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 thing...no one liked your fast undertaken for Appa...you [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]

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