Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Questioning the Mahatma (book review)

Mahatma Gandhi was a heartless and manipulative tyrant without the redeeming feature of political merit. On the contrary, his vision for India was confused, he twisted the meaning of straightforward terms like Swarajya (independence) to suit his own eccentric fancies, he never overcame his basic loyalty to the British Empire, and he didn't have the courage of his conviction when it was needed to avert the Partition of India. While playing the part of a Hindu sage in sufficient measure to keep the Hindu masses with him, he never championed and frequently harmed Hindu interests. Finally, his sexual experiments with young women were not a private matter but had an impact on his politics. Thus says a new study of Gandhi's political record by Hindu scholar Mrs. Radha Rajan.

The latest American book on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul, has drawn a lot of attention. This was mainly because of its allegations about yet more eccentric sexual aspects of his Mahatmahood on top of those already known. In particular, Lelyveld overinterprets Gandhi’s correspondence with German-Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach as evidence of a homosexual relationship. Bapu’s fans intoned the same mantra as the burners of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses: “Freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to insult revered figures.” Well, if it doesn’t mean that, it doesn’t mean much.

In particular, Lelyveld has all the more right to disclose what he found in the Mahatma’s bedroom because the latter was quite an exhibitionist himself, detailing every straying thought and nocturnal emission in his sermons and editorials. But do these tickling insinuations carry any weight? Other, more troubling aspects of Gandhi’s résumé are far more deserving of closer scrutiny. Some unpleasant instances of his impact on India and Hinduism have been discussed thoroughly in a new book, Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and His Freedom Struggle (New Age Publ., Kolkata), by Mrs. Radha Rajan, editor of the Chennai-based nationalist website, .

Radha Rajan was already the author, with Krishen Kak, of NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry (2006), a scholarly X-ray of the NGO scene, exposing this holier-than-thou cover for both corruption and anti-India machinations. The present book likewise takes a very close look at a subject mostly presented only in the broad strokes of hagiography. In particular, she dissects the Hindu and anti-Hindu content of Gandhi’s policies. Both were present, the author acknowledges his complexity, but there was a lot less Hindu in him than mostly assumed.

Rama had Vasishtha, Chandragupta had Chanakya, Shivaji had Ramdas, but Gandhi never solicited the guidance of any Hindu rajguru. By contrast, every step of the way in his long formative years, he read Christian authors and welcomed the advice of Christian clergymen. This way, he imbibed many monotheistic prejudices against heathen Hinduism, to the point that in 1946 he insisted for the new temple on the BHU campus not to contain an “idol”. (p.466)

Gandhi took his Hindu constituents for granted but never showed any concern for specific Hindu interests. The story that he staked his life to quell the massacres of Hindus in Noakhali in 1947, turns out to be untrue: his trip to East Bengal took place under security cover and well after the worst violence had subsided. There and wherever Hindus were getting butchered en masse in 1947-48, he advised them to get killed willingly rather than fight back or flee. It is breathtaking how often his writings and speeches contain expressions like: “I don’t care if many die.” And it was the first time in Hindu history that anyone qualified going down without a fight against a murderous aggressor as “brave”.

All his fasts unto death proved to be empty play when he refused to use this weapon to avert the Partition, in spite of promises given. It was the only time when he ran a real risk of being faced with an opponent willing to let him die rather than give in. Radha Rajan documents how unpopular he had become by then, not only among fellow politicians who were exasperated at his irrationality, but also among the masses suffering the effects of his confused policies. Had Gandhi not been murdered, his star would have continued to fall and he would have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Gandhi made a caricature of Hinduism by presenting his own whimsical and eccentric conduct as quintessentially Hindu, such as the rejection of technological progress, maintaining sexual abstinence even within marriage, and most consequentially, extreme non-violence under all circumstances. This concept owed more to Jesus’ “turning the other cheek” than to Hindu-Buddhist ahimsa. He managed to read his own version of non-violence into the Bhagavad Gita, which in fact centres on Krishna’s rebuking Arjuna’s plea for Gandhian passivity. He never invoked any of India’s warrior heroes and denounced the freedom fighters who opted for armed struggle, under the quiet applause of the British rulers whose lives became a lot more comfortable with such a toothless opponent.

The author acknowledges Gandhiji’s sterling contribution to the weakening of caste prejudice among the upper castes. His patronizing attitude towards the Harijans will remain controversial, but the change of heart he effected among the rest of Hindu society vis-à-vis the Scheduled Castes was revolutionary. However, once educated SC people started coming up and speaking for themselves, his response was heartless and insulting. Thus, a letter is reproduced in which the Mahatma with chilling pedantry belittles an admiring Constituent Assembly candidate from the scavengers’ caste for his “bookish English” and because: “The writer is a discontented graduate. (…) I fear he does no scavenging himself” and thus “he sets a bad example” to other scavengers. In conclusion, he advises the educated scavenger to stay out of politics.(p.480) Few readers will have expected the sheer nastiness of this saint’s temper tantrums.

