indian community and used it as a laboratory for experiments in non-violence. The poverty of the masses, whether the farmers of the indigo estates of Bihar or in his own Gujarat, burnt into his soul. A mass leader, he believed, must identify himself with those he aspired to lead, and he must not only lead but raise them.

The motives of both compassion and policy led him in 1921 to discard dashing European clothes, not for the Pandit's saffron robe, but for the peasant's home made cotton dhoti. It was this gesture and deep humanity which finally won the hearts of people and marked him in their eyes as a great soul, whom they could call Mahatma.

Gandhi's method was unique. It consisted of a union of original ideas with a remarkable flair for tactics and an uncanny insight into the minds of the peasants and common man.

He was deeply entrenched in the Hindu philosophy and traditions, but at the same time he retained the touch of Tolstoy and Ruskin, too. He combined these traditional and modern ideas very cleverly at the right situation and at the right place to obtain the maximum benefit for his cause. He was a master politician according to my understanding. He knew best, what to speak and what not to speak in his public meetings. His speeches in the Collected Works should be taken up as a separate branch for studies by our politicians.

Gandhi took certain ideas and expanded them, to derive the spiritual and ethical dimension which was suited for the sentimental Indian masses, as well the political and practical dimension which was needed by him to counter the British.

At the heart of his ideas lay the doctrine of non violence, along with which went severe self discipline and so called 'self control' exercises! This included the vows and fasts of purification and penance. At the centre of non-violence lay the concept of HIS truth.

I am repeatedly using the reference - "HIS truth" because No one but Gandhi knew what was the definition of this "truth" , because he played down the element of truth as per the situations to his advantage. It was his talent, i guess.

Remember that i called him a master politician. Take an example : He called for non violence throughout his life but in the Quit India Movement he finally made such remarks which openly meant, or gave an impression of using force against the British! 

He declared : "Each one of you should consider yourself free from now and act as if you are free. I am not going to be satisfied of anything less than complete freedom. We shall either free India or die in the attempt. DO or DIE! " 

These lines incited the masses. I am only quoting a part of it, but one should read the Collected Works to understand the nature of that "non-violent" call for freedom. 

He united various elements of Hinduism and other creeds in a highly original way. He reflected his ideas in a constant stream of articles, speeches and declarations, and above all by his own example.

Gandhi, in the peasant's loin-cloth and shawl, sitting at the charkha, writing notes silently, sitting lost from the entire world, or lying exhausted during a fast were all his methods which made him popular among a largely illiterate population.

These methods were not rocket science but these were the methods which made an instant appeal on the ordinary men of India. Along with being a master politician, he was a master psychologist too. He had that ability to enact the best dramas, and could dramatize any issue with razer sharp precision.

His methods were his own only. While others believed in calling meetings of protest against the Rowlatt Bill, he called for a religious strike/hartal. When he moved against the British government, it was as if he was not acting against a tyrant government but acting against a Satanic institution, with which no person could co-operate!

Another instance being, when all others walked out of the assembly to show their defiance, Gandhi walked 60 miles to the sea at Dandi to make illicit salt. By doing this he identified himself as the one among the masses and became their darling. Also, it gave a sense of moral strength to the masses against their physically superior colonial masters. The weight of colonial superiority was taking a toll on the minds of the natives of India and it had to be shattered, which was done for the first time by the Civil Disobedience.

Gandhi had a unique capacity of making the masses march and mobilize in his favor. This was his biggest & gifted talent. His great work was to unite the masses with the classes in the national movement.

He could persuade the masses to follow the classes because the masses believed him to be a Mahatma or a great soul.

He could persuade the classes to accept his Hindu, and, as many of them thought, his primitivist habits because these won them the masses. For this reason, Gandhi is also called a hypocrite by his critics. It is because he used the words as per the demand of situation.

The industrialists put up with his hand spinning, the politician with his loin-cloth, the epicure with his diet, because they knew that these things won them the support they needed.

They also knew that, when it came to dealing with the British, only Gandhi could surpass them all in arguments, in tactics, and, above all, in making the British feel uncomfortable in their cherished field of moral rectitude. If Gokhale and Tilak and Bannerjee gave nationalism to the classes, it was surely Gandhi who gave the Indians a nation."


I would sum up my post by quoting Rabindranath Tagore - "Great as Gandhi is as a politician, as an organizer, as a leader of men, as a moral reformer, he is greater than all these as a man, because none of these aspects and activities limits his humanity. They are rather inspired and sustained by it. Though, an incorrigible idealist and given to referring all conduct to certain pet formulae of his own, he is essentially a lover of men and not of mere ideas."


1. This post is not an assessment of how he was in his personal life. This post is more from the point of view of his public life.

2. We won freedom due to efforts of various great people including the revolutionaries who kissed gallows with a smile. The final nail in the coffin of British imperialism was the Royal Indian Naval mutiny of 1946. However, this post is only about MK Gandhi.

3. Each person can have faults and greatness. Same was with Mahatma Gandhi. This post was an attempt to translate my thoughts about him in words, according to the level of my present knowledge and understanding about his life and actions.

Article Category : Miscellaneous

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