Day to Day with Gandhi/Volume 1/Preface

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Publisher's Note Day to Day with Gandhi
~ Volume 1 ~ Preface
written by Mahadev Desai
Translator's Note
From November 1917 to March 1919. English translation by Hemantkumar Nilkanth.

The idea of keeping a diary seems to have struck Mahadevbhai immediately after he joined Bapu[1] in November 1917. In the beginning he simply copied what he regarded as important letters. Then gradually he began to jot down noteworthy events and Bapu's thoughts given out in his talks. This diary covers the period between 13 November 1917 and 31 March 1919. There are many days within it during which nothing has been written. His later diaries are naturally much more comprehensive, but it must be remembered that this is his first attempt. Even as it is, the copious letters published here give us a very clear conception not only of the numerous questions that faced Gandhiji when on coming back to his country he started his public work, but also the way in which he solved these questions in accordance with the philosophy of life which he had made his own. The student of the Gandhian philosophy will, therefore, find a very interesting and illuminating material in this book. Even the ordinary reader is provided with a substantial fare inasmuch as there is much for him to know and think over.

The diary begins with the time when the Champaran fight, as well as the work of the Inquiry Committee was over, the recommendations of the Committee were to be implemented through legislation, and Bapuji had begun to do some constructive work among the ryots there in order to keep up their awakening and increase their strength. There are, therefore, a few letters in it which give some idea of this constructive work of Bapuji in Champaran. For the history and understanding of the fight, however, one must go through Sri Rajendrababu's book 'Satyagraha in Champaran.'Even before his work in Champaran was completely over, and when his presence there was still needed, though not constantly as the situation had to that extent improved, two big activities fell into Gandhiji's hands. In quick succession he had to wage two fights, one for getting an increase in the workers' 'wages in the mills in Ahmedabad owing to the rise in prices and the other, for securing suspension of land revenue in the Kaira District where the crops had failed. We have with us authentic accounts of both these fights in Sri Shankarlal Parikh's book "Khedani Ladat" ("The Kaira Satyagraha") and in another book by Mahadevbhai himself "Ek Dharmayuddha" ('A Holy war'). But for the first time some letters appear in this diary that shed a new light on the fights and clearly show how Bapuji's mind was then working.

About the mill-workers' strike, the then Collector of Ahmedabad frankly expresses to Bapu himself his admiration of the way in which the strike was conducted. He says,

This is the first time in my life when I see a fight between the employers and workers carried on with so much love and regard for each other." (p. 52).

This distinguishing feature of the fight is clearly evidenced in Gandhiji's letters to mill-owners and to Sri Ambalal Sarabhai specially (pp. 5 and 55). It is in this diary, moreover, that the reader gets a clearer idea of the significance of his fast during the mill-workers' strike. He writes,

"The Ahmedabad strike provided the richest lessons of life. The power of love was never so effectively demonstrated to me as it was during the lock-out? ? ? Those four days were to me days of peace, blessing and spiritual uplift. There never was the slightest desire to eat during those days." (p. 78).

And in another letter,

"I consider the fast as my greatest achievement in life. I had an experience of supernal serenity while it lasted." (p.92).

In his morning prayer sermon at the Ashram, he explained very tersely the necessity of his fast as well as the flaw underlying the act. But to know them well and clearly it is best to let the reader go through pp. 64 to 69 in the text itself. In a letter to his son Devdas he avers,

"It is not difficult to understand the real import of my refusal to accept, for more than one day only, the increase of 35 % which we had demanded. It would have been totally unbecoming for me to stretch my point any further. The millowners even now believe that they have given the increment because of my fast and not because of the strikers. It would have been nothing but an extortion from the mill-owners, if I had demanded anything more under that situation. The fact that when I was in the position of getting the maximum from them I asked for the minimum, shows only my desire to be on the square and my humility and perception of right action. Had I not gone on a fast, the workers were certain to fall from their vow and the strike would have fizzled out. It was only the fast that sustained them. Under these circumstances demanding the minimum was the only right course in order to see that the workers' vow was kept. Only the letter of such a vow should be maintained in such a situation. That was done. The flaws, moreover, that had crept into my vow were diminished, materially diminished, by asking for the minimum. (p. 92).

