One of the great ironies of India is that Mohandas Gandhi – rather than Gautama Buddha, Adi Shankaracharya or Chandragupta Vikramaditya – is the “Father of the Nation”. India’s history has a galaxy of great kings, warrior queens, nation builders and saints and yet we chose a politician who presided over the breakup of the country as our national mentor.
With the possible exception of North Korea – where the communists have convinced the masses that their late leader Kim il-Sung is some sort of divinity – there is no other country other than India which has raised a mortal leader to demigod status.
If the personality cult of Kim il-Sung has attained absurd proportions, then India is offering stiff competition in that department. If the North Koreans have erected more than 500 statues of Kim il-Sung, then India has countless government schemes and national landmarks named after Gandhi and the appendage Nehru family.
This myth making has taken absurd dimensions. For 67 years, government radio and TV channels have been regurgitating the same old lies – how the frail “father of the nation” used the weapon of non-violence to defeat the brutal colonialists.
Schoolchildren are taught that in a freedom struggle without precedent or parallel, India became independent without firing a shot in anger. The implication, of course, being that the British are a race of such conscientious people they actually bowed before Gandhi’s non-violent methods.
There is an ancient Indian adage – Satyam Eva Jayate or Truth Alone Wins. How true. Millions of Indians are waking up to the fact that Gandhi was not quite the apostle of peace he’s made out to be but rather a misguided man who caused untold harm to India. His crowning achievement was the breakup of a country that had held together through cultural and religious continuity for thousands of years.
His role in the freedom movement needs to be reexamined because Gandhi’s arrival on the stage upended India’s freedom movement. In the early 1900s, Indian leaders were looking at overthrowing the British by the 1920s, with brutal armed forced if necessary. But Gandhi’s arrival delayed freedom by more than two decades, enough time for the cunning British to divide the leadership, people and finally the nation.
Gandhi vs the Revolutionaries
The Indian freedom movement was massive in its sweep. Armed revolutionaries were not only carrying on guerrilla wars at home, they even took the battle to England, where they assassinated British officials.
However, Gandhi severely reprimanded such acts, calling the Indian revolutionaries misguided people. “There should be no malice or vindictiveness in our resistance,” he said.
But his statements condemning such acts only hurt India and Indians. They not only cooled Indian anger but also made it easier for the British to hang the revolutionaries. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru – who launched violent attacks on the British – were admonished by Gandhi even as Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru supported them.
In an apparent jab at Gandhi, Jinnah said in the Punjab Assembly: “However much you deplore them and however much you say they are misguided, it is the system, this damnable system of governance, which is resented by the people.”
Following the executions, Gandhi faced black flag demonstrations by angry Karachi youths who shouted “Down with Gandhi“. The New York Times reported: “A reign of terror in the city of (Kanpur) and an attack on Mahatma Gandhi by a youth outside Karachi were among the answers of the Indian extremists today to the hanging of Bhagat Singh and two fellow-assassins.”
It is worth noting that while Indian freedom fighters experienced third-degree torture in British jails –especially the notorious Kala Pani in Andaman & Nicobar– Gandhi never got a scratch. For all his protests, so-called fasts-unto-death, marches and sloganeering, he was lodged in minimum security prisons, where he could leisurely churn out his misguided theories on non-violence.
Out of Africa
Gandhi started off as a humble lawyer in South Africa. While his supporters argue that he evolved into a saint over the years, few are aware that he joined the ambulance corps of the British Army during the 1896 Boer War in South Africa.
So basically, the man who would go on to lead India’s freedom movement was denying the same freedom to the Dutch Boers. Plus, what non-violence was he preaching by joining the world’s most savage army?
Again in 1906, during the Zulu Rebellion against the British government, Gandhi served the British army as a stretcher-bearer. The native Africans were also victims of colonialism and Gandhi’s sympathies should have been with them. But he was a self-confessed Anglophile with a firm belief in the goodness of the British.
Did Gandhi’s Anglophilia convince the colonialists to prop him up as an interlocutor between Indians and the British? In 1947, the retreating British burned thousands of documents in Delhi. So any direct evidence to prove London’s secret links with Gandhi may be long gone. Compare it to the Holocaust. Today, there is little or no evidence Adolf Hitler ordered the genocide of the Jews, but six million Jews could not have been sent to the gas chambers without a directive from the Nazi leader.
