The ‘Grand Old Man’ of Indian polity, Dadabhai was involved in manifold public activities extending over seven decades His untiring efforts culminated in the epoch-making change in the policy of Indian leaders and marked an era of national government during 1937-38, seeking a peaceful and orderly progress towards attainment of Swaraj.
The story of Dadabhai’s exemplary life and character has many an important lesson for the politicians and administrators of our country. His remarkable patience in cementing the friendship and in removing misunderstandings has a strong moral for us all.
The object of this series is to record, for the present and future generations, the story of the struggles and achievements of the eminent sons and daughters of India who have been mainly instrumental in our national renaissance and the attainment of independence. Except in a few cases, sueh authoritative biographies have not been available.
The biographies are planned as handy volumes written by knowledgeable people and giving a brief account, in simple words, of the life and activities of the eminent leaders and of their times. They are not intended either to be comprehensive studies or to replace the more elaborate biographies.
During a few years before Dadabhai’s death I used to see him as his next-door neighbor, in his quiet retreat at Versova. It then occurred to me that there was a splendid opportunity for me to sit at his feet, listen to reminiscences of a life so simple and noble, so eventful and beneficent, as his, from his own lips, and to sift in his presence and under his guidance the Cyclopean correspondence, notes, memoranda and other carefully preserved material pertaining to his manifold public activities extending over seven decades. I could not then claim intimate knowledge of the political history of the period nor had I any pretensions to literary merit. It would have been, therefore, presumptuous on my part to offer to write his biography, although I could not conceal from myself the stirrings of a longing to attempt it, if given a chance. One day, I ventured to unburden my mind to a colleague of Dadabhai with a view to ascertaining whether he thought I could be of any assistance in connection with the Grand Old Man’s biography. He told me that Gokhale intended writing it and that he had arranged to collect the necessary material with the help of an assistant. Dadabhai could not certainly have had a more well-informed or gifted biographer. But Gokhale predeceased Dadabhai before he had time even to look at the immense mass of material available at Dadabhai’s residence.
Soon afterwards my official duties and responsibilities increased beyond expectation and despite early retirement from the service of the Municipal Corporation of Bombay with a view to devoting my time to literary pursuits, particularly to Dadabhai’s biography, other unexpected duties devolved on me, rendering it impossible for me to find time to examine the enormous collection of fading and crumbling papers and printed material, awaiting a biographer. I was hoping all the while that someone would come forward to undertake the work but although twenty-three years had rolled by since the death of the Grand Old Man of India, there was no move in that direction. Meanwhile his monumental nation-building work and his crusade for self-government appeared to have been forgotten. I, therefore, decided to devote my whole time and undivided attention to the work during the year 1938.
The political situation in India at the time and the outlook, were profoundly interesting. There was a truce between the Congress and the rulers. After years of non-co-operation and boycott of councils, the national organization was persuaded to life the ban on council entry. Congress ministries commenced functioning in several provinces in the year 1937. That epoch-making change in the policy of the Congress marked the beginning of an era of national government, opening out a vast vista of possibilities for co-operation between the people and the Government and peaceful progress towards the goal of swaraj. It was, therefore, the most opportune moment, both for India and for Britain, to make Dadabhai live again and revivify his stirring words of reproof as well as of hope. It was just the time when the two countries must find themselves united in purpose if they were to render their connection a blessing to both, as Dadabhai had hoped and prayed throughout his life. Several burning problems of his times were still the burning problems of the day. The story of his untiring effort for peaceful and orderly progress, hampered at every stage, for more than fifty years, by an unimaginative bureaucracy, had then a lesson for Britain and India writ in tears. The possibilities of fruitful co-operation rendered it necessary to relate the story of his life in a full-length biography, incorporating as much of his numerous speeches and voluminous memoranda, statements and correspondence as could be useful and helpful to the administrators, politicians and legislators of the day.
The situation is now completely transformed. The strategic changes in the position of various countries, caused by the global war which broke out soon after the biography was published in the year 1939, spelt the end of the domination of one country by another. After the termination of the war the British Government wisely decided to hand over power to the people and withdraw from the country as soon as possible. Many controversial problems and episodes of Dadabhai’s lifetime have, therefore, lost the significance they had in 198. But the story of Dadabhai’s exemplary life and character has yet many an important lesson for the politicians and administrators of our country. It shows what a single patriotic son of India could accomplish despite heavy odds in a long life devoutly dedicated to the service of the motherland and mankind in general. Particularly in these days, when the crying need of the hour is mutual understanding between the nations of the world, what Dadabhai did and achieved with remarkable patience to remove misunderstandings and to cement the friendship not only between Great Britain and India but also between the East and the West has a moral which cannot be too strongly emphasized. For the existing international atmosphere, poisoned by intolerance, distrust and hatred. Such an antidote as mutual understanding, goodwill and friendship has a supreme value.
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