Gandhi’s role in India’s Partition

There are about 400 and odd books on Mahatma Gandhi alone. This vast output is besides Gandhi’s own writings and letters that are collected into some one hundred volumes by the Indian government. Every country that had leaders of great national importance, from dictators to democrats, from Lenin, Stalin to Mao and the American and the British leaders has such authorised multi-volume publications.

These authorised, official versions and publications after sometime go out of use and completely junk!

Even Pandit Nehru’s “works” now already in multi-volumes, are falling behind times and it is said by the time the full volumes come out, most  of the contemporaries might have all been dead and forgotten! Along with them the Nehru era romance might also fade.
What would be the fate of the Mahatma?

Why so many books, continue to be written about him? Is he a man or a god, a mahatma or a soul force and what else we can make of this complex personality?

Gandhi stirs our emotions, mostly beneficial, for the obvious reason he is seen as a moral person and he talked often as a spiritual person. One more attraction for Gandhi is his long association with so many Christians and Jews and his claims in his autobiography how he was influenced by his coming into contact with these religious teachings.

But then he always claimed himself to be a religious person and that too as a Hindu. And to complicate matters, he had to work for Indian freedom and that brought him into direct conflict with the Indian Muslims and ultimately India was partitioned and also he died at the hands of a Hindu fanatic.

So, the story makes for an unending charm and complexity and throws in Gandhi’s other many idiosyncracies, eccentricities and a resort to fasting and direct action! All this he did in the name of freedom and also as a disciple of Gokhale, a great believer in constitutional means of agitation and persuasion! So, a series of contradictory acts and beliefs make for Gandhi, the man and his complex character. There are other ingredients as well like sex and sex experiments and the last but not the least the long-suppressed relationship with a high born Bengali lady of the Tagore aristocracy and the long-suppressed letter of Rajaji to Gandhi dissuading him to cut of his further relationship. So, you can have your own take, you are a secularist or a religious person or whatever you are and your inclination. The fascination for Gandhi never seems to die!

There have been several new books on Mahatama Gandhi. Two by his own grandsons, Rajmohan Gandhi (Mohandas: The True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire, pages738) and Gopalkrishna Gandhi (Gandhi in his own words, OUP), who is now West Bengal Governor. I had had a glimpse into these two new books. Both are written with much affection and also much detachment. That is an admirable quality one can surely expect from these two highly gifted grandsons of such a great man. There is also one by his great grand son, Tushar Gandhi whose book is sensationally titled as “Let’s kill Gandhi”!

There are other recent books by others, outsiders who are more critical of Gandhi.
One is Patrick French (India’s Journey to Independence and Division, 467 pages).This is in fact a reprint and I have read the first print. It is critical but not negative. It brings out the real, unnoticed facts about Gandhi and his background. For instance the author makes the telling point that Gandhi-Jinnah rivalry springs from the fact that they both come from the same narrow geography, in fact something like some 30 km distance separates their birth places, both were Gujaratis, both spoke the Gujarati language and therefore it is only natural both started life at the same time and both started as disciples of G.K.Gokhale! And the one. Jinnah started as a Constitutional, moderate politician and left for himself without Gandhi taking the gigantic role and image for himself as the great mass leader with a mass weapon of direct action and non-co-operation and civil disobedience movement, who knows Jinnah might not have learnt to resort to extremist communal position.
The books don’t seem to say so openly but the book provoked me to ask myself.

Has Gandhi’s over-emphasis on religion, his claims to be a Hindu enthusiast, if not a full-fledged Hindu might have contributed to Jinnah resorting to Muslim league politics in the way he did. Jinnah, we ,Indians of all hues, must be honest enough to realise that Jinnah was never at any point in his early career was a religious man, in fact, he was an Englishman among his nationalist followers, both Hindus and the Muslims. Can’t we now look at Jinnah’s later-day fanatical advocacy of the Muslims cause a direct consequence of Gandhi projecting himself as an ardent Hindu?
Such a question may be difficult for us to ask but I feel we have to ask to know how the mind of such a cosmopolitan Jinnah was led to be “contaminated” by communal politics.

