Truth seems to be at a premium today. One of the big two at the recent Houston Rally is known for what he calls “alternative facts”, a euphemism for blatant lies or disinformation. The other Howdy at Houston is often called Feku by his detractors. This again is a derogatory word for one who makes up things that may not necessarily be correct.
In such a scenario where does Mahatma Gandhi stand, as we prepare to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary this 2nd October? As a Gandhian myself I have attended many programmes at his statue here in Phoolbagh (the central park) where I live in Kanpur. Whenever I stand there I feel dwarfed by his looming image. I feel that I have no right to say anything in such an august presence.
Yet Gandhiji has many detractors today. Noted historian Prof Ramachandra Guha recently wrote an interesting article on the present anti-Gandhi brigade. One way of belittling Gandhiji is by giving more importance to other freedom fighters like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose or Shahid Bhagat Singh, he says.
The other way of attacking Gandhiji is by blaming him for the partition of India, for being soft on Muslims, for not trying to save Bhagat Singh from the hangman’s noose, or for his alleged diffidence to dalit rights. I am not a historian, and was born after Gandhiji died. But I am convinced that the character assassination is being propelled by those that are inimical to his core values of truth, non-violence and communal harmony.
Another method of belittling Gandhiji is by reducing him to an icon for sanitation or cleanliness! So his spectacles become the symbol of the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan. My blood boils when I see that pathetic looking symbol. I tell people that we don’t need Gandhiji’s spectacles; we need his vision, his world view.
This brings me to the man’s own autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”, written in 1925, when he was just 56 years of age and a major part of his life still lay ahead of him. Notice the two keywords – experiments, and truth. An experiment, by its very nature, is indicative of a process, a searching, a journey. It does not have a sense of finality. This is typical of Gandhiji’s humble mature, as also of the subject that he addresses – truth.
It takes me back 2000 years to the Lord Jesus Christ. While on trial before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, the latter asked him “What is truth?” (Jn 19:38).Jesus was wise enough not to answer; because any definition of truth, as with love, would be grossly inadequate.
For Gandhiji truth was primordial and pre-eminent. In the Introduction to his biography he has this to say: “I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth … For me truth is the sovereign principle … the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God … I worship God as truth only. I have not yet found him … Truth must be my beacon, my shield, my buckler … This path is straight and narrow, and sharp as the razor’s edge”. His choice of words is similar to the New Testament (cf Eph 6:14, Mat 7:13-14).
Gandhiji is often referred to as the Mahatma, a freedom fighter or a political activist. This, however, is contrary to how he sees himself. Let us listen to him in his own words: “My experiments in the political field are now known not only to India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of ‘Mahatma’ that they have won for me has, therefore, even less”.
He sees his political actions as emanating from his spiritual prowess, saying that it is his experiments in the spiritual field “from which I have derived such power as I possess for working in the political field”. He calls his experiments “spiritual, or rather moral, for the essence of religion is morality”. It is this spiritual strength that makes him say “The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust”.
This is a far cry from the spiritual or political leaders of today. Humility, morality and truth are not virtues for them; which is why they prefer to throw dust in our eyes, so that we may not see the truth. As an ordinary Gandhian, and one who cares for my country, I will choose his vision of truth over the symbolic spectacles, or spectacle, of “cleanliness”.
As a Christian I am also deeply concerned about propagating Truth, more so today when the truth of the scriptures, Vatican II teachings and Canon Law has been conveniently ignored. I see this as a major obstacle in the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church; leading to increasing instances of financial impropriety and sexual predations across the globe.
Reverting to Pilate’s questioning of Jesus about truth, it was actually a response to this statement of Jesus, “I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (Jn 19:37). This is in keeping with his earlier better known proclamation, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). I will now also quote the full text of what St Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “So stand your guard, with truth a belt around your waist, and uprightness as a breast plate” (Eph 6:14).
I will add a small rider of my own. “Truth without love is an imposition, and love without truth is an indulgence”. May this principle be our guiding light as we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the one who is often called the “best Christian” in India – Mahatma Gandhi; the Father of the Nation.
P.S. Did you just hear the POTUS refer to somebody else as the one who has united the country, and should therefore be called its father? Truth be damned!
(The writer is the Co-Convenor of the Gandhi Vichar Kendra, Kanpur.)(Published on 07th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 41)