The voice that is great within us

The crises in Indian democracy and in global politics send one immediately to consult Gandhi Truth, Satya, was the central axis of the Gandhian system of thought and practice. For Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, everything turned on Truth — satyagraha, swaraj, ahimsa, ashram, brahmacharya, yajna, charkha, khadi, and finally, moksha itself. In a fine introduction to a new critical edition of the Mahatma’s An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth , Tridip Suhrud, closest to Gandhi among all contemporary scholars, lays out the intricate web of ideas arranged around the axial principle of Truth: “Truth is not merely that which we are expected to speak and follow. It is that which alone is, it is that of which all things are made, it is that which subsists by its own power, which alone is eternal.” In a recent interview, Mr. Suhrud points out that Indians today continue to have “the need that he should always be available to us. When there is a crisis in our collective life, we expect Gandhi to provide an answer.” Both of Mr. Suhrud’s insights — that Truth is the key to Gandhi’s philosophy, and that we rely on Gandhi even decades after his death and long after his supposed lapse into political irrelevance — are essentially correct. I started making a note of the crises in Indian democracy and in global politics that sent one immediately to consult Gandhi. Truth alone triumphs? The ongoing controversy in the United States about the proposed appointment of Federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court as the nominee of the Republican Party, even as he stands accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, in 1982, when they were both teenagers, hinges exactly on the truth of her testimony versus his defence. Only one can be true. As became clear in the Senate hearings on September 27, the palpable veracity of Professor Ford’s account over Judge Kavanaugh’s denial would likely still not change the Republican Party’s nomination of him (the outcome of the proceedings, including an FBI investigation, is pending as this article goes to press). Effectively, the U.S. appears on the verge of replacing Truth with perjury as an acceptable value, even in the apex court of the criminal-justice system, shaking the very bedrock of American constitutionalism. When Truth is rendered negotiable and dispensable, the balance of justice — in this case, between genders and between political parties — is disastrously upset. The scales tip wildly without any kind of mechanism to orient men and women or Democrats and Republicans back into an equitable relationship with one another within a shared political context that ought to be egalitarian and fair. Like other democratic institutions in the Donald Trump presidency, the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised on the verge of destruction. Arguably Americans, too, could have recourse to Gandhi, though perhaps not in the way that we in India might. Mr. Suhrud describes how Gandhi strained to hear the “small, still voice” within himself, the voice belonging to one he called “antaryami”, “atma” or “God” — an inner prompt, the self as a guide and a compass – so that he could keep moving ever closer to Truth. It was this voice that he followed, sometimes to the bafflement of others who could not hear it. This was the voice that made him undertake life-threatening fasts his health wouldn’t permit; withdraw from active politics at the most crucial junctures of India’s anti-colonial struggle; leave factual errors and narrative inconsistencies in texts he wrote after readers had pointed out obvious mistakes; and, most difficult to understand, embark on life-long ordeals of a sexual nature, involving not just his own celibacy and asceticism, but also that of his wife Kasturba, his fellow Ashramites, and his sons and their families.

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