There are different views of history, that it is cyclical, that it is linear, and that it is spiral. The ancient Greeks believed that history was a cyclical movement governed by impersonal laws. The Jews, the Christians and the Muslims held that history was merely the unfolding of a cosmic pattern beginning with creation and destined to end in the last judgment. The Chinese held that history was a continuous series of variations on a common theme. The modern scientific outlook sways to the theory of historical determinism. Many others feel that history is merely a chaotic, disorderly flux. Marx holds that there is such a thing as dialectical materialism.


All these views are merely different answers to the age old question, whether history makes man, or man makes history. In our country, we have always held that individual genius can change the course of events, and that man has a positive real role in the making of history. Prof. Toynbee also stresses the importance of the role of the human individual in shaping the history of a country. Our ancient texts say “Raja Kalasya Karanam.” Great leaders like Socrates, the Buddha, the Christ, the Holy Prophet of Islam, and Mahatma Gandhi, bring something new and invigorating to life, and inaugurate fresh stages in the development of man.


In this view of historical flow, we have to isolate those factors in the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, that have been his peculiar contributions to the making of modern India, and visualise what would have happened to us, had his influence not been brought to bear upon the course of events.


If we analyse the actions and the role of Mahatma Gandhi on the course of recent events, it is clear to us, that he is one of those universal leaders, who do not descend from the top, but like Christ, seem to emerge from the people of the country, speaking their own language, and incessantly trying to better them, by precept and by example. He seemed to emerge unobstrusively, as it were, from the very abject poverty and misery of the Indian masses, and somehow by his magic touch, make heroes out of men of clay.


What was it that was unique in the technique of Mahatma Gandhi? It can be summarised in two words, viz., Fearlessness and Truth not in their abstract meaning, but applied meaningfully to life and action.


He showed us by his example that the great gift for an individual, as for a nation, was ‘abhaya’ or fearlessness, which means not merely courage in the ordinary sense of the term, but a complete absence of fear from the mind and inner psyche of man. This is nothing new but an age old concept in India. At the dawn of our history, Janaka and Yajnavalka have said that it was the function of the leaders of people to make them fearless. It was Gandhiji’s unique contribution, that this ancient teaching was brought out in sharp focus before our vision, as if with the stunning effect of a startling discovery. It was in an atmosphere of oppressive and strangulating fear that pervaded the country, like a bad miasma, during the British rule, when fear of the officials, fear of the laws, fear of unemployment, fear of starvation, and fear of everything was the order of the day, that Gandhiji lifted this black pall, not so much by any heroic external deed, as by actually living the simple doctrine that fear can be abolished merely by looking reality in the face, and accepting its consequences willingly. Almost as if by magic, the whole country seemed to make up its mind, that it will no longer be subject to the degradations and humiliations of an alien rule, and was determined to be free, whatever be the consequences.


As fear is closely allied to falsehood, so does truth follow fearlessness. Truth, according to Gandhiji, was not something that could be standardised or put in straight yacht. Truth is a perpetual adventure. Hence religion which to him was identical with truth was a never-ending experiment. Man can reach this truth which was the same as godhead only by discipline and by voluntary willingness to undergo any suffering on its account. Here again this idea is as old as India itself, but what gave it a new orientation, was Gandhiji’s shining example of it in his own life.


The measure of Gandhiji’s success in shaping Indian history can be gauged by his success in fashioning his own life in accordance with those fundamental principles on which his entire life was based. It is almost impossible to believe such a slight and weak man, with large ears, an enormous nose, high cheek-bones, and a large and almost toothless mouth, standing before a mighty British Judge in India, and having the noble audacity to remind him, that he, Gandhiji, was there to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon one, for what in law was a deliberate crime, and what appeared to him as the highest duty of a citizen. This statement of Gandhiji at his trial of 1922 epitomises his contribution to the course of Indian history. His utter fearlessness, his strict adherence to truth, his action based on Karma Yoga, which were the three basic tenets that he practised and preached, are fully illustrated in this incident.


Viewed, however, in a broader perspective, it can be seen that Gandhiji was as much a result of the historical processes of India as he was a maker of them.


            It is only when the chosen hour finds the chosen man and the chosen man also finds his chosen hour, that decisive conditions for a fundamental social change of life are brought about. Gandhiji is a typical product of Indian genius, and he could not have achieved his success or greatness in any other country except one. Nor could not have done what he did, had he been born a hundred years earlier or later, and neither could he have done it, if the Nazis or the War Lords of Japan were our masters and not the British. He is thus a man chosen by Indian history at a particular time for a particular task. Hence even if he had not been born, the great flow of Indian historical forces would still have carried us on, and made rapid strides. India would still have won freedom from alien rule, perhaps by a violent internal civil revolution, or perhaps in alliance with other countries, or most probably by the compulsion of world events after the great war. But without Gandhiji it is doubtful if India would have attained freedom with that love, goodwill, and complete absence of hatred for its erstwhile master, which it did.


            In the field of intellectual and emotional influence, it is doubtful if the impact of Gandhiji on the Indian mind, which was so profound while he was alive, would have mattered much, if he had not been born. Judging from the present portents, it looks as if we are forgetting Gandhiji’s teachings, within two decades of his martyrdom.


            His main contribution to Indian History was that under his impact, ancient and every day truths became surcharged as it were, with pulsating power and could convert ordinary men into heroes overnight. A saint importing saintliness into every day life looks strange to the modern world, but is not alien to Indian traditions, where traditionally men of insight and wisdom were respected more than heroes and conquerors of a hundred battles. Even here, his impact, as we see Gandhiji around us now, has not been permanent. Gandhiji’s teachings could be said to have permanently influenced the course of Indian History in the field of ethics and conduct only when we see men engaged in normal activities, abandoning their duplicities, their connivances, their unabashed knaveries, their lust for applause and power and front-page publicity, and willing to serve mankind with something of the selfless devotion of those men who serve the pure and eternal truth. Of these signs, which were plenty when Gandhiji was alive, we now seek, and seek hard and find none among ourselves.


            It was perhaps Gandhiji’s task in the divine dispensation of things for India, to unify it and to help it to find expression for itself and for its soul. He has accomplished destined historical purpose and on this morning of it, he attained his noble martyrdom. Other tasks perhaps await other men.


(By kind courtesy of the All India Radio)




“I do not believe in idol Worship. An idol does not excite any feeling of veneration in me. But I think idol worship is part of human nature. We hanker after symbolism...I do not forbid the use of image in prayer. I only prefer the worship of the formless. This preference is perhaps improper. One thing suits one man; and another thing will suit another man, and no comparison can fairly be made between the two.”