Gandhi – Feet of Clay? …

Posted on July 3, 2017. Filed under: Personalities |

Gandhi by JAY BHATTACHARJEE – a socio-economic and financial analyst, based in Delhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (MKG), who had been placed on an unreachable and high pedestal for the last seven decades and more needs reevaluation.

From his elevated perch, the old man has ruled over our minds and spirits as ruthlessly and as completely as Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti and the North Korean supremo Kim IL Sung.

MKG’s divinity was unquestioned and unquestionable for any desi citizen. Even the comrades had somehow bought into his fable, in the 1970s and 1980s. Never you mind that the whole spectacle had been slightly dented in the twilight years of the Gandhi-Nehru-Gandhi vaudeville show, when the babus in the Union Government, 2011, were forced to admit in their reply to an RTI application from a ten-year-old girl, that there was no official sanction for the appellation “Father of the Nation” that was being used so grandiloquently and unquestioningly for MKG during the last seven decades.

Amit Shah, being a street fighter, should have known that MKG has an enormous cottage industry that follows him – and does very well out of it, thank you. Their daily genuflection before the great man’s memory is their path to salvation, not to mention various earthly goodies. There are innumerable “sansthas” or organisations that cater only to the MKG fairy tale and live off the fat of the land from government grants and aid.

However, now is as good a time as any to pose some basic and fundamental questions about MKG’s role in history and his status as the “Father of the Nation”.

If the comrades could have their de-Stalinisation exercise under their own party leadership so many years ago, I see no reason why India should not attempt a similar move under the NaMo regime now.

There are four attributes or parameters on which I will assess MKG. The first is his highly questionable ethical and normative mind-set in politics and social life, despite the public posturing he resorted to.

Just two examples should suffice. MKG’s entire interface with Subhas Bose was a copy-book sample of Tammany Hall politics that would have done Lalu and the Mulayam Singh lot proud any time.

MKG launched the non-cooperation movement in 1920, promising his followers freedom in just one year, when the British Raj, he believed, would come to a grinding halt. After more than a year and even with 60,000 satyagrahis in prison cells across the country, the Raj remained firm.

Soon, after the Chauri Chaura incident, MKG did one of his theatrical acts and proclaimed he had committed a “Himalayan blunder” in launching Satyagraha without sufficient “soul-cleansing”. He called off the non-cooperation movement in a bizarre Kejriwal-type gesture that flummoxed ordinary Indians who had plunged into the freedom struggle.

Step in Jawahar Lal Nehru (JLN). He decided to put in his lot with MKG, although they were poles apart culturally and socially.

Subhas Bose was proving to be immensely popular with the Congress rank and file and among the general public. After he became Congress President twice in 1938 and 1939, the duo of MKG and JLN went into overdrive to protect their turf.

Subhas was in favour of Purna Swaraj and advocated the use of force against the British, if necessary. MKG and JLN, as was their wont, waffled. Bose tried to maintain the party’s unity, but MKG played his underhand games. For the 1939 Tripuri session of the Congress, he put up his straw candidate, a lightweight called Pattabhi Sitaramayya.

Bose, though very unwell, arrived at the session on a stretcher, and went on to win the Presidential election. MKG’s notorious statement that “Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat” is a blatant blot on his halo. It revives memories of all the devious manipulations of his clique that compelled Bose to resign from his position as Congress President and start his own party, the Forward Block, in due course.

As a footnote, we should remember that it was Netaji who addressed MKG in his broadcast from Rangoon in 1944 as “the father of the nation”.

Fast forward to 1947 when MKG, once again, stooped to devious lows to ensure that Sardar Patel would not become PM and the mantle would fall on Nehru, MKG’s trusted confidante.

The wily MKG waged his campaign to deny the Sardar the position of Congress President, which was the logical stepping stone to being independent India’s first Prime Minister. The story takes a number of complicated twists and turns but the bottom line is that MKG asked Sardar Patel to withdraw his nomination for the Congress President’s post after it became evident that JLN had little support.

The true patriot that he was, the Sardar went along with MKG’s diktat, since he considered national service to be more important than a political post. The chameleon – like Azad also wanted the PM’s gaddi but fell in line and supported JLN.

