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01 September 2008

Two Great Indian Humbugs: Secularism & Gandhi

Revision of contemporary history for school kids
[The link to a debate in an orkut forum on this article appears at the end of this article]
Surajit Dasgupta

This article has been necessitated by a debate that followed the last blog-post, "Can't Let Go," which went in for a major digression on to a debate on secularism at the insistence of a person opposed to the tenor of the article. This post, hence, seeks to achieve three objectives: first, telling those who have been out of touch of history, civics and politics — ever since they left these subjects at the secondary school level — not to trust entirely what they were taught by their textbooks; second, telling Muslims to be wary of bleeding-heart secularists and, third, putting the record of MK Gandhi straight.

I begin by addressing blog member Sandeep Nadar's last comment (edited): "For a solution to the communal situation, the first option is 'one religion'. The second is 'no religion'. The third is 'have your religions but don't object to those of others even if they do' (this is what Gandhi died for). Which one would you pick?"

The third one, of course. I would, however, propose a better (fourth) solution: "Let the people have religions if they wish to; nevertheless, the government must conduct itself in a manner as if it does not know such a thing as religion exists." All amateur political observers must know that no Indian political party or individual, not even Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, followed this path. Three comments on Gandhi by my opponent make for what children learn about the personality at school; rather what the government [50-year-old Congress governments — 1947-77, 1980-89, 1991-96, 2004-09 (expectedly) — to be precise] forces down their throat in the name of education.

Real secularism, the one India tried to inherit from Europe, meant "the separation of the state from the Church" (in India's case, "from all religions"). That never happened. The two Hindi/Sanskrit/Indian translations for the term — सर्वधर्म समभाव/sarwadharma samabhAwa and धर्मनिरपेक्षता/dharmanirapekshatA — are both mischievous. The term has been deliberately interpreted in a manner so as to leave enough room for the politicians to constantly poke their noses in affairs of religion.

sarwadharma samabhAwa means “same feeling for all religions”, literally. That’s totally unwarranted. What the Indian state should have is “no feeling for any religion”. For, it is next to impossible for a religionist, least a politician, to divide his/her feelings into equal parts!

dharmanirapekshatA means “not in favour of any religion”. This is slightly better than the other Indian translation. Yet, it’s off-track. Being in favour or not being in favour of any religion both allude to dealing with religions. Why should the government have anything to do with religions? The exact translation of “secularism” is “धर्मोपेक्षा/dharmOpekshA (धर्म/dharma + उपेक्षा/upekshA), i.e., “indifference towards religion”. Only when religion does not concern you can you be just towards the followers of all religions. Well, so far this was my take on the linguistic interpretation of the term “secularism”. Indian politicians claim that the translation shows their sensitivity and that they prefer the first rather than the second as the latter sounds atheistic. That's a red herring. I’ll explain why it wasn’t just a linguistic deliberation but a well-intended scheme to be practised day in and day out to meet political ends.

Right from my childhood I have been amused by the itineraries of prime ministers, chief ministers and other political leaders of India. In the days of Doordarshan, I would watch an Indira Gandhi and then a Rajiv Gandhi bow before some temple’s deity and make it a point to pay obeisance before a درگه/dargah too. I found VP Singh and Narasimha Rao continue with the same funny practice. In no other secular country does one come across this burlesque show of ‘equality’. Whom were they trying to fool?

First, it’s impossible for a spiritual person to enter a communion with God following (two or more) different methods.

Second, visiting the sites of two/three different religions on the same day — and doing so every time — clearly showed it was a vacuous gesture aimed at titillating the sentiments of all religious communities in the constituency and had nothing to do with the leader’s faith.

That the motive was mischievous became clearer by the brand of confused secularism that Rajiv Gandhi followed, wherein he was not sure which section of the population he should appease and to what degree. He overturned the Supreme Court’s decision on the Shah Bano alimony case to appease orthodox Muslim patriarchs. Then he tickled Hindu fanatics by throwing open the gate of the disputed structure in Ayodhya for a शिलान्यास/shilAnyAs (laying the foundation of a temple, following Hindu rituals). It was unfortunate for Narasimha Rao that Babri Masjid got demolished during his tenure as the prime minister. The way the Nehru-Gandhi family’s scion was going about handling the affair, the same eventuality would have unfolded under his regime and he, rather than Rao, would be accused of complicity with the likes of the Bajrang Dal, had he not been assassinated a year prior to the incident.
Interview With Koenraad Elst by Ramesh N Rao, August 2002. Excerpts: “As a political framework, secularism requires that all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their religious affiliation. That is a definitional minimum. An Indian secularist would therefore first of all be found on the barricades in the struggle for a common civil code, against the existing legal apartheid between Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. But the only major party to demand the enactment of a common civil code, as mandated by the Constitution, happens to be the BJP. On election eve, the others run to the Shahi Imam to pledge their firm commitment to the preservation of the Shari'ah for Muslims. In the West and in the Muslim world, the upholding of religion-based communal legislation is rightly called anti-secularist.

I have often discussed this point with Indian secularists. Their usual argument is that, you see, India is a peculiar case, the uniform civil code issue has been ‘hijacked’ by the Hindus, and for now the country needs these separate civil codes. I am not convinced, but even if we concede that India is better off with the present system, that still doesn't make it secular. The opponents of the common civil code, the upholders of discrimination against the Hindus in education and temple management, the defenders of a special status for states with non-Hindu majorities -- they should have the courage of their conviction and call themselves ‘anti-secular’.”

Let me now open the eyes of ‘NCERT’s progenies’ to show them how secular India’s ‘secular’ parties are. This article will not raise the issue of 'pseudo-secularism' or 'Muslim-appeasement' that is blurted out ad nauseam by the Sangh Parivar. Rather, it will expose that the Congress's and the Left's concern for Muslims is as fake as the BJP's concern for Hindus. In fact, it's worse. If the BJP is only anti-Muslim, the Congress and the communists are not only anti-Hindu but also anti-Muslim. Should the second group's posturing alone make India's Muslims feel protected under leftist or left-of-centre regimes?

If you go through the official records of Muslims killed since 1947 — in riots or otherwise — you will see that hundreds of Indian Muslims have been eliminated from the national scene in a cold-blooded manner every year during the first 30 of the 50 years that the country has been ruled by the Congress. Any member of the Congress party (my late father was one of them) aged over 40 has heard in the party offices how those killings were planned, how they were made to look like ‘collateral damage’ or ‘police encounters with criminals’, if not ordinary accidents. A riot merely helped various Congress governments camouflage their intentions better and achieve bigger ‘targets’ in smaller time spans.
"... what will you say about the secular Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi when she goes to Gujarat and then under the advice of her colleagues refuses to visit the house of Ehsan Jafri (the former Congress MP who was killed by rioters) to offer condolences to the victim's family? I am not making the charge that the Congress president became communal. But she certainly succumbed to societal pressure.
— Arif Mohammed Khan, formerly member of the Congress, then the BSP; currently member of the BJP

Next to be dealt with are the left parties, by far the closest to the concept of secularism, more so for their atheistic rationalism (not rationality).

It was the morning of 7 December 1992 in Park Circus, Kolkata. The previous night, some of our Muslim friends — this coinage is just for the convenience of nomenclature; there’s nothing communal about it — from college, living in the area, had got the news of Babri Masjid’s demolition and had feared a communal flare up. Scared for their lives, they sought our help. About 15 of us, college friends (all Hindus), went over their place to provide a human shield. Early morning as we were having tea at their balcony, a mob emerged from one of the lanes with sticks, swords and ‘petrol bombs’ (bottles half-filled with petrol, with a burning wick attached to the caps). Contrary to what we had feared — that a Hindu mob could encircle the Muslim locality and wreak havoc — it was a Muslim mob, hunting for Hindus in that Muslim-dominated pocket. They were locals; they could make out we did not belong to that neighbourhood. In a strange turn of event, we, the ‘protectors’, had to become the protected. Our Muslim friends managed to save us by telling them we were Muslims. That couldn’t, however, save some Hindu households in the vicinity.

