When we are assembled on the birth day of Mahatma Gandhi to pay our tribute of homage, it should be our purpose not merely to preserve his memory but also conserve the legacy he has bequeathed to us. For his is a generous legacy which is exempt from the Law of Primogeniture. His country-men are not the sole heirs nor are the Hindus its exclusive possessors. His legacy is to be equally shared b all good men and women, all over the World, Ceylon not excluded.
He, Mahatma Gandhi, described himself as a practical idealist, and not a visionary. He was a practical dreamer and an optimist, a practical dreamer because he always tried to transform his dreams into realities; an optimist because he had an unflinching faith in God that the right would always triumph in the end; He drew no distinction between politics and religion, economics and ethics for to him political action was always “an instrument of spiritual endeavour.” He started as a reformer and ended as a revolutionary. In his own iconoclastic manner and by his own uncommon methods he waged war on behalf of the Indians against “the Satanic British Empire” and preached rebellion on behalf of the Harijans against the Sanatanist Hindu stronghold. To the Indians he brought back self-respect and revived in them the spirit of sacrifice and struggle. To the statusless Outcastes, the so called Untouchables, he gave relief and remedies and bestowed on them an appellation of the highest esteem – Harijans, the Children of God. In the contemporary world, there was no man frailer than him in physique and yet no person stronger than him in faith; he moved men as no other did with an energizing power of such tremendous proportions. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, and intellectual giant himself, Mahatma Gandhi was “the clearest headed man in India” and in him, Lloyd George, a political genius of no mean order, espied an extra-ordinary ability as a politician. To C.F. Andrews, the finest flower of British Missionary endeavour, Mahatma Gandhi, was an embodiment of sincerity, simplicity and saintliness. To Mahatma Gandhi himself, he was a man of religion to whom the highest ideal was Truth, which he identified with God. With this Truth he experimented throughout his life. In his own words “Most religious men I have met are politicians in disguise; I however, who wear the guise of a politician, am at heart a religious man.” For over three decades, he guided the political destiny of India and by his deeds and words became the Architect of Indian Freedom and was therefore hailed as the Father of the Indian Nation.
I shall now deal with just two events in Mahatma Gandhi’s life that stand out most vivid in my memory, one when as a member of the Student Committee of my School I welcomed Mahatma Gandhi to Jaffna Hindu College and the other when I was shocked to hear over the wireless of the violent death of the non-violent man, which shook the whole world.
When Mahatma Gandhi came to our School in November 1927 we were quite familiar, though not in any profound sense, with the chief features of the Gandhian Movement, his association with the Khilafat agitation, and his efforts in the cause of Hindu-Muslim Unity. To us therefore swaraj and purna-swaraj, charka and khaddar, swadeshi and satyagraha were terms well-known and fairly understood by us. He had thus sown the seeds of discontent in our young minds, against the British Empire ‘where the sun never sets’ and which was over weighted by the White Man’s Burden. He had thereby upset the accepted values of our elders who had been securely brought upon the Faith of Stability – that obedience to the Government was obedience to God – A Revised Version of the Divine Right of the King. We had a vague idea of the controversy between Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Tagore as regards the conflict between nationalism and internationalism, and we knew of the view of Mahatma Gandhi that "non co-operation was not intended to erect a Chinese Wall between India and the West " and that "it is impossible for one to be an internationalist without being a nationalist ….. it is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness, exclusiveness which is the bane of modern nations which is evil…. Indian nationalism wants to organize itself to find full expression for the benefit and service of humanity at large". As a result of Mahatma Gandhi’s influence the cadet movement in our midst gained no strong support. The King’s Birthday celebrations were mostly confined to the officials; swabasha was accorded a place of honour in the curriculum and outside, and keen interest was evinced in all the political questions of the day. And swaraj for Ceylon became a cherished ideal; though of Parliament and politicians, procedure and plans, policy and programmes we were still semi-ignorant.
When Mahatma Gandhi himself came to us on that day in November 1927 it was a thrilling experience, ever unforgettable and always remembered. We had previously heard of his deeds but not his words. His bodily appearance, his serene countenance, his soft speech and his calm manner gripped our attention throughout his short stay with us and left an impress on our minds, lasting to this day.
