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IN THE MAHATMA’S ABSENCE

Gandhi is gone. Who will guide us now'
Edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi,
Permanent Black, Rs 295

It was dark because the light was out. This is a remarkable record of a collective cry of anguish from a group of people who felt the source that had lit up their lives had been extinguished. It is also a record, ironically, of what has happened to that legacy.

The legacy was that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The record is that of a meeting of the principal followers of Gandhi at Sevagram. The timing was extremely significant. It was early March 1948; six weeks after the Mahatma had been assassinated. He, himself, had planned this meeting for February little knowing, of course, that three bullets fired by a Hindu fanatic would end his life on January 30, 1948. His absence gave to the meeting a poignant twist. The cry, “Gandhi is gone, who will guide us now'’’ was from the entire group even though it was first articulated in the meeting by Devdas Gandhi.

The most significant presence there was perhaps Jawaharlal Nehru, who came for a short while. It was a tired and care-worn Nehru who appeared, trying very hard not to be India’s prime minister or to be Gandhi’s cup bearer, but just another disciple of Bapu. He confessed that he was perplexed. He recognized that Gandhi’s fundamental ideas were under attack all around him. But he was already speaking, even in that gathering, like a prime minister: “Congress has now to govern, not to oppose government. So it will have to function in a new way, staying within politics.’’ He could not completely brush aside constructive work, given the emphasis that Gandhi had put on it, but his priorities lay elsewhere. It is important to stress this divide between the mentor and his protégé. As early as 1936, in his autobiography, Nehru had written that the ideas of Gandhi as explicated in Hind Swara were “utterly wrong and harmful doctrine, and impossible of achievement.’’ Nehru came to Sevagram in March 1948 out of loyalty. His mind was elsewhere, and Gandhi was not in that ‘elsewhere’.

The maverick presence here was J.B. Kripalani. As he himself said, “I do not know where I belong. I have left Congress, and am not in government. The socialists call me a gandhian and chase me away...I am not one of the great devotees of Gandhi.” Yet even he did not have much to offer save to say that the path of sacrifice was Bapu’s true way.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi has retrieved a valuable document. It is valuable to understand what was happening to Gandhi’s legacy immediately after Gandhi’s murder, and also to get a sense of the path that independent India was going to take in the Mahatma’s absence. What is clear from the proceedings of the meeting is that followers of Gandhi, even the redoubtable Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan, felt completely lost without Bapu. Was this because the loss was so close in time or was it because they were genuinely lost' One would suspect the latter since after Gandhi, the history of Gandhianism is one of floundering.

In the darkness without light: this is the sense the meeting conveys. Gandhi was already gone from India.

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