About half-an-hour after the incident, a procession wielding red flags emerged to assure us of ‘normalcy’ and ‘safety’. We went down the stairs and approached a crowd gathered around a house that had lost its two male earning members (they were hacked to death). As we recounted the violent incident, some Hindu communists spewed frustration: “You Hindus are worms, you deserve to die.” A DYFI [Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the CPI(M)] activist turned to us, boys, and uttered in disgust, “jakhon musolmanra apnader akromon korechhilo, apnara ki secularism cho**chchhilen? (When the Muslims attacked you, were you fornicating with secularism?)” Then they turned to the just-widowed, wailing Hindu women, left a little boy with a country-made pistol for his family’s ‘protection’, theatrically thundered, “लाल सलाम/LAl salAm!” and left the scene to shower ‘sympathy’ on other victims of the mini-riot.

That was more or less a repeat of the scene on 2 November 1984 that I had witnessed in Bokaro Steel City, the city that had lost 42 Sikhs (official figure) — toll next only to the country's capital — to the pogrom allegedly engineered by RK Dhawan-Jagdish Tytler-HKL Bhagat-Sajjan Kumar’s Delhi-centric Congress, post-Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The only difference there was that the ‘sympathising’ Youth Congress leaders had spoken in Hindi with a Magahi accent. And instead of a “lAl salAm”, they shouted, “Indira Gandhi अमर रहे / amar rahe (Long live Indira Gandhi)!”

Secularism, Congress style! "When a tree falls, the earth shakes," then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had said in response to the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The earth is still shaking

Closer in history, The Pioneer’s Kolkata-based correspondent Saugar Sengupta was relating an incident that followed the hooliganism perpetrated by Idris Ali in Kolkata to demand the ouster of Taslima Nasreen in November 2007 (it was a ploy to divert people’s attention from the CPI(M)’s atrocities in Nandigram; but let’s not digress). The journalist was accompanying the current Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, on a trip to the affected areas after tempers had cooled down. While the two were inside the car, Dasmunshi pointed towards the Muslim dwellings and said, “ei puro elakata talibani; eder ekta uchit shikkha dewa dorkar (This area is infested with Taliban-like elements. They must be taught a lesson).”

A few minutes later, the car reached the village centre. Dasmunshi and Sengupta disembarked; a few party workers rushed some villagers to the spot, and the politician stood on a wooden stool to address them in 'Bangdi' (Bangla influenced Hindi). The crux of the speech roughly translated to: “We, the Congress, are the only party that understands and appreciates your religious sentiments. I assure you on behalf of my government that immediate action will be taken (in the matter of Taslima Nasreen)!”

I told Saugar it was a scoop; why did he not expose Dasmunshi’s double-face in his report? He said that would have amounted to a “breach of privilege” and that every politician thereafter would be wary of interacting with such a journalist.

That shouldn’t surprise other scribes. They are used to hearing so many similar, off-the-record statements from communist politicians as well. They all agree unofficially that there is merit in the politics of the BJP, but it would be politically suicidal for them to toe the rightist line. Even officially, from RSP leader Abani Ray to CPI leader AB Bardhan, most leftists admit that the original ASI affidavit that disputed the existence of the Ramayana’s Rama and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's act of cocking a snook at the Hindu deity were insensitive and unwarranted acts, even if the right to practise atheism should be granted. One may recall that in 2002, after the attack on the American Centre, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had accused the مدرسة/madrassahs in his state of harbouring terrorists. The state's Muslim community leaders then launched a statewide agitation with over a hundred thousand students of madrassahs taking to the streets. If that was Bhattacharjee’s emotional outburst, remember, in a huff one always forgets political correctness and speaks his mind.

To show how vacuous the secularism practised by India's 'secular' parties is, furnishing some facts that cannot be called this writer's subjective observation at all is imperative. You think the communists must be atheists, or at least agnostics if not irreligious? If yes, how come in Kerala, where there is a cult surrounding Ayyappa, the LDF governments — as much as their UDF counterparts — on the last day of the visit in January, officially involves the state's electricity department, forest department and temple administration in the function? On the other hill near Sabarimala, the Marxist government arranges for the illumination of camphor to cater to the devotees' faith surrounding a divine light?

This is not to force a case of the state's disregard for any religion. The question is: Why government? Let any private trust take up the job.

As for West Bengal, every Bengali in his lifetime in West Bengal or during an autumnal visit there has encountered hoodlums of the CPM fold extorting from the people chanda (donation) for Durga Puja. How much of the collected amount goes into the coffers of the neighbourhood puja committee is anybody's guess. Even if it is handed over honestly to the organisers of the festival, it is actually an ugly contest — which local honcho's arena looks more flamboyant than his peers’. That, in turn, reflects who wields how much clout in the locality.

Inverse proportionality! Muslims make the most deprived section of the local population in states that boast the most of secular governments — Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee report

That is, my children, the real face of secularism practised by the Congress and Indian communists. My advice to Indian Muslims: Assume Hindu names and seek the membership of any party you consider secular (according to your own distorted version of the term). You will know what the secularists speak of you when they think no Muslim is overhearing them. It would, of course, call for a different article to analyse why the Congress and the communists do not have similar surreptitious and evil designs for other religious minorities.

This is not to suggest that the BJP, of all parties, is secular. Rather, the difference is that the party is unabashedly reactionary. Recall Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1988 interview on Doordarshan: “मन्दिर को लेकर राजनीति हो रही है क्योंकि मस्जिद को लेकर राजनीति हो रही है/mandir ko lekar rAjnIti hO rahI hai kyon’ki masjid ko lekar rAjnIti hO rahI hai”, implying, in active voice, “We have politicised the temple issue because you have all along been politicising the mosque issue.” It is this political naïveté of the BJP for which it takes all the blame for ‘communalism’. But when you are dealing with it, you are at least not dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Before this section ends, we must of course ascertain whether there is any point in the song and dance about secularism. Here are some well-known religious irritants Indians come across in their day-to-day lives. Some snapshots from the capital of the country would represent what one runs into in every city and town of the country. Right in the beginning of Vikas Marg after the ITO river-bridge, a temple, and right in the middle of Janpath, a mosque, create terrible bottlenecks in peak-hour traffic. No state government has so far been able to demolish either. This is not to advise a repeat of the folly in May 2006, when the nation saw and heard the furore created in the aftermath of the razing of a dargah in Vadodara, Gujarat. Since the structure was 300-year-old or older, if it was obstructing traffic, the fault lay with the civic planners, especially cartographic analysts who designed the road in a manner that the shrine came in its way. But neither of the Delhi structures are that old. In fact, they were built after the construction of the respective roads and the concrete platform surrounding them gradually encroached upon the roadway. Such deliberate encroachments to grab public property by vested interests are a common site everywhere in the country.

Also common is the fact that most cities are urbanised villages, instead of new areas that came up on empty stretches of land. Delhi, a city of this kind, thus is a place whose majority lives in lower middle-class areas. There, any fine morning you could see your passage to the main road blocked, thanks to your insensitive neighbour whose whim dictated him to conduct a जागरण/jAgaraN in the narrow lane that he shares with you and other inhabitants of the area.

That reminds me, many years ago when I lived in such a locality, we would be disturbed almost everyday by some unemployed youth of the area pressing the doorbell frantically for donations to “माता का जागरण /mAtA kA jAgaraN”. One day, my mother, not well versed with this Punjabi version of Hinduism, had asked one such boy, “Why does the holy mother fall asleep so often? Just the other day, we paid Rs 100 to wake her up!”

