The Law and the Lawyer : M. K. Gandhi


Babu Motilal Ghosh, well-known, old Indian Nationalist; ex-Editor of the Amrita Bazar Patrika of Calcutta whose mind is fresh like that of a youth, though he is too frail even to move, summoned Maulana Mohomed Ali and me chiefly to urge us to invite the lawyers to the Congress fold and in effect to restore them to their original status of unquestioned leadership of public opinion. Both the Maulana and I told him that we did want the lawyers to work for the Congress, but that those who would not suspend practice could not and should not become leaders. Motibabu said that my mention of cobblers in the same breath as lawyers had offended some of them. I felt sorry to hear this. I remember the note in these pages, and it was certainly not written to offend. I have said many hard things about lawyers, but I have never considered them to be guilty of caste prejudices. I am sure that the lawyers have appreciated the spirit of my remark. I hope I am never guilty of putting a sting in any of my writings. But I certainly meant no offence in the paragraph referred to by Motibabu. Having been myself a lawyer, I could not so far forget myself as wantonly to offend members of the same profession. Nor can I forget the brilliant and unique services rendered to the country by lawyers such as Pherozeshah Mehta, Ranade, Taiyabjee, Telang, Manamohan Ghose, Krishna-swami Iyer, not to speak of the living ones.

When no one else had the courage to speak, they were the voice of the people and guardians of their country’ liberty. And, if today the majority of them are no longer accepted as leaders of the people, it is because different qualities are required for leadership from what they have exhibited hitherto. Courage, endurance, fearlessness and above all self-sacrifice are the qualities required of our leaders. A person belonging to the suppressed classes exhibiting these qualities in their fullness would certainly be able to lead the nation; whereas the most finished orator, if he have not these qualities, must fail.

And it has been a matter of keen satisfaction to me to find the lawyers all over India, who have not been able to suspend practice, readily assenting to the proposition and being content to work as humble camp-followers. A general will find his occupation gone, if there were no camp-followers in his army.

“But,” said Motibabu, “there is a great deal of intolerance that has crept into our movement. Non-co-operators insult those lawyers who have not suspended practice.” I fear that the charge is true to a certain extent. Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit. Arrogant assumption of superiority on the part of a non-co-operator who has undergone a little bit of sacrifice or put on Khadi is the greatest danger to the movement. A non-co-operator is nothing if he is not humble. When self-satisfaction creeps over a man, he has ceased to grow and therefore has become unfit for freedom. He who offers a little sacrifice from a lowly and religious spirit quickly realizes the miserable littleness of it. Once on the path of sacrifice, we find out the measure of our selfishness, and must continually wish to give more and not be satisfied till there is a complete self-surrender.

And this knowledge of so little attempted and still less done must keep us humble and tolerant. It is our exclusiveness and the easy self-satisfaction that have certainly kept many a waverer away from us. Our motto must ever be conversion by gentle persuasion and a constant appeal to the head and the heart. We must therefore be courteous and patient with those who do not see eye to eye with us. We must resolutely refuse to consider our opponents as enemies of the country.

Lawyers and others who believe in non-co-operation but have not, from any clause, been able to non-co-operate in matters applicable to them, can certainly do silent work as lieutenants in the matter of Swadeshi. It requires the largest number of earnest workers. There is no reason why a practising lawyer should not make Khadi fashionable by wearing it even in courts. There is no reason why he and his family should not spin during leisure hours. I have mentioned one out of a variety of things that can be done by practising lawyers for the attainment of Swaraj. I hope, therefore, that no practising lawyer and for that matter no co-operating student will keep himself from serving the movement in every way open to him. All cannot become leaders, but all can be bearers. And non-co-operators, I hope, will always make it easy for such countrymen to offer and render service.

Young India, 29-9-1921,  p. 305 at p. 306

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