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Updated: May 31, 2011 17:03 IST

A tale of two great men

A. S. Padmanabhan
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The lives and contributions of two eminent Indians — Madan Mohan Malaviya, the large-hearted (Mahamana) and Mahatma Gandhi — in two parts, with the third comparing and contrasting them comprise this book. While Malaviya's life has been chronicled fully, only two decades of Gandhiji's pioneering work in South Africa are covered.

The early chapters speak of Malaviya's orthodox upbringing, austere habits, excellence in academics and sports, classical learning, and prodigious memory. After graduation, he worked as editor in quite a few daily/weekly papers such as Hindustan, Indian People, and Leader to propagate the views of the ‘moderates' in the Congress. Rudyard Kipling was his contemporary in journalism: Kipling was editing the weekly The Pioneer Mail. After a stint in journalism, Malaviya studied Law and had a lucrative practice. But he quit the profession to engage himself fully in political and social activities.

In the Calcutta session of the Congress, and in all the succeeding ones he attended, his silver-tongued oratory drew all-round admiration. While hailing the British for their implicit faith in representative institutions, he would ask why they were denying the same to their colonies. Soon, he was to enter the local civic body and later the Legislative Council. In 1931, he sailed to England with Gandhiji and Sarojini Naidu for the Round Table conference.

Malaviya's dream was to establish a Central Hindu University at Banaras. Earlier, Annie Besant had conceived of such an institution for disseminating the spirit of nationalism and other noble qualities, besides giving quality education. The Raja of Darbhanga also had proposed a similar institution, Sarada Viswa Vidyalaya. Thanks to his suavity and persuasive skills, Malaviya got them round, and the three worked concertedly. And the outcome was the Banaras Hindu University.

Difficult phase

Gandhiji, as a young barrister, sailed to South Africa in 1893 for a brief; but had to stay there till 1914 to fight for the cause of the Indian indentured labour, and, in the process, suffered physical assault, humiliation, fines, and imprisonment on a number of occasions. He founded the Natal Indian Congress. Lord Ripon did not agree to disenfranchisement. The local authorities imposed restrictions on immigration, trading licences, and so on. In spite of this, Gandhiji rendered service through the Indian Ambulance Corps in the Boer war and Zulu rebellion. In a sense, his years in South Africa marked a more difficult phase in life. He was young and had to wage a lone battle against a foreign power in a country different from his own. It was there that he invented and practised ‘Satyagraha' to bring about a change of heart in the enemy. We see from the lives of Malaviya and Gandhiji that two great men need not think alike always or on all matters. Their positions on free legal assistance to the poor and removal of untouchability were the same. But Gandhiji disapproved of the comforts provided in the boarding house started by Malaviya for students. He felt the student-inmates coming from rural background would get spoiled.

On Harijan temple entry, Malaviya believed that the best way to achieve it was persuasion, not legislation as Gandhiji would say. Again, while Malaviya argued that contesting elections and becoming members of local bodies/provincial legislatures would strengthen the hands of freedom-fighters, Gandhiji preferred boycotting all government-aided institutions. Malaviya was against boycotting educational institutions, since that would harm the interests of the younger generation. Malaviya did not share Gandhiji's optimism that the Khilafat movement would help in promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. But the best part of it all is that, although they did not see eye to eye on several matters, the two leaders agreed to disagree and did not let the differences engender any bitterness or rancour. They always had respect for each other. Of the two, Gandhiji emerges as the more obdurate and impulsive. In this well-researched work, the authors' anxiety not to omit a single incident is palpable throughout. But the book admits of some abridgement without losing out on anything significant.

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