If not jAgaraN, it could well be a notoriously noisy Punjabi wedding with a sickening display of ill-gotten wealth blown off in a night. Worse, components of the illegal dowry being paid by the bride’s family to the groom’s would be splashed all over the place.

Not my money! So I shouldn’t bother. But my objection is: Why should I be obstructed on the way to my office in the morning and why can’t I have sound sleep in a noiseless night? Off and on, government musters some courage to regulate wedding extravaganzas. But no secular authority has the guts to protest the Bollywood-music inspired awakening of the divine mother. And the biggest farce of secularism is to see a certain Subhash Chopra of the Congress proudly put up signs in every nook and corner of southern Delhi, declaring how benevolent he has been to all religious bodies (as much as to sundry residents’ welfare associations). As if that were not enough, he would physically come over, onto the makeshift stages, to join the cacophonous chorus.

Nationally, the government officially declares holidays on all religious festivals. Temples, mosques and churches are allowed to be erected inside the premises of government’s and political party’s offices and government lands are allotted for religious purposes. Prayers are allowed during office hours. Government officially patronages pilgrimages, and provides all facilities and extends financial concessions to them. The Haj subsidy — and the recent subsidy announced by the Government of Andhra Pradesh for trips to Bethlehem and Jerusalem — are cases in point. These are instances where government appears more zealous than the devotees themselves; as the Haj subsidy is irreligious since the pilgrimage must be undertaken by the believer’s hard-earned money according to Islam, and a pilgrimage to Jesus’s birthplace is not even mandated in Christianity.

The phenomenon of marriage of politics and religion cuts both ways. Not only have politicians exploited people’s religious sentiments but hundreds of religious bodies too have extracted their pound of flesh from the powers that be. From a wakf board to a Hindu shrine board, the accounts of no religious body are audited and they are all entitled to full tax exemptions. And then there is the guilt conscious of the unethical businessman who donates a chunk of his illegal money to these outfits in the name of charity in a hope to ‘wash away’ his sins.

A certain Dhirendra Brahmachari and another Chandraswami had become influential power brokers during Indira Gandhi’s and Narasimha Rao’s tenures as prime minister respectively. The sight of our rulers’ subservience to cult babas is splashed in mainstream newspapers quite often, where one sees a certain unkempt ‘saint’ placing his feet suspended from a machAn (bamboo platform) on a prime minister’s head. We have also seen several presidents of India prostrate before certain ‘holy’ personalities.

The point is not against the personal beliefs of our political masters. But somebody/anybody touching the prime minister’s head with his feet is an affront to the nation. A minister may stand upside down on his head in front of a godman if that is what his faith demands of him. But why should he do so in the capacity of a constitutional office bearer? And if there is no politics involved in his faith, why is he accompanied by camera crews of the press?

Simply, secularism is impossible in India, a country whose people are not satisfied merely by bowing before the Almighty; they want to be noticed publicly doing so! To hell with spirituality; roadside spectators are more important than God. The Goebbels of the country have hoodwinked people into believing that “secularism” is the antonym of “communalism”. And the educated buffoons, including television’s darlings from communist universities, are happily marketing this falsehood.

The movements known as “secularism” and “pseudo-secularism” in India are nothing but two major rackets. The two poles of Indian politics are living off brouhaha. They want to treat all religions — “equally” in words or unequally in practice, but treat they must. A couple of months ago, I asked an RSS ideologue, “What if the Congress and the communists stop minority appeasement? You came into existence opposing this idea? What if the idea itself vanishes? Won’t your organisation cease to be in the absence of your prime motivation — which is an angry reaction to pseudo-secularism?” The response was several seconds of silence, with his gaze sweeping the floor, followed by a muted, admissive “yes”. I rest my case.
[Click on the headline of the article to view a chronology of communal riots that took place in India and a brief description of each in the period 1947-2003. Courtesy: B Rajeshwari, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies]

Formative years of the 'Mahatma'

Let’s address the second subject of the article now — ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi. Today if many criticise Gandhi, the demonising is a counter-reaction to his deification. Had you not given him an unquestionable status, people would have questioned him less today. After all, it itches to bust a myth. Anyway, the assessment in this article is not an exercise similar to bringing down the statue of Lenin in the Lithuania of 1991. It is to give Gandhi a Trishanku-like status.

Gandhi's political beliefs and actions, as readers will find in the following passages, constituted a series of capricious flip-flops. Now, he is loyal to the Brits. Now, he is fighting them! Now, he supports imperialist violence. Now, he exhorts Indian freedom fighters to be non-violent! Now, he goes on a hunger strike to have his way in a people's movement. Now, he does nothing to dissuade separatists! Now, his sartorial sense tries to identify with the teeming millions of poor in the country. Now, he maintains a diet that only a fitness freak daughter of a filthy rich businessman can afford! In his final years, Gandhi even lost his faith in non-violence!

Gandhi was, to begin with, an ordinary man. His ordinariness — as much as his humility — was self-confessed. He said in a speech in 1925: "I never had a brilliant career. I was all my life a plodder. When I went to England... I couldn't put together two sentences correctly. On the steamer, I was a drone... I finished my three years in England as a drone." Twelve years later in another speech he said, "At school the teachers did not consider me a very bright boy. They knew that I was a good boy, but not a bright boy. I never knew first class and second class. I barely passed. I was a dull boy. I could not even speak properly. Even when I went to South Africa I went only as a clerk." Here, of course, it must be added that as a social animal, those found mediocre in academics excel more than the bookworms, as the latter generally are a selfish, self-centred lot.

To see Gandhi’s ordinariness, hence, we must look into his performance as a lawyer. As a student in London, he was acutely worried about making the ends meet. He failed as a barrister and could only earn some Rs 300 a month in Gujarat as a writer of petitions and memorials (this experience, however, came in handy as a politician later). He fell foul of Edward Charles Ollivant, the British political agent in Rajkot, in whose court he had to do most of his work. Frustrated, he accepted a job from a friend (Dada Abdullah, an Indian merchant) of his brother in Natal. He was to get the first class fare, but only £ 105 and local expenses for the year. He was put up as a boarder in Pretoria. He showed little interest in politics and had no experience of being in — or running — an organisation except for his work with the Vegetarian Society in London.

In South Africa, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899, Gandhi had formed an ambulance unit to support the British forces. He led his men on to the battlefield and received a War Medal for his 'chivalry' and loyalty to the Queen of England. That was a time when Gandhi had not realised himself. He was a rank average person drifting along the tide of time.

The media of Gandhi's era was not as hyperactive as it is today. Or else, he would have measured his words more before uttering them. Sample this: In a public meeting in Bombay on 26 September 1896, Gandhi spoke thus about the Indian struggle in South Africa: "Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness." For the information of Indians, the insinuation "whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with" referred to the lives of the local Black population.

