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May 2015

 Gandhiji was a phenomenon. After the departure of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal (Bal, Lal and Pal) he rode like a colossus on the political horizon of India. The techniques that he had adopted during his stay of over twenty years (1893-1915) in South Africa for the welfare of Indians, he used the same in India. Gandhi forgot the fact that  Indians in South Africa were a miniscule minority and demands were the same both of the Muslims and the Hindus; that is, removal of disabilities and restrictions placed on the Indian workers and traders. Whereas in India, the interests and aims of the Indian National Congress and the Indian Muslim League were diametrically opposite.

The Indian National Congress was founded (1885) by an Englishman for airing the demands of the Indians at large. On the other hand, the League was purely a religio-political organization setup entirely by Muslims, for the Muslims and, of the Muslims (1906). Gandhi overlooked this fundamental difference and most of the communal problems that India faces today are the legacy of Gandhi and his successor, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Gandhi was a bundle of contradictions. He applied multiple standards to different persons and in different situations. His treatment of his sons, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vallabhbhai Patel vis-à-vis Jawaharlal Nehru shows the real character of Gandhi. On Hindu-Muslim issues Gandhi, never blamed the Muslims; he lived for them and eventually died for them. Gandhi had no good words for Rana Pratap, Shivaji and others patriots who had laid down their lives for the sake of their motherland. Swami Shraddhanand was killed by one Abdul Rashid. Gandhi called the killer his brother. And it is, Shraddhananda who had conferred the title of 'Mahatma' on Gandhi. Gandhi's only achievement in his political life was that he was successful in persuading Dr. Ambedkar (Poona Pact, 1932) not to leave Hinduism and insist on separate electorates for the Harijans. In short : Gandhi was, on the whole hypocrital and had double standards.

Gandhi's role in India between 1915 and 1948 can be looked at from two different angles: political and personal. As far as his politics is concerned, Gandhi had made thundering statements, like the achievement of Swaraj in one year and that Pakistan would emerge over his dead body, which ultimately came to nothing. Like the medieval Sultan Mohammad bin Tughlaq, with the best of intentions, Gandhi was a transcendental failure. In so far as his family life is concerned, very little has been written and less is known to the common Indian.  How many Indians today are aware that Gandhi had four sons and what happened to them during Mahatma's lifetime? All that the people have been taught is that Gandhi was father of the nation and a mahatma. It is time,  that the present generation comes to know what the contemporaries had thought and written about Gandhi and his successor Nehru. The current issue draws on the works of Robert Payne, Leonard Mosley and Patrick French, among others.

Mahatma Gandhi And His Sons:

Like many men who devote themselves to moral principles, Gandhi was a bad father to his sons …as they grew older Gandhi regarded them as an encumbrance, and did not like to have them near him. Of his four sons, Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas and Devdas, the most troublesome in his eyes was Harilal. In 1910, Harilal was twenty two. Manilal was eighteen, Ramdas was thirteen and Devdas was ten. Both Harilal and Manilal resented the fact that they had been denied proper schooling.  Harilal was particularly resentful because he had been refused permission to go to study for the bar. Gandhi had a horror of university education and called all schools as citadels of slavery. In his view children, should be taught at home. Where a choice has to be made between liberty and learning, who will not say that the former has to be preferred a thousand times to the latter, Gandhi wrote. In fact he was not thinking of children liberty so much as his own. It is an important part of children's training that they should be taught to bear hardships from their earlier years, wrote Gandhi. He would tell himself that by denying Harilal to go to a university, he had prevented him from becoming one more of the useless young Indians who regarded their B.A.s and M.A.s as badges of authority. Academic training, according to Gandhi, destroys dignity, self-respect and understanding whereas studying at home would infuse fidelity, resourcefulness and wisdom.

