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Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhiji's Hind Swaraj



This book has evolved out of our earlier effort to prepare an authentic edition of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj based on his hand-written manuscript of 1909 in Gujarati and his English translation of the text published from Phoenix in 1910. In that volume, published for the centenary year of Hind Swaraj, we also provided a verbatim Hindi translation of the original Gujarati and extensive notes on the various ideas and events mentioned in the text.

In the process of compiling that edition, we went through much of Gandhiji’s writings of the period prior to the composition of Hind Swaraj. The material indicated that almost all of the arguments and ideas, and also many of the examples and literary images, that occur in Hind Swaraj had been already thought out, articulated and practiced by Gandhiji. The thing had indeed been brewing in his mind, as he says in one of his letters of 1909. The ferment had been going on through the nearly two-decade long struggle he waged for recovering the civilizational dignity of Indians in South Africa, but also earlier, in England, where he had landed as a callow youth of nineteen and had his first intimate contact with Western civilisation.

That early contact with the people of a different civilisation made him begin thinking consciously about the faith and ways of the ordinary small-town Hindu that he had imbibed and taken for granted since his early childhood. In South Africa, under pressure to convert from some of his Christian and Muslim well-wishers, he began a serious exploration into his own religion, and also Islam and Christianity, to discover for himself the meaning and responsibility of being a Hindu. At the same time, faced with the extreme prejudice against Indians, to which he was personally exposed within the first few weeks of his arrival there, he began to study and meditate on the difference between the Indian and the modern Western civilisation. Over time, he came to the conclusion that these two civilisations represented two distinctly different ways of being, which were difficult if not impossible to reconcile. He also began thinking of the form of struggle that would be in consonance with the distinctively Indian civilisational ways. In the process, he discovered Satyagraha, in the historic mass meeting held at the old Empire theatre in Johannesburg on 11th September1906.

From 1906 onwards, Gandhiji ran three major Satyagraha campaigns. In the course of these several hundred Indians, including his first-born son, Harilal, and his wife Kasturba, were incarcerated in the jails of South Africa. He himself had to suffer imprisonment four times and was put through highly humiliating and severely torturous situations at least during two of these jail experiences. His third and last Satyagraha campaign mobilised thousands of impoverished Indian labourers and mine-workers and resulted in a resounding vindication and world-wide recognition of the civilisational dignity of all Indians and of India.

Thus, by 1914, when Gandhiji started on his journey back to India, he had proved for himself and the world the efficacy of Satyagraha. He had learnt that large numbers would indeed willingly undergo extreme suffering and deprivation for the sake of a just cause. And, he had established that even the rough and tough Boers, ruling in an alien land, would have to grant justice in the face of the righteous instrument of Satyagraha, in the face of self-suffering undergone for a just cause.

The long struggle that Gandhiji waged in South Africa was a civilisational struggle. And for him, the attribute that fundamentally differentiated the Indian and the Western civilisations was religion. Religion, he believed, was at the core of Indian civilisation, while the Western civilisation was based in irreligion. Irreligion could be fought only through religion. The instrument of Satyagraha that he forged for this struggle was a religious instrument; and the cause towards which he used it was a religious cause. The struggle of the Indians in South Africa was, for him and for the Satyagrahis he led, not merely a struggle to gain some particular privilege or concession. It was a struggle carried out with God as witness to preserve the sacred dignity of the religious person.

Leading and engaging in this struggle for establishing and preserving the dignity of India and the Indian people was thus a religious duty. It was also a patriotic duty. The two for him had become the same. He could say with conviction, as he often did, that patriotism for him was an aspect of his religion. Hind Swaraj is in fact best read as a text of religious patriotism.

Patriotism, of course, implies concern for a particular people and a particular land. But since the patriotism of Gandhiji and of Hind Swaraj was rooted in religion, it transcended that particularity and became universal. As he says, “My patriotism is patent enough; my love for India is ever growing but it is derived from my religion and is therefore in no sense exclusive.”

At the peak of his struggle in South Africa, this religious patriotism of Gandhiji had begun to shine through and become apparent to perceptive observers. Tolstoy noticed it; and, for him, with his Christian universalist concerns, it ‘spoiled everything’ in an otherwise admirable and kindred personality. Dr. Pranjivan Jagjivan Mehta, Gandhiji’s long-time friend and benefactor, observing the same religious patriotism of Gandhiji, saw him to be evolving into a high religious personage obsessed with his motherland: “…I have found him getting the more and more selfless. He is now leading almost an ascetic sort of life—not the life of an ordinary ascetic that we usually see but that of a great Mahatma and the one idea that engrosses his mind is his motherland.” This was in November 1909. In 1912, he tells Gokhale that ‘men like him [Gandhiji] are born on very rare occasions & that in India alone’.

When it was time for Gandhiji to leave South Africa, after the successful completion of the Satyagraha that was launched in 1906 and was formally closed in 1914, the Indians there had also come to look upon him as Deshbhakta Mahatma, a great realised soul that was deeply concerned with his people and his land. That was how he was addressed in at least two of the formal Manapatras, addresses of honour, presented to him in the various farewell meetings held to felicitate him and Kasturba on the eve of their departure from South Africa.

