M K Gandhi is an impossible act to follow

Will there ever be another leader so admired by his opponents?

Mahatma Gandhi did not live to see his country a peaceful place. Less than six months after India attained freedom, one of his countrymen shot him dead from point-blank range on January 30, 1948.

The fires of Partition were still burning and Gandhi had been busy putting them out when he was killed, which explains Kenneth Lindsay’s above remark delivered in the British House of Commons eight days before the assassination.

It is to the credit of the British that so many of them admired Gandhi, the man who troubled their Empire so much. But their admiration also says much about Gandhi’s own personality and character.

Today, 69 years after he was killed, let us remember Gandhi by some of the good things that were said about him in the British Parliament in his own lifetime.

House of Commons, May 22, 1919

There is no man who offers such perplexity to a government as Mr. Gandhi, a man of the highest motives and of the finest character, a man whom his worst enemy, if he has any enemies, would agree is of the most disinterested ambitions that it is possible to conceive, a man who has deserved well of his country by the services he has rendered, both in India and outside it, and yet a man who his friends, and I would count myself as one of them, would wish would exercise his great powers with a greater sense of responsibility and would realise in time that there are forces beyond his control and outside his influence who use the opportunities afforded by his name and reputation.

Edwin Montagu (Secretary of State for India 1917–1922)

I should be quite content if I had Mr. Gandhi’s virtues and powers… My right hon. friend in a passage for which I shall always be grateful compared me lightly to a very important character, Mr. Gandhi, the leader of the passive resistance movement not only in India but throughout the world. Gandhi is regarded as a saint in India. He went to Delhi to suppress the riots. When he got to Delhi he was arrested and sent back. It was the arrest of Gandhi which caused the revolt at Lahore.

Colonel Josiah Wedgwood

House of Commons, July 30, 1919

The most successful intervention was that of an individual Indian, Mr. Gandhi, who by his own personality, his persistence and his courage got much farther in the solution of the problem of the Indians in the Transvaal than any official representations could have done.

Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery

House of Commons, July 8, 1920

I agree with Mr. Gandhi, the great Indian, representing, I think, all that is finest in India, when he said, “We do not want to punish General Dyer; we have no desire for revenge; we want to change the system that produces General Dyers.”

Colonel Josiah Wedgwood

House of Lords, July 19, 1920

The outbreak in Ahmebadad commenced in consequence of a rumour — a false report — that Mr. Gandhi had been arrested. It was not a correct description of what had happened to him…Two days afterwards Mr. Gandhi turned up, and, after interviewing the Commissioner, he went into the native city and addressed an enormous crowd of Indians, whom he blamed for their violence, with the result that all further violence ceased.

Lord Harris

House of Commons, February 14, 1922

Gandhi has been abused by everyone, including, of course, the Secretary of State for India. Judging by the last pronouncement of Gandhi calling off the non-co-operation movement because it would lead to violence, I think the time may come when we shall rather congratulate ourselves on having a man of Gandhi’s eminence with the ideas which he apparently possesses. It may be fortunate that the agitation in India is led by a Gandhi and not by a De Valera.

Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy

House of Commons, March 12, 1931

I think one might safely say that, of the 270,000,000 persons who inhabit British India, 250,000,000 had never heard of either the Conference or the Congress, but they had all heard of Mr. Gandhi, and that accounts for the fact that the Congress asked him to come out of his seclusion and lead the people.

Mr Cadogan

The right hon. gentleman does not seem to realise that it is these very things that to him are “nauseating” that commend Mr. Gandhi to millions and millions of his fellow-countrymen. Gandhi is revered and followed by these millions, and has a very much better right to speak for the 300,000,000 of his fellow-countrymen than has the right hon. Member for Epping living 6,000 miles away. Another Member of the party opposite also made things as difficult as possible. I refer to Lord Burnham, who ought to have known better, because he was a member of the Simon Commission. About three weeks ago, in a public speech at Salisbury, he referred to Mr. Gandhi as: A crafty, half crazy old fanatic. That kind of thing should not be possible from any statesman in the position of Lord Burnham or the right hon. Member for Epping. It makes one wonder how much Lord Burnham did learn in India when there with the Commission, and how much value we can attach to what he said when he came home.

David Pole

House of Commons, January 23, 1948

Where in Ricardo, Adam Smith, Marshall, or any other economist, is there a Gandhi? Where does he get the power he exercises in India today? Only by having the power of God behind us can we have any hope of preventing a third world war.

James Haworth

***

We might ask ourselves that same question today: where in the world do you see a leader with the conviction, will and influence of Gandhi talking about peace and freedom from all persecution?

***

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