When Harilal was arrested in 1909, his wife collapsed. Gandhi was annoyed that she had produced a second baby and that she had not been practicing brahmacharya.  Gandhi, however, was overjoyed when Harilal was again arrested. But one cannot hide the fact that Harilal was merely an instrument employed by his father. Gandhi  was deliberately refusing to give Harilal an education so that he would be a pliant tool in his father's hands. There had been many arguments between the father and son on the utility of education. Gandhi would insist that to be uneducated is to be free. Neither Harilal nor his brothers could understand the validity of these arguments, for they all wanted an education.

Harilal argued that Gandhi would never have been able to accomplish his work in South Africa if he had not become a lawyer. In turn Gandhi would argue that it was not necessary to become a lawyer or a doctor, or a professional man in order to perform service for the people. Harilal replied by quoting the names of contemporary figures who had served India well inspite of their university education (Tilak and Gokhale). The arguments came to nothing. Gandhi would reduce the debate to non-entity by insisting that his only concern was with morality and Harilal had not introduced morality into his argument, it was clearly defective. Gandhi equated education with immorality. Harilal wanted to study in England like his father. Gandhi reminded him that the satyagrahis were dedicated to poverty. When a friend offered to pay for Harilal's education Gandhi put so many stipulations that Harilal was compelled to reject the offer.

Gandhi's Treatment of Kasturba:

Harilal had objected violently to the treatment of his mother at Gandhi's hands. Gandhi argued that Kasturba was an old woman who had to have her decisions made for her. She does not know her mind. Harilal could not take it any longer. One day, he pretended to have left South Africa after writing a parting letter to his father in April 1911. Kasturba collapsed when she heard the news.  Harilal's friends never expected him to be anything but the docile son of an authoritarian father. During another round of arguments between the father and son, Harilal accused Gandhi of deliberately making the lives of his four sons unendurable, treating them as though they were merely the instruments of his will, savagely indifferent to them unless he could use them. Harilal further accused his father that unlike other fathers, Gandhi had never loved his sons never, done anything special for them, had always placed them last in the line. Gandhi suggested that Harilal should study Gujarati since he came from Gujarat. At last, at the age of 23 Harilal set out for India to resume his high school education. But in the high school at Ahmedabad, Harilal was a man among boys. Harilal seemed to have failed more often than passed. The bond between father and son had been broken.

A psychologist given Gandhi's history without clues to his identity or nationality would almost certainly say that his career was motivated by the suppression of an unusually strong sex-drive. In his own autobiography Gandhi writes in intimate and sometimes embarrassing details of his obsession with sex… However, his sense of guilt over the potency of his sexual urges crystallized only after he had sired three children. Gandhi's zeal on behalf of his people increased but so did his sexual needs….

Harilal Gandhi becomes Abdullah Gandhi:

In the long and unhappy life of Harilal there were only a few days of pleasure. He was sweet tempered, gentle and unassuming when young; his brothers adored him.  In youth he was handsome. By middle age, in 1930's his ravaged face showed how badly life had treated him. His wife had died in 1918. She had left two daughters (Ranee and Manu) two sons (Kanti and Rasik). They were handsome children, the apples of Kasturba's eye.  Harilal, by now, had become a wreck. He could be taken for a beggar.

In May 1936, Mahatma Gandhi was busy founding his new settlement at Segaon.  Harilal entered the Muslim faith in a ceremony which took place in the midst of a large congregation in a Bombay mosque. The news was broadcast across India. Harilal wrote to his mother that he had taken this step in order to become a better person.  Harilal Gandhi's new name was Abdulla Gandhi. A few months earlier Gandhi and Kasturba were traveling on the Jabalpur Mail (M.P.). Suddenly at the station, there was a cry : Mata Kasturba ki jai. This was Harilal's cry. He was standing on the platform; his clothes were in rags. Seeing his mother he presented an orange to her, saying : Ba, this is for you. Gandhi asked : And have you nothing for me? I have only one thing to say to you, if you are so great, you owe it all to Ba, and the orange was for her, and for her alone, replied Harilal.

