January 30, 2016 2 Comments
Mahatma Gandhi as a subject is a minefield of opinions. Sometime back it was cool to insult Gandhi-vaad. Then Gandhi-giri became cool. More recently people wanted to follow Gandhi-the-2nd in Freedom-Struggle-the-2nd.
Gandhi essentially is a confounding subject. He calls non-violence a weapon. In a country facing a perpetual food shortage, he made “fasting” a tool of protests. He converted a pinch of salt in to a national issue. He cleaned the roads of Noakhali of the litter to subvert the bloodbath of Bengal. He walked in Buckingham palace wearing just a shawl and a loincloth.
I have time and again gotten in to debates with friends regarding relevance or importance of Mahatma Gandhi to India’s Freedom Struggle. Many blame him for not saving Shahid Bhagat Singh’s life when he probably had a chance. People snigger while mentioning his “experiments” with younger women. His insane insistence on celibacy and crazed view of anything sexual abhors a lot of us. Uninformed accuse of him enabling partition of India and people by truckloads hold him responsible for showing preference to Nehru over Sardar. I am not here to defend him on any of these counts.
To rephrase Mark Anthony-
I have come to mourn Gandhi, not to praise him
If Godse has told us that Gandhi was betraying Hindus,
We have no reason to doubt it.
For Godse is an honorable man.
So are the people from Sangh, all honorable men!
I don’t want to step (further) in to these controversies today. Today, I will rather tell you about things that have always fascinated me about this guy – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Gandhi didn’t “like” and “RT” the issues he felt strongly about. He went out in the real world and stood up to the strongest empire the planet had ever seen. But that wasn’t his strongest moment. His strongest moment was when stood up to his own country-men and shut down Non-Cooperation movement in response to violence in Chauri Chaura. Of course, he was criticized for taking a moral stand.
Granted his ideas regarding sex were almost entirely unhinged. His insistence on celibacy, forced separation of couples in love and in later years his experiments in bed are all manifestations of a deep rooted guilt (at least, so I think). The story goes something like this. He was nursing his ailing father one night. Gandhi left the sickbed to be with his wife. His father died in the meantime. This scarred him more than he could admit. He became a slave to his anger and bitterness against sex. He felt let down by what he considered his baser desires. All his actions and ideas regarding sex will become clear once this event is included in your perspective.
Gandhi didn’t bomb and gun his way to glory. The people who did that were termed terrorists and criminals by British government but nothing concrete ever came of these revolutionary efforts. Don’t get me wrong, I do not disparage bravery or patriotism of our revolutionaries. But as far as the scorecards were concerned, they didn’t shake so much as a curtain of English empire. Gandhi shook those foundations. Because he took away the pretense of civility from British. Before Gandhi, India was a land of brutes and it was British “white man’s burden” to rule India. The world in general and the Britain especially firmly believed that India was better off governed by foreigners – people who had a sense of decency. Gandhi changed that image.
He didn’t fight on terms that Britain could fight back on. Gandhi fought them on principles upheld by Britain. Gandhi demanded equal treatment. And he demonstrated his commitment by being ready to suffer for it. He spent countless years in jails in Africa and India. Suffered humiliations, scorn and mockery of others. He held firm his demand that British treat him and every other Indian as an equal. This changed the game outside India. Even in Britain, people realized that their empire wasn’t as benevolent as they deluded themselves in to believing.
In India, Gandhi brought a different game-changer. Before Gandhi, Indian National Congress was a body of Britain-educated Lawyers who met to hone skills in debate and showcase their verbosity. Revolutionaries of necessity couldn’t involve a very large number of people. Only two men understood the difference people of India can make in deciding their destiny. One was Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The other was M K Gandhi. Bhagat Singh planned his case to be a mouthpiece of Indian revolutionaries. His speeches and defense were targeted at sparking a fire in hearts of Indians. He hoped that newspaper coverage of his trial will serve the cause of India better than his life.
Gandhi went to people. He took their problems and linked them to issues of freedom. Dye-making, salt-making, cotton-farming were the issues that made Gandhi’s freedom movement. This was an act of a visionary. This is the part he seldom gets credit for. We all know that India received freedom because England’s forces were too thinly spread after WW2 to run a country as large as India. Gandhi doesn’t deserve the credit for bringing freedom to India. Gandhi deserves credit for something much more fundamental. He brought the idea of freedom to people of India.
Gandhi fought for taboo issues like untouchability and women’s participation in social life. This was a tough pill to swallow for most of the Indians. The same way today’s fundamentalist Hindus believe Gandhi did nothing but appease Muslims, many in previous generation blamed him for damaging Hindu faith by bringing untouchables and lower castes at the same pedestal as higher castes.
Interestingly, Gandhi’s vision of uplifting “harijans” and other persecuted castes didn’t involve reservations. He was the original crusader against reservation. I believe that is one of the reasons a lot of Bahujan politicians in post-freedom era have vilified Gandhi.
Gandhi’s death, like his life, was a study in contradictions – a devout and practicing Hindu with non-communal (though hardly secular, never secular) politics was murdered by disciples of a self-avowed atheist with communal politics for pandering to wishes of a community that had largely abandoned him. Jinnah’s reluctant tribute to Gandhi was “he was a great Hindu”. A Hindu group in India is rumored to have celebrated Gandhi’s assassination by distributing sweets.
Waaiz-e-tang nazar ne mujhe kaafir samajha,
Aur kaafir ye kehte hai ki main musalmaan hu!
Narrow scrutiny of Mullah deduces that I am a Kaafir and Kaafirs distrust me because they think I am too much of a Muslim.
PS – as I mentioned, I am not here to defend or to praise Gandhi. I would rather that everyone build their own view. The books I have found helpful in building my notions about Gandhi are as follows-
- Gandhi Vadh Kyon – Nathuram Godse
- Bapu, maari ma (Bapu, My Mother) – Mani Gandhi (the girl who was part of his sexual “experiments”. Not sure if a translated version exists in English.)
- My Autobiography or My Experiments with Truth – M K Gandhi
- Freedom At Midnight – Dominic Lapierre and Larry Collins
- Gandhi: A Memoir – William L Shirer
- Numerous writings by Duttatreya Kalelkar
- Prakash no Padachaayo (shadows of light) – Dinkar Joshi. The book follows Harilal Gandhi and his interactions with the man who became Father to a nation but failed to be one to him.