Educational Resources

Gokhale: My Political Guru

February 19, 1918

What could a disciple, however, write about his master? How could he write it ? It would be presumptuous for a disciple to do so. The true disciple merges himself in the guru and so can never be a critic of the guru. Bhakti or devotion has no eye for shortcomings. There can be no cause for complaint if the public do not accept the eulogies of one who refuses to analyse the merits and shortcomings of his subject. The disciple's own actions are, in fact, his commentary on the master. I have often said that Gokhale was my political Guru. That is why I consider myself incapable of writing about him. Whatever I write would seem imperfect in my eyes. I believe the relationship between the master and the disciple is purely spiritual. It is not based on arithmetical calculations. The relationship is formed on the instant, spontaneously, as it were, and never snaps once it is formed.

This relationship of ours was formed in the year 1896. I had no idea of its nature then: nor had he. About the same time, I had the good fortune to wait on the master's master (Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade), Lokamanya Tilak, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Justice Badruddin Tyabji, Dr. Bhandarkar as also the leaders of Madras and Bengal. I was but a raw youth. Everyone of them showered his love on me. These were among the occasions which I can never forget while I live. But the peace of mind which my contacts with Gokhale gave me, those with others did not. [do not remember that any special affection was shown to me by Gokhale. If I were to measure and compare the love I experienced from them all, I have an impression that no one else showed such love to me as Dr. Bhandarkar did. He told me: "I do not take any part in public affairs now. But, for your sake I will preside over the public meeting on the issue which you have at heart." Still. it was only Gokhale who bound me to himself. Our new relationship did not take shape immediately. But in 1902, when I attended the Calcutta Congress, I became fully aware of my being in the position of a disciple. Now, again, I had the privilege of meeting almost all the leaders mentioned above. I saw that Gokhale had not only not for- gotten me but had actually taken me under his charge. This had its tangible results. He dragged me to his quarters. During the Subjects Committee meeting, I felt helpless. While the various resolutions were under discussion, I could not, right till the end, gather enough courage to declare that I too had a resolution in my pocket on South Africa. It was not to be expected that the night would haIt for my sake. The leaders were impatient to finish the business on band. I was trembling with the fear that they would rise to leave any moment. I could not summon up courage to remind even Gokhale of my business. Just then he cried out, "Gandhi has a resolution on South Africa; we must take it up." My joy knew no bounds. This was my first experience of the Congress and I put great store by resolutions passed by it. . There is no counting the occasions of our meetings that followed, and they are all sacred to me. For the present, however, I think I would do well to state what I have believed to be the guiding principle of his life.

In these difficult and degenerate times, the pure spirit of religion is hardly in evidence anywhere. Men who go about the world calling themselves rishis, munis and sadhus rarely show this spirit in themselves. Obviously, they have no great treasure of the religious spirit to guard. In one beautiful phrase, Narasinha Mehta best among the lovers of God, has shown in what spirit consists:

Vain, vain all spiritual effort

Without meditation on the Self

He said this out of his own vast experience. It tens us that religion does not necessarily dwell even in the man of great austerities or a great yogi who knows all the procedures of Yoga. I have not the least doubt that Gokhale was wise in the truth of the Self. He never pretended to observe. any religious practice but his life was full of the true spirit of religion. Every age is known to have its predominant mode of spiritual effort best suited for the attainment of moksha. Whenever the religious spirit is on the decline, it is revived through such an effort in tune with times. In this age. our degradation reveals itself through our political condition. Not taking a comprehensive view of things we run away with the belief that, if but our political conditions improved, we would rise from this fallen state. This is only partially true. To be sure, we cannot rise again till our political condition changes for the better; but it is not true that we shall necessarily progress if our political condition undergoes a change, irrespective of the manlier in which it is brought about. If the means employed are impure, the change will be not in the direction of progress but very likely the opposite. Only a change brought about. in our political condition by pure means can lead to real progress. Gokhale not only perceived this right at the beginning of his public life but also followed the principle in action. Everyone had realized that popular awakening could be brought about only through political activity. If such activity was spiritualized, it could show the path to moksha. He placed this great ideal before his Servants of India Society and before the whole nation. He firmly declared that, unless our political movement was informed with the spirit of religion, it would be barren. ~writer drew particular attention to this aspect of Gokhale's mission and, doubting if his efforts to create political sannyasis would bear fruit, warned the Servants of India Society, which he left as his legacy, to be vigilant. In this age, only political sanhyaris can fulfill and adorn the ideal of sannyasa, others will more likely than not disgrace the sannyasi's saffron garb) No Indian who aspires to follow the way of true religion"" can afford "to remain aloof from politics. In other words, one who aspires to a truly religious life cannot fail to undertake public service as his mission, and we are today so much caught up in the political machine that service of the people is impossible without taking part in politics. In olden days, our peasants, though ignorant of who ruled them, led their simple lives free from fear; they can no longer afford to be so unconcerned. In the circumstances that obtain today, in following the path of religion they must take into account the political conditions. If our sadhus, rishis, munis, maulvis and priests realized the truth of this, we would have a Servants of India Society in every village, the spirit of religion would come to prevail all over India, the political system which has become odious would reform itself, India would regain the spiritual empire which, we know, it enjoyed in the days gone by, the bonds which hold India under subjection would be severed in an instant, and the ideal state which an ancient seer described in his immortal words would come into being.: "Iron would be used not for forging swords but forging ploughshares, and the lion and the lamb would be friends and live "together In love." Gokhale's ideal in his life was to labour to bring about this state of affairs. That, indeed, is his message ,and I believe that whoever reads his writings with an open mind will recognize this message in every word of his.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIV