Saturday, June 03, 2006

Uncomfortable questions regarding Gandhi

Unplugging Gandhi and his relationship with dissenters By V.B.Rawat

Last year one of my articles on Jinnah and partition of India under the headline ‘ Jinnah, secular India’s best villain’ was published by the Radical Humanist. The article became more debatable in the political circle as according to The Telegraph (Kolkata) and Outlook (Delhi), that BJP President Lal Krishna Advani made use of it for famous Secular speech in Pakistan complimenting Jinnah. Unfortunately, the RH neither recognised the importance of the article nor was there any response to what was written in the media about the magazine as well as the author.

My article mentioned that the Indian secular elite at least must stop now vilifying Jinnah and analyse objectively and rationally the causes of India’s partition and the forces who brought it about. There is a need to understand Jinnah and his work after Pakistan came into being. There was one more thing, I had suggested, that Pakistanis must know that Gandhi died for their cause which was a genuine one and Indian must know that Jinnah was not only called as an Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity by Sarojini Naidu but he stoutly defended Bhagat Singh, a blot that Gandhian would like to forget. However, after Advani’s remarks, not only the Hindutva but the seculars also went overboard in decrying Jinnah again. The recent example is when a few Bombay film stars went on the premier of film Taj Mahal in Pakistan, veteran actor Feroj khan condemned Pakistan and its Islamic regime and appreciated secular India, its Muslim president and Sikh prime minister. Everything that he spoke was in bad taste and reflected arrogance Indian position vis a vis Pakistan. Communalism and creation of Pakistan are interconnected debates and one need to follow it properly. For that it is important that we revisit our past carefully and unbiased but also analyse the role played by some of the most outstanding leaders of movement for independence. Gandhi, therefore, cannot remain untouched and isolated from this debate on communalism in India. Since Indian historians have encircled history around Gandhi hence it is quintessential to have a critical look at Gandhi and his relationship with contemporaries during the freedom movement. The efforts by historians to cover up the entire thing under one pretext or another should not be allowed to continue for long.

Gandhi Unquestioned

While fully acknowledging Gandhi’s contribution to Indian freedom movement, it is important that he does not over shadow it. The power elite in India exactly did the same and ignored the great contribution of people like Bhagat Singh, Jinnah, Ambedkar’, Subhash Chandra Bose, EV Ramaswami Naicker Periyar, M.N.Roy and a number of others whose political viewpoint was contrary to Gandhi’s conservative Hindu philosophy. Gandhi became a God for Indian writers and any genuine dissent with him was considered to be blasphemous. The Gandhi debate has deliberately been relegated to Sangh Parivar –Secularism debate which is to absolve Gandhi from all the wrongs that he did with his contemporaries. Gandhi has become a demarcation line to judge others patriotism as well as morality in public life. It is therefore not unusual when proclaimed communalist like Arun Shourie, whose policies during his government were exactly opposite to what Gandhi had stood for, condemned Dr B.R.Ambedkar as anti national in the rubbish that he produced to please his bosses in the Sangh Parivar and middle class Hindus who jump on each word that he writes against minorities, Dalits and backward communities. Not only Ambedkar became target of calumny from the Gandhians, Bhagat Singh was relegated to mere ‘terrorist’. Regime after regime in the post independent India, refused to inform people as why Bhagat Singh had not been given due status in Indian history books. In fact, so-called biographies of Bhagat Singh have come from staunch Gandhians who have defended the indefensible act of Gandhi. None of them condemned Gandhi for not supporting the cause of Bhagat Singh as Congressmen were released from the jails after the Gandhi Irwin pact in 1932. Paradoxically, Mohammdad Ali Jinnah had supported the cause of Bhagat Singh and termed them nationalists. Is it not the duty of our historians to tell the Indian people about Bhagat Singh and what he stood for? When students can read Gandhian literature which ostensibly is nothing but an over dose of his morality, why can’t we read Bhagat Singh’s ‘ Why I am an atheist’ or the question of untouchables? Why is Bhagat Singh absent from our history books despite his most dynamic life history? Do our Gandhian historian feels that Bhagat Singh’s life may outshine that of any political leader of our country?

Promoting religiosity in the name of spirituality

In fact, historians rarely questioned Gandhi’s usage of religious symbol to inculcate the spirit of nationalism. Not only this, these symbols were predominantly aimed as placating Hindu upper castes but in the matter of Dalits, Gandhi used the concept of ‘Punarjanma’if they do not adhere to their traditional occupations they will pay for their sins in their next birth. To discourage Muslims for joining Muslim League and Jinnah, Gandhi supported the Khialafat Movement, which actually had nothing to do with the welfare of Muslims in India. Unfortunately, such a notion created the feeling of International Islamic brotherhood, which in today’s world has been more damaging than any other thing.