Gandhi with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War, South-Africa, 1899-1900.
Standing: H Kitchen, L Panday, R Panday, J Royeppen, RK Khan, L Gabriel, MK Kotharee, E Peters, D Vinden, V Madanjit. Middle Row: W Jonathan, V Lawrence, MH Nazar, Dr LP Booth, MK Gandhi, PK Naidoo, M Royeppen. Front Row: S Shadrach, 'Professor' Dhundee, SD Moddley, A David, AA Gandhi

Back to India after his formative years as a politician in South Africa and England, Gandhi was not a freedom fighter driven by conviction. His following statement at that time is proof enough: “Though empires have gone and fallen, this empire may perhaps be an exception... it is an empire not founded on material but on spiritual foundations... the British constitution. Tear away those ideals and you tear away my loyalty to the British constitution; keep those ideals and I am ever a bondsman” (Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary, Martin Green, p 208). As for Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, did he apply it on himself? Green wrote in the same book: “Gandhi himself had twice volunteered for service in this (British Imperial) war, in France and in Mesopotamia, because he had convinced himself that he owed the empire that sacrifice in return for its military protection.” (p 267)
We are... presented with the seeming anomaly of a Gandhi who, in Britain when war broke out in August 1914, instantly contacted the War Office, swore that he would stand by England in its hour of need, and created the Indian Volunteer Corps, which he might have commanded if he hadn’t fallen ill with pleurisy. In 1915, back in India, he made a memorable speech in Madras in which he proclaimed, “I discovered that the British Empire had certain ideals with which I have fallen in love...” In early 1918, as the war in Europe entered its final crisis, he wrote to the Viceroy of India, “I have an idea that if I become your recruiting agent-in-chief, I might rain men upon you,” and he proclaimed in a speech in Kheda that the British “love justice; they have shielded men against oppression.” Again, he wrote to the Viceroy, “I would make India offer all her able-bodied sons as sacrifice to the empire at this critical moment...” To some of his pacifist friends, who were horrified, Gandhi replied by appealing to the Bhagavad-Gita Gita and to the endless wars recounted in the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, adding further to the pacifists’ horror by declaring that Indians “have always been warlike, and the finest hymn composed by Tulsidas in praise of Rama gives the first place to his ability to strike down the enemy.”

This was in contradiction to the interpretation of sacred Hindu scriptures Gandhi had offered on earlier occasions (and would offer later), which was that they did not recount military struggles but spiritual struggles; but, unusual for him, he strove to find some kind of synthesis. “I do not say, ‘Let us go and kill the Germans,’ ” Gandhi explained. “I say, ‘Let us go and die for the sake of India and the empire.’ ” And yet within two years, the time having come for Swaraj (home rule), Gandhi’s inner voice spoke again, and, the leader having found his cause, Gandhi proclaimed resoundingly: “The British empire today represents Satanism, and they who love God can afford to have no love for Satan.”
The Gandhi Nobody Knows by Richard Grenier

The NCERT history textbook I read in school said that Gandhi's appeal to Indians to join the British Army and help it in the First World War was against the promise by the British authority to grant India independence in case Britain won the war. Years later, I found no official document of the Raj era talk of any such promise. If the word was verbal, it must have been similar to the one given by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Indira Gandhi of settling the Kashmir issue if he were offered a face-saver in the form of the Simla Agreement, which the former would tout as an honourable truce in front of his domestic constituency.
Gandhi showers encomia on the Emperor
from website gandhiserve, p 3, VOL 5 : 6 NOVEMBER, 1905 - 3 NOVEMBER, 1906:
He (King Edward) has endeared himself to his subjects the world over because, being lord of all, he has made himself the servant of all. In the whole history of the world, no throne has been so firmly established in the hearts of the people as that of the King-Emperor today. That he may live long to add lustre to that throne is the earnest prayer of British Indians, the humblest of his subjects but not the least in loyalty and devotion.
Indian Opinion, 11-11-1905

Gandhi's April 1918 letter to John Maffey:
I would like you please to read the letter to the Viceroy and wire to me at Nadiad whether His Excellency has any reason why it may not be published. It is intended to counteract forces of darkness. I am simply besieged with inquiries as to my position. The people are befogged. Dame Rumour is doing all the mischief she can. I want to overtake her. You will forgive me for my apparent impatience.
The other enclosure contains my offer. You will do with it what you like. I would love to do something which Lord Chelmsford would consider to be real war-work. I have an idea that, if I became your Recruiting Agent-in-Chief, I might rain men on you. Pardon me for the impertinence.
The Viceroy looked pale yesterday. My whole heart went out to him, as I watched him listening to the speeches. May God watch over and protect him and you, his faithful and devoted Secretary. I feel you are more than Secretary to him".

1. As late as 1928, Gandhi resisted Nehru and Bose, and campaigned for the rejection of a resolution calling for complete independence at the session of the Indian National Congress. And unlike other leaders in the freedom struggle, Gandhi often entertained false hopes about the British. In a 1930 letter, Motilal Nehru chided Gandhi for resting his hopes on the Labour Government and the sincerity of the Viceroy.
— from an article in a Ghadar Party mouthpiece

2. Gandhi’s take on Bhagat Singh’s execution: “The government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who possess them only if they are enjoyed in name only."
Collected Works (translated from Gujarati), vol 45, p 359-61
There are also several pieces of evidence to suggest that the British Empire did play a role in the making of the ‘Mahatma’. Was his personality an imposition by the imperialists on a rebellious nation, which would ensure that the freedom movement would never go out of control of the administration? Well, it was intended to be so by the British. But it did not quite work out that way. Neither the Congress nor Gandhi remained what the imperial rulers wanted them to be: English-bred Indian aristocrats who would mewl — but never bark, let alone bite — in protest of imperialism. Using an analogy from the past that is more recent, Gandhi was to Indian politics what Mohammed Azharuddin was to Indian cricket — a person chosen by the authority for his docility, but who found his spine once he was a few years old as the team’s captain.

A mysterious omission bugs the reader when he follows the chronology of events in Gandhi's life. Everything is detailed since his birth in October 1869 to the Indian Relief Act signed in South Africa in June 1914. Then, on 18 July, it says Gandhi left for India via England. On 19 December 1914, Gandhi sailed for India and reached home on 9 January 1915. None of the biographies by Gandhians reveal much about the events that occurred in the period between 4 August (when Gandhi had reached London) and 19 December 1914 except the raising of the Indian Volunteer Corps and सत्याग्रह/satyAgraha over administrative interference in the corps.

Other biographies, however, leave quite some room for suspicion. Gandhi had received the news of World War I breaking out while he was crossing the English Channel before he reached London. On 8 August, he was given a reception at Hotel Cecil, London, by his English and Indians friends; Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sarojini Naidu were among those present. On 13 August, a circular was signed by Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and Sarojini Naidu affirming resolve to tender unconditional service to the Empire; it was issued for signature by supporters. The next day, Gandhi offered to raise the Indian Volunteer Corps for ambulance work. So far, one can appreciate Gandhi's compassion for wounded soldiers, irrespective of their nationality. What disturbs Indians is the signed document declaring his submission to the Empire on India's behalf.

On 18 September, Gandhi met Gopal Krishna Gokhale in London for the first time before the latter left for Vichy to recuperate in a different weather. On 6 October, Gokhale returned to London and then arrived in Bombay on 13 November. On 26 November, Gandhi took ill in England for the third time. The same day, he wrote to Gokhale "I do not want to live on any terms…" On 18 December, he was given a farewell party at Westminster Palace Hotel on the eve of his departure for India. All other recorded events during the period relate to the IVC.

How can this person suddenly turn a revolutionary, leading India’s struggle for independence from the British rule?

Idealists are not born; a few men cultivate idealism and then become too hot to handle by anyone. An ordinary Gandhi undertook regular exercises of introspection and in the course felt quite guilty about what he thought were the ‘sins’ he had committed in the past and worked towards overcoming them. One may refer to the day when an average person's self-realisation is complete as his rebirthday, per se. That rebirth took time to materialise. The making of the 'Mahatma' was not an overnight phenomenon. It must have taken almost the whole of the first two decades of the 20th century. That was the time span during which, despite the negative publicity — which is the better form of advertising — by virtue of a ban by the British government on the compendium of his ethics, Hind Swaraj, it drew negligible response from Indian intellectuals of the era. Which means that Gandhi’s thoughts might not have been stimulating enough for the brain. But who cares? Rabindranath Tagore’s songs did not turn six generations of Bengalis into crazy fans due to Lord Byron-style aristocracy or PB Shelley-style rationality or John Keats-style pictorial effects. To turn a loitering crowd into a motivated procession, you need an idea that is more than the average but less than the extreme. Striking that balance was Gandhi’s USP.