Gandhi and His other sons :

Gandhi was more devoted to his grandchildren than to his sons. He thought Manilal was serious and ponderous and packed him off to continue the publication of Indian Opinion in South Africa. Ramdas was visionary and he too was sent to South Africa. Devdas took a teaching post in Madras while Harilal continued to imagine he would one day be a successful businessman in Calcutta. Gandhi's verdict on his sons were rarely accurate, thus concludes Robert Payne in his classic, Mahatma Gandhi.


Gandhi vs Subhas Chandra Bose

The differences of perspective between Bose and Gandhi were not limited to what each considered a legitimate method of anti-colonial struggle. Bose dreamt of modern Industrial India as against Gandhi's utopia: a Ramraj. Bose made every effort to accommodate Gandhi.  However, the latter loyal lieutenants could never accept the Bengali radical leader as one of their own.  Much depended on which way Nehru would lean. Gandhi Maharaj (Great King Gandhi) hoped to contain, control, and channel his energies by anointing first Jawaharlal Nehru and then Subhas Chandra Bose as Congress President.

Earlier on May 14, 1938 Bose as the President of the Congress had met Jinnah at his residence to discuss Hindu-Muslim understanding. Jinnah was already upset by Nehru's statement after 1937 election results that there were only two parties in India: the British and the Congress. Jinnah therefore told Bose that the Muslim League had to be recognized by the Congress as the authoritative and representive organization of the Muslims of India. This had to be the basis for any substantial negotiations between the Congress and the League. 

Bose's Re-election as President, 1939:

Congress right-wingers were vehemently opposed to Subhas's reelection. Rabindranath Tagore wrote to Gandhi and Nehru urging them to reelect Subhas Chandra Bose. Since Nehru was serving as the chairman of the National Planning Committee, Tagore wanted to see Bose as Congress President. Gandhi was unimpressed by the poet's foray in politics and chose to ignore his recommendation. A small coterie within the Working Committee in consultation with Gandhi set up Pattabhi Sitaramayya as their candidate. Bose, however, decided to run for reelection.… He had been challenging the unquestioned authority of Gandhi in Congress affairs since 1920.  The election result was delivered on January 29, 1939. The final tally showed that Bose had polled 1580 votes while Sitaramayya got only 1375 vote, a difference of 205 votes. Gandhi was not pleased at this turn of events, he had been instrumental in inducing Sitaramayya not to withdraw his name as a candidate. Gandhi acknowledged on January 31, 1939: The defeat is more much than his. Bose, in his public response on February 4,1939, said that he was pained to see that Mahatma Gandhi had taken the election result as a personal defeat. M.N. Roy wrote to Bose saying that Gandhi's statement amounted to : a declaration of war which may be targeted in true Gandhian fashion, namely, non-cooperation which, under the given relation of forces inside the Congress, can only be willful sabotage for discrediting yourself and your supporters. Gandhi had clearly implied that there was no room at the helm of the Congress for both Bose and those who had opposed him. Roy had concluded that Bose must sacrifice himself, for the unity of Congress under Gandhi's leadership. Bose went to Wardha and met Gandhi to clear the air. But there was no breakthrough. 

Thereafter Bose fell ill and asked for postponement of the Congress Working Committee's meeting. Instead, all members with the exception of Nehru and Bose resigned. At Tripuri, the rightwing of the Congress decided to avenge their defeat in the presidential election. They proposed a resolution that the Congress Executive should have Gandhiji's implicit confidence and requests the president to nominate the working committee in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji. The atmosphere at Tripuri was so suffused with the spirit of vendetta and Bose left the place with a loathing and disgust.

In this context Rabindranath Tagore wrote to Gandhi on March 29, 1939 : some rude hands have deeply hurt Bengal with an inglorious persistence. Please apply without delay balm to the wound with your own kind hands and prevent it from festering. Gandhi replied that the poet had set before him a difficult problem. Gandhi wrote to Bose to come over to Delhi. Tagore wrote to Subhs on April 3,1939: Please demand firmly of Mahatmaji to let you have his final answer at an early date. If he procrastinates then you may give up your post on that ground. Gandhi's obduracy could not be broken.  In disgust, Bose submitted his resignation on April 29, 1939. Within a week of resigning, Bose had proposed the formation of the Forward Bloc within the Congress. The Congress Working Committee charged him with indiscipline and banned him from holding any elective office in the Congress for three years, beginning in August, 1939. In January, 1941 he left Calcutta and made his way to Afghanistan.

