30.1.12

Gandhi: Man for all Seasons

Had there been no Mahatma Gandhi, we would not have to invent/imagine/simulate/recreate/upgrade one. That would have been a truly good thing for India. For there are a few Gandhi ideas that are the overloaded baggage we have been left to deal with. Instead of accepting the fallacy of these, we are forced to deify them out of force of habit or because we love holy cows.

Gandhi with Nehru and Sardar Patel
  • Gandhiji learned well from the British about divide and rule. Without being a part of active politics, he played one against the other, knowing well that everyone, including he, had to deal with an ego. It was his ‘suggestions’ about the prime ministership that resulted in a game of musical chairs.
  • Gandhiji started the strategy of what came to be called, and derogatorily at that, the policy of appeasement. His alignment with the Khilafat movement was as politically expedient as Jinnah’s new-found discovery of sherwani politics. But, at least, he had the good sense to form a country. Gandhi’s legacy continues to force groups to ‘cater’ to Muslims, and for Muslims to be used, and at times use, this policy. 
  • Gandhiji’s ahimsa resulted in people being beaten up. Non-violence should essentially mean a state of peacefulness. Offering the other cheek does not wipe out the violent principle. Even today, there is more violence in the name of maintaining law and order or protecting the peace of the country. Such irony.
  • Gandhiji’s experiments with toilet cleaning only made it clear that this was a low job and he was taking it up to dignify it. It was a generous gesture, the magnanimity of the high-born. The term Harijan – god’s children – was just such a pat pigeonhole. Everyone is considered god’s child for non Darwinists, and in India it is generally considered so. He was creating one more ‘special’ interest group. There was no suggestion that they could rise above toilet cleaning.
  • Gandhiji’s swadeshi movement only managed to make a bonfire for his vanity. It was like bra-burning feminists. People did not adopt the charkha and khadi is today a designer garment. Also, while promoting all things indigenous, he was quite happy to be ministered to by his foreign acolytes. 
  • Gandhiji brought religion into state politics. He spoke in terms of dharma, and invoked god. His public gatherings were prayer meetings held in an ashram. This was his idea of secular nationalism.
  • Gandhiji pushed the rural ideal of India living in the villages. While this is true, the process of industrialisation was burdened with guilt. It led to Nehru’s destructive policies of socialism, which was neither here nor there. 
  • Gandhiji’s abjuring of wealth and worldly desires were personal whims that he projected as part of an iconic lifestyle. This was brand creation. Had he been true to it, he would not need to announce it. His hosts were big business houses, and he put many people to test only to test his own mettle. This was not sacrifice, but selfishness. 
  • Gandhiji is largely responsible for post-Independence kingmakers. He had no dynasty, but he had a pedestal from where he could wave the baton and orchestrate major events, often not giving a thought to the consequences. From L.K.Advani to Sonia Gandhi, these moments of ‘sacrifice’ have only drawn the nation into a leaderless state or a state with a leader as mask/puppet.

The fact that people as far removed from each other as Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Anna Hazare, Yaseen Malik think of him as an ideal should tell us that Gandhiji was a man for all seasons. It is not the Gandhian philosophy that they care about, but the sheer breadth of the marketing genius of the man who became Mahatma.

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An earlier piece The Gandhian Orgy: Ideological Bunga-bunga

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It's time for the Guinness Book. 485 "underprivileged" boys in Kolkata took out a peace march dressed as the Mahatma. It became a record. Their lack of food and education may never make it.

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There is an attempt by the RSS to distance itself from the assassin, Nathuram Godse, saying that he had severed ties in 1934.

This is what his brother Gopal said:

“All the (Godse) brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.”

17 comments:

  1. FV,

    That Gandhi Vandana must have sounded delicious while writing. Let me spoil the taste for you: RSS and VHP agree with you on almost all points!

