Gandhi Before India

By Sunil Kumar

The life of Gandhi has been discarded; used and generally brushed aside in the self-serving discourse that is politics and the general world. I’d prefer to read some accounts of what actually happened in the life of the so-called “Bapu” and draw my own conclusions. So can everybody else; if they want to; and have the time and inclination.

Ramachandra Guha‘s “Gandhi Before India” is insightful about the man; only to the extent that it tells us about his early years; the territory covered in the film; “The Making of the Mahatma“. Gandhi was a complex man indeed; a strict Gujarati vegetarian to the core; steeped in the folklore of a land that was at the time a subjugated identity subservient to debauched princes and the colonial exploitative structure of the “Raj“.

At some times; being self-righteous and blaming the British for every ill may not be the correct approach; but we live in different times; a free republic; although the nature of the world is still very similar. Or in one of Gandhi’s eloquent sayings;”There is enough for every man’s need; but not for his greed”.

Growing up in an ancestral house in Porbandar; Gandhi’s life view was framed by his mother to a large extent; and the father who served a prince; the local “slash and dash” version of royalty. The man who made quite an impact on the then largely illiterate population of the country was always rather strange; some of his advice absolutely unrealistic and steeped in bullshit; which largely drove the brahmin-bania clique that formed the early years of our independence.

Guha makes a point about the Pranami sampradaya that his mother belonged to; a sect founded by a Devchandra Maharaj from Sindh; that had quite a number of followers in Gujarat at the time Gandhi was born. Typical of the syncretic nature of the Hindu faith; and living in a land with many pockets of Mughal barbarity; the religion had a holy book which combined aspects of the Hindu faith(the favorite Vaishnav God; Shri Krishna); Christianity and Islam.

The Anglophile Nehru and many of his other followers privately criticized the wooly-headed impractical churlish bouts of behavior that Gandhi was prone to; the impact of which we still have to bear; sixty-seven years after independence. While preaching non-violence to the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs across the country; Gandhi was responsible for the loan to Pakistan; that helped India’s arch-nemesis to find some firm footing in the nebulous after-glow of independence; a time tinged with great joy and rivers of blood.

While preaching his exalted sermons to an enthralled flock; Gandhi’s behavior towards his children was more than abysmal; not letting them study; belittling them at every opportunity and neglecting them. This had its consequences in the conversion of one of his children to Islam; and then back again; apart from being a drunk and a philanderer.

Gandhi’s obsession with the carnal side and self-control led to many strange experiments; that have been detailed extensively; his sleeping naked with his nieces and a few other women. Kasturba; his long-suffering wife had to live for many years with Gandhi’s strange obsessions and his overarching need to involve himself with the “larger cause”; the world as he saw it.

Some conspiracy theorists allege that the Rotschild family(European Jews also involved in the East India Company) were behind the transformation of Gandhi to national status. Jinnah; another Gujarati; was a famous champion of secularism(the realistic idea of Hindu-Muslim coeexistence in a larger framework) was put off by Gandhi’s plebeian antics and in simple human terms; jealous of his popularity among the then mostly simple trampled folk that comprised most of India.

Gandhi was politically astute; emerging as the unchallenged leader of the Congress; and in purely disastrous terms; handing the reins over to his protege; the Fabian socialist Nehru. Like all other members of his dynasty; the man was raised in aristocracy; unconnected with the fate and living habits of millions. The eternal debate about whether Patel would have been a better successor will always remain bound to the fact that the “Iron Man” died in 1950; many years before he could have made even more of an impact on the fate of modern India.

Having read the other side; the votaries and champions of our hackneyed secular identity(mostly Hindu); I am inclined to agree partially. Scythes and swords actually belong to medieval times; and the nation would be better served by a forward-looking approach that focuses on inclusive development and the positive use of technology.

The “Compputer”(just attempting the Gujju PM’s intonation); that wonderful invention that Modi also refers to repeatedly and Information Technology has been responsible for radicalizing many people; changing their outlooks and in fact hurtling them backwards to the very barbarity that most of the world is trying to avoid.

I see no way in which any government in the world can effectively control human reactions; and the internet’s role in catalyzing so-called “Springs” and other public vigilante movements; that sometimes rightly protest at the gross injustice that seems to have always prevailed all over the world.

The Sikh Guru Emeritus; Shri Gobind Singh said that “One Should Never Trust A Turk”(a metonym for our numerous followers of a faith). Drawn from his life and times; maybe Shri Gobind”ji” would have rephrased and extended this analogy to the many deceptive Hindus; capitalists and white men that followed.

Gandhi would have been a justified nominee to this pedestal; in his absolute apathy towards the Punjab and the Sikhs; members of a community that he overtly praised and actually reviled. This is nothing new for some cunning Gujaratis; as they often exhibit similar behaviour. In fact along with the British; Gandhi is complicit in the death of Bhagat Singh(a brave son of India); Sukhdeo(the second of the trio; a forgotten Punjabi Hindu) and Rajguru(from Maharashtra).

My historical reminiscing(one of my favorite subjects) would be incomplete without mentioning Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. More suave than our straight-shooting Sikh; Bose also fell victim to Gandhi’s political tricks; and was replaced by a more pliable South Indian to leadership role; something M.K Gandhi could then effectively control.

Another historically questionable decision is Gandhi’s unstinted support to the British during the Boer War(between the British and the Dutch in South Africa); and his enlisting Indians in World War I. Although it made no difference to nobility personified here; “sepoys” fighting for a “firangee” who was in Hindustani terms, “matlabi”; the usual discourse of “use and throw” that characterizes the followers of the great Jesus Christ.

Post-independence; a lot of our public discourse is centred around Gandhi; his name quoted quite meaninglessly. Schools are usually pathetic about making students understand real history; the simple fact being that most of the teachers were unaware and disinterested in the subject in the first place.

In fact school students from Delhi asking Modi in an obvious teacher-trained pliable tone made me feel sad and interested at the same time. Like most of this PM’s initiatives; it was novel; but as a citizen of a free-thinking republic; I do not want veneration bordering on the thin line of sycophancy. Not just for Modi; but everybody else; the pathetic symbols of Indian politics; the Mayawatis; the Pawars; the Laloos and the Mamatas. We want inspiration; yes; but not “chamchagiri”.

It reminds me of the Chinese adulation for Mao; one of the greatest mass-murderers in human history; and the zealot responsible for the fate of Tibet and the conning of India. The communist republic is a different entity; a state whose ethos, culture and history are responsible for its unique state in the world. In Gandhi’s time; a frittered China(controlled by different ganglords and nationalists) would never have been seen to emerge as a significant force in the world; and the overarching theme was to kick the British back to their small island.

The main theme in this book was actually South Africa; Natal and Transvaal being the places with the maximum action. Contrary to popular belief; Gandhi actually did manage to make quite a few train journeys; and also received mentorship and assistance from Gopal Krishna Gokhale(a Chitpavan Brahmin; who some ethnologist believe are descendants of a lost Jewish tribe).

Also commendable are his beliefs to do something for Indians who had to bear a lot of indignity in the vitiated colonial environment of erstwhile South Africa. Like most of the country; let us not be hypocritical here; (all the “so-called intellectuals included)Gandhi had a semi-racist attitude towards the black people. And all ye Africans; we know that you have something similar towards us in a land very different from your own. I’m ending this big post; in which I have attempted to dissect the persona of another one of India’s long list of personalities; which in all humility; are different and add to the kaleidoscope of the world’s most human nation. 


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