Gandhi at 151 and the continued mystique of “Mahatma”

Last year India grandiosely celebrated #GandhiAt150. Today, on the occasion of Gandhiji’s 151st birth anniversary, can we expect the educated Indian youth to at least superfluously know about the person they call the ‘Father of the Nation?” Can he be seen beyond being an icon of “Satya and Ahimsa”?

For how long they have to carry the pernicious saintly idiosyncrasies of Gandhiji in Indian public life? The majority of the Indian population is illiterate. The privileged few of the society have deliberately kept the majority masses ignorant. It is almost impossible to deconstruct the Mahatmic miracles and idiosyncrasies purely on logic and rationalism.

From Upwasi Baba to Chandraswami to Baba Ram Rahim, we have witnessed that reasons alone cannot wipe off the hypnotic effect of Mahatmic miracles. Only knowledge can replace blind faith with intelligence and reasoning.

Sharing some aspects of Gandhi Ji’s philosophy, politics, actions, and lifestyle, hoping that the young educated Indians explore them in-depth, gather more knowledge, discuss and debate, and form their own opinions.

Gandhi in South Africa

The contemporary South African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, have consistently lauded him as part of the epic battle to defeat the white racist regime. Conventional narratives portray Gandhi as a crusading lawyer whose experience in South Africa shaped his ideas and beliefs. A little study explodes the myth and depicts a different picture.

In South Africa, Gandhi neither pit himself against white rule nor advanced the cause of the native people’s right to self-determination. His efforts in South Africa were limited to protesting against the treatment of well to do Indians.

One of those books is “The South African Gandhi,” which focuses on Gandhi’s first leadership experiences and reveals how complicated a man. He fought for the rights and privileges of the Indian trading community in South Africa and distanced himself from the indentured Indian labor and the native blacks. His concern was that the Indian merchants were treated on a par with the native blacks. Gandhi referred to the Zulus as ‘kaffirs’.

One of his biographers described Gandhi as a racial purist, and he was proud of it.

Return to India and Grooming of the Mahatma

After twenty years of practiced law in South Africa, Gandhiji moved to India. On the way, he stayed in England and was awarded the Kaiser-e-Hind medal. He left England and arrived in India in January 1915. On return, he immediately got involved in the country’s independence movement.

Man on a mission

Gandhi shed the Western attire for the dhoti and his shoes for the chappals. Gandhi was India’s most fantastic ever advert, and only the Taj Mahal comes the distant next.

Sarojini Naidu famously said, “it cost the nation a fortune to keep the man who gave up the business suit for the Dhoti to live in poverty.”

He built a mass political movement by injecting religion into politics, thereby exploiting the people’s sincerely held religious sentiments. In almost every meeting, he participated in propagating religious Hindu ideas. He converted the Congress to a party of the Hindu masses, leading to the Muslims and the Congress becoming polarized that inevitably led to partition.

His pen started laying golden eggs. Swaraj, Ram Rajya, Satyagraha, Ahimsa, and Harijan were some of Gandhi’s eggs.

The first speech that Gandhi made in India in 1915 after returning from South Africa shows Gandhi in his right light. Jinnah presided the event and made a warm speech welcoming Gandhi. Gandhi’s response to Jinnah’s welcome was that he was ‘glad to find a Muslim not only belonging to his region’s Sabha but also chairing it.’

What an odd fact to single out? Everyone had to note that Jinnah was a Mahommedan.

According to author Nirad Chaudhury, Gandhi ‘took politics into religion to become a new kind of religious prophet’. As modern-day sadhus do, he was the one who first established an ashram and imposed his way of life upon his disciples. The ashram in which he began his “experiments with truth.”

The Cause of British:

In the next few years, Gandhi continued to espouse the British cause, though he also fought British imperialism through the Champaran satyagraha in 1917 and the Kheda Satyagraha in 1918. After Kheda Satyagraha ended, the Viceroy invited Gandhi to a War Conference in Delhi. Gandhi aggressively started campaigning for the war as a recruiting officer of the empire. In contrast to the Zulu War, Gandhi was not recruiting non-combatants but fighters.

Why should his open war recruitment campaign not raise questions on his consistency in Nonviolence?

Supporting the Khilafat Movement

Gandhi Ji supported the Khilafat (Caliphate) movement that the British had done away within Turkey at the close of the First World War. Few people would have ever known about the Khilafat movement without Gandhi Ji’s support that gave the movement international legitimacy and momentum. He not only condoned but also endorsed the 1200 years of Islamic persecution in India. Did he not foresee the wide-ranging consequences?

Was he politically innocent to assume that India’s poor and illiterate Muslim community could be drawn into an active political struggle against the British power? Instead of coaxing Muslims into social reform, the Khilafat had legitimized their conservative religious instincts that thrived on hatred against the Hindu Kafirs.

Thousands of Hindus were killed, thousands wounded, and converted, Muslim rioters, raped Hindu women.

Was he under the illusion that the Movement was related to India’s freedom movement? For Indian Muslims, it was nothing but a religious war. Moreover, what he said about the Movement bears ample testimony to this fact. He said: “The brave and god-fearing Moplahs were fighting for their religion following their religious tenets as they understood them.”

The brunt of the enthusiasm to turn India into Dar-ul-Islam and the attendant orgy of violence had to be borne by the hapless, innocent, and unsuspecting Hindus all over India. The Hindus of Malabar were the worst affected by riots, arson, and every form of conceivable atrocities by the Moplahs.