By his use of Hinduism as a political tool, Gandhi unwittingly opened a Pandora’s box that has yet to be closed. He mobilized an entirely new non-speaking section of Indian society that had not previously been involved in politics. The difficulty was that by invoking a dream of Ram Rajya, Gandhi alienated many Muslims, and ultimately helped to bring about the rise in the fortune of the Muslim League. His hope was that he could maintain a strong religious message but at the same point of time avoid offending Muslims. He said in a private conversation with Mahadev Desai, “ Though we do say that Hindus and Muslims are brothers, I can not conceive of their being brothers right today.. not all religious distinction will be wiped out in future, but Hinduism will captivate Muslims by the power of its compassion.
( Harbansh Mukhia in EPW)

Mohammad Ali Jinnah was uncomfortable with this hypocrisy of Gandhi. A strong supporter of Hindu Muslim Unity, Jinnah had openly opposed Khilafat movement apprehending that involvment of the Muslim clergy would reduce an entirely political movement into the hands of religious zealots. Jinnah knew it well that Gandhi spoke more on symbolism rather than worrying seriously about Muslim situation in India. In fact, supporting Khialfat was Gandhi’s masterstroke against Jinnah in getting support from the fundamentalist school of thought from Deoband. It is not for nothing that Deoband opposed the demand of a separate Pakistan fearing breaking of a Muslim nation into another small nation and Jinnah’s credentials as a secular leader. Gandhi on the other hand proved fruitful for all kind of fundamentalist and parochial forces in India. Jinnah understood the majoritarian Hindu mindset of the Congress party and Gandhi’s continuous flirtation with them. He said, “India has never been a true nation. It only looks that way on the map. The cows I want to eat, the Hindu stops me from killing. Every time a Hindu shakes hands with me, he has to wash his hands. The only thing the Muslims has in common with Hindu is his slavery to British”.(Mohammad Ali Jinnah quoted in Partition of India Legend and Reality by H.M.Seervai) One does not need to agree with Jinnah on his approach to Hindu Muslim problem which he considered as a political one and not exactly religious in nature.

Gandhi’s Betrayal of the untouchables of Travancore

E.V.Ramaswami Naicker or Periyar was one of the staunch Gandhian along with C Rajagopalachari in Tamilnadu. In the Travancore state, now part of Kerala, the Dalits were not allowed to walk in the street meant for the Brahmins and prohibited the entry in the famous Shiva temple of Vaikom near Kottayam. In 1924 Periyar decided to support the movement. Initially, Gandhi also said that he supported the demand of the untouchables to enter the temple and came to Vaikom. Soon, the upper caste Congress leaders convinced Gandhi that it would not be prudent for him to pressurize Hindus to allow untouchables to enter the temple. Gandhi clearly was not a revolutionary. He was an upper caste Hindu out to save the interest of his community. Periyar could not face this betrayal of Gandhi and resigned from the Congress Party and started ‘ Self Respect Movement’. How many of the Gandhian historian talk about Periyar’s self respect movement ? How many of our students know about it. It is strange that such strong movements are absent in textbooks even in Tamilnadu where the Brahmin historians made villain of Periyar.

How Gandhi blackmailed Ambedkar to sign Poona Pact

Dr B.R.Ambedkar was a man of great character. Scholar and iconoclast, Ambedkar walked much ahead of his time. Like Periyar, he also felt, in his initial years that Hindu dharma should be reformed. He launched a temple entry movement for Dalits in Kalaram temple of Poona. That movement failed to give justice to Dalits.

Then came the historical occasion for Ambedkar to enter into a debate on the issue of caste and Varna with Gandhi on his writings in ‘ Harijan’. Gandhi as usual considered himself an expert on every subject, from theology to spirituality. Unfortunately, his ridiculous religious beliefs that any one who did not believe in Varna or caste cannot be a true Hindu, were stronger enough to compel Ambedkar think for alternative to Hinduism. None of the Gandhian questioned his fanciful ideas. In fact some of them went on to support Gandhi and chided others. Indian media is full of such jokers who have nothing to do with Gandhi and yet they are ready to exploit Gandhi and his upper caste Indian dream. Gandhi’s retrogressive views on caste were well exposed in his debate on the issue with Ambedkar.

