Grooming and positioning of Gandhi
What happened to Hindus and the Hindu nation derived from what happened to the Indian National Congress when powerful leaders like MG Ranade and Gokhale turned the INC towards taking up social reform issues.
It was as if there was a move to prove that Gandhi was being groomed to take over the leadership of the INC from Gopalkrishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji. It was also as if there was yet another move to prove the point that integral to this grooming was the positioning of Gandhi against Tilak and Aurobindo, when Gandhi came to India from South Africa in 1896. Upon coming to India, Gandhi traveled to Bombay, Pune, Madras, Calcutta and Nagpur and the people he met were MG Ranade, Gokhale, Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozeshah Mehta, RG Bhandarkar and Surendranath Banerjea.
Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar besides being an Indologist was also a social reformer, a new breed of Hindus, exemplified by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, fashioned by English education in the 19th century.Bhandarkar and MG Ranade were both among the first batch of graduates to pass out of the Bombay University. Bhandarkar also taught in the Deccan College and Elphinstone College – two of the best institutions of higher learning established by the British in India. The best Hindu, Parsee and Muslim minds were educated in these institutions but while Muslims with English education never thought their religion or society needed to be reformed, English educated Hindus were ready buyers of the proposition that Hindus must effect social and religious reform before aspiring for political freedom. And no one quite so convinced with this argument than Gandhi.
For Tilak and Aurobindo, swaraj meant total political freedom, but Gandhi defined swaraj as control over the self which he said was true independence to attain which, we need not strive to get rid of the British!
Unlike Gokhale, Ranade, Bhandarkar and Gandhi who readily followed the lead of the British government on the need for Hindu social reform, Tilak and Aurobindo considered the move a piece of great impertinence and unwarranted interference by an alien government in the internal dynamics of Hindu society. They also understood the Machiavellian intent to transform a political vehicle into a social reformist instrument.
Political freedom is the life breath of a nation; to attempt social reform, educational reform, industrial expansion, the moral improvement of the race without aiming first and foremost at political freedom, is the very height of ignorance and futility. (Aurobindo, The Doctrine of Passive Resistance, Bande Mataram, April 11-23, 1906, pp 85-86)
And if I were not fully confident that this fixed idea of ours is a snare and a delusion, likely to have the most pernicious effects, I should simply have suppressed my own doubts and remained silent.
I say of the Congress then this – that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishments is not a spirit of sincerity and whole heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders; in brief, that we are at present the blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed. (Aurobindo, New Lamps for Old, Indu Prakash, Augus 28, 1893, page 15, Radha Rajan, Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and his Freedom Struggle, Chapter 1, A Hindu Nation but not a Hindu State, page 15)
Notwithstanding the touching scene in Richard Attenborough’s hagiographic film on the man, where Gandhi sits cross legged watching the crowd making a bonfire of foreign cloth, Tilak and Aurobindo’s Swaraj, Swadeshi and Boycott movement was a sustained and intense people’s movement for total rejection of anything and everything British – British goods, British courts, British jobs and British education; this, needless to say included British yarn and cloth.
The Swadeshi movement threatened British trade and immediately an unholy alliance was formed between the magistracy, the non-officials and the pious missionaries of Christ, to crush the new movement by every form of persecution and harassment. (Aurobindo, Lessons from Jamalpur, Bande Mataram, September 1, 1906, page 21; Radha Rajan Eclipse of the Hindu Nation, chapter 1, page 16)
Fear in the Congress leadership over Tilak and Aurobindo
Tilak who was arrested for sedition in 1898 and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment was revered and worshipped across the length and breadth of the country. Tilak was arrested for sedition on the ground that it was his writings which inspired the three Chapekar brothers Damodar, Balakrishna and Vasudev and their close associate Ranade to kill the much disliked British ICS officer Walter Rand in Pune on 22nd June 1897. Ordinary people around the country worshipped Tilak because they saw him as a fearless Hindu nationalist who wanted total independence from alien rule using all and every means.
The rage and outrage over Partition of Bengal in 1905 and the resulting Swaraj, Swadeshi and Boycott movements driven by Aurobindo and Tilak spread to other cities and provinces – Bombay, Poona, Madras, Central Provinces and even the Punjab.
Tilak’s and Aurobindo’s writings fuelled immense and all-pervasive anger against British rule in India. The desire to forcefully end British Rule in India and achieve total independence influenced a significant section of the Indian National Congress too. The issue of who would be President of the 1906 Calcutta Congress exploded within the party at this juncture.
