At Gandhi’s shrine

March 18 2011

When, on my last visit to Delhi [1957], I was standing by Gandhiji’s shrine, to pay reverence to him, I was thinking to myself: Has there ever been another case in which a leader in a successful struggle for political liberation has been a benefactor, not only to his own people, but also to the nation from whose rule he has helped his own people to free themselves? Gandhiji made it impossible for the people of my country to go on ruling India, and at the same time he did this in a way that made it possible for the British to withdraw without irretrievable discredit or disgrace. I should say that Gandhiji’s service to my country has been not much less great than his service to his own country. I do not think this is an exaggeration. It is comparatively easy to take possession of an empire; but it is fearfully difficult to give up possession when once it has been acquired. When a government meets with resistance, however legitimate morally, it is so easy for it to fall into trying to maintain its authority by force; and, if once the struggle has taken a violent form, there is no happy way out for either party, and no creditable way either, for the ruling party at any rate. This has been one of the commonest tragedies of history. Gandhiji saved Britain, as well as India, from that, and he did it by inspiring the people of India to keep the struggle on a spiritual plane that was above the level of mere politics.

If Gandhi hadn’t lived, would Britain really have tried to hold onto India by brute force? With Gandhi there, it still delayed its withdrawal for as long as possible.

Dhanjaya Bhat, The Tribune, Spectrum supplement, February 12 2006:

“Which phase of our freedom struggle won for us Independence? Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 Quit India movement or the [Axis-sympathising] INA army launched by Netaji Bose to free India or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946? According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, during whose regime India became free, it was the INA and the RIN Mutiny of February 18-23 1946 that made the British realize that their time was up in India.”

Toynbee text from the third of three Azad Memorial Lectures delivered in New Delhi in 1960. Nehru gave the first series in 1959, Attlee the third in 1961. List to 2009. Maulana Azad was a Muslim who had opposed partition, the first Education Minister after independence and the founder of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

One World and India, New Delhi, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Orient Longmans Private Ltd, February 1960

3 Responses to “At Gandhi’s shrine”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The experience of leaving India was formative for the British. By managing not to feel humiliated, we kept a certain international confidence in ourselves even as the rest of the Empire was dissolved. You can see it now in what we still call our foreign policy.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    What would Toynbee have made of Andrew Roberts’ extremely denigratory portrait of Gandhi in the Wall Street Journal recently, a review of Joseph Lelyveld’s critical, though “generally admiring”, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, Knopf, 2011?

    Roberts blames Gandhi, not the British, for delaying India’s independence.

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