However, there is plenty of indirect evidence that Gandhi was serving Britain more than he was serving India’s cause.
After he returned from South Africa, Gandhi was in favour of continued British rule in India. In 1907 he wrote, “Should the British be thrown out of India? Can it be done, even if we wish to do so? To these two questions we can reply that we stand to lose by ending British rule and that, even if we want, India is not in a position to end it.” These are the words of a man who was literally thrown out of a train in South Africa for sitting in a whites-only coach.
The supreme irony was that Gandhi –who constantly espoused non-violence – urged Indians to enlist as combatants in the British Army. With the slogan “20 Recruits From Every Village”, he set up camps to enlist Indians during the World War I.
For his efforts he was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind (Caesar of India), British India’s highest civilian award. Other Indians opposed his war efforts. Among them was Jinnah, who said Indians should be put on the same footing as European British subjects before being asked to fight. And secondly, they said, Britain must guarantee independence after the war. Gandhi, however, waved aside all such conditions.
Indian revolutionaries were frustrated by the tardiness shown by Gandhi in demanding full freedom. His non-violence exasperated these leaders because it shielded the British from the wrath of the Indian people.
According to Indologist and orientalist Koenraad Elst, Gandhi’s “autocratic decision” to call off the mass agitation for complete independence in 1931 in exchange for a “few puny British concessions”“amounted to the sacrifice of a high national goal in favour of a petty rise in status for the Congress”. He adds: “Also, every delay in the declaration of independence gave the emerging separatist forces the time to organise and to strengthen their position.”
Essentially, Gandhi allowed the British and Muslim separatists a window of 16 years during which they were able to sell the idea of Pakistan to a wider Muslim audience.
Seeds of Fundamentalism
Gandhi played a deplorable role in the creation of Pakistan. Here’s busting another myth: the people living in the current geographical areas of Pakistan did not – repeat, did not want a Muslim country. Not that they were any less fundamentalist than, say cowbelt Muslims. It’s just that in Punjab, Sindh and the northwest frontier region, Muslims comprised a clear majority and hardly felt threatened by the Hindus. The demand for Pakistan was made by educated, upper middle class Muslims mainly from Uttar Pradesh.
In the 1920s, Turkish nationalist Ataturk was involved in a power struggle with the effete Ottoman rulers and the Caliph of Istanbul. At this crucial juncture two Indian Muslim brothers, Maulana Mohammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, both self-styled religious leaders, distributed pamphlets calling upon the Turkish people to preserve the Ottoman Caliphate for the sake of Islam.
This was laughable because Indian Muslims had no locus standi in the matter. After all, who did they think they were –custodians of Mecca? Even today, Arab Muslims treat their co-religionists from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as not worthy of being treated equal. Again, the Afghans call Indian Muslims as Hindko or Indian.
Predictably, the meddlesome Indian Muslims wound up the nationalist Turks. Under Turkey’s new nationalist government led by the reformer Ataturk, it was construed as foreign intervention, and any form of foreign intervention was labelled as an insult to Turkish sovereignty, and worse, a threat to state security. Ataturk promptly seized his chance. On his initiative, the National Assembly abolished the Caliphate on March 3, 1924.
The Caliph was exiled and the Ottoman dynasty, after a 700 year reign, ingloriously ended up in the proverbial dustheap. Indian Muslims should feel proud of their contribution to the demise of the Caliphate.
Now, here’s what Gandhi did. In order to show solidarity with Indian Muslims, he launched a protest movement demanding the reinstatement of the Caliph. This was not just rank bad politics but it also shows his muddled side.
It is clear that Gandhi, who apparently wanted freedom for Indians, did not care about freedom for the millions of Arabs who were seething under Ottoman rule. Secondly, he seemed indifferent to Turkey’s search for modernity. And finally, he fanned the flames of fundamentalism among Indian Muslims.
The average Indian Muslim did not care a rat’s tail about Turkey. Nearly 99 per cent of Indian Muslims are forced converts from Hinduism, and they were rooted to the soil. But Gandhi encouraged Indian Muslims to be loyal to the Islamic cause. So basically while Turks were preparing for the 20th century, Gandhi was pushing Indian Muslims into the 17th.
