Sunday, 7 December 2014

Mahatma Gandhi and Fasts, Part-2

This is second in the series of how some of the close aides of Gandhiji opposed the many fasts that Gandhiji undertook. Relevant excerpts from Mahadevbhai Desai’s diaries, translated from Gujarati by me.

Volume-2, [Year 1932]: [Views of Vallabhbhai Patel and Mahadevbhai Desai on Gandhiji’s proposed fast while in jail concerning a conference.]

‘... Bapu [Gandhiji] said: “Though it is a fleeting thought, I feel now – that if these people cannot establish unity till Tuesday then a notice of fast should be given!”

‘Vallabhbhai remained silent. When he went for some work, I [Mahadevbhai] discussed: “To fast only to convey best inspiration while the conference is on, is what I like.”

‘Bapu: “...What I was talking was to undertake a fast until the conference comes to a positive end.”

‘I [Mahadevbhai]: “Then that is a gun [force].”

‘Bapu: “Yes.”

‘I [Mahadevbhai]: “That [kind of fast] is not palatable to me. The earlier one is palatable. No one can object to it ... there is no stress [force] on getting a result, it [fast] is a symbol of self cleansing and good wishes [for the conference] only.” ...

... ‘Bapu: “Vallabhbhai, what do you have to say?”

‘Vallabhbhai: (Angrily) “You now please let the people rest in peace!  They have all gathered there [for the conference], they will do what they seem is right. Why do you irritate people by showing a gun [use of force]? Others will also feel that this man is without any work, he undertakes fast every now and then. Moreover it is a different thing that it will be believed that this is an excuse to get out [of jail].”

‘Bapu: “But what about the kind of a fast that Mahadevbhai suggests?”

‘Vallabhbhai: “Not any type of fast at all!”

‘Bapu: “So there is absolutely no permission from the chief?” 

‘Vallabhbhai: “Yes.”

‘Bapu: “... But can it be undertaken even if you say no?”

Vallabhbhai: “You are saying that to test us. You are of a type who will say yes if we say no and no if we say yes.”

‘Bapu: “Great, in that case I should undertake fast isn’t it?”... 

Volume-3, [Date: 6-1- 1933]: [A conversation between Gandhiji and Kakasaheb {possibly Kakasaheb Kalelkar} concerning fasts]

... ‘Kaka asked: “You [Gandhiji] took up Appa’s fast, you also took up that of Kellapan. So is it your intention that no one except you should undertake fast? Many people will have to undertake fasts.”

‘Bapu: “I have already said that many people will have to undertake fast. But not today. There are reasons for this. The first reason is that special competence is required for that [fast]. Secondly, I am a witness to the call in the Yerwada pact given by the upper caste Hindus; and who else is a representative of the upper caste Hindus like me to fulfill this call? Third thing is that others have to do a lot of other work. By coming to jail, I have done all that needs to be done; now this is the work [of fasting]. Not all can do this, but I have the strength, and I can show the strength sitting from here and so I feel it is appropriate that I alone should undertake a fast.” ...

Volume-3, [Date: 30-4-1933]: [Views o f Devdas [Gandhiji’s son] and Mahadevbhai Desai on one of the fasts declared by Mahatma Gandhi due to several reasons including problems at his ashram]

 [Mahadevbhai]: ...‘while talking of the ashram, Vallabhbhai said: “...ashram has become very big. Remove all those who have come in unnecessarily...”

 [Mahadevbhai]... ‘In the morning [I] heard him [Gandhiji] speak with Chaganlal about the decision taken by him [Gandhiji]: “I was awake since 11... A lot of conflict was going on [in the mind]. Thoughts of Neela came; thoughts of that German girl came. Should I send both of them to the ashram or not? If Margret does not behave properly she can be sent back to Germany, Neela also can be given leave.  But this was the upper dispute. However a voice kept coming from within that undertake fast, undertake fast. This has been going on for three days now... I had undertaken 21 days’ fast for the unity of Hindus and the Muslims, forty should be done for this. But no, answer [from within] came to do only 21 days [fast]...The last cause can be said to be Neela...I desire to get work done through the ashram, but problems go on day and night there, it [the ashram] is filled with at last the inner voice said to undertake fast...”