Of all the movements conceived or initiated by Gandhi, the one which was undisputedly a stupendous success was the Dandi March. It was a masterstroke of political genius. Gandhi complied with the law that makes it mandatory to let the authority know of planned political demonstrations. He informed the then Viceroy Lord Irwin that he was about to flout the prohibition on the production and sale of salt by Indians. The Viceroy's men could not fathom what that could imply and laughed it off as another of Gandhi's quixotic steps. But then, the NCERT books are right in appreciating, Gandhi did not break the law straightaway. Instead, he took a 388-km-long procession from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, arousing people's nationalist, anti-British sentiments all along the tortuous route, raising the political din decibel by decibel, yet keeping the British administration guessing as to what ground could be cited to halt the march. What can be done to thousands of unarmed people walking towards a beach where there is something to be made but nothing to be plundered or destroyed?

Lifting a fistful of salt from the Dandi beach was a mere planned culmination of the demonstration. What was more important was the mega-marathon march that spanned between 12 March and 6 April, 1930. It was given a grand coverage by The New York Times whose correspondent followed every stage of the march. After feeding an Associated Press reporter with heady sound-bytes when Gandhi declared with a lump of salty mud in his hand the next day that he was “shaking the foundations of the British Empire”, the stiffest of the British upper lips loosened in his awe.

Today’s young Indians fed round the clock a staple of frivolous news by moronic television news channels wouldn’t normally know what it was even till 20 years ago to be covered by the most reputed of American newspapers and news agencies. So, crowds of 10,000 to 30,000 greeting Gandhi at every stoppage on the way to Dandi, and a pinch of salt made by the leader selling at Rs 1,600 at an auction sound like make-believe. But these are facts as is the fact that Indians all over the country started flouting British laws openly thereafter.

A journey is more important than the destination, Gandhi knew. The main idea was to build up an atmosphere of defiance of the authority, bit by bit, mile by mile, so that when salt is finally made, the motivation to revolt would be a nationwide phenomenon. Attaining a philosophical goal by keeping in mind a physical symbol was a Hindu idea Gandhi translated into politics brilliantly. Hindu children may relate the event to Vaishno Devi. Since most Hindus are idolaters, when one treks the steep hills of the Trikuta Range to reach the Vaishno Devi shrine for the first time, he keeps wondering all along what a 'pinDi' — signs put up on the way talk of such a thing — might mean. Finally, when he reaches the spot, he is disappointed not to see any deity's idol there. Then, while returning to his lodge downhill, it slowly dawns upon him that it was the arduous journey that had the essence of the pilgrimage. For, nobody walks 12.5 km uphill just for the heck of testing one’s physical endurance; the mission is to make a gala event out of a necessity; the necessity is to realise that the unfair present cannot be changed from the comfortable confines of one’s home. The Dandi March was a political equivalent of a pilgrimage. Brilliant!

In comparison, be it the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Non-Cooperation Movement or the Quit India Movement, they were all damp squibs. And the fault was not the people's. Nor did the British have an effective counter-strategy to defeat the movements. They all failed for the sheer arbitrary behaviour of their mastermind, Gandhi.

He treated every pro-independence political movement during the Raj as his patented, intellectual property. He considered not only a movement that he conceived but also the components thereof to be his copyrighted material. The excuse of Chauri Chaura to call off the almost successful Non-Cooperation Movement was one such example. Subhas Chandra Bose wrote on the occasion: "To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma — Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai — who were all in prison, shared the popular resentment. I was with the Deshbandhu at the time, and I could see that he was beside himself with anger and sorrow” (The Indian Struggle, p.90). Gandhi’s decision to call off the Non-Cooperation Movement had come a mere three years after he went all over the country urging Indians to join the army and help the British in the First World War! The irony is: Since he was loyal to Britain, the British must have been his own people. Second, he believed in teaching his own people rather than preaching others. So, why did this messiah of non-violence not teach the British, his own people, the virtues of his patented philosophy? What kind of non-violence was the First World War?

A thing that cannot be missed in a revision of Gandhi is his “experiments with truth” in his personal life. Is it fair to feel guilty if somebody’s father dies at the same time when he is involved in an act of sex with his wife? That is debatable. What is certainly not healthy thinking is associating the concept of evil with sex for the rest of one’s life because of such an incident or otherwise. Gandhi’s abstinence from sex years after his marriage — it cannot be called ब्रह्मचर्य/brahmacharya (celibacy), one can be a ब्रह्मचारी/brahmachArI, cannot turn into one — was triggered by one such incident. What followed was more revolting.

"The Sarla Devi episode in his life establishes his humanity," wrote Rajmohan Gandhi in his book, Mohandas - A true story about a Man, his People and an Empire. That the 'Mahatma' used to sleep nude with Manu is "a matter of historical record. This has been written about many times. Even Gandhi wrote about it. In doing so, he was surrendering his sexuality and that of his partner’s, after passing a huge test,” his septuagenarian grandson says.

Elsewhere, Sushila Nayar had once told Ved Mehta that she used to sleep with Gandhi as she regarded him as a Hindu god.

“Gandhi spent years testing his self-discipline by sleeping beside young women. He evidently cared little about any psychological damage to the women involved. He also expected his four sons to be as self-denying as he was.”
— By Johanna McGeary, Time, 3 January 2000

“My way or the highway!” seemed to be the Mahatma’s maxim.

However, unlike many, I wouldn’t blame him for whatever treatment he meted out to his wife and children. The Ramayana is a traditional Indian example that depicts the predicament a political leader faces while trying to be fair to both his family and countrymen. What I censure is the idea of extending undue favours to the adversary to show one’s ‘ideal of justice’. Here, the adversary is not undivided India’s Muslim population; it is a country born out of hate for the very idea of India. But that will come a bit later.

Before that, Gandhi’s sincerity in opposing partition, too, is suspect. There is enough evidence to suggest that Nehru was in a hurry to become India’s first prime minister and several other Congress leaders were dying to taste the fruits of power, once the British left. That could not have been achieved due to the towering counter-image of Mohammed Ali Jinnah among the majority of the Muslim population. The Gandhi-led Congress did not give time to the retreating British government to prepare a foolproof plan for the separation of the land and its peoples, which could have avoided the confusion and scare that led to the biggest riot in world history, costing thousands of lives. A chunk of land from the west and another from the east of mainland India being demarcated as Muslim-dominated was both harebrained and artificial. For one, pre-1947, most Muslims who wanted to join Pakistan belonged to the region that spans the present states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and not the region that is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hence, the migration of Muslims from the central regions of India and of Hindus from the newly formed countries had to be chaotic, if not violent. But the Congress leaders, impatient to grab power, irritated the hell out of the British administrators who, thus, failed to do their job more sensibly.

The Muslim League had then accused the Congress of being “unwilling to share power with Muslims”. If Gandhi was really impartial, why couldn’t the Muslims trust him? Why couldn't Gandhi's image as a great proponent of egalitarian justice vis-à-vis religionists quell separatism? His sarwadharma samabhAwa was not a convenient political tool, unlike that of today's politicians. Couldn't the Muslims who demanded Pakistan appreciate a devotee of Ram extending brotherhood to the devotees of Rahim? On another front, as Gandhi was known to go on hunger strikes at the drop of a hat to push for his ‘patented’ political movements, why didn’t he quit eating till the time the demand for Pakistan was withdrawn?

He couldn’t have. Gandhi knew his appeal among the country’s Muslims had dwindled. Few Muslims would have withdrawn their support for a new ‘home’ to save a leader they saw as essentially a Congressman and, hence, Hindu. Therefore, a fast-unto-death would have blasted the idol of himself the ‘Mahatma’ had consciously cultivated and developed — a god common to both Hindus and Muslims.

