Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mahatma

Recently I read Gaurav's post on Bhagat Singh's Satyagraha. I definitely agree with him. Gandhiji is by far one of the most attacked figures in the Indian freedom movement. I indeed admire Gandhi and his contributions and yes, once again, to admire him does not mean I accept or appreciate all of his ideals and convictions.

Despite being an electrical engineering student I take quite a few courses in the humanities, simply because I can. Especially after the excruciatingly rigid system I recently passed out of back home. One such course last semester, was Literature of India. It was quite incorrectly named, because though we did discuss the Vedas and Upanisads, I felt the course was more like a crash-course on Indian philosophy. That the course was being taught by a white professor who knew far more about India or its history and philosophy that me was definitely appealing. They guy had a PhD in Indian philosophy. Now, thats intense !

Anyway, I digress.

My final paper for the class was titled - "A criticism of the mahatma". In writing that paper I had read a lot of books and referred to several websites and I'll quote a few sections from those readings in this post that were an eye-opener for me. Alas, I have lost the page of references from where I did my research so I am unable to link all of the paragraphs below to the right sources. Here are the few that I do have. Some are news articles and some are amateur essays.



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That Gandhi was an advocate for peace is indisputable. That Gandhi influenced millions of individuals across all geographical barriers, political boundaries, languages and religions is indisputable. That Gandhi inspired leaders of all genres across the globe with his philosophy and vision of global peace is indisputable. That Gandhi was influential in removing the exclusivity of the freedom struggle away from the bourgeoisies and making millions of Indians a part of it is also indisputable.


View on Machines :


Gandhi however held certain beliefs which were far from beneficial for society and societal progress. No man is perfect, nor are his ideals. However a critical examination of Gandhi was never encouraged. He has always held a larger than life legacy and in doing so has obscured many fine revolutionaries of the freedom struggle. But most disturbing is the fact that his philosophy, tactics and vision for the country were never scrutinized. It is my belief that his legacy and greatness is not done justice if as a leader he is not scrutinized. One cannot merely overlook flaws but instead must understand and accept them. It is only then that we can truly understand his philosophy and still hold on to the beliefs that are relevant in today’s society.
There have been great admirers of Gandhi who have accepted neither his principled nonviolence nor his conception of the economic-technological order. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, had this to say about his own attitude to the man he so much respected in general:

“For him progress and civilization consist not in the multiplication of wants, of higher standards of living, but "in the deliberate and voluntary restriction of wants, which promises real happiness." . . . . Personally I dislike the praise of poverty and suffering. . . . Nor do I appreciate the ascetic life as a social ideal. . . . This desire to get away from the mind of man to primitive conditions where mind does not count, seems to me quite incomprehensible.”

Nehru, from the statements above, may be said to epitomize the many critics of Gandhi's conceptions of economy and technology, which include most liberals and socialists.

George Orwell who, like Gandhi, never won the Noble Prize, in his very insightful essay on the Mahatma offered among several compliments, this one criticism -

“…failed to see the need of heavy machinery, industry….and his medievalist ideologies was not viable at all in a backward, starving and over-populated country that lacked infrastructure, food and was under the clutches of an imperialist power that plundered its resources for around 200 years.

Even Tagore, who is thought to have conferred the tile of “Mahatma” onto Gandhi, criticized him for rejecting machinery with all its possibilities for alleviating the hardships from the common man.

Gandhi however replied by saying –


“I do want growth, I do want self-determination, I do want freedom, but I want all these for the soul. I doubt if the steel age is an advance upon the flint age. I am indifferent. It is the evolution of the soul to which the intellect and all our faculties have to be devoted. Does economic progress clash with real progress? By economic progress, I take it, we mean material advancement without limit and by real progress we mean moral progress which again is the same thing as progress of the permanent element within us. People are put under a spell by complex technology, even when it deprives them of work. What I object to is the craze for machinery. . . . Men go on "saving labor" till thousands are without work and thrown on the streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labor, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all. . . . Today machinery helps a few ride on the backs of millions.”

Politics :

Personally I was always resentful of Gandhi backing Nehru when the choice of the state units at the time was Patel. And despite having no nominations he eventually went on to become Prime Minister, solely because of a recommendation from the working committee at Gandhi's behest. And ofcourse there can be tremendously long debates on the partition and Gandhi's role in it.

Championing the British Empire :

There were several occassions early on in England and South Africa where Gandhi expressed delight in the civility and greatness of the British Empire. Also during WWI he supported Indians joining and fighting for the British.

Self Sufficiency :

Atanu Dey's post and the subsequent comments on the post were quite enlightening.

Icon of Peace :

Gandhi was first a patriot and then a universal apostle of peace. Perhaps that is the reason the despite being nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize he never won it. There have been constant criticisms on whether Gandhi's ideals were primarily Indian or whether he intended them for the entire world. Potentially racist remarks made by him in addition to neglecting the plight of the Africans in South Africa whose conditions were far worse than the Indians had raised suspicion on his real intentions.

Methodology :

A lot of freedom fighters were frustrated after Gandhi suspended the Civil Resistance in Chauri Chaura in 1922 after the death of a few policemen. Thousands of congressmen were also unhappy and this disillusionment led to the formation of the Swaraj Party. However Gandhi actually believed that "India was not ready for independence". Personally, I'm not too sure it was right to impose his beliefs on the entire nation. But again, maybe I haven't thoroughly understood the situation. When Jinnah proclaimed that the time was right for Indians to strike, Gandhi retorted, that an "eye for an eye would leave the world blind". (This is from Attenborough's movie - Gandhi). But the question is - Would millions of Indians rather be blind and free than live to witness the chains of bondage enslave them ? From whatever I have read, it just seems that Gandhiji was adamant that he was right, and even resorted to fasting until death until his demands were met.

Now if Bhagat Singh or Gandhi died while fasting in jail, the British would have to deal with an enraged nation, but to actually prevent the actions of other Indians fighting for freedom in their own ways, just seems wrong. Is it right to force one's belief onto a majority and blackmail them into conforming.

I hope my words don't come across as acerbic, but I've never been convinced about his methodology.


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Hopefully if I find any relevant information I shall include it as well as the links above. I guess this was the one reason I was joined the blogging community; Reading blogs and comments, arguments and counter arguments, was quite an effective way for someone like me, to gain an understanding of things I had previously no idea about.

To prevent any needless bashing from gandhi loyalists, I wish to emphasize that I too am one of you. Its just that, I believe, all individuals have flaws in their ideologies and to truly understand their greatness it is important to dissect their philosophy in its entirety and understand it wholly. By asking provocative questions, I guess we can attain truth at the most fundamental level, and isn't that what Gandhiji would have wanted?




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