Thursday, March 24, 2011

The failing of the Mahatma

Why is Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi  a taboo subject to write on , especially if you are not supporting whatever he did. Critically evaluating his actions have never been a favourite subjects of commentators alike.

For me he has always been a leader, maybe a leader who was above his contemporaries but still a leader never the less. And he was no god, but a human being.

The more and more I read about him the more my feeling that he has been given a status of  demigod gets strengthened. Whether it was bestowed on him or he actually demanded is something that I cannot comment on. But I am forced to believed that we have ignored his fallings whenever we have thought about our Father of Nation.

As I have aged, my image of Mahatma Gandhi has also changed. First he was the Father of nation, someone who is immune to any wrong doings and as I write now I look at him as someone who was a mortal man who was swayed by his desires and carried his share of bias. He too like us was prone to love and hate and to success and failure.

I feel that his actions during the time period of 1915 when he jumped into the Indian National Movement and to his subsequent death should be studied with an open mind. Not with a preconceived notion that we are looking into someone who was always a god or as it turned out eventually, the father of the Nation. 

To bestow on him the title of Father of the nation is asking something too much from him. It’s best if he was not bracketed but left in the history for the coming generations to judge his actions and his success. Perhaps if he was alive he would never have agreed to his such a supreme position. More so when he would have been confronted with his repeated failings which he continued to ignore.

Mahatama Gandhi was a late entrant to India’s political struggle against the British occupation. And by the time he came to India in 1915 from South Africa he had already attained political maturity and experience as well developed his philosophy of Satyagarha which he used to address the issues of the minorities in South Africa.

Among the many tools that constituted Satyagraha that included violation of laws, mass courting of arrests, hartals, marches the most important of them was protest through Non violent ways. According to him indulging in violence was a sin. But he nevertheless would concede that violence should be the preferred way when it came to surrender before an injustice.

So what was so good about non-violent that Gandhi found so attractive?  

Gandhi was mature, in other words he was using his thinking cap when he advocated non-violence. He knew that non-violence would appeal to rich business class and the landless farmer alike. That’s human philosophy or shall we say Indian philosophy which finds comforts in being a  part of the non-violent culture. So when Gandhi talked about non-violence as a political tool he was not being an apostle or a god sent messiah who had given a new way of protest. 

He was acting more as an astute politician. What he did was to catch the nerve that would appeal the most, a nerve that had been subdued and one which has been  habitual to be governed by a rule of law.

It is interesting to note that for Gandhi the real enemy was not the British domination but the modern industrial civilization itself. This he expressed in his writings in Hind Sawaraj. According to him the modern industrial advancement was alienating the peasants. It was creating a Modern world that was of discriminatory nature.

This sentiment of his too struck a chord with the majority rural India who saw industrialization as a devil who was sucking life out of them. But this was resented by the relatively small number of urban India who had seen the benefits of advancements. This bias of Gandhi against Industrial advancement continued till the time he died.

Gandhians would say that he was right in voicing opinion against industrial advancement as the majority of India was still rural and poor. But then they would have to answer that was not promoting industrialization the answer to eradication of poverty? Something that was eventually taken up once the Nehruvian model failed after India got independence?

Gandhiji for me was wrong at many places and he took stands on many issues which did more harm to India in the long run. Opposing industrialization was the first.


During his first year of arrival to India Gandhi restrained himself from wearing a political robe and decided to take a pan India tour to gauge what problems and issues the country was facing.

His first three political moves took place in Champaran in Bihar and then subsequently to Kheda and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Peasants in Champaran since long time were being forced by the planters to grow Indigo and sell it to them at a fixed nominal price. This was causing lot of hardships for them. So Gandhi was asked to intervene by the peasants.

And for me this is the point where has was equated with a god. Gandhiji gave the grievance of the peasants an all India publicity due to which an inquiry was constituted by government which was convinced by Gandhiji that the Tinkathia system practiced in Champaran was wrong and should be abolished. The psychological impact of this was much more powerful than the achievement of the agitation itself. Gandhi was hailed as a god, a holyman who had answers to all pain. A title and a stature which has not left him even till now.