“If caste and varna are convertible (interchangeable) terms and if Varna is an integral part of shastras which define Hinduism. I do not know how a person who rejects caste i.e. Varna, can call himself a Hindu”. (Annihilation of caste by Dr B.R. Ambedkar)

For Ambedkar such orthodox views by a leader who considered him not only awaking the political people of India but soul of India, came as a shock. His famous remark followed this: “ Though I am born as a Hindu, I shall not die as a Hindu’. Ambedkar therefore considered emancipation of Dalits as more important to freedom of India, which he felt was a mere transfer of power to the upper caste Hindus which could be detrimental to the interest of Dalits in India.
‘If there is any cause of freedom in this Indian turmoil for independence, it is the cause of the untouchables. The cause of Hindus and the cause of Musalman is not the cause of freedom. Theirs is a struggle for power as distinguished from freedom. Consequently, it has always been a matter of surprise to me, that no party, no organisation devoted to the freedom has so far interested itself in the untouchables.’
(From Emancipation of Dalits by Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar).

When Ambedkar pressed for the separate electorate demand for Dalits, Gandhi opposed it tooth and nail. It was the same Gandhi who had nothing against Muslim demand for a separate electorate. When the Poona pact was awarded in 1932, Gandhi could not tolerate his defeat at the hands of an articulate Dalit leader. As soon as he came back to India, Gandhi decided to fast unto death against such an award that would have brought a lot of changes in the quality of Dalit leadership in India. For Dalits would not have depended on the upper caste Hindus to get elected. Ambedkar succumbed to the blackmailing tactics of Gandhi and commented ‘ Mahatmas have come, Mahatmas have gone but the lot of Dalits remain the same’. Ambedkar feared that death of Gandhi would spark backlash against Dalits in the villages where the upper caste tyranny was still prevalent. He entered into a deal with Gandhi and signed Poona Pact, which allowed reservation of seats for Dalits in Parliament and state assemblies. Gandhi saved his upper caste interest and made Dalit leadership dependent on upper castes votes. Ambedkar himself became a victim of this and could not win Lok Sabha election from the state of Maharastra as all the upper castes joined hand against him.

Gandhi and Fascism

Often in the struggle against Fascism, many people often quote Gandhi. One does not know whether Gandhi could be a really useful to struggle against dictatorship and fascism. His Ramrajya was the concept of a brahmanical order based on patriarchical values of his time. His regimentation of volunteers wearing Khadi was no lesser than the arms wielding soldiers of the Hitler’s army who developed a superiority complex about German race. Moreover, Gandhi enjoyed being a ‘ Messiah’, a spiritual leader of the masses more than a political leader. In fact, he used both these identities to strengthen his base.

Indian Fascism will be cultural, it will be cultural reaction. Therefore violence may not be such a very outstanding feature of Indian fascism. It has been said that Fascism is violence, violent suppression of minorities, of freedom. It is not just that. In India Fascism may be non-violent........Congress party has secured the advantage from the backwardness of the masses. The cultural backwardness makes the Indian masses superstitious, religiously inclined and given to blind faith. The Congress with its Mahatma has made political capital out of that factor to secure the support of the masses... by exploiting its Mahatma cult; the congress has won the support of the masses...

The highest ambition of any German is to put on a uniform. When Hitler put all of them in uniforms, they believed they were all superman, and followed by him. Similarly in our country also, the people are being put in a uniform: Khaddar is a political uniform, and they also think that by donning the Mahatmic uniform, and a particular kind of headgear, they become superman. The Indian people can be more easily regimented spiritually, because thanks to our cultural tradition they are predisposed that way. “ Ramdhun” will cast the hypnotic spell. Blind faith is the characteristic of religious mentality. The Mahatma and his army of propagandists will fully exploit that asset, and persuade the gullible people that every act of the national government is for their good, they must only be submissive and obey.”

The tradition is the foundation of Fascism. It is neither any symbiosis nor anybody’s cartel. In Germany it might have been the cartels, in Italy something else, but the foundation of Indian Fascism is God, the belief in God: that everything is created by God and the only thing we can do is to sing Ramdhun, spin and wear Khaddar. The Indian Masses are going to be regimented in this uniform of Khaddar. The proletariat may not wear the physical uniform but will be readily regimented spiritually. Don’t ignore the fact that Holi is a greater holiday for the God of Indian Marxists than the First of May or Ninth of November. If Hitler could hypnotise the German proletariat, how much more easily will the still feudal-minded Indian “ proletariat” be swayed by the Mahatma of Indian Fascism. (Fascism : By M.N.Roy)
It is equally important to notice that Gandhi willingly met Mussolini in Itlay against the advice of his one time friend Romeo Rolland. Ironically, Gandhi came out satisfied about Mussolini’s concern for the ‘poor’ and ‘labour’. All his life while Gandhi may claim to work for the poor, he was in fact happily saving the interest of the business class in India. He might not wear anything on his chest yet his food remained the most expensive one unlike the poor people who do not get to eat to survive.