    Let me spoil it further. You are drawing convenient conclusions about Gandhi and RSS (that's so sekulaar and even-handed!) based on what OTHER PEOPLE say about them. Will you allow others the same privilege? I will not be more specific here, lest I land a fatwa against myself!

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  2. Im in awe! There is not one thing i can deny of whats said about gandhi here..

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  3. So, even if he suggested prime ministership, it gives us the lesson of how to divide and rule? Would nobody have chanced upon the idea of a PM anyway? And wasn't a tussle for the post inevitable? And was it really a tussle in the end?

    How does Khilafat movement, even if politically expedient, lead to a policy of appeasement? The movement stood against the poor treatment of Turkey in world war 1. Should India now stop recognising Palestine because it may appear to be politically expedient?

    Are you equating his 'non-violence' with protecting peace and maintaining law and order? Didn't he break laws? No agitations? So mob-violence was a better alternative, according to you, in stead of peaceful agitations and demonstrations? How is it his legacy that there is violence today (by state, you mean, I presume) in the name of maintaining law and order?

    Creation of an interest group, or political empowerment of Dalits, I thought, was a welcome development, whose credit should go more to Ambedkar than Gandhi. If you really wanted to give a good argument, you could have said that he opposed separate electorates. According to you, would it have made more sense if he or Ambedkar just 'had the good sense to form a country' like Jinnah did, in stead of having them uniting politically?

    He did speak of God, but in an inclusive way, rather than divisive way. I assume that you believe that state should reject all religions, like France, rather than try to treat them equally? Very well, I respect your position if you do subscribe to it.

    Gandhi wasn't the author of Swadeshi (or the idea of burning British clothes). Lal, Bap, Pal and others led the original Swadeshi movement. You could debate the impact of asking people to boycott British goods, educational institutions, courts, give up British titles, but dismissing it as a movement which 'only managed to make a bonfire for his vanity' makes me wonder why I am even bothering to comment here.

    You could probably have argued about his position on prohibition, which would be hugely unpopular today. I wonder why you chose to skip that.

    So you attributed policies of divide and rule, culture of violence, appeasement (or catering) among others to Gandhi. And you argued that we are forced to deify these principles out of force of habit?

    And the headlining argument that the fact that everybody tries to dupe people by riding on his name says more about those leaders and, to an extent, some of us.

    It's not really same as starting a debate when you post vague two-line criticism on plethora of issues, each one serious enough to require hours to debate properly.

    One of the many examples of vague being, "Nehru’s destructive policies of socialism, which was neither here nor there" - 'here' being China's communism and 'there' being American laissez-faire? You really can't take a debate into much depth with lines like those.

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  4. Aditya:

    Thanks for all the points. I'd like to state here that these "vague two-line criticisms" come from what I have maintained for long and written about. You are probably visiting for the first time, or have rarely done so, and

    I don't expect people to recall.
    If you click on the label Gandhi, you will come up with several such aspects I have debated, and they may, just may, answer some questions. I have linked one piece here later.

    I might try and respond to some points later, though. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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  5. Dilip:

    Thank you. It's rare to find agreement here :)

    F&F:

    If there is ever a fatwa against you, be sure it won;t come from me. Your desire for martyrdom has been noted, and I am playing not playing ball. For the rest, your RSS style discipline and persistence is admirable.

    If by Gandhi vandana you mean "Vaishna jan to", then I love it and have said so earlier.

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  6. FV,

    Gandhi Vandana was a daily radio programme forced down the throat of listeners in the 50s, the heyday of pure Sarkari media.
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    The easiest way to wiggle out of a sticky debate is to ridicule the opponent. Ask our (both sekulaar and not so sekulaar) politicos. They do it routinely. But I was surprised to see you indulge in it. You too know very well that I am not an RSS member.

    But you had to say something...! :)

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  7. I indeed came to your blog for the first time (via Sidin's tweet). And I did go through posts tagged Gandhi and various other posts, including the one on banning of Burqa in France.

