SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Remembering Gandhi

A painting of Gandhi
A painting of Gandhi

We share this world. Every few years I try to visit India to remind myself of the first time I joined other British Members of Parliament to consider our assistance for trade and development.

That was in the late 1970s. We went from New Delhi to Bihar state’s Patna and Ranchi before seeing projects in West Bengal, around Kolkata. Even then, most of the capital investment came from India’s own resources.

We knew then that the European Common Market arrangements could have unnecessarily harmful impacts on the livelihoods of farmers.

Our report was balanced and helpful, in advance of the next round of trade talks.

Our group gained from the advice of development economists.

One, the Reverend Dr Professor Charles Elliott later served as director of Christian Aid; I was a trustee for many years.

This Valentine’s day, I have come to Gujarat, the home state of the Ugandan Asian refugees who had shared our home after their expulsion by Idi Amin.

Gujarat was the base for M K Gandhi’s work for justice and fair opportunity.

What was Gandhiji’s main objective in starting Navjivan?

In his words: “I also saw . . that it was equally a duty to disobey a law if it fostered untruth . . Who is qualified for such disobedience? ... The condition of women, our many evil customs, the difficulties which arise between Hindus and Muslims, the hardships of the ‘untouchables’ ... Navjivan will therefore discuss these matters ... (It will) propagate the idea of Swadeshi ... I wish to see Navjivan reach the farmers and weavers ... Navjivan will never hesitate to say what needs to be said ... But in telling the truth it will not depart from courtesy.”

Gandhi had founded the union of mill workers in 1920, saying: “If you want truly to serve the workers, you should have regard to the interests of both the workers and the mill-owners. By establishing unions we do not wish to intimidate the mill-owners but to protect the workers and we certainly have the right to do this.”

One interesting point is the instruction he had had from his political guru Gokhale on return from South Africa in 1915: He was to travel around, learning what needed to be done without expressing an opinion on public issues for a year.

Later, Gandhi was tried for breaking the law, saying that standing for humanity and liberty was the highest duty of a citizen.

The judge said: “Millions look on you as a saint ... It is my duty to judge you as a man subject to the law, who has by his own admission broken the law.”

The simple Gandhi ashram is by the river in Ahmedabad, near the famous Calico museum.

The expert guide said that Gandhi is now better known outside India than by the coming generations locally. I am not convinced.

My hope is that our successors in Britain, in India and around the world will know much about the leaders in the countries with which we have a shared heritage.

There is much in Gandhi’s life and times that can help us together tackle problems now and in our shared future.

Sadly, he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist who believed Gandhi to have been too accommodating to Pakistan.

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