The drubbing Gandhism received in the form of the establishment of the state of Pakistan, however, did not dampen Gandhi’s cacoëthes to play god. He chose not to occupy any seat of power after independence and yet play an unquestionable, above board authority post-1947. And Jawaharlal Nehru — revered as ‘Pandit’ — and Vallabhbhai Patel — saluted as ‘Sardar’ — had to oblige the ‘Bapu’. He had major differences with both on the issue of India-Pakistan bilateral relations. He went on a fast-unto-death again when Patel proposed withholding Pakistan's share of cash balances left by the British in the wake of Pakistani infiltrators’ attack on Kashmir. The then home minister had initially blocked the release of Rs 55 crore to the Government of Pakistan, apprehensive that the money could finance the war against India in Kashmir. The cabinet approved his point. But Gandhi went on a fast-unto-death to obtain the release of the amount, fearing further "communal violence". Does this not mean that Gandhi thought the Muslims who had preferred to continue living in India were sentimentally attached to Pakistan? Or else, why would blocking funds to Pakistan raise communal tension in India? Patel, who had the right prescience of Pakistan's intentions, was deeply hurt at the rejection of a Cabinet decision taken at his behest. He tried to prevail upon Gandhi, but finally relented in order to save the life of the ‘Father of the Nation’.

To save that one life, the lives of a billion Indians of the coming generations were to stay troubled for decades.

All said and done, I still do not consider Gandhi a villain of modern Indian history. He was, to me, a “politician trying to be a saint” (his own words) rather than a saint trying to be a politician (that his followers believe about him). His brand of freedom struggle was indeed unique and perhaps more effective in chasing out the British colonialists than killing a stray officer here and some officers’ women and children there (accidentally). A spiritualist who is conscious of the decibel of applause to his discourse cannot be a saint. His flaw also lay in trying to suffocate other movements to let the one he ‘owned’ prosper. He treated the Congress no better than his fief. How he had sulked in 1939 after the Congress elected Bose as the party president, defeating Gandhi’s candidate Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya, is too well known to be narrated all over again.

The long and short of it, Gandhi can be understood neither by deifying nor by demonising him. Let us treat him as an ordinary human being who underwent several bouts of extraordinariness.

I recall my days with the Congress student wing Chhatra Parishad’s boys in the Calcutta of 1989-92. Fuming with rage at the arrogant communist chief minister Jyoti Basu’s atrocious remarks on several social issues — like calling middle class people bhikhiri (mendicants) and saying that he couldn’t cancel his foreign trip to check his policemen who had raped a slum dwelling woman — they would often toy with the idea of his assassination. Then someone sensible would rise from the mess and surmise, he wouldn’t like the veteran communist to be known as “Shaheed” Jyoti Basu. Gandhi would not have been a god, had he not been assassinated. Howsoever big a proponent you are of non-violence, you cannot deny a myopic assassin Nathuram Godse’s role in turning the cow holy for ever.

Besides, Gandhi's conviction in non-violence wavered in the last years of his life.
And suddenly Gandhi began endorsing violence left, right, and centre. During the fearsome rioting in Calcutta he gave his approval to men “using violence for a amoral cause.” How could he tell them that violence was wrong, he asked, “unless I demonstrate that non-violence is more effective?” He blessed the Nawab of Maler Kotla when he gave orders to shoot 10 Muslims for every Hindu killed in his state...

When Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist in January 1948 he was honoured by the new state with a vast military funeral – in my view by no means inapposite.
The Gandhi Nobody Knows by Richard Grenier
I have been asked to clarify on phone, in the comments that follow this blog-post and the debate on the issue in orkut as to why (a) I have been soft on the BJP in the portion on secularism and (b) several important instances involving Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi are missing in the second section. The reasons are as follows.

This article, as the introduction has suggested already, is a myth-buster. That the BJP is communal is a widely held perception and this writer does not consider it a myth. The party's stand is that its policies with respect to the state's dealing with religious communities are dictated, or rather provoked, by the prolonged exercise of minority appeasement by all governments that have been in the country between 1947 and 1998 and then from 2004 till now. But two wrongs do not make a right. If the Congress and the left parties in India have been communal, the reactionary response to that by the BJP too is most certainly communal.

Insofar as Gandhi is concerned, this writer believes that none of the three movements of defiance spearheaded by the 'Mahatma' — Civil Disobedience Movement, Non-cooperation Movement, Quit India Movement — not even the third, bore the ultimate desirable result: the British colonial rulers' ouster from the country as the immediate, logical, political culmination of the programme. However, that these movements eventually proved fruitless is well known. There could not have been a myth-busting exercise on that on the part of this writer.

As for the Khilafat Movement, of course, it could be mentioned as another example of Gandhi's whims. After all, why should Indians — Muslims or otherwise — lose sleep over the fate of the Ottoman Empire? But was it the Congress's ploy to garner Muslim support for the pro-Swaraj agitations? 'We support your Khilafat, and you support our Swaraj' — was it such a quid pro quo? If the Congress thought so, it must have had the stereotypical image of Muslims having trans-national loyalties. That only goes on to prove the stand taken in the first part of this blog-post: What the BJP speaks is what the Congress thinks, but does not dare speak.

PS: Unlike in the political scene in north and west India, Gandhi is not a holy cow in the rest of the country. One comes across critiques on the ‘Mahatma’ more often than one reads his eulogies in Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. In the remaining parts of the Northeast and southern India, the word “Gandhi” evokes little response among the masses except for the senior citizens whose opinion on the persona is divided.
Debate on this article in an orkut forum

The writer’s political beliefs and background: He is, as a matter of principle, against all ‘educated’ voters who invariably have favourite political parties to which they remain loyal for life, irrespective of the favourite’s performance in the five years or less period that lapsed after the last elections. He thanks the illiterate voters of the country who prove to be more politically educated, as they prevent power from becoming a monopoly.

The writer’s late father and uncles were loyal to the Congress. After getting their brides from some families of suburban West Bengal, it was discovered that the women were communists. As a boy, the writer grew up arguing the Congress’s case with his Marxist cousins. After acquiring the franchise, he voted for the Congress in 1991 for the Lok Sabha constituency of South Calcutta and in 1996 for the Lok Sabha constituency of South Delhi. In the West Bengal Assembly elections in 1991, he had voted for the CPI(M)'s ally RSP.

After the result of the 1996 elections were out, he saw his colleagues celebrate the fall of the corrupt government of PV Narasimha Rao. He questioned himself why he was sad, why he was so blind in Congress’s love.

Around the same time, the orators from the BJP fold were dazzling on Doordarshan’s screen as urbane, sophisticated parliamentarians par excellence even as the MPs of the Congress and the United Front looked silly, trying to stretch the life of an unnatural government to keep the corruption cases against criminals in both the groups buried deep under the files.

The writer missed the 1998 elections as he was away in Glasgow to complete his formal education in mathematics. On return, he was outraged by the outright unethical manner in which the then BJP government was made to fall by a single vote in the parliament. That motivated him to vote for the BJP in 1999. He repeated his vote for the BJP in 2004 for executing Narasimha Rao’s economic policies better than the Congress.

Finally, while working with a de facto BJP mouthpiece, he came across the party’s second-rung leaders and some RSS ideologues, and got completely disillusioned with the right wing, seeing their shallow knowledge on almost all subjects, aversion to intellectual pursuit and, the worst of all, their terrible, nagging sense of insecurity that makes them scheme against each other all the time.

He wants the UPA Government to fall for its horrendous economics, communalism and opaque, rigid policies on science & technology and national security. But he does not want the NDA to come back to power. For, he has experienced first hand how inhuman they become while trying to grab and keep power.

In the 2009 elections, the writer has to choose between good people with bad policies, average people with no policy and bad people with good policies


Panchajanya said...

What the Indian state should have is “no feeling for any religion”."

