Sri Aurobindo's words, "The spirit of her [India's] culture is her soul," had taken root in the heart of K. M. Munshi. Unlike his Prime Minister who never made a real discovery of India, Munshi had done it. He had imbibed her culture. He was a novelist among other things, and what pleases me more than anything else is that his heroes are no weaklings. A man of integrity, he had the moral courage to act on what he perceived as right and truth. To him the Mahatma, M. K. Gandhi, was his 'master,' but it did not prevent him from revolting to Gandhi's advice to Congressmen. Mr. M. K. Gandhi advised Hindus not to resist Muslim goondas, not to stand up to Muslim violence, and certainly not to retaliate. Munshi was thrown into a turmoil when he read that advice of Gandhi's in the papers. He dashed off a letter to his master, saying he was resigning from the Congress.
"Forgive me," he wrote on 26 May 1941 from Nainital, "if I cannot reconcile myself to these injunctions. Since [the movement for] Pakistan has been in action in Dacca, Ahmedabad, Bombay and other places, it is clear that such riots are going to be a normal feature of our life for some years." He feared that the riots "will perhaps grow more frequent and intense if a division of India is sought to be enforced by internal and external agencies through organised violence. If life, home and shrine and honour of women is tatened by goondaism, organised resistance in self-defence appears to me to be a paramount and inalienable duty, whatever form such resistance may take." Firm in his resolve, he added, "I cannot pledge myself not to preach, help, organise or sympathise with organised resistance to violence in self-defence by all possible means. I do not want to be dishonest to myself nor to the country whose integrity is now tatened____"
Two points in Gandhi's letter had specially shocked Munshi.
1) "Those [Congressmen] who favour violent resistance (by way of self-defence) must get out of the Congress and shape their conduct just as they think fit and guide the others accordingly."
2) "A Congressman may not directly or indirectly associate himself with gymnasia where training in violent resistance is given."
Munshi had already been for over fifteen years associated with such gymnasia. He resigned from the Congress.
That advice of Gandhi's, flying in the face of actual happenings as it does, is surprising, if not unbelievable. Muslim goondas had let loose a reign of terror. The 'law- abiding' Hindus generally waited for the police to come and rescue them, or simply ran away. These riots were "outbursts of the predatory instincts of the goondas in a community," to put it in Munshi's words. He also felt that "cowards will always create bullies."
So what did the Mahatma teach? Non-violence or cowardice? As a matter of fact, the Mahatma's 'non-violence' had become the excuse of the coward, the opportunity for the ruffian. Not to speak of the humiliation of a whole society.
When M. K. Gandhi captured the Congress in 1920, and launched his Khilafat Movement, Annie Besant, the leader of the Home Rule movement, foresaw certain dangers. She did not hesitate to warn Gandhi that the movement he contemplated "would result in the release of forces whose potentialities for evil were quite incalculable."
There was an ominous trait in Gandhi's nature which Munshi had missed. So had I. It was reading a narrative1 of my uncle's that suddenly opened my eyes.
The Mahatma was famous for his fasts. But when communal riots broke out a subtle pattern emerged: So long as Muslim hoodlums held the upper hand, Gandhi held his peace, or, at best, verbally expressed his dismay. But when the Hindus began to retaliate then—only then —he would go on a fast.2 The criminal elements in the Muslim society were always the first to start riots. "But when," said Bijoy Singh Nahar, "during the riots, we Hindus had organized ourselves, and not only begun to resist but to beat back the attackers, Gandhiji announced that he was going on fast to stop the riots."
Intrepid that he was, my uncle had not hesitated to move about in the streets of riot-torn Calcutta during those pre-partition days, at the risk of his life and limbs. He and a few other Bengali leaders had organized the 'Resistance Group' in Calcutta. At first the Muslim Chief Minister of Bengal had watched unmoved the unfolding riots: what harm if Hindus are trampled and killed? But when the tide began to turn, the Hindus resisted keeping the Muslim ruffians at bay, he went and met Gandhi who was then in Calcutta. After a talk, at his instance, Gandhi invited my uncle and the other resistance leaders to meet him. They went. They saw a feeble man lying in his bed. Their soft hearts melted at the sight. It was then very easy for Gandhiji to extract a promise from them to stop retaliation. For, said he, he had resolved to withdraw his 'indefinite' fast only when people, 'Muslims and Hindus,' could move about freely in the streets of Calcutta. Instead of telling everybody "You are Indian," and healing the rift, Gandhi widened the communal divide. A few ambitious politicians decided the fate of millions of Indians.