Annie Besant said, “It would be well if Gandhi could be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the ghastly horrors.”

Or was he that naive unable to assess or evaluate the Muslim psyche properly? In that case of having little experience or knowledge about the undercurrents or nuances of Indian politics of that period, why did he not consult the stalwarts in the party while making such a decision of far-reaching consequences?

Stopped the Freedom Movement:

Gandhiji, who had failed to show any sympathy to the Hindus of Malabar, was shocked by the news of “setting fire to the police station and burning half a dozen policemen in it” in the Chauri-Chaura-Kaand in February 1922.

Suddenly, the whole scene shifted, and the freedom fighters in prison learned to their amazement, that Gandhiji had withdrawn the agitation and had suspended civil resistance at a time when they seemed to be consolidating their position and advancing on all fronts. He asked an immediate stoppage of the aggressive aspects of their struggle. All this because of what had happened in Chauri-Chaura.

Historian Patrick French’s verdict on Gandhi is that he ‘was an extremely wily politician who failed to listen to his opponents’ opinions.’ and Gandhi’s actions at the Second Round Table Conference of 1931 corroborate the assessment made by French.

Not Did Much to Save Revolutionaries

Indians believed that Gandhiji would bring three young and patriotic revolutionaries – Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, and Sukhdev Thapar back from the jail as their primary motive was the same. Gandhi wrote a letter to the Viceroy for commutation, but he felt that commutation was not much in the general public’s interest. In the Viceroy conversation, he could have pleaded for the revolutionaries, but he did not. It is difficult to say whether Gandhi would have successfully saved Bhagat Singh or any other revolutionaries from the gallows because the facts do not exist. However, he did not make much of an effort. Gandhi Ji was happy enough to condone violence in revolutionaries, despite recruiting Indian soldiers for the British army.

Betrayal of Untouchables:

Gandhi was strongly opposed to the demands of the untouchables for separate electorates. During the Round Table Conference in 1931 in London that led to the Government of India Act 1935, as soon as the Untouchables representatives placed their demand, Gandhi quietly forgot about his assurances given to them. He went to the Moslems and told them that he would support their demands if they, in turn, opposed the demands placed by the representatives of the Untouchables. However, the Muslim delegation, led by Aga Khan, refused. Ambedkar called it treachery.

Feud with Bose

Gandhiji had a running feud with Subhash Chandra Bose. By 1938, Bose had become a national stature leader who stood for unqualified Swaraj, including the use of force against the British. It meant a confrontation with Gandhi, who opposed Bose’s presidency. Nevertheless, Bose became president of Congress in 1938.  In 1939 Bose won Congress Presidentship again defying Gandhi, the kingmaker. Until then, the candidate was by consensus with Gandhi’s approval.Gandhi was unforgiving of Bose. Eventually, Bose resigned.

Gandhi and Ambedkar:

Dr. Ambedkar believed that it was not enough to remove the stigma attaching to caste and wanted it dismantled altogether. On the contrary, Gandhi made a show of fighting against the practice of ‘untouchability’ but never denounced the caste system. Ambedkar challenged Gandhi politically and intellectually, and morally and gave a devastating verdict on Gandhi. Here are the excerpts on being asked if Gandhi was a Mahatma:

“It is very easy for anybody to become a Mahatma in India by merely changing his dress. Gandhi becoming a Mahatma in India, is nothing surprising. Had these things been practiced in any other civilized country, people would have laughed at him.

 Truth and Nonviolence are very noble principles. Gandhi claims to preach ‘Satya’ (Truth) and ‘Ahimsa’ (Nonviolence), and people have so much liked it that they flock around him in thousands.  Is it not a fact that Lord Buddha gave the message of ‘Truth and Nonviolence” to the world thousands of years ago?

When I seriously study Gandhi’s character, I become exceedingly convinced that cunningness is more evident in his character than the seriousness or sincerity. Treachery and deceit are weapons of the weak. Gandhi has always used these weapons. Gandhi was the man responsible for eliminating morality from politics and instead introduced commercialism in Indian politics.”

India’s Independence, Election of First PM, and the Partition of India

By 1946, when an interim government was to be formed to be headed by the Congress president, suddenly, the post of Congress president (First Prime Minister) became even more crucial. Despite Gandhi making it very clear to everybody that Nehru was his preferred choice, not a single Congress committee nominated Nehru’s name. On the contrary, 12 out of 15 Congress committees nominated Sardar Patel. However, why did Gandhi overlook the overwhelming support for Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel? Why was he so enamored with Nehru?

Then came the most unfortunate partition of India in August 1947. When both Pakistan and an independent India won independence from Britain, it resulted in one of the most massive forced migrations of people in history. However, he presided over the world’s most brutal massacre of Hindus at the hands of Muslims during the partition of India. It led to nearly a million people’s killings and uprooted almost 15 million Indians from both sides.

The Experiment with Truth:

It was no secret that Gandhi had an unusual sex life. Gandhi himself was quite vocal about his experiments, so there is nothing new here.

Amongst all the biographies of him, the one by Jad Adams is thrashing. When Gandhi was alive, it was commonly discussed as damaging his reputation. However, his image’s protectors were successful in eliminating this element of the great leader’s life. 

Gandhi, without doubt, is one of the best-documented figures of the pre-electronic age with innumerable biographies. If his protectors still portray him as a ‘Mahatma,’ it is a remarkable feat. It is easy to comprehend that had Gandhiji lived another decade; the chances were that his ideas and conduct would have damaged his credibility, making him an outlier.

Alas! Godse immortalized him.

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