[Mahadevbhai]: ‘...Then [I] wrote a note to telephone Devdas and sat down to make a copy of the statement/appeal [possibly concerning fast]... When Devdas came we went to the mango orchard... poor fellow [Devdas] must have thought that Bapu must have fallen ill suddenly. Just then Bapu said: “See, Vallabhbhai and Mahadev have not discussed at all, similarly [Devdas] you also read it [possibly the statement/appeal] peacefully and understand that there is no scope for any discussion.”

[Mahadevbhai]: ‘Devdas read it [appeal/statement] once, read it the second time. [Devdas] Was shocked... [Devdas] cried as he spoke... there was anger, sadness, deep pain in his talk...’

‘Bapu said: “The conflict of whether to undertake [fast] for 21 days or 40 days is going on since a month now. Should a person convey all his thoughts to others? ... It has been three days and I have not slept for hours on end... as if for three days a person is preparing to die...”

‘Devdas: “Therefore the ashram and Neela became the final cause right?”

‘Gandhiji: “Yes, it can be said so, but in a different way. Want to use Neela for the service of the Harijans. But how much purity is required for that? The use of the ashram is mainly for such work. But the ashram has formed cracks at so many places, in that case how can any work be undertaken through it [ashram]? Fast was not to be done for the ashram at all. I had thought about it once but then had given up the idea clearly. Even this time, I fret a lot to not undertake the fast, but as I decide not to fast, newer circumstances keep developing. The report of Allahabad came and I was furious. It was described as the abode of plague; it was suggested to demolish it [possibly the ashram]...I can collect crores of rupees but what would be the outcome? Few organizations may come up but under the shadow of my fast, layers and layers will be uprooted and the film/blind on the eyes of the people will be removed.”

‘Devdas: “You may explain all that. But I find this a breach of a promise. You have been told several times to let the Poona pact be implemented. It is not yet six months...But the fact is that your mind has become weak, nothing else strikes you; you finally end up on fasts. You cannot work for the Harijans in any other way so you have taken this path! I want to tell you that reading your statement/appeal has had a very bad impact on me. You believe there will be an awakening of the people, but I say hypocrisy will be cultivated. Your mistakes will not lead to the spiritual advancement of anyone. You are doing injustice to us and excessively punishing us unnecessarily. Two children committed some mistake in the ashram, this was normal, what is so surprising in it? Don’t make those helpless people the cause [of fast]. Instead of now saying clearly that I [Gandhiji] am helpless, you are saying that the fast is being done for self purification by you. I find the whole thing rotten. I see no good result coming out of this.”

[Mahadevbhai]: ‘Bapu was laughing away.’

‘Devdas: “Why are you laughing it away? If you cannot convince me then who else will be able to understand? ...”

‘Bapu: “Fast is an inseparable part of religion. In Islam and in other religions several have died like this...this time I am fasting for the mute - poor and the helpless so it needs to be declared...I have this ordinary strength which I am using...there is a possibility that there is hypocrisy in this, in that case my end should certainly come...”

‘Devdas: “You talk such things and try to defend that which cannot be defended. This is full of stupidity...”

‘I [Mahadevbhai] said: “You [Gandhiji] call this fast definite/unalterable then how will anyone discuss the matter with you? To tell you the truth would anyone discuss with you to waste time? You consider all others stupid and take a decision and say “ Take it, this is unchangeable.”

‘Bapu: “Mahadev..., why do you not understand that this is not the meaning of unalterable/unchangeable? ...If anyone can show that this fast is not appropriate then I will give up its thought.”

‘I [Mahadevbhai]: “Why are you lying? You have already sent the telegram to the Government in the morning [regarding fast].”

‘Bapu: “Haven’t I changed such decisions?”

‘I [Mahadevbhai]: “Have you ever changed the decision of fasting?”

‘Bapu: “No. But that is because no one has been able to show that the fast is not correct!”...

