There are new books on the Mahatma and they bring out new insights and perspectives!
It is also time to assess the contributions of the great leader with some critical questioning. So that we get from World War-I to Partition and the present times in Indian politics when Hindutva has become a creed for narrow selfishness, be it nationalism or patriotism.
The French President, Macron, told in the face of the US President Trump that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.
What did he mean? US President says, rather proudly his political goals is:”America First!” So, the US can do whatever it thinks it is only good for the US?
That is what fanaticism leads to. Many time, it ends up as fascism and even violence. That is a lesson from history. We commemorated the end of the centenary of the first World War-1.
Populism also means the same thing. The world is not producing leaders of vision. But more and more isolationists.
Mahatma Gandhi can give any clue to the current world scenario?
Mahatma Gandhi is such a fascinating figure that he had accumulated so many admirers and as many critics. One more book and that too of about more than 1,000 pages!
Prof.Ramchandra Guha seems to have such a fascination for the great man and he had written this book too, once more it seems, as he had had many times in the past written of Gandhi. Anyway, I hadn’t read the book yet but glanced through casually. But the reviews,(Open magazine,October,2018)in particular by Zaroor Masani caught my attention more than casually. Masani has such an easy style that has such an easy flow that I read the review in one breath, so to say.
The reviewer in my opinion excelled himself this time by knitting together many small episodes that build the great man and also brings him down in an objective way.
Just now, after many years I was trying to get to grips with the famed writer, scholar, B.R.Nanda’s slim volume, Gandhi and his Critics (OUP,1997) and though the volume is slim the trying was heavy-going and at the end of my several attempts I am at a loss to sort out Gandhi’s many critics for Gandhi seems, as I see now, after years of my own living and experiences, where to place the Mahatma now, in the current scenario in the country.
The coming of Narendra Modi and the PM’s own adoption of Gandhi for many of his schemes etc. Also the other side-effects, the Hindutva’s various ideological versions and the demands on the ground for a Ram Mandir and other practices, you can name and enumerate as you like, from Cow vigilante and mob lynching and other news-making efforts and events. Even the RSS glasnost, as one media comment put is and also the other mind-altering activities of the ruling regime.
The point here is that Gandhi matters still it seems and what we can learn now and how we, in our own individual capacities and also in our collective efforts to make Gandhi relevant and learn more from his life.
After all, our policy is vibrant and our Constitution is strong and I dare say our secular credentials are fine and makes sense in a world that is not going in a progressive manner but have elected many leaders in some countries, the latest being Brazil where we have received not just plain dictators or authoritarians but what are called plain populists and nationalists and not many with a polished tongue but accustomed to using not even civilised language but plain vulgarities!
Here I am concentrating on what Masani gave me to think about. Instead of going into dates and other details, it seems that Gandhi seemed not to have gone with a well-thought path after he returned to India in 1914 once for all and he was 45 years of age. The next 30 odd years we saw the transformation of the man and his political style that defied his contemporaries and also distanced him from what was the best talents available in the country.
Of course Gokhale died soon after, Tilak lived for another six years, Annie Besant lived longer. Others, Motilal Nehru, C.R.Das and Lala Lajpat Rai were there. In 1922, the civil disobedience movement first saw the Chauri Chaura riot and eruption of violence led the Mahatma to call off the ‘strike’. We don’t anymore discuss this. From then on many movements also saw violence accompanying them. When Gandhi launched his Non-Cooperation Movement, the trio left and formed the Swarajya Party.
From that time onwards Gandhi was on a very different path, the Salt Satyagraha, why even the 1942 movement led to violence. The 1919 Amritsar Massacre is a critical point and we have not yet fully discussed Amritsar, the trigger and the horrible violence, loss of lives on such a scale..If anyone reads through the Tagore letters, there is one letter Tagore wrote to Gandhi in response to the latter’s explanation of the Massacre.
It is the one letter of Tagore I could not make up my mind as to what Tagore (Gurudev for us, the Santiniketanitres) meant in what he writes. It is my humble submission and I stand to be corrected that Tagore couldn’t give a straightforward approval of what happened at the fateful day in Amritsar!
Anyway, the friendship and much more, the greatness of the two minds were such that they didn’t want to share a common, agreed view. So, my whole reading through Masani’s review is that at each crucial occasion, Salt Satya Graha and in 1942 violence occurred and much blood was shed for a cause that might have been great and even sacred but nevertheless it was not a peaceful political struggle.
And of course, we have to account for the special weapon, fasting Gandhi adopted not infrequently, to secure obedience of his disciples and companions and colleagues.
And there are other aspects of Gandhi’s dealing with his rival colleagues, Jinnah and Ambedkar. With Jinnah, if we look at the events from this distance, Gandhi always had a patronising attitude? The two instances quoted by Masani certainly to a certain view point. May be Gandhi might not have thought deeply or pondered over the great historical divide between the Indian Muslims and the Hindu?
Or his approach was as was his wont very mystical and instinctive or call it by whatever name, it was not a good understanding of Indian history?
When things went out of control, Gandhi had to cut a sorry figure and he had to adopt silence when the fateful vote was taken with Gandhi present by his colleagues, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel and others. What a tragic end the whole movement was led or the movement led the country!
So, partition came about without anyone giving any forethought.
Certainly, the other figures, Mountbatten and others look very silly figures who played havoc with innocent lives.
Also, one more significant thought process that emerges from reading Masani’s review is that Gandhi never seems to have given a damn to the whole exercise of the Constitutional evolution of Indian polity, from the Chelmsford reforms onwards and many other reforms thereafter, post 1939, the Second World War years wasted years, no thought was given by anyone who had the strength of character and vision, the many missions, the Crips Mission, the Cabinet Mission and the whole war years went on without India seizing the opportunities. Two more of my own personal readings and visits to China are these: one F.D.Roosevelt’s persuasion(or Diktakt?) to Churchill to grant Independence to India. The other: the visiting Chinese couple, Chiang Kei Shek, more the Mrs.Soong, the most brilliant lady who both advocated freedom for India.
Indians never sought American help for freedom. Nor they utilised the Chinese goodwill for furthering the Indian freedom. Instead, I am sorry to point out that Gandhi’s innocence or ignorance of the gravity of the times and the Gandhi’s pat for Mussolini and Prasad Anyway, in the end there remains certain issues that are critically
linked to Gandhi’s life, the practice of religion, the practice of praise for Hitler!
Fasting, satayagraha as political tools in a world where the democratic forces and practices are practiced today. Yet Gandhi’s life and activities would remain eternal sources of inspiration for generations to come.