As regards the Kaira Satyagrraha Struggle, Gandhiji's letters to Sri Deodhar (pp. 49-50) and Shri Joshi (pp.80), both members of the Servants of India Society, and to two Liberals, Messrs. B. K. Thakore (pp. 89-91) and Natarajan (pp. 75-77), as well as the latter's reply (pp. 82-83) deserve mention here. To Deodhar Bapu says,

"Why think that we can gain only what the officials give? Why not feel that we must get what we deserve ?"

Both Sri Natarajan and Sri B. K. Thakore thought it unwise to advise the ryots to withhold payment of the revenue dues. The former held the view that if the local Government refused to redress the grievance, Indian public opinion could be roused the Viceroy and, failing him, the British Parliament and the British public could be appealed to, and a fund could be opened in the meanwhile to give immediate relief to the distressed peasants so that they might not starve and might also pay the dues. All these measures could be taken, he thought, but not the drastic one of Satyagraha. Gandhiji appealed to him not to be scared by the expression 'passive resistance'.

"You have only to come", he says "and see with what perfect good humour the fight is being carried on."

The letter he wrote to Sri B. K. Thakore expounds the signi- ficance of Satyagraha and shows the unavoidable necessity of launching it. During the progress of the fight Gandhiji had to write many letters to Mr. Pratt, the Commissioner of the Northern Division, but in one striking letter to him he sets aside the Kaira question altogether, and shows him how Satyagraha is the only method by which the wooden administration of the Government officials could be reformed and the public could be saved from taking to the wrong path of violence in its despe-ration against the rigidity of the rulers (p. 53-54). This dairy thus shows how Bapuji never missed a single chance to explain the propriety of the principle of Satyagraha, as the concept was then quite a novel one, to the public, to its leaders and to the Government as well.

The diary belongs to the period when the First World War (1914-1918) was still being fought out. Even while the Kaira struggle was being waged, the Viceroy called a War Conference and invited Bapu to attend it. He did go to Delhi, but 'in fear and trembling' he 'decided as a matter of duty to join the Conference'. Tilak Maharaj and Mrs. Besant were not invited and Ali Brothers were still under surveillance without any charge preferred against them. No War Conference in India, Bapu thought, could ever succeed if these most powerful and trusted leaders were not present in it and if the immoral action of Britain in riding roughshod over its public promises and concluding secret treaties behind the back of its ally, Turkey was not retraced. Bapu sent a letter to this effect to the Viceroy through his Chief Secretary Sir Claude Hill (pp. 104 to 105). The Viceroy then called him for an interview, with the result that 'the spirit of chivalry in him got the better of the spirit of justice' and he not only took part in the War Conference, but accepted to launch a recruiting campaign in right earnest. Then at the end of the Conference, he wrote another letter saying that he would certainly offer unconditional co-operation in the War, but he wanted the Viceroy to know how the Indian situation stood and what the expectations of India were. (pp. 113-116).

That letter was acclaimed as classic by those present and Bapuji himself said that it contained the quintessence of dharma of Satyagraha and his other ideals. That letter to the Viceroy and other letters of his which explain his attitude towards the recruiting campaign form the most important part of the diary. The question of the consistency between his creed of 'Ahimsa' (non-violence) and his recruiting campaign was raised not only then but has been discussed ever since. Bapu's thoughts on the subject have been most happily put in a long letter to Mr. C. F. Andrews (pp. 173 to 178). Here are a few extracts from that and several other letters appearing in this book that explain his reasons for joining the recruiting campaign:

"A nation that is unfit to fight cannot from experience prove the virtue of not fighting. I do not infer from this that India must fight, but I do say that India must know how to fight." (p.166)

"I have not come across a single individual in India who follows in practice the creed of non-violence as faithfully as I. I claim to be saturate with love. Nobody knows as many sins, as also the virtues, of the Englishman as I and as clearly as I. I would teach that man the art of violence who wants to learn how to fight and kill. If I can do nothing in this matter (of recruitment), you may take it as a proof that my spiritual endeavour is still not sufficiently vigorous for the purpose. He who does not know how to die without killing must learn the art by knowing first how to kill and face death." (p. 170).