This is not possible. Every country has some nation characteristics. French are high on Personal freedom etc. Hindusim is a way of life and cannot be bracketed with other monolithic religions. Since it is a way of life, its integral to our life and it is difficult for Indians to have a life separate of this. Then I disagree with your interpretation of “धर्मोपेक्षा/dharmOpekshA (धर्म/dharma + उपेक्षा/upekshA), i.e., “indifference towards religion”. Dharma is cannot be equated with religion. It is natural and moral principles that apply to all beings and things. so essentially dharmOpekshA would mean indifference to natural and moral principles. How can a nation survive when it donot adhere to the moral principles which are closely related to this nation.

"In fact, it's worse. If the BJP is only anti-Muslim, the Congress and the communists are not only anti-Hindu but also anti-Muslim."

There is a big threat to nation because of congress not having a Ideology. As the name Congress (I) suggests its a congress of Selfish Individuals banded together to protect their self interested. Precisely due to this reason congress will do what ever is necessary to hang on to power nothing is out of bound for them.

If yes, how come in Kerala, where there is a cult surrounding Ayyappa,

That was not necessary. Then what prevents the atheists to climb the mountain the expose?

"Finally on Gandhi"

Inspite of my beliefs I have very high regard for Gandhi(may be due to years of NCERT Brain washing). I always ask myself, wpould gandhi have succeeded had he launched in "non Violence" movement against say Americans? or if it was in this era. I think the answer to that question is NO

ayush said...

Excellent article, Secularism India style perfectly defined. It has more to do with the kind of vote bank politics which has become more and more relevant in the coalition era which has spurned over the last couple of decades where even if you have 1 constituency backing you you can hold a national government to ransom, which necessitates the kind of appeasement politics we see today.
I would love to see a similar analysis on the kind of democracy of which we are proud of, where in a 30% popular vote brings you to power with simple majority, a classsic example has been of the Mayawati govt in UP , where the voter voter turnout was 45.96% , BSP polled 30% of the votes polled which translates to 13.8 % of the eligible voters in UP and with such a mandate she is hailed as the greatest leader of our generation and touted to be PM, as you said secularism in India is a sham and so is democracy.

P.S. 1 point i would disagree on is that RSS has just a 1 point agenda and that is to oppose pseudo secualrist parties like the congress & the communists, I really dont understand why RSS is so demonized, it is one of the very few cultural organizations which has done a lot of good work over the years. I agree groups like the VHP and Bajrang Dal have spurned off RSS, but the RSS as an organization has never been a religious organization, its more of Cultural Nationalism that it promotes.

ayush said...

as far is Gandhi and gandhism is concerned, I strongly believe he is irrelevant today as he was during the said independence struggle, the fact remains gandhi or no gandhi, post the 2nd world war in 1945 the British empire didnt hold on to any of its colonies for long due to its internal socio/political/economic condition at the time and India was just another colony of the empire. Its another matter had british rule continued for longer as it did in Hong Kong ....there is always a chance we would have done better than what we did under Nehru ...

Sanket said...

There are also several pieces of evidence to suggest that the British Empire did play a role in the making of the ‘Mahatma’.
Please give evidences. Why would the British chose MK Gandhi, when he was not very high-caste (banias are below Brahmans and Kshatriyas), not too rich and although well-educated he was no scholar.

Gandhi did not take a stick and asked people to stop Non-Cooperation. He had no formal power to force them.If they did it, on his advice, it was their fault.

Similarly, there was no legal, military or physical reason for Nehru and Patel to obey Gandhi. If they did not have the guts to go against Gandhi's wishes, they were simply mentally immature. Gandhi had the right to give his opinion as any citizen of India.

Sanket said...

First, it’s impossible for a spiritual person to enter a communion with God following (two or more) different methods.
Please read Ramakrishna Charitraamruta. Sri Ramakrishna explicitly followed Bhakti Bhava, lived with a Sufi, practiced tantras, attained Samadhi, lived like a Christian and claimed to have communion with God in all cases.
1- Sri Ramkrishna was no spiritual person
2- He did not attained communion with God.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

ref: Sri Ramakrishna explicitly followed Bhakti Bhava, lived with a Sufi, practiced tantras, attained Samadhi, lived like a Christian and claimed to have communion with God in all cases

That's not what Ramakrishna Charitramrita says. You have misread it. While one part of your statement -- "followed Bhakti Bhava, lived with a Sufi, practiced tantras, attained Samadhi, lived like a Christian" -- is true, the other -- "(he) claimed to have communion with God in all cases" -- is not. He did experiment with various modes of faith and said it was "possible" to attain God through all. That does not mean he claimed to have done so himself. There is a difference between saying "it is possible" and "I have done it".

Let's use it in the context of the article. First, do you think an Indira Gandhi, a Rajiv Gandhi or a Narasimha Rao could pull it off like Ramakrishna Paramhansa (even if your contention is considered right for the sake of argument)?

Second, specific to the context of communion, if you were spiritual, you would know that communion is an experience that is inexplicable. I would compare it with the phenomenon of serendipity that great poets experience -- a sudden, unplanned connect with an out-of-the-world being/idea. When you are a minister bound by an itinerary, you cannot attain that state. Even if you a pure soul capable of doing that, the convoy of secretaries and other butlers accompanying you will not allow you to be lost and remain lost in the experience of the divine.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

ref to my point: "What the Indian state should have is 'no feeling for any religion'."

Your contention: This is not possible. Every country has some nation characteristics. French are high on Personal freedom etc. Hindusim is a way of life and cannot be bracketed with other monolithic religions. Since it is a way of life, its integral to our life and it is difficult for Indians to have a life separate of this.

It is perfectly possible. To insist that it is not is nothing but an attempt to keep enough room left for the politicians to continue meddling in religious affairs. Let me explain using a simple example.

I may be a CEO of a company, and I may also visit temples. But I do not visit temples in the capacity of the CEO of my company. I expect nothing more from this country's politicians.

india unbound said...

I have just read the first part and its insightful. The Priya Ranjan Das Munshi incident should be an eye opener.

This is the main grouse of right wing Hindus. "Secularists" support things which even they know they should not, just because of vote bank politics.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Dharma is cannot be equated with religion. It is natural and moral principles that apply to all beings and things. so essentially dharmOpekshA would mean indifference to natural and moral principles.

I agree with the etymological part of the above comment. But for want of a word in Sanskrit that means "religion" and nothing else, "dharmOpEkshA" is the only translation of "secularism" that one can think of. Experts in Sanskrit may suggest another term from the language's huge repertoire or invent an altogether new Indian word that is as apt a translation as possible.

Palak Mathur said...

My views on Gandhi are contrary to yours and many others. Let us keep the discussion on Gandhi and Secularism on. More of a Nehruvian opportunistic thought. I like Gandhi's approach because it was working to organize masses and bring them to the fore of India's Struggle For Independence.

For secularism, I would like to quote Dr. S Radhakrishnan, as he placed secularism within Indian tradition:-

"We hold that no religion should be given preferential status of unique distinction...No group of citizens shall arrogate in itself rights and privileges that it denies others. No person should suffer any form of disability or discrimination because of his religion but all alike should be free to share to the fullest degree in the common life... Secularism as here defined is in accordance with the ancient religious tradition of India."

As per Nehru, Secularism doesn't means discouraging religion. It means freedom of religion and conscience, including freedom for those who may have no religion. It means free play for all the religions, subject only to their not interfering with each other or with the basic conceptions of our state. This I think means indifference towards religion.

Palak Mathur said...

I agree with your view that no leader in the capacity of a key chair holder of a nation should prostrate to any religious leader and also should not in this capacity visit any religious place. This should be completely a personal affair.

Red Baron said...