Gandhi and democracy were different things. He worked more on overdose of ‘spirituality’ and moral sermons. Even Marxists have become Gandhian historian and are apologetic about the role of communist parties in 1942. Many Indians including M.N.Roy had supported British war efforts to defeat fascist forces during the World War II. One had to chose between the Fascist Imperialism or British Imperialism. A man like Aurobindo chose the latter but Gandhi did opt for the first.

The Truth of 1942

On March 31st, 1942, Maharshi Aurobindo wrote a letter to Sir Stafford Crops supporting the stand of the British government and said, ‘ As one who has been a nationalist leader and worker for India’s independence, though now my activity is no longer in the political but in spiritual field, I wish to express my appreciation of all you have done to bring about this offer. I welcome it as an opportunity given to India to determine for herself, and organize in all liberty of choice, her freedom and unity and take an effective place among the world’s free nations. I hope it will be accepted and right use made of it , putting aside all discords and divisions… I offer my public adhesion, in case be of any help in your work.’ ( Collected work of Aurobindo Ghosh: 1942 page 229). Gandhi did not even acknowledge this. Apart from Aurobindo, M.N.Roy and other dissenters including veteran Congressman Achyut Patwardhan also considered 1942’s quit India call made by Gandhi an uncalled for and unnecessary exercise. Actually, once Gandhi made up his mind, it would have been difficult for any one to bring him to negotiating table and discuss some thing different.

In the Congress Party, Gandhi always wanted his puppets, who could prostrate in front of
him for his ‘great’ moral values. He hardly appreciated any independent vision for the party. When Subhash Chandra Bose defeated Congress’s official candidate for the post of President, it was difficult for Gandhi to admit that he has lost one most important election with in the party. He felt it that Sitarammaiyas defeat was his own defeat. He forced a dynamic leader like Subhash Chandra Bose out of the Congress. Unfortunately, such outrageous events do not attract critical comments from historians. I would give only one instance of how even recognized scholars refused to analyse Gandhi critically. Prof Sudipto Kaviraj, known to be an authority on Modern Indian political thoughts wrote in one place that M.N. Roy’s predictions that Gandhi has started losing his supremacy in Congress was wrong. But he conveniently failed to mention that it was not before Roy wrote it that When Subhash Chandra Bose defeated Pattabhi( read Gandhi) in a democratic elections for the post of Congress President. ( Gandhi’s tormented soul could not wait to cry out Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat).

M.N.Roy was critical of it and called it immoral as well as undemocratic. Once Roy asked Gandhi to send him message for his newly starting magazine. Gandhi send a postcard saying ‘ render mute service to the cause of freedom’. Clear enough, he did not want Roy to criticise the Congress Party. Gandhi can be characterised as following the immoral and undemocratic practice of politics and utter lack of statesmanship. Every right thinking person in India noticed that Gandhi compelled Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact in 1935. It was a clearly blackmailing tactics of Gandhi. Despite this, Gandhi always considered himself leader of all communities of India. He talked of compassion and focused on Hindu-Muslim unity. What kind of compassion does Gandhi refer to? It is not generally known that Gandhi’s religion did not permit him to eat cooked food in any Muslim’s house as noticed by Prof Mushir-ul Hasan in the political biography of Dr Ansari. The fact of the matter was that Gandhi was mainly serving the interest of upper caste Hindus. His failure to recognize Ambedkar as leader of Dalits or Jinnah as leader of Muslim led to Muslim and Dalit resentment against Congress Party. In fact, Gandhi was a maverick politician when needed to cut to size people like Jinnah. Whenever there was a choice of leadership, Gandhi ultimately opted for the upper caste devotee.

