Mahatma Gandhi's follies are often ignored as in the public imagination his saintly nature always shines through.
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.” – Albert Einstein
A few years ago, Mahatma Gandhi’s statue was removed from one of the University of Ghana’s campuses. Pranab Mukherjee, the then president of India, had brought the artwork from Delhi to Accra as a gift. The sculpture was supposed to be a symbol of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Unfortunately, just two years after the statue was erected, the students of the campus demanded it is brought down.
This incident shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone; after all, Gandhi’s support for racial segregation and his referral to black Africans as savages was bound to generate a reaction sooner or later. Anyway, I do not want to discuss Gandhi’s image in Africa or anywhere else for that matter. I want to be specific and talk about how he is portrayed in today’s India.
If you ask anyone following Indian politics about Gandhi’s portrayal in India, the person is likely to tell you that his depiction, over the last several years, has deteriorated to a large extent; so much so that people have developed a fondness towards his murderer, Nathuram Godse. This sudden change in narrative is profound but, given the facts, is not astonishing.
Everything about Gandhi, which includes his methods, his character, his genuineness and his overall politics are being scrutinized. Consequently, it becomes important that we discuss these topics in much detail. By doing this, we might hope to get a perspective as to why some people favour Godse over Gandhi.
The foremost critique is of Gandhi’s method. His idea of non-violence, although sounds good (to some), is impractical and is foreign to India. There is nothing remotely similar to it in the entire Indic Philosophy. Even within dharmic religions like Jainism and Buddhism, non-violence was never a part of the state and was always a personal choice.
The following conversation between the Buddha and Sinha Senapati can be taken as a reference to better understand non-violence in the dharmic sense. Sinha Senapati said,
The Bhagavan preaches Ahimsa. Does the Bhagavan preach an offender to be given freedom from punishment? Does the Bhagavan preach that we should not go to war to save our wives, children, and wealth? Should we suffer at the hands of criminals in the name of Ahimsa? Does the Tathagata prohibit all war even when it is in the interest of Truth and Justice?”
Buddha replied. “You have wrongly understood what I have been preaching. An offender must be punished and an innocent man must be freed. It is not the fault of the Magistrate if he punishes an offender. The cause of punishment is the fault of the offender. The Magistrate who inflicts the punishment is only carrying out the law. He does not become stained with Ahimsa. A man who fights for justice and safety cannot be accused of Ahimsa. If all the means of maintaining peace have failed then the responsibility for Himsa falls on him who starts the war. One must never surrender to evil powers. The war there may be. But it must not be for selfish ends….”! — Marx or Buddha
The question then pops; where did Gandhi get his idea of non-violence from? Upon speculation, one might conclude that it stems from a sect of Christianity (this view is debatable). If that’s indeed the case, it should not be surprising given that Gandhi was heavily influenced by the likes of Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin.
You can read more about Christianity’s influence on Gandhi here.
It’s no secret that Gandhi experimented with celibacy, and in his experiments, he shared his bed with naked women; some of whom were 60 years younger than him. He also believed that husbands and wives should live like brothers and sisters and forbade some of his followers from being with their partner. He treated his wife with contempt(Read Here), refused to educate his sons, ordered them to abstain from sex, and disowned the eldest, Harilal, for wanting to study abroad. When his wife fell sick with pneumonia, Gandhi refused to give her the penicillin that would cure her. This led to her demise. A few years later, Gandhi used penicillin to treat himself because he suffered from malaria.
In India, he opposed imperialism. In South Africa however, he said; “The white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.” (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Government of India, Vol. I, p.105). We must also not forget that he was bestowed with two medals and Sergeant Major’s rank for his services in helping the British army crush the Zulu rebellion and win the Boer war in South Africa.
Despite preaching non-belligerence, he agreed to recruit Indian soldiers to fight for the Britishers in World War I. He did this for some political gain which later did not come to any fruition. He also supported the Khilafat movement (a movement that had absolutely nothing to do with India) to win the “hearts” of Muslims. Later this movement led to the Malabar rebellion where hundreds of Hindu women were raped and thousands of men butchered. Instead of condemning this act of atrocity and acknowledging his mistake, Gandhi made an unapologetic statement where he spoke of the butchers as “brave God-fearing Moplahs who were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious.”
Overall, his pacifism, hypocrisy, and stubbornness cost India(mostly Hindus and Sikhs) a lot. Fundamentally, his irenic’s meaning was that the aggressor gets to kill and the victim ought to be willing to die.