Nehru: Gandhi's Western Face:

Gandhi was undaunted by their (Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru) differences, and had installed him (Nehru) as Congress President for 1930. This was partly the result of personal instinct and favour, assisted by his life experience that Jawaharlal could act as a bridge between the old and new generations. Gandhi played an important part in manipulating the choice of President of the Congress. It was Gandhi who had proposed Nehru's name for a second time.

The election to Abul Kalam Azad's successor as the Congress President in 1946 was one of the most important decisions in Congress history, since the nominee would be the Prime Minister of free India. The vote was held in April 1946 during the visit of the Cabinet Mission to India. Azad had wished to stay on but was soon vetoed by Gandhi. Fifteen out of the party's sixteen provincial committees chose Patel. But Gandhi proposed his protégé Jawaharlal Nehru who had not even been nominated. There is little doubt that party workers supported Patel vis-à-vis Nehru for the post of party President. As Campbell-Johnson ICS put it. Nehru was Gandhi's Western face.

Although Patel abided by Gandhi's decision, he from then on declined to follow the Mahatma's political guidance, and 1946 marked a break between them. Patel, though admired Nehru, was irritated by what he saw his emotional outbursts and childish innocence. According to Rajmohan Gandhi, as quoted by Patrick French, Gandhi was quite explicit in his choice, saying that the chosen one, who was educated at Harrow and Cambridge and became a barrister and is greatly needed to carry on the negotiations with the English. Patrick French quotes Nayantara Sahgal (a niece of Nehru): would people have taken so much notice of Motilal, Jawaharlal, Indira, Sanjay and Rajiv if the family came from South of the Vindhyas, if it had dark skin and spoke Tamil or Telagu, if its name was Venkataraman or Balasubramaniam.

Vallabhbhai Patel played an important role in Gandhi's own understanding of rural Gujarat. Since Gandhi was in many respects an outsider when he returned from South Africa, Patel knew the rural society with an intimately.

According to his biographer (B. Krishna) Patel acted as his master's interpreter to the villagers … If Gandhi was a bania, suaves courteous veneer hiding his firmness and determination, Patel had the bluntness of a soldier and the astuteness of an organizer.  In 1932-33, the two were lodged in Yervada Jail, Patel ministered to the Mahatma, making him a special beverage each morning of baking soda, lime, honey and warm water. Denying him the presidentship is how the Mahatma paid back Patel for his services in the end!


Beverly Nichols, one of the correspondents of the Allied Newspapers (UK) had visited India in 1943-44. He came to India to discover the workings of the Indian mind not only in the field of politics,  but also art, literature, music, medicine, journalism and religion. His findings later appeared in his book Verdict on India. Around that time there were 240 million Hindus (180 million caste Hindus and 80 million non-caste or others). There were 100 million Muslims who shouted: we are the only race, apart from the British, who have even established a great Indian Empire!  And we want our Empire back! And this Empire  we shall call Pakistan” The Sikhs, who numbered then 5 million only told Nichols : If you grant Pakistan, we should all set up a separate Sikh state of our own. We shall call it Khalistan, and we shall defend it to the death.

Views about Gandhi:

He seems to me a typical Hindu politician, of inordinate vanity, narrow, ignorant, and supremely intolerant. Gandhi is the dictator and he presides over a Fascist organization. There is the closest similarity between the Congress and the Nazi associations. Hitler commands the same respect and allegiance in Germany as Mr. Gandhi in India. He is more than a hero, a national savior even a God to the Germans. The same is the case with Mr. Gandhi. He is both a spiritual and political leader of the Hindus and pretends to speak with divine authority.  No body can dare to criticize him and yet remain a member of the Congress. A host of prominent Congress leaders had to leave the Congress as they had incurred the displeasure of the Mahatma. Mr. Nariman, Dr. Khare, Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose, Mr. Roy and Mr. Rajagopalachari, all at one time held positions of immense influence in the Congress, but their difference of opinion with one man alone in the Congress, led to their permanent expulsion. You have mesmerized Muslims Gandhi, once accused Jinnah. And you have hypnotized the Hindus. He replied. Thus wrote Nichols.

