Dialogue  October-December, 2010, Volume 12 No. 2

Gandhi – The Revolutionary with Do-able Ideas for Everyone

Niketu Iralu

When Professor B.B. Kumar asked me again recently to write something on Mahatma Gandhi for “Dialogue”, my first response naturally was “What can a Naga in the remote corner where we are and some one who is not a scholar say anything that will have any value on a subject so widely known already? Professor Kumar quietly insisted, and it is not easy to turn down a request from him as I know how selflessly he served the Nagas when he taught in Colleges all over Nagaland. So what follow are some random reflections and comments. 

When during the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi was asked one day by a western journalist, “What is your message?” Gandhi replied “My life is my message”. Perhaps it was the hunger in his own soul and spirit that made him to ask the question? Or may be he was looking for a headline for his report back to his paper. It sounded so simple but Gandhi did not need to say anything more. We know his reply to an American reporter’s question “What do you think of Western civilization”, was equally brief, “It would be a very good idea”.  Gandhi definitely got both men to look at their own lives.

In the first half of 1947, a delegation from the Naga National Council called on Gandhiji at his Bhangi Colony Ashram in New Delhi. Welcoming the Nagas he asked “What can I do for you?” They said they had come to see him concerning the question of Naga freedom.  Gandhi replied, “You must be free, I became free long ago”. They asked, “How can you say that? The British are still in Delhi and all over India!” Gandhi said, “My freedom has nothing to do with whether the British are here or not.” He went on to explain the fullest dimension of freedom he believed in and fought to achieve for himself and his people.  For him political freedom on its own was a dangerously incomplete goal.  When the Nagas said they were not going to give in to the threat the Governor of Assam had made, in response to the stand they had taken on the basis of their history, that he would deploy maximum force to suppress them, Gandhi told them, “I will come and be the first man to be shot before any Naga is shot.” 

The Naga delegation headed by AZ Phizo was made up mainly of elders from villages. They came back and told their people they believed Nagas would find the right solution with Gandhi. Not long after their return to Kohima, Gandhi was killed on his way to the evening prayer meeting by three bullets from Nathuram Godse’s handgun. He was killed because he was sticking to his vision of Hindu/Muslim harmony through radical, profound changes in individuals and on a massive scale. He knew that kind of a change on both sides was not taking place right away to make him a political success but he was committed to what was right and would be best in the long run not just for Hindus and Muslims, but for the whole deeply divided human race. His life was his message, and it was unwavering commitment to live out what the Gita teaches, “Do your duty and leave the result in His hands.” 

Thirty years later I took Rajmohan Gandhi to meet AZ Phizo, my maternal uncle, who was in Bromley, Kent, at the time. The President of the NNC, his daughter and son laid on the best possible to receive Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. I always remember the dignified perfection of all the details of the tea that afternoon with some pride and satisfaction. I was struck by three other things. The first was how completely relaxed Phizo was and spoke from his heart and secondly, how sensitively Rajmohan listened to him giving complete attention.  No doubt the quality of the listening enabled Phizo to be so relaxed.  The third thing was the first point Phizo made after they sat down, “Rajmohan, I have met quite a few people in my life. But I have never met anyone as truly happy as your grandfather was”.  He was referring to the time he and his colleagues had met Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi. I remember being somewhat intrigued that happiness obviously meant so much to Phizo.

The 20th century saw the all-out implementation of three ideologies to answer the rising needs and problems of mankind.  At the beginning of the century, Leon Trotsky had declared, “If anyone born in this century should think he has come to relax, he must realize he has come in the wrong century”. The needs and problems were extraordinary challenges to human existence.  The three ideologies were “philosophies of life applied in action”.  They were responses to the challenges that have produced the modern world. 

Karl Marx’s idea was that if circumstances became what they should be, all human beings would become one class and the new type of men and women would automatically treat one another justly.  According to him the first step to create the right circumstances was to destroy the existing unjust structures and the exploitative classes defending their vested interests in the oppressive structures. Adolf Hitler’s idea was that the Germanic race was the master race and it alone was fit to rule mankind. 

Mankind watched Karl Marx’s idea expressed in “Das Kapital”, and Adolf Hitler’s idea expressed in “Mein Kampf” being implemented by human beings demonizing, despising, blaming, hanging, executing, gassing and removing by force other human beings on unprecedented scales and relocating them elsewhere, to achieve the world order the two ideas based on class and race proclaimed.

