Tilak’s Bhagwad Gita as Karmayoga and Gandhi’s Bhagwad Gita as ‘love force’
Gandhi returned from South Africa to re-direct the INC and the Hindus of the country away from armed resistance to British rule. He had to give the INC a new direction and he had to make ordinary Hindus follow him in that direction. To do that Gandhi had to diminish Tilak and his fiery, Hindu nationalist writings.
There was little doubt that Tilak after his return from Mandalay, was renewing the call to action through his call for Karmayoga – to continue with the freedom struggle that was interrupted with his arrest and with Aurobindo choosing spirituality over political action. Gandhi had to debunk Tilak’s call and give the Bhagwad Gita his own interpretation which every ordinary Hindu on the street knew was war between the forces of dharma and evil on a real battlefield. This was not a fictional story about intra-family dispute or feud. The essence of Krishna’s discourse to Arjuna on the battlefield was that adharma had to be ended even if it was embodied in relatives and family – that was the primary duty of a Kshatriya. And yet this is what the Mahatma had to say about the Bhagwad Gita:
I shall now endeavor to consider in all humility a doubt raised by some Hindu friends regarding the meaning of the Bhagwad Gita. They say that in the Bhagwad Gita Srikrishna has encouraged Arjuna to slay his relations and they therefore argue that there is warrant in this work for violence and that there is no satyagraha in it. Now the Bhagwad Gita is not a historical work, it is a great religious book, summing up the teaching of all religions. The poet has seized the occasion of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas on the field of Kurukshetra for drawing attention to the war going on in our bodies between the forces of good (Pandavas) and the forces of evil (Kauravas).
To confuse the description of this universally acknowledged spiritual war with momentary world strife is to call holy unholy. We who are saturated with the teachings of the Bhagwad Gita but who do not pretend to any special spiritual qualifications, do not draw out sword against our relations whenever they perpetuate injustice but we win them over by our affection for them.
That encouragement for violence can be deduced from the Bhagwad Gita demonstrates the deadliness of kaliyuga.
I have found nothing but love in every page of the Gita and I hope and pray that everyone will have similar experience on Sunday. (Excerpts from True meaning of Bhagwad Gita’s teachings, May 8, 1918, CWMG Vol. 17, pp 25-26)
This gibberish pronounced with élan was not Gandhi of the 1890s decade in South Africa while under the thrall of Jesus Christ and European Christian Missionaries–this was the Mahatma, the anointed leader of the INC in 1919 and later in 1946-47. Ten years later, in 1929 Gandhi would write his own commentary on the Bhagwad Gita – Anasakthiyoga. Gandhi called his commentary ‘yoga’ because Tilak’s commentary on the Gita was called ‘karmayoga sastra’. And in keeping with his Abrahamic mindset he also called it The Gospel of selfless action.
Gandhi’s intent behind writing his own ‘yoga’ was almost childishly simple. If Tilak made his commentary on the Sri Bhagwad Gita a treatise on karmayoga, calling upon Indians to act decisively and forcefully to end political enslavement, then Gandhi fulfilling the objective of why empire loyalists handed over the INC to him on a platter, had to interpret the same Bhagwad Gita to be anasaktiyoga enjoining passivity, endless self-suffering, invoking what Gandhi called ‘soul force’ inside them and experiencing ‘love force’ – any force other than real force.
Gandhi wanted people to do charkha, temple entry, Hindu-Muslim unity, promote Hindi and get their sons and daughters to marry Harijans without any expectation of political freedom. And that is why he called his commentary a gospel of selfless action – anasaktiyoga. Gandhi stood Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna on the battle field in Kurukshetra, on its head.
He twisted and tortured the Hindu understanding of ahimsa, of passive resistance, into a grotesque political principle which could not deal with the Muslim League’s demand for Hindu territory.
Hindus should not harbor anger in their hearts against Muslims even if the latter wanted to destroy them. Even if the Muslims want to kill us all we should face death bravely. If they established their rule after killing Hindus we would be ushering in a new world by sacrificing our lives. None should fear death. Birth and death are inevitable for every human being. Why should we then rejoice or grieve? If we die with a smile we shall enter into a new life, we shall be ushering in a new India. (Prayer meeting, April 6, 1947, New Delhi, CWMG Vol. 94 page 249)
That nation is great which rests its head upon dealth as its pillow. Those who defy death are free from all fear. (Hind Swaraj, Chapter XVII, Passive Resistance, pp94-95)
Gandhi walked to the pinnacle of INC leadership almost immediately after his return to India in 1915. He was placed there for two reasons –
- To replace Tilak as leader of the masses and to replace Aurobindo as a thinker who galvanized the masses
- To disarm and disempower the majority Hindu populace inside the INC and outside so that they would never be in a position to – (a) resist either the British Imperial government which was not going to give up India in a hurry and (b) to be so weak as to be unable to defend the territory of the nation when the British Imperial government and the Muslim League made vivisection a package deal with the transfer of power.
Gandhi, notwithstanding the narration in treacherous writing of distorted and even false history, did exactly that. He declared that the Congress would not forcefully resist the British or the Muslims. For a man who did not allow any other Hindu political voice other than his own in the country during three decades of freedom struggle, Gandhi continued to sell the lemon that Muslims should believe in the idea of his India and have faith in Gandhi’s “Indian-ness”. Hindus of the country had no other vehicle except the INC and when Gandhi weakened the INC he actually weakened the Hindus and rendered the Hindu voice powerless to be heard.
The greatest coercion is British coercion. And the Congress is impatient to get out of that coercion. My hope in desiring a Constituent Assembly is that whether the Muslims are represented by the Muslim League mentality or any other, the representatives when they are face to face with the reality will not think of cutting up India according to religion but will regard India as an indivisible whole and discover a national, that is, Indian solution of even especially Muslim questions.
But if the hope is frustrated, the Congress cannot forcibly resist the express will of the Muslims of India. Needless to say Congress can never seek the assistance of British forces to resist the vivisection. It is the Muslims who will impose their will by force singly or with British assistance on an unresisting India.
If I can carry the Congress with me, I would not put the Muslims to the trouble of using force. I would be ruled by them for it would still be Indian rule. In other words the Congress will have only a non-violent approach to every question and difficulty arising. (Question Box, Ramgarh, March 17, 1940, CWMG Vol. 78, page 66)
The greatest coercion was not British coercion, but even intelligent leaders like Rajaji and Patel who had their own doubts about Gandhi’s political competence remained silent all through their years with Gandhi. Muslim coercion was worse because it was coercion from within the country and also because it had recourse to jihad.
But this was Gandhi’s political principle in essence and this was in 1940. Gandhi “hoped” that Muslims will discover a “national, that is, Indian solution” to Muslim issues. What kind of “Indian” and what kind of “national” Gandhi did not specify. He did not have to. The only India that remained a viable force which was not Muslim was Hindu. But then Gandhi had already made it clear that the Congress was not a Hindu organization. If the Congress was not a Hindu organization and Gandhi wanted an “Indian” solution to the Muslim question which was not Islamic separatist and secessionist, which “Indian” solution did he have in mind except the solution of the weak, disarmed and passive Hindu nation debilitated by Gandhi’s unqualified and rigid passive resistance?
It was but a small step for Indian polity from Gandhi’s non-Hindu “Indian” to Nehru’s anti-Hindu “Indian”.
To be continued
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.