Likewise, his supposed saintliness is incompatible with his well-documented mistreatment of his sons and especially of his faithful wife, whom he repeatedly subjected to public humiliation. Here too, Gandhi’s sexual antics receive some attention. The whole idea of an old man seeking to strengthen his brahmacharya (chastity) by sleeping with naked young women, is bad enough. Perhaps we had to wait for a lady author to give these victims a proper hearing. Radha Rajan documents the fear with which these women received Gandhi’s call to keep him company, as well as their attempts to avoid or escape this special treatment and the misgivings of their families. She praises the self-control of Gandhi’s confidants who, though horrified, kept the lid on this information out of concern for its likely demoralizing effect on the Congress movement. The Mahatma himself wasn’t equally discreet, he revealed the names of the women he had used in his chastity experiments, unmindful of what it would do to their social standing.

When Sardar Patel expressed his stern disapproval of these experiments, Gandhi reacted with a list of cheap allegations, which Patel promptly and convincingly refuted. Lowly insinuations turn out to be a frequent presence in the Mahatma’s correspondence. As the author observes: “Reputed historians and other eminent academicians have not undertaken so far any honest study of Gandhi’s character. Just as little is known of his perverse experiments with women, as little is known of his vicious anger and lacerating speech that he routinely spewed at people who opposed him or rejected him.” While careful not to offend the powerful among his occasional critics, like his sponsor G.D. Birla, “he treated those whom he considered inferior to him in status with contempt and in wounding language”. (p.389)

Unlike in Lelyveld’s account, the references to Gandhi’s sexual gimmicks here have political relevance. More importantly, Gandhi’s discomfort with Patel’s disapproval was a major reason for his overruling the Congress workers’ preference for Patel and foisting his flatterer Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister on India instead. Thus, argues Radha Rajan, he handed India’s destiny over to an emergent coalition of anti-Hindu forces. To replace Nehru as party leader, he had his yes-man J.B. Kripalani selected, not coincidentally the one among those in the know who had explicitly okayed the chastity experiments. The Mahatma’s private vices spilled over into his public choices with grave political consequences.

(book review published in The Sunday Pioneer, 15 May 2011)


Gururaj B N said...

In depth study of Mahatma and his motives is very important for contemporary society, which has been brain washed into believing that everything he did was for India's good.

Few more points for consideration of readers:

Public should know that Mahatma called murderous Moplahs who mass murdered Hindus in Malabar region as his misguided brethren; fasted to ensure that Pakistan got its share of Indian treasury of Rs.55 croers when it was actually attacking Kashmir in 1948; ensured that Subhash Chandra Bose was ousted from the post of Congress President, because he did not know tow Mahatma's line of thought and action; worst, he installed a Hindu hater like Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister which has ensured steady weakening of Hindu ethos in the country, encouraged unprecedented missionary activities in the country, especially in the north east. He did not lift his little finger to help save Bhagat Singh and others from hangman's noose, though he could have spoke to the Viceroy and saved them. So much for his non-violence.

Spider42 said...

While I may not agree with all the idea's and allegations - and will refrain from any discussion or dissent until Ive had a chance to read and assess for myself - I do believe that while he did a great many good things and was instrumental in so many things from India's independance to showing the power of non-violence as an alternative to outright war, he was in the end just a man and had failings and flaws just like everyone else.
And while dirty laundry is not a thing to be aired lightly, we need to as an enlightened society learn to take good words and bad ones side by side and let everyone judge for themselves.
Indignation and blind belief in rote history serves no good purpose.


The problem with any assessment of a mass leader like Gandhi is that people tend to portray him as either white or black between which lie a myriad streaks of gray. Either he is hoisted on a pedestal and revered as a demi-God or vilified as a self-serving crook. The truth as in many other aspects of human life may lie in the mdiddle. Nehru is often accused of having an overweening ambition to win a Nobel peace prize to which, he subjected many national policies - with disastrous consequences. One wonders whether Gandhi too harboured such a yearning to which, he too subjected many national policies - again with disastrous consequences.

Mahalaya said...

I hope it's not too improper to say...but...I <3 your mind. Such a mind is so precious in this age.

Incognito said...

Another book on Gandi-


Julian said...

"from India's independance to showing the power of non-violence as an alternative to outright war"


Last mass agitation Congress launched was Quit India which ended in a debacle years before 1947 and involved many incidents of violence.

Reason Brits left was Hitler ruined them, the new superpowers US & USSR were in no mood to let Brit dominance continue, and finally the INA mutiny which put into question the loyalty of the Brit Indian army.

Gandhi's phony "non violence" got millions of Hindus genocided and helped establish the Jihadist state of Pakistan.

Karthikrajan said...


Looks like the ‘mahathma’ is not really worthy of that title, he himself didn’t like it either. Was this creating some sort of guilt consciousness in him and hence his bizarre sexual experiments? He must have been under the impression that the best and only way to live up to this title is to completely overcome his carnal appetite by any means. But, he did the wise thing in using non violent struggle against the brits though it did not bear fruit against Jinnah + muslim league. He realized that a weak-divided-illiterate-majority need not use violence against a strong-united-educated-minority especially when this minority was actively working in their homeland to establish democracy and freedom of speech. It may be noted that the Indian national congress itself was an idea by one such democratic minded brit (A.O Hume) who was upset with britain’s imperialist policies. Armed struggle would have spelt doom for india’s integrity. The non-violent movement bought sufficient time to mobilize the masses to fight unitedly. His understanding about religions may not be perfect, but he had no admiration for Christianity , as is evident from his autobiography. His insensitivity towards the suffering hindu population in the riots is really appalling. Strange that his reputation received a big favour in the form his assassination.

aronite said...