In Kheda, Gandhis undertook his first true kind of Satyagraha in India. He asked the peasants to withhold revenue from the tyrannical government and to fight it with their life. To counter this and break the resistance the government secretly issued instructions that the revenues should only be recovered from those who are in a position to pay. 

This came as a relief for the villagers as they were now exhausted in their fight and Gandhi too who was looking for a safe and graceful exist couldn’t ask for more. The movement was withdrawn, not because the Government relented but because the movement was fizzling out.

Gandhi was not able to achieve anything spectacular here.

In 1918 Gandhi intervened in Ahmedabad to resolve an internal conflict between the workers and the mill owners. It’s notable because it was here that he used his tool of Hunger strike. Soon enough the mill owners relented and accepted the workers demand.

The Ahmedabad incident was of a very small scale when compared to Kheda. Here no government machinery was involved. And one of the main supporters of Gandhji in Ahmedabad was a sister of another textile magnate of Ahmedabad.

Looking retrospectively, what if Gandhiji had not made his mark as he ultimately did, what if he was another leader of pre-independent India. Then would have the historians recorded Ahmedabad mill strike the way it has been recorded? Presumably not. It was a normal strike, one of the many that took place at that time. And 
it has only been given a so remarkable place because of Gandhi.


Gandhiji only made his full fledged jump into the all India political matters in February 1919, to revolt against the Rowlatt act. In that sense he was a newcomer to the India political since which had stalwarts like Nehru,Bose, Rajendra Prasad etc. And when he died in 1948, he in the relatively short span of 29 years left all of them in their capacity of humans whereas he climbed to the divine position.

Rowlatt act was passed by the Britishers as their policy of offering carrot and stick to the Indians. To counter this Gandhiji and the leaders suggested a pan India movement, an all India hartal. Gandhiji by then had developed close relations with the Muslim leaders and he was unanimously elected as a de-facto of this movement. Someone who would act as a bridge between the Hindu and the Muslim leaders.

The very fact that Gandhi had arrived at a very latter stage of Indian national movement helped him in being portrayed as someone who was unbiased and still untouched by the fundamentalism. This made him a perfect candidate to act as a link between the Hindu leaders and the Muslim leaders.

This Satyagraha movement as we know all ended after the Jallianwala Bagh incident. Gandhi withdrew the movement calling it a Himalayan blunder and acknowledged that he had jumped into the movement without adequate preparation and organizational readiness.

This was  sign of Gandhiji characteristic of being ‘weak’. As we will see he comes out as some who always negotiated with a feared mind. His prudence would go into the background in situations which would go out of his hand.

When we talk about a pan India movement which involves defying the state, it is well established and expected that things would not go exactly by the text book or has been originally envisioned. But Gandhi never thought this way.

His first movement failed because he was not willing to sacrifice anything for a larger gain.

In September 1920 the Congress under Gandhiji passed a special resolution on non-cooperation. Gandhi promised there that if this boycott was fully implemented “Swaraj would be ushered with a year”. But as we all know, it never arrived. Not in one year, not in two.

Another thing that emerges out of Gandhjis reading is that he seldom travelled alone. Yet the History has always sidelined the other leaders when it came to a factual success of the movement that they were a part of.

During the 1920-21 when the non-cooperation movement was at its peak several other local movements were also taking place in different places, which had nothing to do with Gandhiji’s call of non –cooperation.

In Punjab the Sikhs were seeking to wrest control from the corrupt mahants, in Assam the tea plantation laborers went on a strike, in UP a peasant movement was taking place, in Andhra people were revolting against the forest laws. This all had nothing to do with the non-cooperation movement; they didn’t take any notice of Gandhi or Congress call for Non-cooperation and Infact they in some sense suffered because the Non-cooperation movement pushed their local problems into the background.

To break the movement the government in December 1921, arrested all the important leaders except Gandhi and imprisoned them. And as pages of history will tell that this will not be the first time that He would be spared the jail and many see this as the British policy of using Gandhi as a medium to placate people and to use his as a medium to act as someone who could be talked and molded into their own demand. They also saw him as someone who was flexible and convenient to talk to.