The Indian nation is still paying a price for it. For, Gandhi’s Caliphate strategy gamed the Muslim mindset. From that point onwards, extraterritorial loyalties enticed them. He pointed their compass away from the Himalayas to Mecca. It was another step in the direction of Pakistan.
The British, who had been suspicious of Indian Muslims since the First War of Independence in 1857, now discovered an enemy’s enemy and actively sought out key Muslim leaders in Project Pakistan. They assured Muslims that if they asked for an Islamic homeland and if the new country promised to be loyal to Britain, they could have their fiefdom carved out of India.
Even then, it was Gandhi’s ‘peaceful’ strategies that literally disarmed the Hindus and gave away Pakistan. Gandhi’s fasts and threats worked only on the Hindus, and he would declare a fast whenever he wanted to apply pressure on the Hindus. On the other hand, he never risked his life by going on a “fast unto death” to pressure the Muslims – he knew they wouldn’t listen to him or care if he died. That is why Gandhi did not go on a fast against Partition.
In fact, Jinnah, the architect of Pakistan, was a diehard secularist who repeatedly warned Gandhi about the dangers of flirting with fundamentalist Muslims. Jinnah, who used to openly eat pork, despised fundamentalist Muslim leaders and stayed away from them. It was Gandhi’s arrogance and repeated snubs that left no choice for Jinnah to throw in his lot with Project Pakistan. He died a broken man.
Pacifism Gone Haywire
Gandhi claimed to have been inspired by the Gita. “Ahimsa paramo dharma” or “non-violence is the highest duty” was his pet quote but very few realise that it’s an incomplete quote. Nobody in the old man’s lifetime bothered to check the Gita and expose this selective quoting or even if someone did, it hasn’t come to light. The second part of the quote is: “Dharma himsa tathaiva cha” or “so too is violence in service of Dharma.”
You get the picture – the complete sentence means that non-violence is the highest dharma to the extent that it supersedes all other actions. Krishna Maheshwari explains in Hindupedia:
“Unlike the English word ‘non-violence’ (which is absolute in its meaning), ahimsa means non-violence in a relative sense. There are times when violence can also be considered ahimsa if that violence is used to stop greater violence….To hang a murderer is ahimsa for a king. To kill a man who is taking away the lives of many is ahimsa.”
Indeed, it is only when retaliatory killings were ordered on the Indian side that the cowardly Muslim Leaguers stopped the mass slaughter of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. Those political leaders who carried out the killings of Muslims in Delhi and elsewhere were therefore morally superior to Gandhi, who did not seem to care about the genocide of Hindus.
To please the Muslims, Gandhi asked the Hindu king of Kashmir to retire and go to Kashi after handing over his kingdom to Sheikh Abdullah because Kashmir was Muslim majority province. It never occurred to Gandhi that Kashmir’s Dogra dynasty is one of the most ancient in the world, tracing its ancestry to the Ikshvakus, who ruled India more than 7000 years ago. Rama, Harishchandra and 22 of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras belonged to this dynasty.
By the same logic, Gandhi should have asked the Nizam of Hyderabad to retire and go to Mecca. After all, Hyderabad was a Hindu majority State. But he only showed more glimpses of his warped side by declaring: “After the British leave India, the Nizam of Hyderabad would be the Badshah of Bharat.”
According to Elst,
“The fundamental problem with Gandhi’s pacifism, not in the initial stages but when he had become the world-famous leader of India’s freedom movement (1920-47), was his increasing extremism. All sense of proportion had vanished when he advocated non-violence not as a technique of moral pressure by a weaker on a stronger party, but as a form of masochistic surrender.”[Emphasis added]
Gandhi’s advice to the victims of communal violence was “breathtaking for its callousness in the face of human suffering”.
During his prayer meeting on 1 May 1947, he prepared the Hindus and Sikhs for the anticipated massacres of their kind in the upcoming state of Pakistan with these words:
“I would tell the Hindus to face death cheerfully if the Muslims are out to kill them. I would be a real sinner if after being stabbed I wished in my last moment that my son should seek revenge. I must die without rancour. You may turn round and ask whether all Hindus and all Sikhs should die. Yes, I would say. Such martyrdom will not be in vain.”
