Satyagraha or non-violent resistance achieved its immediate object of national freedom, but it would seem in retrospect that this success only served to obscure its cosmic significance. The tendency of the West, in particular, is to regard the technique as the product of a clever ‘idea’ or stratagem which, while admittedly successful in India, thanks to her peculiar conditions, could be of little value in easing the tensions of the world today. Such, in any case, was the view expressed by a delegate from America in a symposium on the subject held at New Delhi some time ago.


What must be borne in mind, however, by both the protagonists of Satyagraha and its detractors is the basic fact that faith in the efficacy of the thing is itself a vital condition of its success. Gandhiji himself was never tired of demanding this faith of his followers. Be this as it may, there can be no denying that it would be simply unfair to Gandhiji to regard him as a mere patriot who hit upon a lucky stratagem. What inspired Gandhiji was not merely the freedom of his land but more a passionate devotion to something which, for him at any rate, had a transcendent significance. His Story of My Experiments with Truth, an authentic record of the genesis and development of his personality, tells us how, when he was yet a boy, he was deeply moved by the play, Harischandra, how it ‘haunted’ him so that he acted Harischandra to himself ‘times without number’. He says, “to follow truth and to go through all the severe trials Harischandra went through was the one ideal it taught me. The thought of it all often made me weep”. The basic purpose of Gandhiji’s eventful career, the one which gave a certain unity to it as well as uniqueness to his personality, was to discover and uphold, time and again, what he loved to call truth or, what amounted to the same thing, to find a remedy for a problem which is as old as life, the problem of evil. For his impatience with evil was but the negative counterpart of his devotion to truth. And it is his unceasing preoccupation with truth and the problem of evil which gives him a timeless significance and earns him a place among the saviours of mankind.


Evil presented itself to Gandhiji, fundamentally as untruth which, if at all, could be dispelled only by truth. But did truth have the power to dispel its antithesis and regenerate the world, simple truth unaided by any element of violence? Gandhiji gained the immediate certitude of faith in this power of truth by the ‘experiments’ which, as in a vast laboratory, he conducted in South Africa. They gave him a serene confidence and he was already a dedicated soul when he returned to India. A relentless quest for truth and its active vindication became the mission of his life. The political movement for the freedom of India, as he directed it, was a demonstration, pure and simple, of the efficacy of truth. India gave him the opportunity to show mankind how the world might be rid of all evil or untruth. And her freedom was important for him only in so far as the manner of its attainment demonstrated, beyond any shadow of doubt, the efficacy of the new weapon which he discovered. The national struggle throbbed for him, accordingly, with a cosmic purpose and into the zest of the battle went, not the impatience of a mere patriot, but the giant agony of a world striving to be born again.


The self-sufficiency of truth is the cardinal doctrine in the whole creed, if it may be so called, of Gandhiji. India cherishes him as the ‘Architect of Freedom’ and the world reveres him as the ‘Apostle of Non-violence’. Freedom, however, was of incidental importance to him and even non-violence was but a necessary pre-condition of the success of his demonstrations. It was neither a policy nor a creed but a negation which served, however, to vindicate the positive, self-sufficient vitality of truth. The Gandhian solution for the problem of evil demanded, not mere quietism or passive acquiescence in evil, but active resistance to it. Non-violence was not non-resistance. Violence was taboo because it negated the innate potency of truth. But through resistance alone truth could become dynamic. For the first time in the history of the human race, truth was thus made an active social force which could be applied for a just solution of even international issues.


Gandhiji used the word, ‘truth’, in a very comprehensive sense. Fundamentally, he points out in a speech addressed to the inmates of his Ashram, truth is Satya, that which alone exists. It is more than an attribute of God: it is God. He says, “It is more correct to say that truth is God, than to say that God is truth”. Truth is, therefore, an inspiring ideal, the realisation of which is the ultimate end of human life. “Devotion to this Truth is the sole justification for our existence.” Nevertheless, truth is not merely a distant ideal but a standard by which every moment of our life is to be judged. It has its moral connotations: For, “there should be truth in thought, truth in speech and truth in action……If we once learn how to apply this never-failing test of truth, we will at once be able to find out what is worth doing, what is worth saying and what is worth reading.” Through-out his active life, Gandhiji was primarily concerned with this latter aspect of truth–with truth, that is, as an ethical value whose emergence depended, however, on a readjustment of human relations. But he spoke of truth as a percept rather than a concept, as something intuited, a flash of inspiration. We can understand, therefore, what truth meant for Gandhiji as an ethical value only by appreciating his own peculiarities of temperament and outlook. For, in the last analysis, truth meant for Gandhiji, in any given issue, precisely the solution which satisfied him completely and made him happy.