In this book, we have tried to tell the story of the evolution of Hind Swaraj as a text of religious patriotism and of the parallel evolution of Gandhiji as a Hindu Patriot, perhaps the greatest Hindu Patriot, Deshbhakta Mahatma, of our times. We tell this story largely in his own words. In Part 2, we have compiled 388 extracts relevant to this evolution. These extracts are nearly all from Gandhiji’s own writings from 1891 to 1909. Very occasionally we have used an extract from the later period to emphasise some point or to complete the story in some cases. For the same purpose, we have also included a handful of extracts from the writings of others, mainly of Leo Tolstoy, Rev. Joseph J. Doke, Prof. Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Dr. Pranjivan Jagjivan Mehta and Mahadev Desai. The first Part is an effort to lead the reader through these extensive extracts and tell a connected story of the evolution of Gandhiji and of his Hind Swaraj. 

We have also included three maps: Map 1 shows some of the more important places in South Africa that are mentioned in the extracts compiled here. Gandhiji, during his stay of twenty-one years in South Africa, visits a large number of places and evolves organisations and contacts in every part of that country of subcontinental dimensions. There are more than a hundred places mentioned in these extracts; nearly all of them had some public organisation of Indians. When Gokhale visits South Africa in 1912 on Gandhiji’s invitation, Gandhiji takes him to several places and gives him an impressive glimpse of the wide-ranging organisations and contacts that he had evolved. In Map 1, we are able to show only a few of these places. Map 2 shows Gandhiji’s fateful rail and coach journey from Durban to Pretoria that he undertook in the very first month of his arrival in South Africa (June 1893) and during which he is exposed to unforgettable personal experiences of the extreme prejudice practised by the South African whites against the Indians there. Map 3 shows the route of the Great March (November 1913) of a few thousand Indian labourers—Gandhiji refers to them as Pilgrims—from Newcastle to Balfour that formed the culminating and most intense phase of his Satyagraha campaigns in South Africa. At the end of Part 1, we have included a detailed timeline of the events described here. The Maps and the Timeline place the events mentioned in the extracts and the introduction in their spatial and temporal context.

We may offer a word of explanation for using the term Hindu Patriot, instead of say Religious Patriot, in the title. Gandhiji indeed says in one of the extracts compiled here that his “fight is on behalf of religion, that is, for religion which underlies all religions”. He repeats this formulation in different forms at many places. But he learnt the religion that underlies all religions through his own religion, which was Hinduism. More specifically, it could be called Vaishnavism, which he tried to define for himself in conversations with his religious mentor, Raichandbhai, whom he placed higher than Tolstoy in religious matters.

Gandhiji always held that a man’s duty was to his own religion, his own land and his own people. Let everyman do his duty towards his own and the world would take care of itself. This is the meaning of his insistence on patriotism and on adoption of ‘Swadeshi in every sense’; and, of his assertion that there is no exclusivity in such patriotism. That sense of Swadeshi would not allow him to offer his adherence to a religion other than Hinduism, the religion into which he was born.

It also needs to be considered that all those who came in contact with him from around 1909 onwards saw in him a Hindu religious personage committed to his land and his people, a Deshbhakta Mahatma. At the time, Gandhiji went through his evolution as a religious patriot, ‘Hindu’ was still a simple term that implied the way of being of an overwhelming majority of ordinary Indians. In one of his letters, Tolstoy even refers to Gujarati, into which Gandhiji proposed to translate Tolstoy’s “Letter to a Hindoo” as the “Hindoo language”. Gandhiji always perceived himself as a Hindu, perhaps a better Hindu than most others, and that is how his contemporaries saw him. It is indeed apt to think of him as the great Hindu Patriot of our times, the Deshbhakta Mahatma that India gave birth to at a crucial time in her history.

This book is our tribute to Gandhiji in his one hundred fiftieth birth anniversary year. Gandhiji was convinced ‘that no one who does not know his religion can have true patriotism in him’. We shall be gratified if this book helps the readers deepen both their religious and their patriotic commitments. These are two of the fundamental human attributes that seem to be severely lacking in the current generations of Indians.

The authentic edition of Hind Swaraj, which we published in 2011 and which has become the foundation for this book was dedicated to the public at Ahmedabad by Sri Mohan Bhagawat, the Sarasanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Sri Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, who is now the Prime Minister of India. Their association with that effort has encouraged us in undertaking this work which began as an exploration into the genesis of Hind Swaraj.

We acknowledge our gratitude to several of our friends who have encouraged us in this work and particularly our colleagues, Prof. K. V. Varadharajan and Sri T. M. Mukundan, both of whom have read through the early drafts of this book and have offered valuable suggestions.

The book has become possible because of the constant and patient support of Vijayalakshmi Srinivas and Kusum Bajaj. JKB affectionately acknowledges the several contributions of his son, Anjaneya Bajaj.

   JKB & MDS