"In my letter to Maffey I have said I should kill neither friend nor foe. Regarding those who want to fight but will not? either out of cowardice or spite against the British? what is my duty ? Must I not say, "If you can follow my path so much the better, but if you cannot you ought to give up cowardice or spite and fight?" You cannot teach Ahimsa to a man who cannot kill." (p.172).

"I shall best spread the gospel of Ahimsa or Satyagraha by asking the 'Himsak' (militant) men to work out their 'Himsa' in the least offensive manner; and may succeed, in the very act, in making them to realize the better worth of "Ahimsa". (p.173).

"Ahimsa is the eradication of the desire to injure or to kill. Ahimsa can be practiced only towards those that are inferior to you in every way. It follows, therefore, that to become a full Ahimsaist you have to attain absolute perfection. Must we all then try to become Sandows before we can love perfectly? This seems to be unnecessary. It is enough if we can face the world without flinching. It is personal courage that is an absolute necessity and some will acquire that courage only after they have been trained." (pp. 166-167).

"There has been compulsory renunciation of arms but not the desire to kill ???. All that can be said of India is that individuals have made serious attempts with greater success than elsewhere to popularize the doctrine. But there is no warrant for the belief that it has taken deep root among the people." (P.174).

"Ahimsa was preached to man when he was in full vigour of life and able to look his adversary straight in the face. It seems to me that full development of body force is a sine qua non of full appreciation and assimilation of Ahimsa." (p.175).

"I must wait for instilling into any mind the doctrine of Ahimsa, i.e. perfect love, when it has grown to maturity by having its full play through a vigorous body." (p. 176).

After dealing with the theoretical aspect of Ahimsa so far, Bapu states the difficulty that faces him :

"My difficulty now arises in the practical application of the idea. What is the meaning of having a vigorous body? How far should India have to go for a training in arms-bearing? Must every individual go through the practice or is it enough that a free atmosphere is created and the people, without having to bear arms etc., imbibe the necessary personal courage from the surroundings ? I believe that the last is the correct view." (p. 176).

Then Bapu adds:

"And, therefore I am absolutely right, as things are, in calling upon every Indian to join the army, always telling him at the same time that he needs doing so not for the lust of blood, but for the sake of learning not to fear death. (p. 176).

And further on :

"There is not a single recruiting speech in which I have not laid the greatest stress upon the part of a warrior's duty. There is no speech in which I have yet said, 'let us go to kill the Germans'. My refrain is ' let us go and die for the sake of India and the Empire', and I feel that supposing that the response to my call is overwhelming and we all go to France and turn the scale against the Germans, India will then have a claim to be heard and then she may dictate a peace that will last. Suppose further that I have succeeded in raising an army of fearless men, they fill the trenches and with hearts of love lay down their guns and challenge the Germans to shoot them-their fellowmen. I say even the German heart will melt. I refuse to credit it with exclusive fiendishness. So it comes to this, that under exceptional circumstances war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil, even as the body is. If the motive is right, it may be turned to the profit of mankind and that an Ahimsaist may not stand aside and look on with indifference, but must make the choice and actively co-operate or actively resist." (p. 177).

The above quotations from this diary appear to me to be the essence of Bapu's thoughts on war and recruitment. All the same it cannot be said that these quotations or even all the letters appearing in the diary completely reveal the working of Bapu's mind on these two points. He says, "Under exceptional circumstances war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil." If somebody wants to, he can interpret this sentence and some others in the book to mean that Bapu thought that war was sometimes indispensable and that under special circumstances a war could do even good to the world. But one has to remember in this context what Bapu himself says, viz.,

"I am passing through new experiences. I am struggling to express myself. Somethings are still obscure to me and I am trying to find words for others which are plain to me. I am praying for light and guidance." (p. 167).