‘I [Mahadevbhai]: “You [Gandhiji] say that you should be shown your mistake. You yourself by inflicting such sufferings want to make the world aware of its mistakes and alert the world, how do we inflict such suffering on you and make you understand that you are making a mistake?”

‘Bapu: “That you should know. You have to discover it in some way...”

‘Devdas: “You come to the same conclusion. You have decided to undertake a fast so you find reasons...for the same.”...

‘I [Mahadevbhai]: “...So can it be said that the issue of the ashram is contributing to this or not?”

‘Bapu: “It can be said.”

‘Devdas: “And yet you say that you have not involved the ashram in this. The ashram is as pure now as never before. Why are you blaming the ashram? You have mixed up so many things and have spoiled this. I had liked your previous fast...but you have mixed up so many things in this that it is not clear to anyone. What is the decisive reason for this fast?”

‘Bapu: “Not one [single reason]. But I may be able to say that the Tofan [I have not been able to find the exact translation for this word. Those that have been suggested in the dictionary are - mischief or tumult] that Ambedkar is indulging in is one. Can I undertake [a fast] against Ambedkar? How do I explain to the poor Harijans? I have not considered the ashram impure...but to consider the ashram safe is one thing and to get the work of Harijans done through the ashram altogether another...”

‘Devdas: “You want to sacrifice the ashram in the struggle, and also sacrifice it in the work of Harijans, why are you talking such dual when people are shouting that the Yerwada pact has been done through the use of force, at such a time what is the meaning of showing yet another fast to the people?” ...

‘Bapu: “...Yesterday Sarda had come. Poor soul talked with kindness that our people do not understand that the Hindu religion will be protected by the untouchables. When there were riots in Ajmer, they were the ones who saved the Hindus. So not because removal of untouchability is our duty but because they are of use to us at such times ... though it is in my plan to tell thousands to fast, I am not saying so because I am arrogant and believe that no one is as worthy as I...”

... ‘Devdas: “You have unknowingly been guided towards a wrong path and are guiding others too [on a wrong path]. Do you want to take the world along with you or want to sit in the heaven all alone? ...You are impatient. You say often that what is one generation before the infinity? And yet you want to do everything at one go...”


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Mahatma Gandhi and Fasts- Part-1

Mahatma Gandhi is known across the world for the many fasts he undertook as part of the non-violent struggle he espoused. However what is not much known is that many of his close aides/followers/coworkers were not always in favor of Gandhiji undertaking such fasts and often disapproved of the same strongly. I bring here instances where those close to Gandhiji have voiced their disapproval of his fasts as recorded in Mahadevbhai Desai’s diaries. These differences are important to revisit today as many of the contemporary people’s movements/struggles have fasts as one of their primary strategies. 
 Since Gandhiji’s fasts' occupy a significant place in India’s struggle for freedom, I plan to bring out few more interesting aspects on the subject in subsequent posts.  (Translation from Gujarati by me).

[A conversation between Gandhiji, Vallabhbhai Patel and Mahadevbhai Desai concerning Gandhiji’s fast in Yerwada jail, Pune, as recorded in Mahadevbhai’s diary.]:

Volume- 1 (Year 1932):  ‘After general talks...Bapu [Gandhiji] said: “You [Mahadevbhai] have come at a right time. Vallabhbhai’s brain has gone numb. He is not able to comprehend at all...”

 ‘Vallabhbhai said: “let him at least eat first.” 

[Mahadevbhai]:‘Vallabhbhai placed food for me. After I finished eating, Bapu started talking. Instead of talking he gave me to read Samuel Hoare’s letter.  I read it. I was asked: “What do you feel?”

‘I [Mahadevbhai] said: “I find the whole argument pure. Regarding the policy of repression I have always felt that Bapu’s [Gandhiji’s] anger may take such a turn some day. What objection does Vallabhbhai have to this [fast]?”

[Gandhiji]:“...Vallabhbhai’s difficulty is that he feels this [fast] will convey a wrong meaning. They will say that Gandhi is such type of a person only, he [Gandhiji] has gone mad, let him indulge into madness. People/subjects also will be shocked and there is a great fear that such fasts will be falsely imitated...”