Hitler killed five million [sic] Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs…..It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, June 1946, in an interview with his biographer Louis Fischer.
I believe that he was not genuine in his methods and that his methods were a complete failure.
Gandhi ruled his party, the Indian National Congress, with an iron fist. He did not acknowledge any view he disagreed with. The following events can help us better understand the dictatorship he had within his party.
In 1927 Mahatma Gandhi, referring to C. Rajagopalachari had declared, “I do say he is the only possible successor”, Rajaji was his favourite then. But because of a disagreement between both these men in 1942 about the Cripps commission, Rajaji was kicked out of the Congress! And Gandhi was quoted to have said, “Not Rajaji, but Jawaharlal will be my successor.”
This is not an isolated example, preferring Panditji over Sardarji (another great politician) is also another oft-repeated instance of Gandhi’s dictatorial tendencies.
In 1946, elections for Congress President and India’s first PM were held. 12 out of 15 Congress committees voted for Sardar Patel, despite Gandhi favouring Nehru. But Gandhi asked Patel to withdraw his nomination so that Nehru could become President.
In addition to all this, Gandhi demanded that India release the 55 crore arrears to Pakistan. This came at a time when the Indian government had decided to withhold the cash because of Pakistan’s infiltration in Kashmir. Half of this cash was later used by the Pakistani Military for defence procurement.
His hypocrisy went beyond bounds when he demanded that refugee Hindus (Hindus who had been thrown out of Pakistan) not be sheltered in mosques or houses abandoned by Muslims in India and all the mosques in Delhi that were converted into homes and temples be restored to their original use.
Gandhi said on 3 March 1947,
If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition.”
However, later he agreed to the conditions of partition. It is surprising that Gandhi, a person who would fast for the minuscule of things, didn’t decide to fast unto death against this decision.
After all this, the question remains; Were he and his policy the real reason behind India’s independence? What about other freedom fighters like Bose, Chandra Sekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh? Why is it that their contribution is overshadowed by that of Gandhi’s?
So where does Godse fit into all this? Should we take him as our hero? What do we make of him?
We cannot deny the fact that his actions hurt the pro-Hindu community and RSS the most. Then again, upon reading Godse’s final address before the court where he talks about Why he killed Gandhi, I for one, cannot help but sympathise with him over his decision.
There is also a belief among the critics of Gandhi that, had Gandhi not been assassinated, he would have agreed to the urging of Jinnah who wanted to build a corridor between east and west Pakistan. (this is just speculation) It is then of no wonder that, B.R. Ambedkar supposedly said,” After a time every man must go. It is okay if Gandhi is not among us.”
Back To Gandhi
Godse and most people accuse Gandhi of being responsible for the partition of India. I, however, believe that the partition was inevitable. The only problem with the partition was that it was unfair. Muslims, even after deciding for Pakistan, largely didn’t leave India, whereas almost all Hindus and Sikhs, who had nothing to do with the formation of Pakistan, were thrown out of both East and West Pakistan.
Keeping this in mind, we ought to ask ourselves the question; Does Gandhi deserve the title of Mahatma? Should we follow in his footsteps? Considering that the Britishers themselves exported his ideas and built him up, do we then believe that he was the reason behind India’s Independence? Are we also to deny the British archives which suggest that Azad Hind Fauj was the real reason behind India’s Independence?
Are we also to neglect that a member of the British Parliament Ellen Wilkinson in 1932 said,” Gandhi was the best policeman the Britishers had in India’?
Had Gandhi listened to Bose, India might have gotten its independence a lot sooner.
I know it does not make any sense to look for perfection in anyone, let alone a world leader. However, we can expect some integrity especially from a person who is supposed to have been a “Mahatma”. The way I see it, Gandhi lacked both integrity and honesty. Neither he nor do any of his staunch followers ever acknowledge his mistakes. They always try to downplay it by stating that Gandhi was not perfect. That is not an excuse one can make when the “mistakes” cost so much. After all, he could have at least acknowledged and/or tried to rectify his mistakes. But he didn’t do any of it. He didn’t even listen to the people of his party. All of this is why the starting quote is not something I agree with.
I firmly hold the opinion that, in an attempt to bring his idea of sainthood into politics, Gandhi could neither become a saint nor a good politician. Instead, his stubbornness to fuse the two only made Indians suffer and prolonged the Independence of India.