It should also be borne in mind that at that time Bapu was a co-operator and had faith in the liberal attitude of the British Empire. He himself says that the only reason for his remaining steadfastly loyal to Britain is his faith that Britain is sound at heart and that it will be through Britain that India can best give her message to the world. On the other hand, Britain's crime in disarming India, its exclusive and haughty military policy and the immolation of India's riches and art at the altar of the British commercial greed are so hateful to him, that, but for that faith, he would have been a rebel long before. (p. 224). But even after actually turning a rebel, his good feelings towards Britain continued and that was why on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he was ready to give all moral support to Britain.

In a letter to Kishorelalbhai, he raises the question as to how to teach non-violence to children and says :

"I must admit I am caught up in the tangle of various thorny questions of this sort arising from my perception of this new facet of Ahimsa. I have not been able to discover a single master key to all these intricate problems and that key has got to be found out. (p. 206)

Ordinarily, it can be rightly said that a man is smaller in reality than what he appears to be through the thoughts he expresses in speech or writing, since he gives out to the world only those thoughts in which his brighter side or the element of good in him is clearly reflected. But there are exceptional personalities, whose lives are actually nobler even than what they seem to be through their speeches and writings. Language is a poor vehicle for the complete revelation of the innermost workings of their hearts and minds. It can be safely said for Bapu that he was far greater in reality than what his speeches and writings which we have with us lead us to imagine. You cannot have through them a perfect visualisation of his towering personality and of his thoughts and cherished ideals. It was wholly and solely to teach the power of non-violence to the Indian nation and to convert it into a votary of that holy principle, that Bapu had advised the people to join the army. It is possible that he may not have been able to frame in appropriate language the reasons that led him into the recruiting campaign, but the fact does not, in the least, impair his unstinted adoration of Ahimsa. It is through his life, and not so much through his words, that he has given to the world invaluable lessons in fearlessness, love, oneness with all beings, total surrender to God and other noble qualities; and it is his actions in life that provide us the binoculars that give us a correct view of the heights to which he had risen in non-violence.

The Montford Scheme of Reforms was presented to the public while the recruiting campaign was still going on, and attempts were made to unite the political parties of India in order to present unanimous demands about the modifications in the scheme. A Special Session of the Indian National Congress was, therefore, held in Bombay in August 1918. An All Party Conference preceded it, and Bapu was earnestly pressed both by the Moderates and Extremists to attend the Conference. But Bapu was convinced that he would not be able to convert to his own views either the Moderates or the Extremists. He, therefore, preferred not to give a break to his incessant recruiting campaign even for those few days that he would have to spend after the Conference. He did not attend either the Moderate or the Extremist Conference, nor the Special Session of the Congress in Bombay. His letters on this question to the Moderate leaders, Messrs. Surendranath Banerji (p. 222), Samarth (p. 235) and B. Chakravarti (p. 236) as well as to the Extremist leader Tilak Maharaj (pp. 237-238) are worth perusal. Neither of the parties was prepared to go as far as Bapuji either in the recruiting campaign or in the heroic effort of Satyagraha to get the popular demands on the modifications in the Montford Scheme accepted by the Government.

The book also contains very instructive and pleasing letters to the members of his 'family'? his sons and the inmates of his Ashram?a very remarkable one from Vinoba (V. Bhave, now the famous Sarvodaya leader), (pp. 22-26) and Bapu's letter to Maganlalbhai to explain his reasons for beginning to take goat's milk at the suggestion of Ba (Smt. Gandhi) (pp. 266-268). The diary is thus filled with the very valuable material published here for the first time.

Bapu's bulletins issued during the Kaira struggle and his two recruiting appeals have been given in the Appendices.

Narhari Parikh[2]

  1. Mahatma Gandhi was affectionately called 'Bapu', father, by the millions of India.
  2. Translated from Gujarati. Sri Narhari Parikh was one of the earliest and bravest associates of Bapu in India. His near-death martyrdom at the nonviolent raid on Dharasana Salt Works entitles him to the rank of a hero.