The 1988 edition of “ India wins Freedom”, Azad wrote: “A similar development took place in Bihar. Dr. Syed Mahmud was the top leader of the province when the elections were held. He was also a General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee and as such he had a position both inside and outside the Province. When the Congress secured an absolute majority, it was taken for granted that Dr. Syed Mahmud would be elected the leader and become the first Chief Minister of Bihar under Provincial Autonomy. Instead, Shri Krishna Sinha and Anugraha Narayan Sinha who were members of the Central Assembly were called back to Bihar and groomed for the Chief Ministership. Dr. Rajendra Prasad played the same role in Bihar as Sardar patel did in Bombay. The only difference between Bihar and Bombay was that when Sri Krishna Sinha formed the Government Dr. Syed Mahmud was given a place in the Cabinet.”
Before referring to the grim conclusion which Azad draws from the Nariman and the
Syed Mahmud episodes, there is one new passage in the 1988 edition which, in my
view, gets linked to Azad’s conclusion. Azad expressed the view that Dr. Rajendra
Prasad had no political life before Gandhi appeared on scene, and R. Rajendra Prasad
was “entirely the creation of Gandhiji” Azad added: “I have heard from a reliable source
that Dr.Sachchidananda Sinha arranged a dinner where many of the more prominent
Hindus were invited to meet Gandhiji. They told Gandhiji that the Hindus of Bihar
would join the Non‑cooperation movement provided Gandhiji elected a Hindu as the
leader. Gandhiji said that he could not grant leadership to anybody at his own sweet will,
but he promised that if a Hindu of caliber and character came forward, he would offer
him necessary support. Babu Rajendra Prasad’s name was then suggested to Gandhiji
and in the course of a few years, he became an all India figure with Gandhiji’s help and
Support “. (Partition of India: Legend and Reality by H.M.Seervai)

I give another instance of how Gandhi comfortably ignored the antidemocratic practices in the Congress Party. 1938 Dr Rajendra Prasad wrote a letter to Sardar Patel who was Chairman, Congress Parliamentary Party. Wrote Rajendra Prasad, “ In provinces where we are in minority one would naturally expect the Congress Party to act as opposition. The attempt of our party in most provinces has constantly been to win over members of the other parties to secure a majority. We have been more anxious to become Ministers than to get our programme adopted.’ Sardar Patel responded this by saying ‘ it does not matter. In parliamentary democracy such things happen.’ Gandhi did not issue any statement on it despite the fact that he was aware of it.


As I mentioned earlier it is nobody’s contention to say that Gandhi did nothing for India. He remained one of the most outstanding political leaders of our time, though one may not agree with his ‘morality’ and ‘spirituality’ which he often used to compel other people comes to him. One would appreciate that the Gandhians and particularly Gandhian historian do not make him ‘superman’ and give the space to other political leaders also.
India is a much-polarized society today. Gandhian did not give any credit to other leaders therefore forcing their followers to write their own history. Even learning about the lives of our leaders became polarized. Therefore for Pakistanis Congress and Gandhi became the agents of Hindus who wanted to subjugate Muslims while for the followers of Ambedkar, Gandhi was crooked upper caste who did not want to give Dalit their due and legitimate rights. History is not about personalities but more about events. Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Jinnah, Nehru, Subhash, are milestones of India’s Independence movement. One will have to talk about their relationship to each other and their lives. Ultimately, all of them had a mission that apart from freedom of India, they wanted Indian people irrespective of their caste and religion to remain one. Today, when we suffer from caste and communal polarization, it is important that we learnt lesson from the history. The mistakes that our forefathers made should serve notice to us to correct them in the form of presenting before our children the history in totality. For children of third or fourth generations Indian or Pakistanis, Dalits or non Dalits, Hindus or Muslims, there is a need to retrospect the events, analyse them unbiased and according to the events happened during that period. An unbiased history analysis would serve better in creating a congenial atmosphere and true peace between India and Pakistan as well as strengthen relationship between Dalits and non Dalits. Since our history books have an overdose of Gandhi, it is therefore natural for us to question their motives and relationship with other leaders of freedom movement. History cannot be a tool to settle political scores and gain monetarily by coming near to those in power. It has to be freed completely from those who are in power. It is equally important that Gandhi is judged as political leaders without making him a ‘super human’ or Godly figure who could do no wrong and every one is judged by his relationship with Gandhi. The blunders that Gandhian and his follower historians have done to India need to undone. As a fourth Generation Indian, I have a duty to question Gandhi’s action, his so-called spirituality and morality, which never remain in political life afterwards. We cannot read history what is being produced to us. It is important that we look underneath and analyse it. Gandhi and Gandhian therefore have done a great damage to independent history writings in India because they did not analyse events but focused it entirely on one individual and made complete villain of others who disagreed with him. Such writings only polarized society much and forced the others to look for their own leaders.