It would be appropriate to end this segment of the essay with Rajaji’s assessment of this sad episode in our history. This is what CR wrote in his journal “SWARAJYA” many years after the incident when his conscience stirred at long last:

“When the independence of India was coming close upon us and Gandhiji was the silent master of our affairs, he had come to the decision that Jawaharlal, who among the Congress leaders was the most familiar with foreign affairs, should be the Prime Minister of India, although he knew Vallabhbhai would be the best administrator among them all’…

‘ Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister. I too fell into the error of believing that Jawaharlal was the more enlightened person of the two… A myth had grown about Patel that he would be harsh towards Muslims. This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudice.” (SWARAJYA, 27.11.1971).

The second attribute of MKG that debars him from the pedestal of “Father of the Nation” or any pedestal for that matter is his appalling and reprehensible track-record during his brief stint in South Africa, before venturing back to our shores.

It is a matter of record that MKG was sickeningly racist in his views about black Africans. His opposition to racial discrimination was limited to Indians. It is well documented that the fellow offered to organize a brigade of Indians to help the English colonial rulers crush an African rebellion.

He was even appointed Sergeant-Major and earned a War Medal from the British Empire for “valour under fire”, while assisting the violent suppression of South African Blacks.

The fact is that Gandhians have cleverly masked this chapter under the cover of MKG rendering medical service during the British genocide of Africans. India will forever be handicapped in its dealings with Africa if we persist with our folly about MKG.

The third issue deals with MKG’s pusillanimous stance on Muslim communalism and violence, specifically during the Noakhali genocide of 1946. Although J.B. Kripalani, then the President-elect of the Congress, had already observed that “the attack on the Hindu population in the districts of Noakhali and Tripura was previously arranged and prepared for and was the result of League propaganda”, MKG undertook his visit to the affected area and played to the gallery.

He realised that his PR was not going to produce any results and he came out with this bizarre pronouncement – “My heart bleeds, my brain is strained to think that the East Bengal Hindus who were in the vanguard in the struggle for freedom, will be deprived of their ancestral home and hearth.” In other words, he was advising the East Bengal Hindus to quit their homes and not put up any resistance to the savage massacres perpetrated by the Muslims.

The Bengal Governor, Frederick Burrows, a no-nonsense former railway trade unionist, pithily summarised MKG’s theatricals : “It will take a dozen Gandhis to make the Muslim leopard and the Hindu kid to lie down together again in that part of the world”. History confirms that the massacres of Hindus in East Bengal abated only when retaliatory riots broke out in Bihar and some districts in U.P.

MKG’s theatricals continued a few months later after Partition had torn apart the country. In January 1948, he went on a fast to compel the Government of India to pay Pakistan Rs.55 crores, which was the residual amount of dues payable to that country by India.

MKG started his fast even after Pakistan had unleashed its aggression in J&K, and he was aided and abetted in this blackmail by Mountbatten – JLN’s bosom friend. Under international law, India was perfectly entitled to withhold payments to a state engaged in hostilities and armed conflict against it.

The last factor that goes against MKG is his appalling personal conduct with his wife and his children. I will not venture into areas of MKG’s psyche that have been severely critiqued by numerous observers and analysts. It is an undisputed fact that MKG refused to allow penicillin to be given to Kasturba when she went down with pneumonia in 1944. The ostensible reason he proffered was that it was an alien substance.

However, later when the great man himself, got infected with malaria, he voluntarily took quinine to treat his malady. He also allowed British doctors to perform an appendectomy on him without batting an eyelid that it was an alien operation, if ever there was one.

His hypocrisy extended to many other aspects of life. From serving out some of his prison sentences in the Aga Khan’s palace to turning a blind eye to the specially equipped 3rd Class Railways carriages the Raj placed at his disposal – the old man never worried about minor matters.

Sarojini Naidu’s epic quip about the country spending a fortune “to keep the Bapu poor” did not ruffle his feathers.

No, MKG, you have had a great innings but this cannot go on. Someone or other will have to bring you down to terra firma. A moral and honest civilisation that has lasted for 5000 years or so, cannot live forever with doctored and embellished history.



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