Speeches and Writings of M. K. Gandhi/Introduction
It appears to me unnecessary for any prefatory note to be written to the Life and Speeches of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi; they live and speak for themselves. Personally, I have had such a great shrinking from writing anything, during his life-time, about one whom I reverence so deeply, that I have many times refused to do so. But a promise given in an unguarded moment now claims fulfilment, and I will write very briefly,
To Mr. Gandhi, any swerving from the truth, even in casual utterance, is intolerable; his speeches must be read as stating uncompromisingly what he feels to be true. They are in no sense diplomatic, or opportunist, or merely "political" using the word in its narrower sense. He never pays empty compliments : he never hesitates to say, for the truth's sake, what may be unpalatable to his audience.
I shrink, as I have said, out of the very reverence that I have for him, from writing for the cold printed page about his character; but I may perhaps not offend by setting down something, however inadequate, concerning his intellectual convictions. It is of the utmost importance to understand these; because, in his case, they are held so strongly, as to bind fast his whole life and to stamp it with an originality, all its own.
The greatest of all these is his conviction of the eternal and fundamental efficacy of ahimsa. What this means to him, will be explained a hundred times over in the writings which follow. To Mr. Gandhi, — it would not be too much to say, — ahimsa is the key to all higher existence. It is the divine life itself. I have never yet been able to reconcile this with his own recruiting campaign, for war purposes, during the year 1918. But he was, himself, able to reconcile it; and some day, no doubt, he will give to the world the logical background of that reconciliation. Leaving aside the question of this exceptional case, I do not think that there has been any more vital and inspiring contribution to ethical truth, in our own generation, than Mr. Gandhi's fearless logic in the practice of ahimsa. Sir Gilbert Murray's article in the Hibbert Journal has made this fact known to the larger world of humanity outside India.
A second intellectual conviction is the paramount use of religious vows in the building up of the spiritual life. Personally, I find it far more difficult to follow Mr. Gandhi here. Especially I dread the vow of celibacy which he, not unfrequently, recommends. It appears to me unnatural and abnormal. But here, again, he has often told me, I do not understand his position.
The further convictions, which are expressed in his writing, concerning the dignity and necessity for manual labour, the simplification of society, the healing powers of nature as a remedy for all disease, the Swadeshi spirit, the false basis of modern civilisation, all these will be studied with the deepest interest. They will be seen, through Mr. Gandhi's Speeches, in a perspective which has not been made evident in any other writer. For, whatever may be our previous opinion, whether we agree or disagree with Mr. Gandhi's position, he compels us to think anew and to discard conventional opinion.
It is necessary to add to these very brief notes (which I had already published in an earlier edition of this book) a statement with regard to Mahatma Gandhi's intellectual position on the subject of the "British Constitution" and the "British Empire".
I have heard him say, again and again, to those who were in highest authority: "If I did not believe that racial equality was to be obtained within the British Empire, I should be a rebel."
At the close of the great and noble passive resistance struggle in South Africa, he explained his own standpoint in Johannesburg, in his farewell words, as follows: —
"It is my knowledge, right or wrong, of the British constitution, which has bound me to the British Empire. Tear that constitution to shreds, and my loyalty will also be torn to shreds. On the other hand, keep it intact, and you hold me bound unreservedly in its service. The choice has lain before us, who are Indians in South Africa, either to sunder ourselves from the British Empire, or to struggle by means of passive resistance in order that the ideals of the British Constitution may be preserved, but only those ideals. The theory of racial equality in the eyes of the Law, once recognised, can never be departed from; and its principle must at all costs be maintained, the principle, that is to say, that in all the legal codes, which bind the Empire together, there shall be no racial taint, no racial distinction, no colour disability,"
I have summarised, in the above statement, the speech which Mahatma Gandhi delivered on a very memorable occasion at Johannesburg, before a European audience, and I do not think that he has ever departed from the convictions which he then uttered in public. What has impressed me most of all, has been his unlimited patience, Even now, when he has again been imprisoned by the present rulers of the British Empire, who have charge of Indian affairs, he has not despaired of the British Empire itself. According to his own opinion, it is these rulers themselves who have been untrue to the underlying principle of that Empire.
A short time before Mahatma Gandhi's arrest, when I was with him in Ahmedabad, he blamed me very severely indeed for my lack of faith in the British connexion and for my publicly putting forward a demand for complete independence. He said to me openly that I had done a great deal of mischief by such advocacy of independence. If I interpret him rightly his own position at that time was this. He had lost faith in the British Administration in India, — it was a Satanic Government. But he had not lost faith in the British Constitution itself. He still believed that India could remain within the British Empire on the basis of racial equality, and that the principle of racial equality would come out triumphantly vindicated after the present struggle in India was over. Indeed, he held himself to be the champion of that theory, and the upholder of the British Constitution.
Whether that belief, which he has held so persistently and patiently all these years, will be justified at last, time alone can show, I remember how impressed I was at the time by the fact that he, who had been treated so disgracefully time after time in South Africa, should still retain his faith in the British character. I said to him, "It would almost seem as if you had more faith in my own countrymen than I have myself." He said to me, "That may be true," and I felt deeply his implied rebuke.
I have gone through carefully the words he employed later at the time of his trial, and in spite of all that he said with such terrible severity concerning the evil effect of British Rule in India, I do not think that he has actually departed from the position which runs through all the speeches in this book from beginning to end. He still trusts that the temper and character of the British people will change for the better, and that the principle of racial equality will finally be acknowledged in actual deed, not merely in word. If that trust is realised, then he is prepared to remain within the British Empire. But if that trust is ultimately shattered, then he will feel that at last the time has come to sever once and for all the British connexion.
Shantiniketan, May, 1922.
C. F. ANDREWS.