‘I [Mahadevbhai] said: “World will understand a fast against repression but this one, concerning untouchables, may not be understood...British will try and explain to the world that the demand of all untouchables or majority of the untouchables was for a separate electorate. I would ask that you [Gandhiji] explain more clearly that by giving a separate electorate to the untouchables, the subjects /people are being dangerously divided... some will ask that is this sin [of demanding separate electorate] far greater than the sins committed by Hindu community that a fast had to be undertaken against it [the demand]?...”

‘Bapu said: “The society is being made to wash off the sins of the Hindu society. But this action is like making the sin permanent...there would be no other impact [of separate electorate] but internal division in the country- between Hindu touchable(s) and untouchables and between Hindus and Muslims.”

‘Vallabhbhai said: “I am still saying no to it [fast], but now you do as you think what is right.”

[Vallabhbhai on Gandhiji’s fast on another occasion]: 

Volume -2 [Year 1932]: ‘At night Vallabhbhai was very angry. He told Bapu: “You must give a notice of fast. Four day’s notice will not do. You will do injustice to both the people and the Government. We will not be able to defend you before others. People will say yet another fast was started after completing one fast. He [Gandhiji] alone will understand the letter he has [Gandhiji] written. How is the Government going to understand your philosophy of non cooperation? ...”

[Vallabhbhai on Gandhiji’s fast on yet another occasion while Appa Patwardhan was fasting]

Volume -3 [Year 1933]: ‘I [Mahadevbhai] said: “This time it is the question of falsehood and cheating. Till now he involved you in this episode, sought your opinion. And now you are not even being informed-this is not tolerable. If for the first time while fighting for Appa, fast was necessary, then this time fast is absolutely necessary. And this time we are not aware if Appa is fasting fully or partially."

‘Bapu said: “It is true. Let us give notice of fast.”

‘Vallabhbhai was very angry: “You give notice of fast at the last moment and that has no meaning. Thousands of people are languishing in jail, and by fasting over one single episode concerning Appa, and turning fasts [into something] cheap, [fasts] will have no [cease to have any] impact either on the people or the Government...”

[C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) also differed with Gandhiji undertaking fasts. This episode is concerning Gandhiji's  fast and opening up of temple for the Harijans]:

Volume -2 [Year 1932]: ‘Rajaji: “That people are in favor of opening up the temple is clear from the counting of the votes. But we want to do all this legally and peacefully...There will be struggles all over the country, ...but since you continue to hang the threat of fast over our heads; how can we do all this other work?...I would like to assert that right now, it is not the question of postponing the fast at all. [But] You [Gandhiji] should give up the idea of fasting itself...”...

‘Bapu: “...The fast was so that people work to open up the temple [for Harijans]...I am like a powerhouse, people get strength from it...”

‘Rajaji:  “I understand that. All that needs to be done is being done. There is no need to fast so that people work to get permission [to open the temple]... [Your] fast is not to get permission. Therefore I say that you stop speaking about it [fast]...”

‘Bapu: “But so long as my vow does not end, how can I stop talking about fast? As soon as Guruvayur temple opens [for Harijans], the fast will immediately go off.”

‘Rajaji: “Once permission is received, law is passed, Guruvayur temple should be considered as opened.”

‘Bapu: “But I am fasting before the people, where am I fasting before the members of legislature?”

‘Rajaji: “Your vow is concerning the Guruvayur temple and so your vow ends as soon as the permission is received...but I must say that with the talk of fast, instead of good will, a lot of unpleasantness has spread... the way in which we are being put to test is nothing compared to the sorrows during civil disobedience... there is a limit to fasts in order to awaken the conscience of the people. You have turned fasts into common/insignificant one liked your fast undertaken for [Gandhiji] have lit the spark, now give it time. Otherwise by talking in such incomprehensible/mystic manner [in support of fast] there will not be any end [to the discussion].”...

...[Mahadevbhai]: 'Today once again he [Rajaji] was arguing with Bapu to leave the thought of fast. He was seeking a promise [from Bapu] to not undertake a fast for a long time.' ...