Elst in this Review repeatedly steers the often wayward drift of other authors into inconsequent issues than the impact of Gandhi's dsyfuctional mind on Hindu and Indian history
Credit therefore is due him and hope the author would chip the briefing in her next edition.
I too wrote on just this aspect, published at scribd and well, been there done that-honestly being nobody sucks, not that u never get noticed, but whatever u had to say.
There is enough in Gandhi’s own memoirs and historic documents- Mercury,and Harijan editorials to show that Gandhi was not after all so unconscious being a collaborator of British Imperialism.
In fact, all his subsequent actions can only be understood if we accept this and that he was neither 'crazy' but cultivated such a deliberate alter ego, to deflect attention from his given mission- that of preventing at any cost a repeat of an armed uprising after failed Hindu German Conspiracy, and later the completion of Partition of Bengal as Pakistan. This is a much serious charge and I have read enough, an inescapable conclusion as well, than the 'Crazy Gandhi' thesis that would actually exonerate him.

ಆದರ್ಶ್ ಭದ್ರಾವತಿ ಮಹಾರುದ್ರ said...

India is a highly diversified nation. Imagine the complexity of uniting the complete nation and directing it towards a single goal.
People like Mahatma Gandhi have done that job and we just need to appreciate that. Mahatma Gandhi has set the objectives and road map to achieve it which has given results. This is important. Who an American writer is, to comment about the sexual life of the father of our nation?
Like everybody Mahatma was also a human and on his way to achieve the objectives he might have taken wrong steps. We also know how efficient the british was in misleading Indians. They have always done divide and rule.
I should ask one thing to anybody commenting wrong about Mahatma, "what is the ability you have to unit the huge nation like India and achieve the freedom. Step yourself into pre-independence era of our nation and see what you could have achieved."

Naras said...

Radha Rajan suffers from the pshychology of projection. Her inner demons are projected onto her target list. For example, she finds Aurobindo a wimp who abandoned political struggle for "Spirituality" in quotes. She implies he was seduced/corrupted by Mira Alfassa. She talks similarly about Sister Nivedita's influence on Vivekananda. She calls it the influence of foreign women on our "Leaders".

Her xenophobia is not different from classic racism. I am surprised that she has not targeted Koenraad Else yet.

SmileAbhi said...

Not to mention his saying " Hindu is essentially a coward and muslim a bully" , Irony how he is worshipped whereas nathuram godse , madan lal dhingra , savarkar are villified by self hating corrupted hindu media where blogs of cheap delhi based editors will attract hundreds of mostly hindu fans who are brain washed by media to be ashamed of their own culture .

PK said...

Does ANYONE seriously believe that preventing creation of Pakistan would have helped India's and Hindu cause? Imagine having Muslims population of Pakistan and Bangladesh as part of Democratic India with Constitutional rule and free and fair elections to elect Govts.We would be in same position as in pre independence stage when Congress and Muslim League were almost matched eloctarally. I shudder to think of the consequences and what would be India like. Its GOOD that we had partition and let them be happy managing their affairs by Islamic rule.--PK

Julian said...

"Its GOOD that we had partition and let them be happy managing their affairs by Islamic rule."

So why was there no population exchange?

Because scumbags like Gandhi and Nehru rejected it.

Daniel Mohanpersad said...

Great review, thanks for posting!

Jagmohan Singh Khurmi said...

I strongly recommend all to see the movie "Hey Ram"...

Rita Narayanan said...

frankly scholars who are very "open" and "liberal" kow-tow before Gandhi in a way you would not find in any feudal sijdah session.

even feminist activists like Madhu Kishwar(who are not left oriented) are fascinated by is a person like Mallika Sarabhai who keeps invoking the sexuality of India in her dances. It is a strange silence and affinity.

It was in America I realized how controlled my mind was even with the best education in India. Can't blame Christian schools since Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan's education is something I would never recommend to anyone!(studied in Delhi)

wonder what happened to Abha and Manu, having read snippets here and there I felt could never respect a person who did this to women.

Tyrants, feudals and mortals can be weighed as such but how could I call such a person spiritual???? still grappling.

Mr Elst, perhaps you can answer how the Hindu right itself prostrates in front of Gandhi. Perhaps, it is because many of them fighting for Ram Rajya are far from home in their own place of worship :)

tnjjp77 said...

why nobody has risen in India to make indians strong.The fault is with all politicians.corruption selfishness.just stop mud slinging on Gnadhi and rise up to occasion and make india strong.

Ambi said...

Most violent non-violent man who assured eternal hell for the Indian sub-continent by his adamant ideology an dchoice of nehru to lead India. Two worst enemies of India ever.