“It is left unexplained what purpose would be served by this senseless and avoidable surrender to murder,” says Elst.
“Jews Should Pray for Hitler”
Gandhi’s misguided approach can be seen in his advice to the Jews:
“They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer Satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them.”
He wrote about the Fuehrer: “I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing and seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed.”
When Gandhi came to know about the scale of German atrocities against the Jews, he criticized the Jews who had tried to escape or fight for their lives. He wrote: “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany.”And he offered a shocking piece of advice, asking the Jews to “pray for Hitler”.
In 1940, he wrote an ingratiating letter to Hitler, where he addressed the German leader as a “dear friend”. Excerpts:
“We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents.”
“During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions?”
And perhaps more revealingly: “You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance. I did it because the British know me as a friend though a rebel.” [Emphasis added]
As long as he stayed at the helm, it suited the British as they could hang Indians with impunity.
Experiments with Sex
Like his complete lack of understanding of ahimsa, Gandhi utterly got the Hindu concept of Brahmacharya (celibacy) wrong.
Putting it simply, Brahmacharya means celibacy when unmarried, and fidelity when married. It follows from the first of four Ashram or age-based stages of a person’s life. The Brahmacharya Ashram begins at birth and lasts up to say, 25 years of age, during which an Arya – or noble man – was focused on education and included the practice of celibacy.
Brahmacharya kicked in again during the later stages of life for the purposes of attaining spiritual liberation. In Hindu, Jain and Buddhist monastic traditions, Brahmacharya implies mandatory renouncing of sex and marriage. However, householders are allowed – or rather encouraged – to indulge in a life of sustainable erotic pleasures.
But Gandhi somehow got the wrong ideas and at the age of 37 declared he would pursue the life of a celibate. It’s clear that he was influenced by Christianity. In South Africa, in a letter dripping with Biblical imagery, he wrote: “I vow to flee from the serpent which I know will bite me….God’s last test is ever the most difficult. Satan’s last temptation is ever the most seductive.”
To prove his self-control he often slept and bathed naked with other women – including his grandniece, Manu, and the wife of his grandnephew, who were both 18 when they started sleeping in the same bed as Gandhi, who was 77 years old at the time.
Graeme Donald writes in Lies, Damned Lies and History: A Catalogue of Historical Errors and Misunderstandings:
“All had to sleep naked and, just to make doubly sure of his resolve, Gandhi would take them to bed in pairs. Some as young as 12, several girls later acknowledged that they did often ‘render service’ to Gandhi but refused to elaborate.”
Donald adds that the girls were selected for their “pertness” to “stiffen his resolve” for celibacy. “Very much a case of ‘damn, failed again, must try harder tomorrow night.”
In her diary, Manu wrote:
“Tonight, when Bapu, Sushilaben and I were sleeping on the same cot, he embraced me and patted me. He put me to sleep with great love. He embraced me after a very long time. Then Bapu praised me for remaining innocent (of sexual urges) despite sleeping with him. But this isn’t the case with the other girls. Veena, Kanchan and Lilavati (other associates of Gandhi) told me that they won’t be able to sleep with him.”
Sudhir Kakar writes about Gandhi’s morbid experiment:
“So focused was the Mahatma on his own feelings during these experiments that I believe he may have ‘chosen’ to overlook their consequences for the women involved. Except for the flaring up of violent jealousy between the various women, we do not know the psychological effects, if any, that these experiments left on each of the women.”
Well, we do know what happened to Manu. She remained a spinster and died at the young age of 40. Late Prime Minister Morarji Desai (a diehard Gandhian, whose crackpot ideals may have led him to betray Indian spies embedded in Pakistan’s nuclear establishment) – visited her in hospital and wrote:“Manu’s problem is more psychological than physiological. She appears to have despaired for life and developed allergy to all kinds of medicines.”
Gandhi’s behaviour was criticised by family members and the Indian political leadership of his time. Some members of his staff resigned, including two of his editors who refused to print Gandhi’s sermons describing his bizarre sleeping arrangements. Nehru is also said to have described Gandhi’s sexual behaviour as “abnormal and unnatural”.