To oppose this repressive move Gandhi wrote a letter to the viceroy and asked him to lift the ban on civil rights and which were rejected outwardly. As a result Gandhi announced that a mass civil disobedience movement will begin from Bardoli in Surat. But before that could start, the Chauri Chaura incident took place, leading to Gandhi calling off the whole movement before it could even be  started.

His weakness had again overtaken him. And this was felt by the other leaders too. They too were now disheartened yet because it was decided by Gandhi they could do nothing.

Historians say that the mass movement started in 1920 had left Gandhi in a fix as it had never taken the pan-India shape  and design that he intended for and the Chauri-Chaura incident gave him as safe way to retreat with full honour.

Again hardly a sign of a great leader. He retreated many times during his political life which psychologically played a negative role in the minds of the common mass and like him , they too started to believe that they were not ready for a political movement which required sacrifice.


In November 1922, the common mass of Turkey rose under Mustafa Kemal and broke the Khilafat moment. Its repercussions were felt in India too as  the much vaunted Hindu-Muslim unity that owed its birth to Gandhi was broken.  And as can be construed the Khilafat movement leaders in India used Gandhi to forward their objective and when the movement failed they left Gandhi and his illusion that he was the uniting force behind the Hindu and Muslims in lurch. He was being manipulated all this while yet he chose to turn a blind eye to it.

Riots continued in India after that and Gandhi could do nothing to stop it and in 1925 Muhammad Ali of Khilafat movement finally split from Gandhi.

The Muslim-Hindu unity took a more severe and pronounced beating when  in the Lahore session of Muslim league in 1924 Jinnah raised a demand for a separate state. A demand that finally took shape  in 1947.

Gandhi was well aware of the sentiments and the resolve behind the separate state demand and it was not something that came out of nowhere in 1947. He knew that it was imminent.  So his stand on being adamant on non-partition until the last moment can be questioned as to whether wasn’t it  more practical that  he used his ‘latent’ flexible approach here too.

He should have worked on a path that would have made the partition a more acceptable truth in the minds of leaders and Indians. Wouldn’t have that stopped much bloodshed that eventually happened during the partition in 1947 and whose hatred still continues to  poison both the countries.


Jawahar lal Nehru became the president of the Lahore session of the Congress inspite the fact that he got the 
lowest vote.It was at Gandhi’s insistence that the Congress made him the president. Questions are bound to arise for this un-leader like behavior from Gandhi.

But the answer to this is that he was a weak man, and would have preferred to deal with someone like Nehru who was more close to his thinking and more ‘flexible’ rather than someone like Patel who was always riding a different boat. Gandhi knew that if Nehru became the president he would act as a mask for Gandhi, something which Patel would have never done. He in a way gave his silent assent to the policy of ‘dynasty politics’ where Jawaharlal replaced his father Motilal, thereby starting a trend which continues even till now.

In 1930 Gandhi decided to call for the civil disobedience movement to protest against  Lord Irwins policies.  The movement was soon engulfed in violence as Gandhi’s theory of non-violence found few takers. And in sharp contrast to Chauri Chaura, Gandhi this time didn’t call off the movement. This movement is seen by many as the first major step of women participation in Indian political scene. But this was after social activist Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya had persuaded Gandhi to let women also be a part of this movement.

Gandhi time and again comes out as some who is not sure of how his conduct in a given situation. Violence which for him was a sin didn’t stop him from calling off civil disobedience movement this time even though people were being killed.  

In February 17, 1931 Irvin invited Gandhi for talks to end this movement. And it was then that the famous Irvin-Gandhi pact was signed. And it was here that Gandhi failed miserably. Maybe knowingly too.  For he failed to commute to death sentence of Bhagat Singh who was sent to death.

The nation was left fuming as the three men were sent to gallows and if Gandhi had refused to sign the pact on this question they would have been spared. In days to come Gandhi was shown black flags by the very mass that he thought he was representing. To accentuate the hypocrisy the Congress passed a resolution which was drafted by Gandhi himself that read “ while disassociating itself from and disapproving of political violence in any shape and form, we admire the bravery and sacrifice of the three martyrs”.