Like all really great men, Gandhiji sought to secure human happiness and believed that this happiness depended, not of course on the possession of wealth, but certainly on the satisfaction, among other things, of an inescapable minimum of material needs. His thoughts often tended towards a compromise. He neither worshipped money nor dismissed it with a lofty contempt. But his emphasis was always on the life of the spirit, for he believed that all real progress was at bottom spiritual. He had a stubborn faith in human nature and its perfectibility and in the possibility of establishing Rama Rajya. But he was no romantic. He was a humanist who believed in control rather than freedom, the control of man’s self-expansive tendencies by his higher Self. He had a profound respect for the past, a sense of tradition, and was definitely inclined to be orthodox. He was thus totally free from the impatience of the typical revolutionary for the millennium. He knew that “successful progress”, to quote Prof. Whitehead, “creeps from point to point, testing each step” and he loved to declare, in the words of Cardinal Newman, that one step was enough for him.


The career of Mahatma Gandhi synchronised with a period of great social ferment in India. Life bristled with a host of complex problems and, on each of them, he left the impress of his profound wisdom. Still, much as we may admire and analyse his genius, we can never quite capture the secret of his success. That secret was inseparable from his total personality and perished with his mortal frame. However, his example has its lessons for mankind today-perhaps more today in the context of the current ‘ideological conflict’, than in his own life time. First, there is something sublime in his conception of himself as a humble votary of truth. Not a half-truth like ‘rights’, a purely secular notion which swayed the peoples of the West and, towards the end of the eighteenth century, shook the very foundations of their civilisation, but truth itself, with all its moral and spiritual connotations, was his battle-cry. Like the concept of ‘Dharma’, truth embraces and transcends notions such as rights and duties and is binding on all alike, the individual and the group, the ruler as well as the ruled. But faith in ‘Dharma’ or truth derives from a deeper, if unconscious faith in life as a harmony. Pandit Nehru refers to the perfect unity of Gandhiji’s personality. This unity is but a reflex of his steady vision of life as a whole and as a unity, and his awareness of the relatedness of things in time as well as in space. Finally, though Gandhiji was no recluse and sought truth always with reference to a concrete issue, he thought that his quest demanded a certain discipline of disinterestedness. His fasts and prayers and days of silence helped him purge his mind of all conscious or subconscious prejudices and study the issue before him with a rare objectivity. His approach to life’s complexities was marked by a. strange realism and reverent humility. He was totally free from the intellectual arrogance of our current ‘…isms’ which seek to reduce life into a neat formula quietly ignoring facts which do not fit in. Because there was humility and objectivity in his approach he could perceive certain values even in his opponents, values which he frankly admired and praised. Humility gave him knowledge and knowledge gave him love, so that he fought his battles with pity in his heart and sadness in his eyes. While he sought to put an end to British rule in India, he had nothing to say against the British themselves, as individuals or as a people. Speaking of the vestiges of feudalism in Bengal, he agreed that the ‘system’ was bad but urged, in the same breath, ‘the individuals are good’. Nothing, perhaps, is more surprising in the Indian struggle for freedom than that a campaign of such magnitude should be conducted with so little of bitterness and recourse to dogma.


Throughout his life, the heart of Gandhiji was swayed by issues which were far more momentous than the freedom of his land. There is a significance in his life which transcends the importance of his tangible achievements, one which should reveal him not as a meteor that lit the Indian sky for a brief while, but as a star, a lasting, beneficent influence, that has lately swum into the ken of troubled humanity.