Archive: November, 2010

“Gandhi was not important, and will never have any significance”- A reflection.

A learned acquaintance made the stunning claim on my fb wall that Gandhi was never important and will never be important. This left leaning prophet perhaps does not know that this statement could have got him incarcerated in Stalin’s Russia! There have been many critiques of Gandhi, but none to my knowledge has emanated from such an ideological black hole.

I present below a few reflections for your perusal.


After the 1919 ‘reforms’ the elections to the central and provincial legislatures took place in nov. 1923 ( not in 1925), and congress after initial hesitation allowed its members to enter the ‘councils’, thus bringing an end to the conflict between ‘pro-changers’ and ‘no-changers’. During 1923-14 congressmen also captured a large number of municipalities. C.R. Das became mayor of calcutta and Netaji Bose was appointed his ‘Chief Executive Officer’. Sardar Patel was elected president of Ahmdabaad Municipality.

So, if congress was ‘collaborating’ with colonial administration, Netaji and Sardar were also participating in this act. Gandhiji on the other hand was doubtful form day one and in 1926 wrote categorically of “not only futility, but also of inadvisability” of the council entry.

The point is that ALL political tendencies in pre-independence India ( including of course, the communists) have been accused of collaboration with Imperialism at one point of time or the other. the reason is simple, neither the working of Imperialism nor the resistance to is capable of being reduced to Manichean binaries desired by those suffering from the lack of intellectual rigor. In real, complex historical situation and their evaluation childish, or shall we say Bush-like version of “Dialectics” ( Good guys versus bad guys) does not work.

So far as counter-posing Patel and Netaji to Gandhi and Nehru is concerned, it has been a favorite hobby horse of a certain political tendency in India. Patel of course, occasionally had sharp differences with Nehru, but one wonders if he would feel ‘flattered’ being propsed as a better leader than Gandhi. Given, Patel’s rather no-nonsense temperament, the “scholar” (!) making such a suggestion in his presence is likely to be in a bit of trouble!

In fact, some self-proclaimed ‘dialecticians’ ( hope, one need not elucidate on the centrality of this idea in the Marxist method) have reduced everything to Bushism of Good guys and Bad guys. It is due to typically middle class and adolescent fascination with ‘action’ ( an euphemism for violence) that such ‘Marxists’ can ride not only their own fantastic horses, but also the rightist’s favorite hobby horse of Gandhi-Nehru bashing and, of course ignorant “glorification” of Patel and Netaji. And so far, as India’s freedom/ Independence being a “useless word” is concerned, usually the well-fed and NRIs ( permanent as well as temporary) mouth such empty and thunderous phrases, while those really fighting for a better India know the import of freedom, even if imperfect.

My friend Priyankar Pailwal has been advised to read some Marxist historians, I have read couple of them and naturally none of them is so ignoramus and pompous to issue the decree that, “गांधी का न कोई महत्व था, न है”। only a certain kind of characters are blessed with this variety of ‘confidence’ and they have been referred to, in the poetic lamentations like, “….where angels fear to tread” and, “….जिन्हें न व्यापे जगतगति”.

Antonio Gramsci who will, hopefully qualify as a Marxist theoretician, if not ‘historian’, in the ‘further selections from Prison note-books’ ( 1999, p119), we find him seeing in Gandhi and his movement ‘something akin to early Christianity’. which ” the contemporary Catholics and Protestants can not even imagine to appreciate” . Of course, a sense of the history of early Christianity and its later organization into the Pauline church is required to grasp the import of this ‘simple’ statement.

I had posted Obama’s sentence to really appreciate not only his personal admiration of Gandhiji, but also to remind my friends of the history of civil rights movement in ‘civilized America’. let me just quote here from Stanley Wolepart’s ” Gandhi’s Passion’ ( Oxford, 2001, p. 264)-” Martin Luther King was not the first nor the only great black leader in the US to be inspired by Gandhi’s life and its message of love, hope, faith and courage. W.E.B. Du Bois had earlier invited Gandhi to visit America on behalf of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People( NAACP).” It may well be, Du Bois prophetically said ” that real human equality and brotherhood in the United States will come only under the leadership of another Gandhi.” It was of course left to Dr. King to declare even more prophetically in his last -” I have been to the mountain-top”- speech ( April 3, 1968) that, the choice is ” no more between non-violence and violence, but between non-violence and non-existence”

One must criticize the president of USA, but one can not loose sight of the historically and morally significant sense of gratitude coming from a person of colour, who ” might not be standing before you today, asPresident of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and themessage he shared with America and the world”.

As someone belonging organically to Gandhi’s philosophical ( yes, my dear even those not declared “doctor of Philosophy” have it, Gandhi certainly had one) location and his legacy speaking out movingly in Obama’s sentence, I certainly feel proud, and at the same time reserve my right to criticize Gandhi!

It was with this pride, that I posted Obama’s sentence. I am, fortunately not blessed with audacity to make “final comment” on Gandhiji, but for current discussion this should, hopefully suffice.just another incidental point, while referring tentatively to an uncertain number, the lower one is mentioned first and the higher one later. You do not say 20-15 years old, but 15-20 years old. Those who teach Hindi as ‘native speakers’ to foreigners should take care of such details. After all, as they say- ‘ Devil is in the details’, and this is true both of history and language- Hindi, English or any other. For example, the leftists are also politicians and some of them are even parliamentarians, hopefully at least do not answer to the description- “black Englishmen”.

Finally, as someone said, “anger qua anger proves nothing save itself”, and this is not Gandhi, but Fredrick Engels!