Even before the split in December 1907, the INC was sharply polarized into two ideological camps – one headed by empire loyalists Ranade, Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji and the other led by those who desired total political freedom – Tilak, Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal and VO Chidambaram Pillai.
When Gokhale’s empire loyalists’ camp realized that Tilak was the Nationalists’ choice for President, they decided to bring Dadabhai Naoroji from London to contest the post. Gokhale had made himself widely unpopular among the people for apologizing to the British government for the Swaraj, Swadeshi and Boycott movement. It had to be someone else and a person with enough stature to challenge Tilak’s nomination. Aurobindo cried foul and mercilessly lampooned The Indian Mirror, the Congress organ in Bengal and an ally of the government.
The Indian Mirror has chosen naturally enough to fall foul of Mr. Tilak. Mr. Tilak we learn, has seriously offended our contemporary by giving honour to Mr. Bhopatkar on his release from jail: his speeches on the Shivaji festival were displeasing to the thoughtful and enlightened men who congregate in the office of the Indian Mirror; and to sum up the whole matter, “he is a man of extreme views and without tact”. Ergo he is no fit man for the presidential chair of the Congress.
It is interesting to learn on this unimpeachable authority, what are the qualifications which the moderate and loyalist mind demands in a President of the ‘national’ Congress
It is not the great protagonist and champion of swadeshi in Western India.
It is not the one man whom the whole Indian community in Western India delights to honour, from Peshawar to Kolhapur and from Bombay to our own borders; but
It is one who will not talk about Shivaji and Bhavani – but only about Mahatmas.
His social and religious views may not agree with those of the “enlightened”, but we have yet to learn that the Congress platform is sacred to advanced social reformers, that the profession of the Hindu religion is a bar to leadership in its ranks.
It follows therefore that the Presidentship was unconstitutionally offered to Mr. Naoroji by one or two individuals behind the back of the Reception Committee. It is now explained that Mr. Naoroji simply wired his willingness to accept the Presidentship offered to him.
The plea that it had long been known Mr. Naoroji was coming to India and it was therefore thought fit to ask him to preside at the Congress, is one which will command no credit. Not until Mr. Tilak’s name was before the country and they saw that none of their mediocrities they had suggested could weigh in the scale with the great Maratha leader. (A Disingenuous Defense, September 14, 1906, Bande Mataram, Eclipse of the Hindu Nation, pp 155-57)
The Bhopatkar to whom Aurobindo makes reference was Bhaskar Balwant Bhopatkar, elder brother of Laxman Balwant Bhopatkar, President of Hindu Mahasabha, Gorakhpur, 1946 who would defend Savarkar in 1948 after he was arrested and jailed for Gandhi’s assassination. B B Bhopatkar was editor of the political journal Bhala (Marathi for spear) who was jailed for six months on charges of sedition. http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1226739/
A similar coup d’etat was attempted in October 1911 when a private suggestion was made to Gandhi after his personally gratifying London visit in 1909. Now the author of the “banned” Hind Swaraj, he was made an inquiry to accept the Presidentship of the INC. With no Tilak and Aurobindo to contend with, Gandhi was impatient to return to India for a more ambitious political role within the INC and wired his acceptance with alacrity. He had to withdraw his acceptance when it was communicated to him that it was merely an enquiry and not an offer.
It was because Tilak met BB Bhopatkar, imprisoned for anti-empire actions, after his release from jail in August that the empire loyalists in the INC did not want him as President of the INC and invited Dadabhai Naoroji from London to preside over the 1906 Calcutta Congress.
Gandhi’s record of expelling Hindu nationalists from the INC
Gopalkrishna Gokhale did not want the unapologetic Hindu nationalist Tilak as President of the INC in 1906. In 1914 when Tilak returned to India after six years’ imprisonment in Mandalay, and Gandhi was still in London, Gokhale was so afraid that the INC would turn to Tilak for leadership, that he told Tilak that he was not welcome into the INC and added gratuitously that Tilak should do whatever he wanted to do by staying outside the INC.
Years later, Gandhi would expel Hindu nationalists N B Khare and K M Munshi from the Congress – both for the same reason, and in the exact same manner. They were Hindus.
In 1938, Gandhi forced the Congress Working Committee to expel NB Khare, the Prime Minister of the Central Provinces on the pretext that Khare as Prime Minister had dared to deal directly with the Governor of the province bypassing and without consulting the Working Committee or Parliamentary Board (read Gandhi).
