When Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 British rule had been established firmly in India. After the uprising of 1857, India had passed under British tutelage so effectively that her political subjection had been reinforced by intellectual and moral servility. When Gandhi was felled by an assassin’s bullets on January 30,1948 it was  a sovereign and independent India that mourned his loss. Meanwhile,the disinherited and the disarmed had won a great battle by evolving Satyagraha, a moral force which compelled the attention and  the admiration of the world. The story of this transformation is also the story of Gandhi’s life, for he, more than any other, was its architect. Ever since the we, his grateful countrymen, call him “Bapuji”, the Father of the Nation. Tagore first termed him “Mahatma”, while Gandhiji called Tagore “Gurudev”.

                Gandhi alone could not have wrought this miracle. Many remarkable predecessors and elder contemporaries such as Raja Rammohan Roy, Bankimchandra Chatterjee,Ramkrishna Paramhamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Dadabhai Navroji, Badruddin Tyabji, Syed Ahmed Khan, Ranade, Gokhale, Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh, Atulprasad Sen, Dwijendralal Roy and Rabindranath Tagore had created through their poetry, music and other writings a consciousness of India’s destiny and helped to generate a spirit of sacrifice which, in Gandhi’s hands, became the instruments of a vast political-cum-moral upheaval. But for Gandhi, India’s political destiny would have been vastly different and her moral stature vastly inferior.

                He was the servant and friend of man as an individual. He founded no church. Though he lived by faith he left behind no dogma. He gave no attributes to God save Truth and prescribed no path for attaining it save honest and relentless search through means that injure no living thing. His life was one continuous striving for such truth as can be realized in human relations. He ascended with each step no bigger than a man’s, until he reached heights where he seemed more than a man. “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe”, wrote Einstein, “that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

                Today, we strive to recall the milieu of his life and his philosophy, which gave not only the people of India hope and freedom but inspired movements for social and political freedom throughout the world. We remember Bapuji, father of the nation, not only as a patriot, politician and nation-builder of India but as essentially a moral force, appealing to the conscience of humanity. Through Rev. Martin Luther King,Jr and Nelson Mandela, Joan Baez and Miriam Makeba, Steve Biko and US President Barack Obama, from Sabarmati Ashram to Sao Paulo, Gandhi’s message of non-violence, harmony, collective action and sustainable development has transcended his time and resonates among us today, guiding us towards greater peace, collective concern for the human race and the future of our planet.

Gandhiji was busy in shaping the ideology of an independent India and fighting communal animosities fomented by the British system of divide and rule, which often heighted tensions and caused rioting between Hindus and Muslims. He said ,” In a gentle way you can shake the world” and “Be the change you want to see” He was bitterly opposed to Partition of India and tried his best to prevent it, inspiring and making common cause with the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his followers in the Khudai Khidmatgar movement, who remade the meaning of Pakhtun identity through satyagraha in the North West Frontier Province. He travelled to Noakhali in East Bengal to lead marches for communal harmony in 1946 and 1947. When India became independent on 15 August, 1947, Gandhiji was in Calcutta, trying his best to quell the communal rioting that occurred in the process of partition of Bengal.

                Gandhiji survived three assassination attempts during his long struggle for Indian freedom, but fell to the bullets of the fourth assassin, Nathuram Godse, during a prayer meeting in New Delhi on 30 January, 1948. Prime Minister Nehru, broadcasting news of Gandhi’s death on the radio, said :

“The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere and I do not quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we call him, the father of our nation, is no more… The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light has illumined this country for these many years, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented the living truth, and the eternal man was with us with his eternal truth reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom…”

                The light could not be extinguished. Gandhiji had said ,” I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. If my faith burns bright, as I hope it will even if I stand alone, I shall be alive in the grave, and what is more, speaking from it.” While the independence of India began the process of decolonisation across the world, Gandhiji’s non-violent approach inspired leaders of the US Civil Rights Movement and the South African independence struggle. He said, “Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive preserve of no one race or religion.”

                Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk”. Inspired by Gandhiji, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  began a non-violent mass protest movement for black civil rights in the USA and Steve Biko struggled through non-violent means against apartheid in South Africa. Both were killed, one by an assassin in 1968, the other in police custody in 1977, but both ultimately achieved their dreams. Gandhiji’s ideas of ecologically balanced sustainable development, evolved at the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa and Sabarmati and Wardha in India, have  become central to global economic policy now.

Nelson  Mandela, now revered as “Madiba” and Father of the South African nation  around the world once said:    “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Madiba always praised Gandhi for his principles of ‘Satya and Ahimsa’ and followed his philosophy to the extent possible. The two men shared another similarity in the ways they viewed self-determination.  In a macro sense, they each promoted society’s right to self-rule, advocating for entire classes of people, as they did.  But the men also held parallel views of each citizen’s personal right to self-freedom, drawing on the value of manual labor and grounded pursuits to support their views. With great foresight, Gandhi once predicted that someone in Africa would take up in his ideas. And it had to be Mandela. “I could never reach the standard of morality, simplicity and love for the poor set by the Mahatma,” Mandela said. “While Gandhi was a human without weaknesses, I am a man of many weaknesses.” Mandela said the Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged among the apparently powerless.

“Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence; I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone,” he said.Mandela noted that Gandhi himself never ruled out violence absolutely and unreservedly and that he conceded the necessity of arms in certain situations. “Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I prefer to use arms in defense of honor rather than remain the vile witness of dishonor …”

Mandela said at an unveiling of Gandhi Memorial in South Africa in 1993.”Gandhi is most revered for his commitment to non-violence. It was a philosophy that achieved the mobilisation of millions of South Africans during the 1952 defiance campaign, which established the ANC as a mass-based organization. The Mahatma is an integral part of our history because it is here that he first experimented with truth; here that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice; here that he developed Satyagraha as a philosophy and a method of struggle.”

Madiba visited India many times and considered this country his place of pilgrimage. During his historic visit in 1990, Madiba was conferred the Bharat Ratna, making him the second non-Indian to receive India’s highest civilian honour, the other being Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. He was also awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize in 2001 by the Indian government for his non-violent resistance to apartheid. Both leaders taught people the true power of compassion and believed that the oppressor himself is in a fight for freedom from hatred, calling for hating the deed but not the doer.

These, briefly put, are the core values of Indian civilisation and so are duly reflected in our Constitution of our sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic. We must all, therefore, strive to achieve that haven of freedom Where the mind is without fear, Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments By narrow domestic walls, Where words come out from the depth of truth ,Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit ,Where the mind is led forward by Thee Into ever-widening thought and action. The Tagorean prayer shows us the path to take from where Mahatma Gandhi led us. That, dear audience, is the way forward, for both our nations united in diversity, mutual respect and tolerance for all colours, creeds and faiths. As always, Bengal must show the way…

Nkosi sikelela iAfrika

Jai Hind.

The author Ambassador Sarvajit Chakravarti, retired as a secretary from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs after a distinguished career as a diplomat.

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