As far as Ceylon was concerned, with the constitutional and conventional agitation that preceded the inauguration of the Donoughmore Constitution, the path differed and even diverged from India though the goal remained the same – Swaraj.
The other event, I have already stated, is Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on the 30th of January 1948 when he died a martyr to the cause of Hindu-Muslim Unity – a cause he ever cherished, dating back to the time he came to know the Muslims intimately in South Africa. During the last phase of his political career he who once led the Khilafat agitation in the company of all the acknowledged Muslim leaders of that day, was now considered by many of the Muslim Leaguers that as an enemy of their cause, he was an enemy of Islam and the Muslim; and they alleged that the Ramrajya he desired was Hindu Raj disguised. But Mahatma Gandhi’s greatness shone with undiminished lustre when the British decided to divide and quit India – a decision which he personally did not approve but in which all the political parties acquiesced. Mahatma Gandhi was keen that all the necessary preliminary steps be taken and adequate measures adopted to make the transitional period as easy as possible so that there would be no fratricide leading to an open war and culminating in the final destruction of the India he envisaged – an India divided into two States by law and legislation yet united at heart and in spirit. Unfortunately for him the hour of his triumph was also the hour of his humiliation, for with the sight of independence many of the leaders became intoxicated with the exuberance of their own language and there were now brought to the surface all the evil passions that had been lying submerged. Mahatma Gandhi painfully realized that while satyagraha was his creed it had only been a policy for the majority of his followers, a mere political expedient, a form of just passive resistance, born of fright at the Mighty Empire and its panopoly of power. It was not in Mahatma Gandhi’s nature to be idle and inactive when opposing forces were gathering momentum. Fortified by the Faith in Him, he decided to endeavour, to the best of his ability, to bring sanity to those recently become demented. His visit to Calcutta produced results for there were no communal clashes in an area where such clashes had not been unexpected. He himself refused to participate in the festivities and jubilations connected with the Day of Independence, the 15th of August 1947. Instead he prayed and fasted, and he was not prepared to give any Message to the Nation.
Conditions became from bad to worse and there was an agitation that the Muslims had no place in India as they had willingly opted for Pakistan. Mahatma Gandhi was not prepared to yield to this demand however vociferous it was. He was determined to fight to the last – to face even death – to ensue that the forty million Muslims of India were accorded a status as good as the many many millions of Hindus. To this end he wended his way to Delhi in the month of January 1948 to do or die, to fast unto death for the restoration of the Hindu-Muslim Unity he had striven for throughout his entire life. He felt that death to him would be a "a glorious deliverance rather than he should be a helpless witness of the destruction of India, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam". He said that this fast was undoubtedly on behalf of the Muslim minority in the Indian Union and therefore not necessarily against the Hindus and the Sikhs of the Union or the Muslims of Pakistan. He said that he had no desire to live unless peace reigned in both the Dominions. His fast produced results and peace reigned in Delhi. But before peace could reign in the Dominions, he was shot on the 30th of January 1948. He who was ready to die so that the Muslims in India might live became martyred and the people orphaned. Thus did he give his life for the cause he loved – Hindu-Muslim Unity. Thus did he join the illustrious line of World’s Greatest Martys. For this Unity he began his first Great Fast in Delhi in the year 1924 and for this he completed his last and Greatest Fast in the same City in the year 1948. He died so that four or more crores of Indian Muslims will live as citizens – with self-respect and full rights. Thus are their loving hearts the living monuments to Mahatma Gandhi, his life and teachings. How prophetic are his two utterances! One was made in 1924 and the other in 1938.
‘I am striving to become the best cement between the two communities. My longing is to be able to cement the two with my blood, if necessary. But before I can do so I must prove to the Mussalmans that I love them as well as I love the Hindus. My religion teaches me to love all equally!—
—- If not during my life time I know that after my death both Hindus and Mussalmans will bear witness that I have never ceased to yearn after communal peace" —-
What better tribute can we offer to this Great Personage, to his Memory than the cultivation, in us and in our midst, of the spirit of tolerance, which is indeed the quintessence of all religions – Yours and mine.

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