Thursday, February 21, 2019 | ePaper

Gandhi’s spiritual authority Tarapada Acharjee

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In a world where the rulers of nations are relying more and more upon brute force and the nations trusting their lives and hopes to systems which represent the very denial of law and brotherhood, Mr Gandhi stands out as an isolated and most impressive figure. He is a ruler obeyed by millions, not because they fear him but because they love him; not as the master of wealth and secret police and machine-guns, but as holding that spiritual authority which, when it once dares to assert itself, seems to reduce almost to impotence the values of the material world. I say “seems”: for against purely material force, untinged by conscience or pity, it would be helpless. It only wins its battles because of its secret appeal to the spiritual element in its enemy, that humane element from which man, in his utmost effort to be brutal, cannot quite shake himself free.
“A battle of the unaided human soul against overwhelming material force; and it ends by the units of material force gradually deserting their own banners and coming round to the side of the soul!”
We cannot, of course, assume that a spiritual authority is always right in its guidance. Its claims and professions can seldom be proved or disproved. It is directed by human beings, who are subject to ordinary human frailties and as liable as other autocrats to be corrupted by power.
But among spiritual rulers, as among rulers in general, Mr Gandhi stands out as almost unique. In the first place, he utters no dogma, no command, only an appeal; he calls to our spirits; he shows what he holds to be the truth, but does not exclude or condemn those who seek the light in some other way.
In the second place, he is unique in his manner of fighting, as was shown best in his fifteen years’ struggle for the rights of Indians in South Africa. He and his followers were repeatedly imprisoned, herded with criminals, treated as sub-human creatures, yet whenever the Government which oppressed him were weak or in trouble, instead of pressing his advantage be turned and helped them. When they were involved in a dangerous war, he organized a special corps of Indian stretcher-bearers to help them; when, in the midst of a non-violent strike by his Indian followers, the Government was suddenly threatened by a revolutionary railway strike, he immediately gave orders for his people to resume work until his opponents should be safe again. No wonder that he won the day. No genuinely human enemy could hold out against that method of fighting.
Thirdly, perhaps the hardest point of all for a leader who is worshipped and idealized by immense multitudes, he never claims to be infallible. I see that at this moment he is calling a pause in his ‘non-co-operation’ campaign, in order that he, as well as his opponents, may wait and think.
The spiritual authority of one unarmed man over great multitudes is in itself wonderful, but when that man not only abjures violence and helps his enemies in their need, but also recognizes his own human fallibility, he claims unanswerably the admiration of the whole world. From a distant country, from a quiet alien civilization, with different views from his on many practical questions, out of the careworn and striving movements of thought in Europe, where the human conscience and intellect seem for the moment to stand helpless under the bludgeons of ignorance and brute force, I gladly give this great man the title his disciples claim for him and hail with reverence ‘Mahatma Gandhi.’

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