Skip to main content

Newman influenced Gandhi's satyagraha campaign, to be canonized saint on Oct 13

Cardinal Newman
By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
On Sunday October 13, Pope Francis will canonize at a ceremony in St Peter’s Square, Rome, John Henry Newman (1801-90) as a Saint of the Catholic Church. Earlier this month, on October 2, we celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948). On any count, both are significant events.
What is little known however, is the connect between Mahatma Gandhi and Cardinal Newman, and the amazing similarities which marked their lives! Besides, it is interesting to note that Newman had a profound impact on Gandhi.
As a professor in Oxford University, Newman proved to be one of the foremost scholars and thinkers of his time. He could hold vast congregations of students and intellectuals, spellbound with his depth, erudite and brilliant communication skills. He was a spiritual and intellectual giant: a theologian and a poet, a writer and an orator all rolled in one; he was a prolific writer, and his writings were incisive.
He became known as a leader of, and an able polemicist for the Oxford Movement, an influential but controversial group within the Anglican Church, which challenged some of its practices and wanted it to restore some of the important elements in the liturgy which were in the Catholic Church.
Gandhi in South Africa (1913)
Newman was a relentless seeker of the truth. In a major shock to the Victorian establishment and intelligentsia of his times, he finally left the Church of England to embrace Catholicism. He converted to Catholicism on October 9, 1845; significantly, (breaking from tradition of keeping the day of the death of a Saint as the feast day), the Catholic Church keeps the feast of Newman every  October 9.
Newman’s most well-known poem-prayer ‘Lead, kindly Light’ (dated June 16, 1833) was apparently penned during his search to do what is right. He wrote it when he was stranded in Palermo Italy for three weeks. He was impatient to return home, but he was sick besides, there was no boat to take him back to England. Newman writes:
“I began to visit the churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. We were becalmed for whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio, and it was there that I wrote the lines, ‘Lead, Kindly Light’, which have since become so well known”.
In a matter of time, this poem (first published in 1834) became very popular in literary circles and church circles in England, in the United States and in other parts of the vast British Empire of that time.
Gandhi, who studied in Alfred High School, Rajkot would most probably have come to know about this poem as a school-boy. He would become more acquainted with it as a student of law in London from 1888-91, just at the time when Newman’s death, would have left a deep void in the intellectual and religious circles of England.
Later, in South Africa, the tremendous impact this poem had on Gandhi, was obvious from the fact that ‘Lead, kindly Light’ held a unique position as the motto of the ‘Satyagraha’ (the Force of Truth) movement. On 11 September 1906, Gandhi organised the first ‘Satyagraha’ campaign to protest the Transvaal Asiatic ordinance that was constituted against the local Indians. Again, in June 1907, he held a Satyagraha against the Black Act.
South African satyagraha (1913)
There is a deep spirituality yet an unnerving similarity in both Newman and Gandhi which is reflected in the very first verse of the poem:
“Lead, kindly Light’, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene—one step enough for me.!”
Both Newman and Gandhi went through a long and painful process of search, of spiritual discernment asking for light and of conversion, before they unreservedly plunged into the crucial next step in their journey ahead. 
These ‘enlightened steps’ were indeed turning points: in their lives and in the profound impact it had on the lives of several others. In 1916, after Mahatma Gandhi had established his ashram on the banks of the River Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, ‘Lead, kindly Light’ had a very special place in the daily prayers of the Ashram.
Gandhi had the prayer translated into Gujarati by Narasimharao Divetia; the initial words read “Premal Jyoti (Light of Love) taaro daakhavi Muj jeevan panth ujaal. Dur padyo nij dhaamthi hun ne ghere ghan andhaar, Maarg suje nav ghor rajanimaan, nij shishune sambhaal; Maaro jeevanpanth ujaal”. 
In India, we live today, as anti-Nazi playwright Bertolt Brecht would say, “in dark times”. We desperately need selfless leaders like Newman and Gandhi
For more than 30 years, several of Gandhi’s writings and speeches had a reference to the phrases ‘Lead, kindly Light’ or to ‘one step enough for me’. Once, when asked the reason for his constant references to Newman and the latter’s works, Gandhi was quick on the retort, “he is perhaps the only honest Englishman, I have come across!” On March 10, 1947 Gandhi wrote to Vinobha Bhave, his closest disciple, “in my prayers, I pray to God to lead me from untruth to truth, isn’t it the same idea conveyed in ‘Lead kindly Light’?”
In India, we live today, as the anti-Nazi poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht would say “in dark times”. The country desperately needs selfless and committed leaders – in the mould of Newman and Gandhi -who have the courage, the vision and the ability to emulate their values and strengths. Saint Newman and Mahatma Gandhi were characterised by their spiritual depth and intellectual honesty.
As we celebrate the Mahatma and the Saint, let us resolve to learn from them: the depth to pray “Lead Kindly Light”. Our country today yearns for Mahatmas and Saints-who have the openness to search for what is right, the transparency which is innate, the humility to discern, the audacity to take risks, and above all, the unflinching courage to stand up for Justice and Truth!
---
*Human rights and peace activist, writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Mallika Sarabhai releases speech she was 'not allowed' to give at NID Convocation on Feb 7