    Having read your views now and given the size of my previous comment on a single post of yours, I have decided to excuse myself from commenting on many other posts. And I'm sorry that I wouldn't be back to read the responses you plan, for later, to my points.

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  8. >>even if he suggested prime ministership ...

    one-person, one-vote democracy and south asia seem to be so much at odds that you can only fault Gandhi for playing the game only way he knew. Self-sacrificing Messiah who can identify the ideal ruler through inner inspiration, ancient books and never forget good pedigree.

    >>How does Khilafat movement, even if politically expedient, lead to a policy of appeasement?

    Comparison with Palestinian movement is somewhat superficial. Ottoman empire was crumbling and Khilafat movement was about holding back the forces of history.

    Palestinian movement is about the legitimate rights of disenfranchised population by the same forces of history. Supporting one was revisionist at best while supporting other is forward-looking support of a just cause.

    >>Are you equating his 'non-violence' with protecting peace and maintaining law and order?

    It just perpetuates the myth that if people just became voluntarily peaceful, we wouldn't need 3rd or 4th largest army and nuclear weapons. Gandhi used the tactics available to him to defend/promote the interests of those he identified himself with.

    History provides the stage for various actors at various times. Oddly enough, mid-20th century gave rise to Hitler and Gandhi (who incidentally lavished some praise on the former) at the same time.

    >>Creation of an interest group, or political empowerment of Dalits, I thought, was a welcome development,

    To go out of his way to accommodate Jinnah and his whims while denying the protection of separate electorates or other constitutional means to the most exploited population of south asia was indeed a gross disregard for everything that modern democratic state ought to stand for.

    >>He did speak of God, but in an inclusive way, rather than divisive way.

    He could talk of one-and-only God of his choice all he wanted as long as he was not deciding policies for purportedly modern secular state. His invocation of Ram-rajya made his coreligionists (barring a privileged minority) much more uncomfortable than anyone else.

    >>Gandhi wasn't the author of Swadeshi

    It wasn't so much the idea of protecting domestic industry and economy from predatory western powers but his naive faith in Utopian villages of yesteryear that was problematic.

    >>You could probably have argued about his position on prohibition,

    she could have also argued about his ambition to attain nirvana and world peace by his very awkward attempts at Brahmcharya but in mature discussion we should focus on more substantive issues that are beyond quirks of personality.

    >>And the headlining argument that the fact that everybody tries to dupe people by riding on his name says more about those leaders and, to an extent, some of us.

    I think she is saying that Brand is created for a purpose (and that is why it is being exploited by all and sundry) but Gandhi's brand can be misleading and potentially harmful to the interests of India and Indians.

    >>It's not really same as starting a debate when you post vague two-line criticism on plethora of issues, each one serious enough to require hours to debate properly.

    That (endlessly debating without actionable outcome) is something we Indians (including myself) are really good at :)

    >> 'here' being China's communism and 'there' being American laissez-faire?

    It is more like "hear-AND-there", protecting the monopolies asian-style but when it comes to workers' rights, it is Social Darwinism Western-style. Indians are quite familiar that deal from way back so they can figure out the details from the "Warning Labels".

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  9. Excuse me, but these charges, for most part, can also be heaped on the prophet. No?

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  10. Akash,

    How dare you!! May the fury of proclaimed and closet Jehadis set your skin ablaze!! May you rot in a sekulaar hell!!

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  11. >>Excuse me, but these charges, for most part, can also be heaped on the prophet. No?

    Now, now. Calling Gandhi 1000+ years behind his times is a bit harsh methinks.

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  12. Hitesh,
    Are you suggesting that Quran is dated?
    Btw, I hear a lot of criticism of Gandhi from armchair critics. It's good sometimes to offer a solution as well.

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  13. >>Are you suggesting that Quran is dated?

    Do you seriously believe it or for that matter any other such old Book is not?

    >>Btw, I hear a lot of criticism of Gandhi from armchair critics. It's good sometimes to offer a solution as well.