Also, there were other Indian leaders (like for instance Lala Lajpat Rai, the lion of Punjab) who warned of Gandhi’s obsession with Hinduism and what all that meant in that historical context.
The other book, the very latest is one by V.S.Naipaul that is now in the book stores. Naipaul, as usual writes in the most elegant English of which he seems to be a master. But Naipaul is all about negativism and all to run down Gandhi’s many achievements. Of course Naipaul writers as a writer along with other write in his pantheon. But Naipaul is no expert on Gandhi or on India, I would dare say.

He is writing about India for a Western audience, an audience who like to know what is wrong with India. Naipaul doesn’t advocate for outsiders to admire India. He could as well have written a novel about India and its many shortcomings. To take up such themes like understanding Gandhi without adequate space to assess his many-sided contributions to get rid of the British colonial masters, given their trickery at every stage and that too with very little material power is a great triumph. That was traced by many as to Gandhi’s spiritual triumph.

One can attribute several interpretations or misinterpretations as one thinks fit but the fact remains Gandhi helped to get rid of the British finally.

But there would be many who out of respect for Gandhi or out of fear of for facing criticism might not trace Gandhi’s role or his responsibility for the Partition of India. The best we can give by way of the benefit of doubt to Gandhi was that he was finally caught off hand when the great realities hit the Indians, both the Hindus and the Muslims, divided as they were and irresponsible and even hostile as the British were, more so those forces and opinion led by Winston Churchill. He might have really felt happy that Indians didn’t succeed in getting their country free united. But then such is the fate of those people who grow up or fed by religious fervour or religious fanaticism.
The Indians, more so the Hindu enthusiasts must rue all the rest of their history for what their religion did for the secular issues of state and political power.

I also read the one more rather unusual book: “Women in the life of Gandhi” by Girija Kumar who was for long time the librarian of the old time, Indian Council for World Affairs. I knew this gentleman long time ago. That was one reason I bought the book. This book triggered a jolt within me. This is the book that first brought out the fact that a letter written long ago by Rajaji to Gandhi when the Mahatma was  moving, rather dangerously close to a cousin of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarala Devi Tagore.

That was a revelation and that led to a public uproar. Anyway, that was a part explanation for the new interest in reading Gandhi and knowing his mind. Gandhi was so close to Tagore from the early years of the last century and yet, as pointed by two biographers of Tagore, that Gandhi didn’t make even a mention of his association with Tagore in his famous autobiography. This was also a revelation, though as a Santiniketan man and also as a reader of Tagore I didn’t notice but for the new biographers.

There were also other reasons why this new interest in Gandhi. Readers might be interested to know that Gandhi did create a minor controversy as early as the beginning of the last century by using a not so insightful word to describe Raja Rammohan Roy’s contribution to the rise of modern India. That led to a furor and Tagore had to resort to defend Roy in so many words. Though later Gandhi withdrew his remarks.

Also, another new book, “Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life” by Kathryn Tidrick, 400 pages, 2007 also disturbed me a lot. Of course the author goes into some depth and traces Gandhi’s religious beliefs to what she calls “esoteric Christianity” to “Theosophy” and Madam Blavatsky’s “occult knowledge from Himalayan Masters,” radiant figures” or “mahatmas” etc. Gandhi arrived in London in 188 and he had no formal knowledge of Hinduism and he not only stuck with the Theosophists and other Christians. Also, in South Africa he moved closely with the various Christian friends and Gandhi’s views on religions and ethics were very catholic, to say it more broadly and his ideas on Hinduism also evolved gradually.

The point however is that Gandhi’s name is not associated with the concept of secularism. There are still critics who would argue as to Gandhi’s role in the political evolution that led to India’s Partition.
Now let us leave the matter at this point.

The view that Gandhi is a god-like man is well-entrenched in the minds of Indians. This might fade as the new generation comes to look at Gandhi for what he did and how he did it. The current trends and tensions, globalisation, the rise of religious terror, violence and the deterioration in environment and the rising confusion to solve world’s problems would bring in Gandhi and his relevance or otherwise. It is the current concerns and preoccupations that might give a new and a more objective and historically valid assessment of the man and his mission.

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