Many say that Gandhi was concerned by the growing mass appeal of the three young revolutionaries and felt that they were better dead than alive.

The pact was also seen as a betrayal of Congress’s call for ‘fight to finish”.  It is cited as Gandhi’s fear that the mass movement will take a radical turn. Another instance where Gandhi negotiated out of fear, another instance of his weakness taking the center stage.


By the end of 1932 the civil disobedience movement that Gandhi had resumed, after large scale repressive measure were taking place in India, had started fizzling out and Gandhi was looking for an honorable exit because the government was not talking to him. So he directed his interest towards another subject which brought him laurels from world over; Harijans. Harijans upliftment became his primary concern. 

Gandhi though condemned untouchability but till the early 1940s he continued to uphold the values of Caste system. He differed on his opinion with Ambedkar as Ambedkar took a political solution to eradicate un-touchability while Gandhi himself preferred a religious approach. Later in his life Ambedkar charged Gandhi and Congress of using the harijans for their own political gain.

In 1939, Subhash Chandra Bose was elected as the president of the Congress. Something which made Gandhi uneasy. Though Gandhi had ceased to be a primary member of the Congress in 1934, maybe to escape responsibility, he was widely seen as the hand that controlled Congress. Bose opposed India’s participation in the Second world war and he said that this was a right time to pressurize Britain to grant freedom to India.

This infuriated Gandhi who said that India should help Britain in times of crisis and as result of which Britain will grant freedom to India after the war was over. Bose’s idea of promoting industrialization also angered Gandhi whose opposition to this modernism I have already documented above.

Gandhi saw this as a personal prestige issue and decided to remove Bose  as the  Congress president On August 11, 1939 , Bose was removed from the post of President and barred from holding any Congress office for three years.

On June 1,1940 when Britain was on the brink of a Nazi occupation, Gandhi famously wrote to Churchill “We do not seek our independence from British ruin”. But as expected the war ended and Britain refused to grant independence to India thereby leaving Gandhi to do nothing but regret.

On 8,August 1942,the Quit India movement was passed and the country saw itself in a mass struggle. Historians agree that apart from the British atrocities the most important fuel for this movement was inflation, black marketing and hoarding. Purely economic reasons.

Gandhi’s call for Quit India was just a headline that summed up a story. And that headline owed its existence to the story rather then being the other way round. By then end of 1942, though the Britishers had managed to quell the movement yet they had realized that the time of granting of Freedom to India was near.

In the 1945-46 central and provincial legislatures election, established that the Muslim league was well entrenched and was the only mouth piece of the Muslims. Their demand of separate nation was now more strong.

The World war had ended. The anti-imperialist wave coupled with a weary army and a war ravaged economy Britishers had no other choice but to retreat.

And finally India was granted Freedom.


Gandhi, as we turn the pages of history, comes  out as something different from what he is made out to be. He made weak decisions, made decisions that were taken out of fear and made decisions that were based on his personal opinion rather than the interest of the nation.

He promoted Nehru for his own reason, and saw to it that Patel always stayed in the background. On issue of Bose he made sure that he was thrown out of the Congress party. When he could have saved the life of Bhagat Singh,Rajguru and Sukhdev he backed out. Because of the fear that he won’t be able to contain their rise this according to him was harmful for him, Congress and the Couuntry, in that order. He never promoted Industrialization and only took to the welfare of Harijans as a new interest to divert his failures. 

He failed many times. Notably the most when he could have stopped the blood bath during the partition. Not by stopping the partition, that was a foregone conclusion but by not resisting it.

He started movements and then stopped them on his personal wish. He time and again illustrated the fact that his ego was something that acted as his shield to hide his weakness.

He was just another leader who knowingly or unknowingly overshadowed the others to emerge as the synonym of the Indian national movement. And continues to enjoy this stature of a god and the Father of the nation.

Gandhi was not a Mahatama, but Mohandas, a human being.


Tarun Chaturvedi said...

Thats good one... I also did some research and adding here

Abhinandan said...

hey Tarun thanks. The darker the veil the mysterious the man.Saw your blog, well researched.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...