What this actually meant was this: Khare refused to allow Gandhi to play puppet master. After his expulsion from the Congress, Khare remained in active politics in very high positions and later became a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha. This gives rise to the suspicion that Gandhi expelled NB Khare from the INC because of Khare’s latent Hindu nationalism.
Just how vicious Gandhi could be in words and action when his despotism was challenged is demonstrated by what he said after expelling NB Khare from the Congress:
Dr. Khare was not only guilty of gross indiscipline in flouting the warnings of the Parliamentary Board, but he betrayed incompetence as a leader by allowing himself to be fooled by the Governor, or not knowing that by his precipitate action he was compromising the Congress. He heightened the measure of indiscipline by refusing the advice of the Working Committee to make a frank confession of his guilt and withdraw from leadership.
And this is how Gandhi justified his role as a remote control:
Let us understand the functions of the Congress. For internal growth and administration, it is as good a democratic organization as any to be found in the world. But this democratic organization has been brought into being to fight the greatest imperial power living. For this external work, therefore, it has to be like an army. As such it ceases to be democratic. The central authority possesses plenary powers enabling it to impose and enforce discipline on the various units working under it. Provincial organizations and Provincial Parliamentary Boards are subject to the central authority (meaning Gandhi).
Therefore the Congress conceived as a fighting machine has to centralize control and guide every department and every Congressman, however highly placed and expect unquestioned obedience. That fight cannot be fought on any other terms. They say this is fascism pure and simple. But they forget fascism is the naked sword. Under it Dr. Khare should lose his head. (Excerpts from Functions of the Working Committee, August 6, 1938, CWMG Vol. 73, pp 344-49, Eclipse of the Hindu Nation, page 499-504)
Contemporary experts and exponents of swadeshi should face up to the fact that Gandhi the despot controlling the INC declared in no uncertain language that even for purposes of administration, the central committee of the INC was authoritarian, had to be authoritarian in character, in the interest of better administration! And refusing to acknowledge that he was being fascist in his work culture, Gandhi retorts that under fascism Khare would have lost his head; but being the Mahatma, all that he did was expel him from the Congress.
There was no Central or Provincial Congress Working Committee or any Parliamentary Board: there was only Gandhi. Gandhi, as has been demonstrated so far, controlled the Congress with an iron hand. Gandhi emasculated the INC and the Hindus of the country with the same iron hand and while this iron hand never lifted a finger against the British government or the Muslim League, it struck with force anyone who challenged him, his power or expressed dissent. With Gandhi, dissent was equal to disloyalty.
Shri KM Munshi came to me as soon as it was possible after his return to Bombay. In the course of the discussion, I discovered that whilst he accepted in the abstract the principle of ahimsa with all its implications he felt the greatest difficulty in acting upon it, the more so as with his intimate knowledge of Bombay he was sure he could not carry the Hindus with him, much less the Muslims. He knew that the numerous Hindus who were under his influence would look to him for guidance and would seek his advice. He saw no way of convincing them that they could defend themselves through ahimsa….I advised him that the only dignified and brave course for him was to resign from the Congress and attain freedom of action unhampered by restrictions entailed by the Congress non-violence. (Statement to the Press, Sevagram, June 15, 1941, CWMG Vol. 80 page 311)
In the end, when Bengal and the whole of North India was burning in jihadi fire, and when Bengal under the rule of the Muslim League demonstrated what Muslim rule was in content and in action, Gandhi was forced to confess that his ahimsa, his non-violence, his passive resistance had failed, that he had failed. The Congress creed of non-violence which he imposed upon the entire Hindu nation stood by helplessly and watched Gandhi wring his hands as the Muslim League walked away with Pakistan.
Have been awake since 2 AM. God’s grace alone is sustaining me. I can see there is some grave defect in me somewhere which is the cause for all this. All around me is utter darkness. When will God take me out of this darkness into His light?
There must be some serious flaw deep down in me which I am unable to discover. Where could I have missed my way? There must be something terribly lacking in my ahimsa and faith which is responsible for all this. (Extract from Diary, Januray 2, 1947, CWMG Vol. 93, page 227)
Gandhi lost a few nights’ sleep but the Hindu Nation lost territory and Hindus were politically disempowered. Gandhi’s political principles of satyagraha and ahimsa had absolutely no impact on the Muslim League as was proved repeatedly from 1893 to 1948. That it had no effect on the British Government too, was known to Gandhi from the beginning.
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.