This is possibly the best drafted article of the entire blog.The truth about the false secularism practiced in India is well highlighted,tolerance of all religions doesn't mean equally promoting them. Promotion of religion is against a secular society,and in that respect France has come closest to being an ideal secular state.Eastern nations often deprived of the modernization and the scientific temperament brought about by the Renaissance still holds certain values which can make a France like experiment rather dangerous given the level of education and economic scenario.Religious groups will easily exploit illiterate and uneducated dissatisfied youth as has been seen in Turkey where a French like reform system initiated during Ottoman rule called Tanzimat was carried over by Kemal Pasha to make Turkey a secular state,which day by day is facing a ultra religious grip.So the key lies in teaching tolerance ,peace and harmony and curb any remotely ultra religious or ultra nationalist organizations.In this matter the funds of normal religious organisations,irrespective of religion should be monitored to prevent its misuse.Even preaching the concept of "Holier than thou" should be strictly monitored and possibly curbed.
Regarding Gandhi,he is an antique piece and after reading this article I asked many of my North Indian and West Indian friends regarding the popularity,and till now none of them advocated for Gandhi.Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh are liked far more.Gandhi was an incompetent and selfish leader,though his ideas are very good in day to day life.He is the last person who should be called "Father of the nation".An utterly selfish and rigid person who couldn't tolerate the fact the Congress voted twice for Netaji and neither could he raise his own children properly and died the most shameful death that an independence era leader can have ,assassination is the last person i recognize as the father of my glorious nation.Indians should think again,why Jospeh Stalin is overwhelmingly popular in Russia today(despite him not being a Russian) or Turks ready to give their lives for Mustafa Kemal and Gandhi being pushed to oblivion.

Red Baron said...

This is possibly the best drafted article of the entire blog.The truth about the false secularism practiced in India is well highlighted,tolerance of all religions doesn't mean equally promoting them. Promotion of religion is against a secular society,and in that respect France has come closest to being an ideal secular state.Eastern nations often deprived of the modernization and the scientific temperament brought about by the Renaissance still holds certain values which can make a France like experiment rather dangerous given the level of education and economic scenario.Religious groups will easily exploit illiterate and uneducated dissatisfied youth as has been seen in Turkey where a French like reform system initiated during Ottoman rule called Tanzimat was carried over by Kemal Pasha to make Turkey a secular state,which day by day is facing a ultra religious grip.So the key lies in teaching tolerance ,peace and harmony and curb any remotely ultra religious or ultra nationalist organizations.In this matter the funds of normal religious organisations,irrespective of religion should be monitored to prevent its misuse.Even preaching the concept of "Holier than thou" should be strictly monitored and possibly curbed.
Regarding Gandhi,he is an antique piece and after reading this article I asked many of my North Indian and West Indian friends regarding the popularity,and till now none of them advocated for Gandhi.Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh are liked far more.Gandhi was an incompetent and selfish leader,though his ideas are very good in day to day life.He is the last person who should be called "Father of the nation".An utterly selfish and rigid person who couldn't tolerate the fact the Congress voted twice for Netaji and neither could he raise his own children properly and died the most shameful death that an independence era leader can have ,assassination is the last person i recognize as the father of my glorious nation.Indians should think again,why Jospeh Stalin is overwhelmingly popular in Russia today(despite him not being a Russian) or Turks ready to give their lives for Mustafa Kemal and Gandhi being pushed to oblivion.

Durga said...

The greatest Indian Humbug- Gandhi

Did Gandhi framed the two virtues of 'Truth and non violence'?NO. The two virtues were prevailing since time immemorial as Sanatana Dharma( principles of Hinduism)and Gandhi just advocated(popularised)the same. Hence it is wrong on our part to consider Gandhi as the 'inventor' of truth and non violence.

Mahatma- A political leader? To corroborate my opinion that at many instances, Mahatma acted like an ordinary politician, I am citing a couple of incidents below.

In the year 1925, Gandhi wrote a letter to Rajaji. "You are.....perhaps the nearest to me.My innermost being wants your approbation of what I am doing and thinking.I cannot always succed in getting in, but it craves for your verdict...."( Page 96,Rajaji- A life by Rajmohan Gandhi) Sooner Gandhi had declared him as successor.

In the beginning of 1940, significant differences grew between Rajaji and Gandhi.Rajaji said in a convocation address at Lucknow University(14th Dec 1941) "I have worked with Gandhiji these 22 years and feel a just pride of having helped him to develop and put into action his principles and methods.Many are the ties that bind me to him.It is not a pleasure to discover a difference and recognise it as leading to a parting of ways......"(Page 227/228)

The Bardoli line was endorsed at wardha,where, in a significant move, Gandhi designated Jawaharlal as his successor.Fifteen years earlier,he had spoken of Rajaji as his successor.Now,at Wardha, Gandhi said: "Pandit Jawaharlal and I have had differences from the moment we became co-workers,yet I have said for some years and say it now that not Raajaji, not Sardar Vallavhai Patel,but Jawaharlal will be my successor"(Page 229)

Had Rajaji paid for advocating a rejection of The Mahatma's stand, and for having referred, in Lucknow, to 'a parting of the ways'?(Page 229)

Before the successor declaration, Nehru had said at Wardha that Congress was the Mahatma's 'creation and child and nothing can break the bond', and Gandhi had responded by noting that Nehru's 'Love for and confidence in me peep out of every sentence referring to me'.(Page 229)

C.R. was independent and sharp,he had courage ,his wit was arresting,as was his integrity.But he lacked Nehru's charisma(page 240)

Did Gandhi practice what he preached?

In another occasion, Gandhi played a similar role in undermining Subhash Chandra Bose. It was during the the INC Presidential election in 1939.Since Bose differed from Gandhi on some basic and immediate issues,Mahatma did not want Bose to contest the elections.When Bose rejected Gandhi's advice, Mahatma propesed the candidacy of Pattabhi Sitaramayya.Before the voting, Bose argued that a Congress President should not act like a constitutional monarch.Bose won over Pattabhi by 1850 votes to 1375, and Gandhi said 'Pattabhi's defeat is my defeat". After that, Rajaji and Nehru acted as Gandhi's spokespersons and asked Bose 'to appoint the working committee in accordance with the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi'.C.R. went two steps ahead and delieverd a speech against Bose(favouring Gandhi)

Gandhi could have stopped CR from making a provocative speech against Bose. But why did he keep quiet?

Gandhi's actions were like an ordinary politician.Creating a coterie exclusive for himself.If he was a true spirited leader, he would have abstained from nominating Pattabhi Sitaramayya.There he played a typical political role.Secondly, by all means Gandhi undermined Bose from functioning as INC President and Bose was forced to resign.Thirdly ,he made CR a scapegoat for his motives by prompting him(CR) to go against S.C.Bose.

But Gandhi had the qualities of a leader.He was an excellent organiser who created an impact among the masses.But Surajit, I disagree with your views here "If Gandhi was really impartial, why couldn’t the Muslims trust him"?

Muslims had a feeling of insecurity right from the beginning;hence they neither accept nor trust anyone for that matter.

Durga said...

@Sanket..."He had no formal power to force them.If they did it, on his advice, it was their fault".

Agreed that he had no formal power.So why did he choose a successor according to his whims?

Yes, there were no physical/military reason for Patel or Nehru to obey Gandhi.In my OPINION,there could be some reason at least with Nehru.It is the absolute power.Yes, as a citizen, Gandhi had the RIGHT to give his opinion.But why did he sabotaged the other leaders who expressed their OPINION just because of the reason that they didn't endorse Gandhi's views? Like Gandhi, they were also the citizens of India and had the RIGHT to express their views.

Gandhi is not the only factor which compelled the British to leave India.There were several factors including poor economic/financial state of the British immediately after the second world war.Quit India movement and Gandhi was only ONE among SEVERAL other factors that won us freedom.

Since a vast majority of us are spoon-fed with Gandhian thoughts, it will be difficult to digest the unpalatable truth.The only thing we can do is not to spoon-feed our kids with too much of Gandhi-Nehru adventures.

Following is the link to Netaji's articles,letters and speeches made during 1938 and 1939.Not sure whether it carries any untold stories or not.


Anonymous said...

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.