Nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been the bloodiest in human history, while Count Leo Tolstoy in Russia and Mahatma Gandhi from India, have been the two greatest leaders who preached non-violence, universal love, concern for the weakest, a moral stance in whatever we do, and a non-violent resolution of conflicts among individuals, groups, as well as nations.
Gandhi arrived from South Africa in London on 10 July, 1909. On 2 July, 1909, Madanlal Dhingra had assassinated Sir Curzon Wylie. In London, Gandhi met many Indians who propagated violent resistance as the only way to obtain India’s freedom. And then he came across a copy of Tolstoy’s ‘Letter to a Hindoo’, written in reply to the letter of Tarak Nath Das, an Indian who advocated the violent approach. Tolstoy’s letter explained why non-violent resistance and a resolve by Indians to become free were the only solution.
This prompted Gandhi to write to Tolstoy (1 October, 1909), apprising him about the Indians’ ‘passive resistance’ against racial oppression in Transvaal (South Afrika) going on for three years. He wrote that nearly half of the total Indian population of 13,000 in Transvaal had left Transvaal rather than submit to the degrading law, and ‘nearly 2,500 have for conscience’s sake allowed themselves to be imprisoned, some as many as five times.’ He sought the approval for printing 20,000 copies of his letter for distribution and having it translated. He had ‘taken the liberty’ to write the letter ‘in the interests of truth, and in order to have your advice on problems the solution of which you have made your life-work.’
Tolstoy promptly replied (7 October, 1909) that ‘same struggle of the tender against the harsh, of meekness and love against pride and violence,’ was rising in Russia too, ‘especially in one of the very sharpest of the conflicts of the religious law with the worldly laws—in refusals of military service.’ He wrote that he was happy with the proposed publication and translation of ‘Letter to a Hindoo’.
Tolstoy remained one of the main mentors of Gandhi till the end.