India was partitioned.
Did Mr. M. K. Gandhi try to prevent it?
Did the Mahatma go on a fast? Never heard of it.
Pakistan was created. A bloodbath.
Now listen to Sri Aurobindo.
Decades earlier, commenting on similar circumstances of Muslim ruffianism, he said that it was high time to give our youth a physical and moral education "of our old Kshatriyas or the Japanese Samurai." It was the British who had sown the seeds of violence. Terrified at the rising nationalism the Anglo-Indian Governement had turned to turbulent Mahomedan fanaticism, hoping to drive out poison by poison. It took no time at all for the seeds to bear fruit. "We must organise physical education all over the country," Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Bande Mataram on 18 March 1907, "and train up the rising generation not only in the moral strength and courage for which Swadeshism has given us the materials, but in physical strength and courage and the habit of rising immediately and boldly to the height of even the greatest emergency." We must be trained, he said, to protect ourselves and "not be at the mercy of a Police efficient only for harassment, whose appearance on the scene after a crime means only a fresh and worse calamity to the peaceful householder."
How strange to link cowardice with spirituality! The product of a weak brain, I decided; and taken up by people who are too lazy to think for themselves. Spirituality, by its very definition, is a resistance to evil. A constant war against evil. That is the first step. Mastery over evil is a next higher step. The ultimage step is the rooting out of the evil.
Do you know what Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533) did when tatened with dire consequences by the Kazi (Muslim magistrate) of Nabadwip? He defied the order. The very evening Kazi's prohibitory order came into force, Chaitanya led his san-kirtan3 party, larger than ever, around the streets of Nabadwip.
Thus singing, the party marched to the Kazi's house. Such a huge crowd! The Kazi was intimidated. Then he admired the courage of Chaitanya. So charmed was the Kazi by young Chaitanya that he himself ended up taking part in the sankirtan.
Is it 'immoral' to resist evil? Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, after telling a story to his disciples, gave its moral: "You must hiss at wicked people. You must frighten them lest they should do you harm."
Who says resistance to evil is 'irreligious'? Swami Vivekananda said flatly, "Strength is religion, and nothing is greater than strength." He explained that "before reaching the highest ideal, man's duty is to resist evil; let him work, let him fight, let him strike straight from the shoulder. Then only, when he has gained the power to resist, will non-resistance be a virtue."
Sri Aurobindo told Indians: "The brain is impotent without the right arm of strength.... What India needs especially at this moment," he wrote in June 1907, "is the aggressive virtues, the spirit of soaring idealism, bold creation, fearless resistance, courageous attack.... We would apply to the present situation the vigorous motto of Danton, that what we need, what we should learn above all things is to dare and again to dare and still to dare." He declared: "Strength attracts strength; firm and clear-minded courage commands success and respect; strong and straight dealing can dispense with the methods of dissimulation and intrigue. All these are signs of character and it is only character that can give freedom and greatness to nations."
With his unerring instinct, Sri Aurobindo went to the heart of the matter. "It is not enough that our own hands should remain clean and our souls unstained," he wrote in the Essays on the Gita, almost like an antidote to Gandhi's creed of 'nonviolence,' "for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world; that which is its root must first disappear out of humanity. Much less will mere immobility and inertia unwilling to use or incapable of using any kind of resistance to evil, abrogate the law; inertia, tamas, indeed, injures much more than can the rajasic principle of strife which at least creates more than it destroys." The individual's abstention from strife, he said, "leaves the Slayer of creatures unabolished." He asked, "We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence."
Sri Aurobindo warned. "But even soul-force, when it is effective, destroys. Only those who have used it with eyes open, know how much more terrible and destructive it is than the sword and the cannon; and only those who do not limit their view to the act and its immediate results, can see how tremendous are its after-effects, how much is eventually destroyed and with that much all the life that depended on it and fed upon it. Evil cannot perish without the destruction of much that lives by the evil, and it is no less destruction even if we personally are saved the pain of a sensational act of violence."
- Sujata Nahar
1. Ja dekhéchhi ja karechhi (What I have seen , what I have done).
2. R. C. Majumdar's A History of Modern Bengal, vol.2 , is illuminating in this respect.
3. Public singing of hymns to Sri Krishna.
(Mother's Chronicles, Book 5, pp. 231 - 237)