Nehru vs Jinnah:

Here were two men who had no common meeting ground (not even the future of India); no respect for each other. Nehru, the Harrow and Oxford-educated intellectual, lover of poetry, writer of books, despised Jinnah as a narrow minded racialist: He had no real education, Nehru once said about Jinnah: He was not what you call an educated man. He read law books and occasional work of light fiction but he never read any real books. Jinnah intensely proud, constantly on the look out for snubs was unlikely to bend in the presence of a man he had once described as an arrogant Brahmin who covers his Hindu trickiness with a veneer of Western education. When he makes promises he always leaves a loophole, and when he can not find a loophole he just lies. After an interview between the two, in 1946 Nehru was convinced than ever that only this man really stood in the way of India's freedom, more determined than ever to destroy him and the myth of Pakistan. Nehru was still unaware of how strong Jinnah really was, how powerful was his hold on Muslim India, writes Leonard Mosley.

Sir Sankaran Nair:

Gandhi published his book Indian Home Rule in 1908. In 1921 he reiterated his views. Towards the end of the book Gandhi says: Before I leave you, I will take the liberty of repeating:- Real Home Rule is Self Rule or control. The way to it is passive resistance; that is soul force or love force.  In my opinion, we have used the term "Swaraj" without understanding its real significance.  I have endeavored to explain it as I understand it, and my conscience testifies that my life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment.  Gandhi went on to say: 

Railways, lawyers, courts, doctors, education on western lines, machinery of every kind, or manufacturing industries, parliamentary government should disappear.  It is with these sentiments he came back to India in 1915. In a letter addressed by Gandhi to a friend in India in 1909 he had written:: Bombay, Calcutta and the other chief cities of India are the real plague spots. Medical science is the concentrated essence of black magic.  Hospitals are the instruments that the devil has been using for his own purpose. India's salvation consists in unlearning  what she has learnt during the past fifty years. The railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors, and such like have all to go. He called upon upper classes to learn to live consciously and religiously and deliberately the simple peasant life. It would give true happiness.  

On the failure of Khilafat movement (1920), led by Gandhi there were riots in Malabar (Kerala). For sheer brutality on Hindu women by Muslims, I do not remember anything in history to match the Malabar atrocities wrote Sir Sankaran. Gandhi was interested in expelling the British out of India and nothing else. In Gandhi's words: I would prefer any day anarchy.and chaos in India to an armed peace brought about by the bayonet between Hindus and Muslmans (Gandhi And Anarchy, 1922).

Maulana Mohammed Ali:

In 1925 Mohammed Ali made this thundering statement at Aligarh and Ajmer: However pure Mr. Gandhi's character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Musalman, even though he be without character.. And when, some time later, Mohammed Ali happened to address a meeting at Lucknow, a straight question was put to him, Maulana Mohammed Ali said: yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Musalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar:

These are not the only things Mr. Gandhi has done to build up Hindu-Muslin unity. He has never called the Muslims to account even when they have been guilty of gross crimes against the Hindus. Such is the record of Hindu-Muslim relationship from 1920 to 1940. Placed side by side with the frantic efforts made by Mr. Gandhi to bring along Hindu-Muslim unity, the record makes most painful and heart-rending reading. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that it is a record of twenty years of civil war between the Hindus and the Muslims of India, interrupted by intervals of armed peace.

V.P. Menon :

Pakistan today is an Islamic State. There is no minority problem in West Pakistan, while East Pakistan is being steadily drained of its Hindus. Gandhiji particularly emphasized that the minorities were a sacred trust in the hands of the majority. It was a cause most dear to his (Gandhi's) heart. He lived for it - indeed he eventually died for it.


April 2017


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