Archive | January, 2010

Martin Luther King on Gandhi

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Excerpt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Radio Address to India – All India Radio – March, 1959

Leaders in and out of government, organizations, particularly the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and the Quaker Center, and many homes and families have done their utmost to make our short stay both pleasant and instructive. We have learned a lot. We are not rash enough to presume that we know India, vast subcontinent with all of its people, problems, contrasts and achievements; however, since we have been asked about our impressions, we venture one or two generalizations. First we think that the spirit of Gandhi is much stronger today than some people believe. That is not only the direct and indirect influence of his comrades and associates, but also the organized efforts that are being made to preserve the Mahatma’s letters and other writings, the pictures, monuments, the work of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and the movement led by the sainted Vinoba Bhave. These are but a few examples of the way Gandhiji will be permanently enshrined in the hearts of the people of India. Moreover, many governmental officials who do not follow Gandhi literally apply his spirit to domestic and international problems.

Secondly, I wish to make a plea to the people and government of India. The issue of world peace is so critical, that I feel compelled to offer a suggestion that came to me during the course of our conversations with Vinoba Bhave. The peace-loving peoples of the world have not yet succeeded in persuading my own country, America, and Soviet Russia to eliminate fear and disarm themselves. Unfortunately, as yet America and the Soviet Union have not shown the faith and moral courage to do this. Vinobaji has said that India, or any other nation that has the faith and moral courage, could disarm itself tomorrow, even unilaterally. It may be that, just as India had to take the lead and show the world that national independence could be achieved non-violently, so India may have to take the lead and call for universal disarmament. And if no other nation will join her immediately, India may declare itself for disarmament unilaterally. Such an act of courage would be a great demonstration of the spirit of the Mahatma, and would be the greatest stimulus to the rest of the world to do likewise. Moreover, any nation that would take such a brave step would automatically draw to itself the support of the multitudes of the earth, so that any would-be aggressor would be discouraged from risking the wrath of mankind.

May I also say that, since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation. Many years ago, when Abraham Lincoln was shot – and incidentally, he was shot for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot for; namely, for committing the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation. And when he was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the dead body of the great leader and said these words: “now, he belongs to the ages.” And in a real sense, we can say the same thing about Mahatma Gandhi, and even in stronger terms: “now, he belongs to the ages.” And if this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and non-violence that he so nobly illustrated in his life.

Mahatma Gandhi may well be God’s appeal to this generation, a generation drifting again to its doom. And this eternal appeal is in the form of a warning: they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword. We must come to see in the world today that what he taught, and his method throughout, reveals to us that there is an alternative to violence, and that if we fail to follow this we will perish in our individual and in our collective lives. For in a day when Sputniks and explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. Today we no longer have a choice between violence and non-violence; it is either non-violence, or non-existence.

Book Review – Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India

Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India
Lida Trivedi
Indiana University Press 2007 pp205

Lida Trivedi teaches at Hamilton College in USA. On a study tour of India she travelled with, among others, an uncle who was a former freedom fighter and labour leader. Travelling for four months across northern and western India she had the opportunity to meet many who had taken part in the struggle. In addition the oldest sister of her father taught her to spin on the charka. So she learned about khadi and swadeshi as the material facts of India’s national politics.

Her study is about khadi – the self-made cotton for daily use and the role it played in the national struggle for independence. For many people outside India – and I was certainly one of them – the making and selling of khadi is an economic process. Khadi had to replace the imported cloth from Britain to re-establish the former Indian textile industry.

The movement which supported the idea was named swadeshi, the approach to economic self-reliance. One of the eleven Gandhian virtues, swadeshi meant belonging to or being made in one’s own country. This policy of self-reliance meant in practice using only Indian-made cloth. In a wider sense it meant establishing India’s economic autonomy as the basis for future self-government.

Thus khadi meant three different but related things: as a material artifact of the nation; part of a national economic policy; a visual symbol of the Indian people. In doing so it challenged the political boundaries of both traditional Indian society and the British colonial regime. The swadeshi movement found popular support and after some time the Indian National Congress through the Congress Working Committee created the All India Khaddar Board, comprising technical instruction, production and sales. It established in 1922 a new school to train swadeshi workers – the Akila Khadi Vidyalaya, which was in many ways the heart of Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement.

Within the Congress however there was controversy. One of the issues was with regard to members of Congress wearing khadi at Party functions. In keeping with the principles of mass participation the Congress Working Committee decided in 1924 that a revised franchise required that Congress membership had to be earned, not just paid. Hand-spun thread had to be donated to Congress’s Khadi Board and this had to become part of Congress membership. This decision however was not popular with many and within nine months the spinning franchise was repealed. There remained a diluted commitment to swadeshi politics and khadi.

This meant a defeat for Gandhi’s form of swadeshi but khadi was brought to the general public with great success. Gandhi formed the All-India Spinners Association in 1925 which oversaw the development of the swadeshi movement from Satyagraha Ashram. The assets of the defunct Khadi Board were transfered to this new organisation and there was support from some industrialists. Swadeshi now included other hand-produced goods.

India had known a century-long tradition of weaving and textile production including colourful clothing which was an obstacle to undyed khadi becoming popular. To counter this, promoters used exhibitions, showing of lantern-slides, the use of the Gandhi-cap, and the charka flag.

The swadeshi movement achieved three things:

  • khadi became more than a boycott of foreign goods – it became a moral system of labour and consumption for the nation. It emphasised the distinction between indigenous and foreign production.
  • it provided a heterogeneous population with a sense of a united India, relocating rural and urban India within a market-place shaped by common taste and defined by common values.
  • the habitual khadi-wearer celebrated the principle of universal labour and self-sufficiency as the basis of political community and made him or her visible as an individual.