'Bapu said jokingly: "What if I do not [fast] for three years!" Bapu was treating it like a game/ treating it in jest. And Rajaji continued to remain in doubt...while leaving he [Rajaji] said: "tell Bapu we will take no notice of his fast, if he does so again without consulting us."...

...[Mahadevbhai]: 'This Rajaji! In spite of having strong opposition to fast, he can give a speech on the grandeur and unseen-unusual results of fast!' 

 [Rajaji and others differed on yet another occasion with Gandhiji’s decision to fast on the issue of untouchability]:

 Volume -3: [Year 1933][Mahadevbhai]: 'Yesterday evening a telegram from Dr. Ansari was received: “I [Dr. Ansari] am not in a position to give permission to this fast...”

[Mahadevbhai]: ‘Conversation with Rajaji:  
‘Bapu: “The science of law has accepted suicide...”

‘Rajaji: “But Hindu religion does not permit suicide.”...

‘Bapu: “What if I fast for a few days? What if I do not die at the end of this fast? ...I want to serve the Harijans in the best possible manner. If untouchability is to be abolished, then the hearts’ of sixteen crore people should be influenced.”

‘Rajaji: “To save one self from ghosts there is a superstitious belief of touching wood and in this, God is also involved. But there is a limit to such incomprehensible/mystic/beyond the senses talks. ..”

‘Bapu: “I am not ashamed of mystic element. You are trying to say that to believe in the mystic is harmful.”

‘Rajaji: “Yes, if it results into death.”

‘Bapu: “...For the sake of an argument I may say that self destructive fasts are wrong, I accept this reason of yours. But all fasts are not like that. Your argument is that there is no benefit from self repression/oppression.”

‘Rajaji: “It could be possible”

‘Bapu: “As per medical science?”

‘Rajaji: “No, it can also be mental.”

‘Bapu: “In that case you are defeated. If that is so, it [decision] should be left to the person who is fasting. I have not undertaken this fast willingly. I have received orders [from God].”

‘Rajaji: “Okay. Can your friends advise you on this?”

‘Bapu: “Sure.”

‘Rajaji:  “If there is an eighty percent possibility of death then this is a gamble. You [Gandhiji] will say it is a good gamble. I feel that by being in jail, for the repetition of the same topic in the mind, you have lost your... intelligence... you are experimenting with death; you have been misguided. Will you show a single person who has liked this step [ fast] of yours?”

‘Bapu: “Dunkan, Andrews.”

‘Rajaji: “What value should be put to their opinion? My opinion is far superior to theirs...I say you become more alert. It is possible to get inspiration from God sometimes but it is not possible to get it always.”

‘Bapu: “So you accept the possibility of inspiration from God. Once you accept that, it means you have lost your case.”

‘Rajaji: “But in this case the inspiration may be false too. To close down one's brain is a sign of impatience...All I wish is that you understand that you too may be making a mistake sometimes. In this case I feel that you understand at least that much.”

‘Bapu: “But how can I accept my fault without knowing the result? I have taken the decision of this fast by going against my wish... how my mind is working will be shown [to you] from my letters by Mahadev.’

‘Rajaji: “You are suppressing the thoughts.”

[Mahadevbhai]: ‘Then Bapu explained how he came to a decision and said: “If I accept your argument then I will have to stop working.”

‘Rajaji: “But there cannot be any inspiration against the mind”...

[Mahadevbhai]:...Once again with Rajaji: 

[Bapu]... “It is good luck of the poor that he [God] resides in the heart and I am fasting in order to discover the heart...”

Mahadevbhai: ‘Then [Bapu] fought a lot with Rajaji, got angry, sparks flew and in exasperation and fury [Bapu] spoke: “You [Rajaji] must respect my conviction. You are asking me to leave my conviction...Am I not the sailor of my own boat? ..."

[Many other freedom fighters close to Gandhiji like Kaka Kalelker, Gandhiji’s son Devdas, etc also differed with Gandhiji undertaking fasts and often strongly. This shall be covered in the next post]