Counterview Desk
The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, a Ministry of Commerce and Industry body, landed itself in controversy following its decision to put off its 40th convocation ceremony, where noted danseuse Mallika Sarabhai was invited as chief guest. The ceremony was scheduled to be held on February 7.

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

As corona virus 'travels' to rural areas, NGO begins training tribals, marginalised women

By Souparno Chatterjee*
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared corona virus a pandemic. Originating from Wuhan in China, it has traversed the entire globe, almost, and claimed more than 16,000 lives already. That’s largely the urban population. In India, despite all the preparedness and war-like promptness to safeguard against the pandemic, several lives have been lost , and hundreds of individuals have tested positive.

Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope 'martyred' by East India Company, Scindia's forefathers

By Our Representative
In an email alert to Counterview, well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam has said that was “shameful for any political party in democratic India to keep children of Sindhias in their flock” given their role during the First War of Indian Independence (1857). In a direct commentary on Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia moving over to BJP, Prof Islam has quote from a British gazetteer to prove his point.

COVID-19: Dalit rights bodies regret, no relief plan yet for SCs, STs, marginalized

By Our Representative
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, endorsed* by several other Dalit rights organizations, have insisted, the Government of India should particular care of the scheduled castes and tribes, trans folks, persons with disabilities and the women and children from these communities, while fighting against COVID-19 pandemic.

Big 'danger' of NPR: A babu can tag anyone as doubtful citizen, Jharkhand meet told

' By Our Representative
People in large numbers from across Jharkhand gathered at the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi to demand that the Hemant Soren government reject National Population Register (NPR) and stop all NPR-related activities. The people’s organisations which participated in the dharna under the banner of the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JMM) resolved to intensify their struggle, insisting, NPR is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but is essentially anti-poor.

Coronavirus scare ‘pushing’ people from Northeast India into more hardship

By Rishiraj Sinha, Biswanath Sinha*
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
***

Gujarat govt plan to 'banish' Gandhian activist anti-democratic, unconstitutional

By Rohit Prajapati*
The current Central and Gujarat governments, and their bureaucracy, have been and are still unable to answer and address the concerns raised, with facts, figures, and constitutional provisions, regarding the terror of tourism in the name of the Statue of Unity and tourism projects surrounding it.

Haridwar Swamis lead Khudai Khidmatgar peace march in Delhi 'riot affected' areas

By Our Representative
A Khudai Kidmatgar team, which visited the riot-affected regions along with Swami Shivanand Saraswati and Swami Punyanand, has insisted that India's true heritage is the lesson of ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam', and it is the responsibility of all to carry froward this legacy. Originally founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1930, also known as Frontier Gandhi, Khudai Khidmatgar is claimed to have been revived by young Gandhian activist Faisal Khan in 2011.