The Gandhi cap or topi emerged as a symbol of political dissent and as a signal of one’s obligations, thus khadi became more than an economic issue. One more product of the khadi movement is worth mentioning, that is the flag of India. It no longer bears the symbol of the charka, the swadeshi movement emblem, but the Ashoka chakra wheel or dharma wheel, but it still represents the hopes and aspirations of the people of India. The flag still has to be made of hand-spun and hand-woven wool, cotton or silk.

Lisa Trivedi has written a penetrating and comprehensive study of khadi in a lively style and is a pleasure to read.

Piet Dijkstra

Book Review – Gandhi And The Middle East: Jews, Arabs and Imperial Interests

Gandhi And The Middle East: Jews, Arabs and Imperial Interests
Simone Panter-Brick
I B Tauris 2008 pp193
IBSN 978 1 84511 584 5 HB

This study deals with Gandhi’s involvement with the politics of the Middle East and in particular Palestine. There were two periods when Gandhi became involved in Middle Eastern politics. The first was following the Great War when the victorious nations wished to abolish the Caliphate, i.e. the leadership of the Muslim world which was in recent times held by the Ottoman Sultan. Gandhi took up the cause as it was one that Indian Muslims were very concerned about and it would help to maintain good Hindu/Muslim relations. However, it was a rather outdated cause and the Turks led by the secular leader Ataturk themselves eventually abolished the Caliphate and Gandhi’s involvement in the Middle East then ceased.

The second, which is the focus of this book, was around 1937. During WWI various promises were made to both Jews and Arabs about the post-war settlement. One of the most important was the statement by Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, concerning the establishment of a Jewish “homeland” in Palestine. The leading Zionist, Chaim Weitzmann, hoped that immigration would lead to 4-5 million Jews settling there and therefore a Jewish state would become viable. In 1922 the British fixed immigration quotas and the numbers settling rose until the late 1920s when numbers dropped off with the world recession. A Jewish Agency was set up to operate as a non-official government which even developed a military wing.

In 1929 trouble began when there was rioting in Jerusalem as it looked as if the Jews would rebuild the Temple in place of the Dome of the Rock. In the 1930s immigration greatly increased so that by WWII Jews constituted about 30% of the population. In 1936 a Higher Arab Committee was established to include all Arab parties and it was chaired by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hadj Amin. They opposed the Jewish settlement and a violent revolt erupted in April 1936 which lasted about 6 months. In response the Jews expanded their defence force, the Haganah, and developed a more extreme off-shoot, the Irgun.

In 1936 Gandhi began to involve himself again. Hermann Kallenbach had been Gandhi’s closest colleague in South Africa and he was Jewish, and he knew the representative of the Jewish Agency, Immanuel Olsvanger, who was also from South Africa. Dr Olsvanger went to see Gandhi in October 1936 and was supposed to be accompanied by Kallenbach, who was pro-Zionist, but he could not manage. Olsvanger was not favourably impressed by Gandhi’s views and considered him to be naive. Kallenbach came to London in April 1937 to meet Olsvanger and also Weizmann and Maurice Shertok, head of the Political Department, then went on to Palestine before going on to see Gandhi. Gandhi promised Kallenbach he would study Zionist literature which he would be sent.

Gandhi’s position was that Palestine was Arab territory and if Jews settled there they should not expect the protection of a colonial power (Britain). But Jews and Christians who were already there should have equal rights to the Arabs. The dependence of Jewish settlers on the colonial power became clear when 30,000 troops were sent during the 1936-39 rebellion. Gandhi’s position was even more strongly held by Nehru who saw the Arab struggle and the Indian anti-colonial struggle as essentially the same.

In July 1937 Kallenbach left India taking a proposal from Gandhi to Shertok in Jerusalem and by letter to Weizmann in London. The letter by Kallenbach to Weizmann offered mediation between Jews and Arabs by Nehru, Azad (President of Congress) and Gandhi. In July also the British Government’s Peel Report was published recommending partition, something which the Arabs did not like, and the Jews were disappointed about too because of the small size of territory proposed. Nevertheless the Zionists accepted it, as did the League of Nations, but the Arabs totally rejected it.

In September the British Commissioner of Galilee was assassinated and for 18 months there was virtual civil war. 3,ooo Jews were recruited to the police, the Irgun resorted to terrorism against Arab and British, 200 Arab leaders were arrested. In the 26 November, 1938 edition of Harijan Gandhi published an article called ‘The Jews’. In it he wrote: “My sympathies are all with the Jews” calling them the untouchables of Christianity. However, he continued: “The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me.” He wrote that “The Palestine of the Biblical concept is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts”. However if they do feel that they should settle in the geographical Palestine it should only be done with the approval of the Arabs there and done nonviolently and without the support of British arms. This met with much criticism and it was clear that Gandhi’s advice would be ignored. Gandhi’s attempts to influence the politics of the Middle East in the 1930s were a complete failure. However the history of Palestine has been a sorry one indeed, with intermittent war for 80 years, but one that could have been predicted given the inflexibilty of the protagonists.

Simone Panter-Brick’s book tells us about a relatively obscure part of Gandhi’s life but the reader will learn much about the Middle East and she does not neglect contemporaneous events in India. It is a complex story she tells which helps us to understand the events in Israel/Palestine today and the problem that the Jews, the Arabs and the world community still have to solve.

George Paxton


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 873 other followers