It needs to be mentioned here that even some of his much admired methods were knee-jerk reactions to the pioneering strategies of contemporary Indian leaders.
For instance, it was Veer Savarkar who in 1905 first started the swadeshi (buy Indian) movement by organising a bonfire of foreign clothes in Pune. Gandhi, who was then in South Africa, panned Savarkar’s decision, only to launch the Swadeshi Movement 16 years later.
When B.R. Ambedkar championed the cause of the depressed classes and started a move to secure for the Dalits (so-called untouchables) the right to vote for their own representatives, Gandhi went on a hunger-strike until Ambedkar called off his plan.
Later, Gandhi sought to become a Dalit leader by coining the term Harijan or People of God. However, he really did not believe the Dalits were fit to be treated as equals, saying, “I do not believe that inter-dining and inter-caste marriage are necessary to national unity.”
According to Donald, “Ambedkar was also one of the first to see through the Gandhi act, cautioning others not to fall for it as Gandhi was not a saint but a very clever politician.”
Who Gains from the Cult?
The Gandhi family that has ruled India for most of its post-independent existence has nothing to do with Gandhi.
Not only has this family ridden piggyback on his name through a bizarre accident of marriage, it has usurped the glory from the real revolutionaries such as Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and Alluri Sitaramiah Raju.
In the narrative of this dynasty, there is no place for anyone other than Gandhi. India is Gandhi and Gandhi is India.
Under these Neo-Gandhis, the Indian government has been forced to donate millions of dollars in grants to Cambridge and Oxford scholars to write hagiographies to fit the family’s narrative. It is a circular cycle that feeds on its own tail for sustenance –Indian secularists get the history they want from obliging colonial scholars. The Indian liberals and Marxists then pick up this thread and it passes into school history books. The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels couldn’t have done a better job.
India is unique because it is among a handful of countries that are also complete civilisations. It is a land of innumerable grand and inspiring personalities. To name a few, Porus, who defeated Alexander; Rajendra Chola who conquered Southeast Asia; Rani of Jhansi who rode into battle against the British with her infant son on her back; the magnanimous and brave Harsha who defeated the Huns; Dara Shikoh the Sanskrit loving Mughal prince who could have changed the history of the Indian subcontinent; Maharana Pratap who literally ate grass but refused to lower his head before the Mughal tyrants; Kanhoji Angre the Maratha admiral who routed the British, Dutch and Portuguese navies and remained undefeated for 33 years.
Then there’s an unending list of thinkers, scientists, surgeons and mathematicians such as Aryabhata, Bhaskara, Panini and Patanjali who gave the world numerals, the zero, the ‘Pythagoras’ theorem, the decimal system, algebra, calculus, cataract surgery, plastic surgery, vaccination and more.
No one person – least of all Gandhi – can be the father or mother of a civilization that has produced such titans. And this is just a partial list.
Hopefully, things will change as people across India remove their blindfolds and see what Ambedkar saw early on.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi renamed a clutch of central government schemes named after the Gandhi family. For instance, the Indira Awas Yojana is now Gram Awas Yojana. In October 2015, the government discontinued stamps featuring Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Modi is doing the country a great favour by relaxing the Gandhi-Nehru chokehold on our collective consciousness.
Rakesh is a globally cited defence analyst. His work has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Russia Beyond, Moscow; Hindustan Times, New Delhi; Business Today, New Delhi; Financial Express, New Delhi; BusinessWorld Magazine, New Delhi; Swarajya Magazine, Bangalore; Foundation Institute for Eastern Studies, Warsaw; Research Institute for European and American Studies, Greece, among others.
As well as having contributed for a research paper for the US Air Force, he has been cited by leading organisations, including the US Army War College, Pennsylvania; US Naval PG School, California; Johns Hopkins SAIS, Washington DC; Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC; Rutgers University, New Jersey; Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris; Institute for Strategic, Political, Security and Economic Consultancy, Berlin; Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk; Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Washington DC; Stimson Centre, Washington DC; Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia; Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington DC; and BBC.
His articles have been quoted extensively by national and international defence journals and in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south.