The world also watched Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the “naked fakir”, steadfastly mobilizing the vast seemingly helpless millions of his people, “men of dust”, who became fearless satyagrahis and implemented his ideas as explained and demonstrated in his book “My Experiments with Truth”.

The first two ideas sought to justify man’s ways to man. The third idea justified God’s ways to man so that his progress and growth in all dimensions may not be at the mercy of human tyranny of any kind. The first two ideas have turned out to be misleading temptations. The third idea was a calling to the deepest values in the conscience of human beings. Gandhi by his life based on his experiments showed that these values grow steadily if listened to with sufficient attention and obeyed.

It was this calling that the 24-year-old Gandhi recognized and decided to obey when he rose from the cold lonely railway station platform of Pietermaritzburg in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, where he had been violently thrown out by the white ticket collector who told him he had no right to be traveling in a compartment for whites only. Gandhi had come to South Africa at the invitation of a Parsee family to start his legal career. He was dressed as an Englishman and as a citizen of the British Empire he saw no reason why he could not travel in any railway compartment in South Africa like any other citizen of the Empire.

The humiliation meted out to him by the huge, brutish white man was total. It is said “Humiliation is the nuclear bomb in human relations at the personal as well as at the international level”. The profound spiritual awareness he had received from childhood from his parents and community based on the teachings of the Gita and the other books of Hindu scripture won that night in the battle raging in the heart and conscience of the young Gujarathi from Porbandar. Gandhi took his hurt and humiliation to the God of Truth he was beginning to turn to, instead of to himself with his human ego, pride and prejudices. The rest is history, as we say.

Young Lenin returned home from school one day and found the newspaper on the table with the headline news that his elder brother whom he adored and his fellow activists who had tried to assassinate the Czar of Russia had been hanged by the Secret Police. Lenin read it, threw it on the ground, spat on it, and declared “I will make them pay”. More or less the same story is repeated in Stalin’s and Mao’s stories.

The day after Saddam Hussein was caught by the American GIs, the picture of the pathetic rat hole in an obscure part of Baghdad in which he was trying to hide was in papers and on TV all over the world. One of the articles wrote about his childhood. His step-father was an extremely bitter and cruel man. Saddam was told he could wear his shoes only during class hours. He was to walk to School and back home with his shoes strung around his neck so that the soles may last long. The humiliation he suffered daily because of his step-father’s sadistic cruelty towards him wounded him deeply. Saddam often told close colleagues later in life what the humiliation had done to him. The colleagues he suspected were shot point-blank one day at a closed door meeting at the beginning of his take-over of the Baa’th Socialist Party of Iraq. Saddam too clearly took his humiliation and hurt to himself and he set out to make his nation and the world pay for what he had suffered.

Soon after joining Madras University in 1955 to start my BA I was given a copy of “My Experiments with Truth” by a friend from England or Australia working with Moral Re-Armament, now called Initiatives of Change. I started to read and I couldn’t put it down. I wept when I saw that Gandhi’s utter rejection of selfishness, fear and deceitfulness by obeying the “Still small voice within” was the exact opposite of the life I was living and justifying. I must have wept because I sensed hope for myself and the hunger to be defiant against what is wrong was beginning to be born within me.

Why has Gandhi become the super star of the modern world, emerging as the one whose ideas won the 20th century contest and became the philosophy and path for change for the great heroes of the 21st century? The list of his spiritual children are impressive – Martin Luther King Jr., the Russian and East European dissidents, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the latest Chinese Nobel laureate for peace and human rights, Liu Xiaobo. Is not the explanation for his popularity in the do-ability of his ideas? “Be the change you want to see in the world”. This is possibly his most popular teaching or message today. Who has not instinctively felt the calling tugging at his/her mind and soul to start to be the change though the wrongs are so formidable?

The Nagas who called on him at his Bhangi Colony Ashram, I believe, definitely felt this tugging. As for me, not long after the shedding of my tears in response to the challenge of his stories to me, I decided to start making my own experiments with truth in very small things and to keep doing it so that I may be the change I long for in Nagaland and beyond, inspiring others to do likewise.

“The still small voice is the only tyrant to whom I bend my knees”. “There is enough in the world for everyone’s needs. But not for everyone’s greed”. If these are to be ignored by the world today because of the prize tags on them to be truthful and to care and share enough, just and peaceful growth for all will become impossible. They are found to be doable, if you and I will do them step by step, one day at a time, because the dangers and opportunities facing the world demand us to do so.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati