October 2 marks the anniversary of the birth of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known throughout the world as the Mahatma. A most remarkable event took place recently when President Barack Obama was asked by a young woman in one of his public meetings to name the person, either dead or alive, whom the President would have chosen to have an evening of dinner and intimate conversation with; Mr.Obama paused and reflected for quite a few seconds, deep in thought, and said, “Mahatma Gandhi.” Not Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln or King but the Mahatma! In a letter earlier this year, I made the point that The Mahatma’s influence on the life and work of Martin Luther King most certainly influenced Mr Obama in his political development; for example, Mahatma always urged political leaders to apologize to the public for the mistakes they made and we have seen Mr.Obama reflect that on many occasions.
I would like on this 60th year since his death to quote a few of that great man’s words instead of trying to offer any biographical synopsis.
A. “And as I know that God is found more often in the lowliest of His creatures than in the high and mighty, I am struggling to reach the status of these. Hence my passion for the struggle of the suppressed classes. And as I cannot render this service without entering politics, I find myself in them. Thus I am no master. I am a struggling, erring, humble servant of India and therethrough of humanity.”
B. “I have no secret methods. I know no diplomacy save that of truth. I have no weapons but non-violence. I may be unconsciously led astray for a while, but not for all time. I am but a poor struggling soul yearning to be wholly good – wholly truthful and non-violent in thought, word and deed, but ever failing to reach the ideal which I know to be true. I admit it is a painful climb, but the pain of it is a positive pleasure for me. Each step upward makes me feel stronger and fit for the next.”
C. “I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist. The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the saints, it is meant for the common people as well. Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law-to the strength of the spirit.”
D. “I realize that the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy… to be true to my faith, therefore, I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion.”
E. “Each individual must be taught the art of self-defence. It is more a mental state that has to be inculcated than that our bodies should be trained for retaliation. Our mental training has been one of feeling helpless. Bravery is not a quality of the body, it is of the soul. I have seen cowards encased in tough muscle, and rare courage in the frailest body… The weakest of us physically must be taught the art of facing dangers and giving a good account of ourselves.”
F. “What… does Jesus mean to me? To me, He was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had. To His believers, He was God’s only begotten Son. Could the fact that I do or do not accept this belief make Jesus have any more or less influence in my life? Is all the grandeur of His teaching and of His doctrine to be forbidden to me? I cannot believe so. To me it (the word ‘begotten’) implies a spiritual birth. My interpretation, in other words, is that in Jesus own life is the key of His nearness to God; that He expressed, as no other could, the spirit and will of God. It is in this sense that I see Him and recognize Him as the Son of God.”
G. “I have more than once read the Koran. My religion enables me, obliges me, to imbibe all that is good in all the great religions of the earth. I certainly regard Islam as one of the inspired religions and, therefore, the Holy Koran as an inspired book and Muhammed as one of the prophets. I have come to the conclusion that the teaching of the Koran is essentially in favour of non-violence. Non-violence is better than violence, it is said in the Koran. Non-violence is enjoined as a duty; violence is permitted as a necessity.”
H. “In matters of conscience the law of majority has no place… let us not push the mandate theory to ridiculous extremes and become slaves to resolutions of majorities. That would be a revival of brute force in a more virulent form. If rights of minorities are to be respected, the majority must tolerate and respect their opinion and action… It will be the duty of the majority to see to it that the minority receive a proper hearing and are not otherwise exposed to insults.”
I. “For me, politics bereft of religion are absolute dirt, ever to be shunned. Politics concern nations and that which concerns the welfare of nations must be one of the concerns of a man who is religiously inclined, in other words, a seeker after God and Truth. For me, God and Truth are convertible terms, and if anyone told me that God was a god of untruth or a god of torture, I would decline to worship Him. Therefore, in politics also we have to establish the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Editor, these quotes from the Mahatma are but a few in his many written works. His essays on economic development by strengthening village life and individual freedom; denouncing communism and its violent creed; depicting the world at peace with itself through disarmament and democracy; resisting oppression, greed and envy – all point to a great soul which he was, a true Mahatma. His politics and economic philosophy will live on for all time.
Cheddi (Joey) Jagan (Jr)