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Gandhi, the Myth and Reality: YLH


Dec 1, 2016

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) is widely acknowledged to be the unquestionable leader of the Independence Movement, credited with, quite unfairly, of having driven out the British singlehandedly. This is an abiding myth as is the saintly halo that seems to be blinding for populace at large. The Government of India since his assassination cleverly marketed him as a Buddha and Jesus like figure. That great civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr cited him as an inspiration, has made him into a global figure for civil disobedience. The irony here is that Gandhi’s record in South Africa is indicative of a deep-seated racism against the African race. Had Dr. King Jr known of the complete facts, which were deliberately blurred by Gandhi’s devotees, he would have never cited Gandhi as his inspiration. Facts do not lie but they can be hidden for a long period. World over – especially in Africa- there is a movement called Gandhi must fall against the proliferation of Gandhi statues (funded by the Indian Government).

I do not mean to say that Gandhi was all bad or all good. It is always a preponderance of the good and bad that we must concern ourselves with. That he might have had manifestly good intentions is something I do not wish to dispute because one generally assumes that everyone acts with good intentions. That the road to hell might be paved with these is another matter. Gandhi’s record in South Africa vis a vis what he called “Kaffirs” (a name for the native Africans) however indicates that he harbored deep prejudices against them. Who amongst us did not grow up admiring the story of Gandhi being thrown out of the train despite having a ticket? What we did know was that Gandhi’s real objection had been to be placed with the Kaffirs, who he considered lesser human beings than Indians. As he himself wrote “About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly.” Gandhi believed – at least in South Africa- that while the White race was rightly placed on top, Indians should not be categorized with the uncivilized natives of Africa. Letter after letter and petition after petition states this.

Apologists for Gandhi say it was the prejudice of the time. This is untrue. Gandhi’s contemporary was Jinnah. While campaigning for Dadabhoy Naoroji in the 1890s (around the same time Gandhi wrote his famous “Kaffir” letters), Jinnah became a vehement crusader against color and race based prejudice and he said so in these terms. Indeed Jinnah’s insistence of dressing better than the British was to tell them that there was no inherent racial superiority for the white race. So to excuse Gandhi by saying that this was the attitude of the times is just plain wrong. Even the US with its history of slavery had elected a Black man to the House of Representatives in 1870. The racial prejudice would persist but here we are talking of a Mahatma- the great soul- who supposedly was not only guided by his conscience but was the most enlightened of the enlightened.

Secondly Gandhi’s prejudices extended to the scheduled castes and the lower castes within the Hindu milieu. While he took a patronizing attitude towards them, at the end of the day, the idea of caste was too deeply ingrained in him. He blocked time and again every effort by the scheduled castes or Dalits to get adequate representation. When the great Dr Ambedkar finally managed to convince the British to give the scheduled castes effective separate representation, Gandhi went on a fast ending with Ambedkar relenting. Ambedkar’s famous book “Annihilation of Caste” should be required reading for all those who champion Gandhi as some sort of a human rights figure. Also what must be read is the introduction by Arundhati Roy. The picture of Gandhi that comes out is not a pretty one at all. The myth stands busted.

Gandhi’s views on women were equally disturbing. He described the Suffragette Movement as “Ravanna Raj” which is to say that it was pure evil (Ravan is the historic villain in the tale of Ram and is equivalent of Satan). Again it cannot be excused with “prejudices of the time” argument because there were many enlightened men who stood for women’s right to vote. His most famous rival Jinnah, for example, had been supporting the Suffragette Movement since the 1890s. Gandhi viewed women as the “Queen of the Households”. He was no emancipator of women who constituted 50 percent or more of the society at large. Much can be said about Gandhi’s aversion to modern education and knowledge. India’s political system was spared eccentric Gandhian philosophy largely because his great disciple Pandit Nehru himself did not buy Gandhi’s theories and because of Ambedkar who fought tooth and nail to stop Gandhi’s ideas from taking a prominent hold in the Indian constitution. Pakistan meanwhile rejected Jinnah’s secular modernist ideas and has suffered for it.

Gandhi’s so called contribution to the Indian independence is overblown. Representative government was already expanding before Gandhi came to the fore. Indeed Gandhi initially refused to collaborate with Jinnah on self-rule. Jinnah had been pushing for officer corps to be opened up to Indians. Gandhi meanwhile went from village to village asking Indians to enlist in the British Indian Army. For his efforts the British awarded Gandhi the “Kaiser-e-Hind” medal. Later Gandhi did collaborate with Jinnah but then drove him out of the Congress. The cause of the break was Gandhi’s insistence on using religion in politics. To Jinnah this was an anathema and he refused to be party to it warning Gandhi that it would ultimately turn Muslims and Hindus against each other. Using his Hindu dress and appeal in the Hindu masses, Gandhi took over both the Home Rule League and the Congress Party. The first casualty was Jinnah who was dumped unceremoniously for being too secular and modern. He was replaced with token Muslim mullahs who Gandhi thought were more representative of Muslim opinion. These were also pliant yes men who went along with his schemes unquestioningly.

There was a legitimate expectation of the Indians at large to have a roundtable conference convened for self-rule and representative government. Jinnah and Motilal Nehru had worked together to get it. Ultimately the British shot down the proposal citing the disturbances caused by Gandhi and his unconstitutional non-cooperative movement. Using Gandhi as a useful tool, the British delayed the roundtable conference by 10 years. Had Gandhi not hijacked the Independence Movement, a united India would have been a self-governing dominion by the mid 1930s.

One can go on and cite Gandhi’s negative role in the Cabinet Mission Plan negotiations but all that is well known. What I have cited above is not an exhaustive list of charges against Gandhi’s so called enlightened leadership. I leave the question of preponderance to the reader.


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