    Perfect is an enemy of good. I personally dislike the idea of deifying these all too human characters (whether it is Gandhi or Einstein or Susan B Anthony) who had their strengths and weaknesses. You know how much trouble we already are in trying to exhort ourselves from the Gods of so many centuries ago. Do we really wanna add to that?

    Beyond that, solutions from our parents' generation sometimes don't work for us, so every generation has to come up with their own.

    Hence, mutable laws and democracy.

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  14. "Do you seriously believe it or for that matter any other such old Book is not?"

    Oh, I don't believe that but you can get a bounty for your head if you say that outside.

    "I personally dislike the idea of deifying these all too human characters "

    Who's deifying them? But you cannot criticize someone without looking at his/her constraints. Generally, I have found out that lately any criticism of Gandhi is quickly followed by a historical revisionism of Jinnah.

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  15. Hitesh:

    Well, you have responded to Aditya's comment and it reflects pretty much what I have to say.

    >>It's not really same as starting a debate when you post vague two-line criticism on plethora of issues, each one serious enough to require hours to debate properly.<<

    That (endlessly debating without actionable outcome) is something we Indians (including myself) are really good at :)


    Sure. At least I kept it short this time.

    As for the "neither here or there", it really was to merely drive home the point that it was striding between two worlds within - the rural idyll and the modernistic industrial one.

    But I'd go with what you say too, if we get round to serious debate.

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    Aditya:

    Thanks for letting me know you will not be here to respond, but if you are reading this, then I'd like you to know that your comment turned out to be more dismissive than my post. I thought by adding queries you wanted to take the discussion forward, but you apparently were wondering why you even bothered to comment. Such a patronising attitude will probably take you as far as your own position will allow. Nothing beyond.

    I understand that you did look at the other pieces. I was particularly struck by the mention of France and the burqa. Nothing to do with Gandhi, but tells me something about your preconceived stand on the issue and how you must have recoiled at my views.

    Anyhow, thank you...

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  16. Akash:

    Excuse me, but these charges, for most part, can also be heaped on the prophet. No?

    Go ahead. You obviously know about how the Prophet played kingmaker, appeased minorities, used religion in the nationstate (a concept alien then), promoted the Arab version of Swadeshi (hah, Arab countries manufacture nothing), you get the drift, so go ahead.

    F&F:

    Happy? Can we now start spelling words as they are meant to be spelled? S-E-C-U-L-A-R. Good.

    And, what debate was I wiggling out of? If you have no RSS sympathies and I am supposed to know that only because you say so, although you jump start you verbal yatra each time the party or Modi are mentioned, then wake up and smell the rooh afza. What do you keep calling me when you know I am not that?

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  17. Amit:

    Your response to Hitesh:

    "Do you seriously believe it or for that matter any other such old Book is not (dated)?"

    Oh, I don't believe that but you can get a bounty for your head if you say that outside.


    You may, if you abuse it. There are several versions that have updated the texts, and these were oral to begin with. Whatever passes for injunctions are interpretations, and that includes fatwas, which I have to keep repeating are opinions of a group of people who command as much respect universally as a helium balloon.


    "I personally dislike the idea of deifying these all too human characters "

    Who's deifying them? But you cannot criticize someone without looking at his/her constraints. Generally, I have found out that lately any criticism of Gandhi is quickly followed by a historical revisionism of Jinnah.


    There are positive critiques and negative critiques, and they pretty much cover the constraints as well as the super advantageous situations that were present. Both these might discuss Jinnah for the simple reason that Gandhi in the political context did not exist in a vacuum. Ask Mr. Advani.

    And for those who talk about armchair criticism without offering solutions, what do you think the Mahatma did? Which of the solutions have helped forward the national ethos, except in a totemic manner?

    Let's get real here, and if it means bringing in a 'revision' of the Prophet, why not?

    I wonder, though, if say Ram Guha or someone wrote about similar issues, the Prophet would be mentioned.

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