18.02.2010 Asia

True Lies: The Myths and realities about Mahatma Gandhi

18.02.2010 LISTEN
By A.T.M.Abdullahel Shafi

Today 30th January is the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the great soul of Indian Sub continent. Everyone knows these facts which are true lies. My readers, I am telling you the truth. True lies have crippled us with the ways we are not at all aware of. In India he is a hero and the United Nations has declared his birthday 2nd of October as International Day of Non Violence. He is well known everywhere and he is depicted as an angel who has thrown away the British from the Indian sub continent.

Dear readers, here are the facts and true lies about Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma means “Great Soul” and he was always accorded as it is. But facts are showing he had never been a great soul rather a Hindu fundamentalist. I am not a historian, but history told us so. Let me show you some information's with regards to Gandhi and things would be clear to you.

One of the most common and most dangerous myths about Gandhi is that he was a saint. The name—or rather, the title—Mahatma itself means “Great Soul.” That's somewhere between a saint and a Messiah. Gandhi tried to avoid the title, but the people of India ignored his protests. Now I see that even the Library of Congress has begun to classify him under “Gandhi, Mahatma,” so I guess he's lost that battle. I've heard it argued that Gandhi indeed was a saint, since he was a master of meditation. Well, I must tell you that in all my readings of and about Gandhi, I've never come across anything to say that Gandhi was a master of meditation, or that he meditated at all—aside from observing a minute of silence at the beginning of his prayer meetings, a practice he said he borrowed from the Quakers. (Source: This is the text of the 1990 Annual Gandhi Lecture for the International Association of Gandhi an Studies, delivered at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville on October 2).1

The second plight of ideas would be collected from here:

There is a common myth that Gandhi was a political leader who was struggling against British invaders in the undivided India. But history shows he had been fascinated with the British empires which is clear from the write ups of Martin Green who has been the writer of Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography –“Voice of a new age Revolutionary”. Let me have some excerpts from Martin Green:

Although most biographies of Gandhi focus on Gandhi's political career after he returned from England in early 1915, and begin with his involvement in the Civil Disobedience Movement from the early 1920s, it is important to note that Gandhi arrived on the National Scene rather late, and in the first half of his political life was considerably beholden to the Raj. At a time when literacy in British India was barely 8%, Gandhi enjoyed the rare option of studying in Britain and spent the years 1888-1893 in London before taking employment in South Africa. Although Gandhi became politically active in South Africa, and led 'Satyagrahas' against unjust laws, Gandhi was hardly yet an anti-imperialist radical or revolutionary. In fact, in 1914, he was still very much in awe of the British Empire, and Martin Green in his biography of Gandhi describes his state of mind as follows: "When Gandhi left South Africa, he still believed in the British empire. Though tentatively. "Though Empires have gone and fallen, this empire may perhaps be an is an empire not founded on material but on spiritual foundations....the British constitution. Tear away those ideals and you tear away my loyalty to the British constitution; keep those ideals and I am ever a bondsman"." (See Martin Green, Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary, p. 208)

It is especially notable that at the age of 45, Gandhi saw in the British Empire a "spiritual foundation" - a sentiment many in the Indian Freedom Movement would have found astounding, even nauseating. As early as 1884, the most advanced Indian intellectuals were already quite clear that British rule in India was built on a foundation of economic pillage and plunder - and was devoid of any high social or moral purpose. "Nadir Shah looted the country only once. But the British loot us every day. Every year wealth to the tune of 4.5 million dollar is being drained out, sucking our very blood. Britain should immediately quit India.'' So wrote the Sindh Times on May 20, 1884, a year before the Indian National Congress was born and 58 years before the ''Quit India'' movement of 1942 was launched.

The third idea on Gandhi's struggle for the Black Americans and even Gandhi is a far more famous figure among African Americans. Many of them associate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Gandhi. The same is even shared by the senior officials of the National Park Service that installed Gandhi's statue at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1998.

But the truth lies with the history. Let me have some facts about it.Mr.G.B.Singh a former Indian wrote about it. Let me show you facts about it my readers.

Many Blacks are not cognizant of the fact that Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1914. He then lived in India from 1915 to 1948. My question to them pertains to Gandhi's relationship with Blacks precisely at the time when he lived in South Africa for 21 years. One cannot help but discern that there is not a single Black person anywhere in any of the photos of Gandhi during that time. With Black people in the great majority, there is no way that Gandhi had missed noticing them.

Why is this? The answer is very simple: Gandhi hated Black people. Only a few scholars are aware of this background. For all practical purposes, the burden of unraveling this mystery fell upon my shoulders. Here are some of the highlights:

In 1906 Gandhi had participated in a war against Blacks. The Gandhian literature either keeps quiet on the subject or tries to paint him as a great humanitarian who actually helped Blacks by rendering to them urgent medical care. Had he not done so, we are told, many Blacks would have died. While researching the historical documents, however, I found that Gandhi's participation had nothing to do with “humanitarian concerns” for Black people. He was more concerned with “allying relationships” with the colonial Whites living in Natal colony. Driven by his racial outlook, he went out of his way to enlist Indians to join the army under him to fight for his cause against the Blacks. He also considered Indians living in South Africa to be “fellow colonists” along with the White colonists, over the indigenous Blacks.(Source: G.B.Singh, Would the Real Gandhi Please Stand Up?).

The fourth idea was popularized among the supporters of Mr. Gandhi that he is the father of Non-Violence, though I am not sure my readers Mr. Gandhi has ever admitted that. The fact is that it's a damn lie. Let me show some more facts about it from Gene Sharps documents:

Gene Sharp of Harvard University, in his book Gandhi as a Political Strategist, shows that Gandhi and his Indian colleagues in South Africa were well aware of other nonviolent struggles before they adopted such methods themselves. That was in 1906. In the couple of years before that, they'd been impressed by mass nonviolent actions in India, China, Russia, and among blacks in South Africa itself. (Source: Gene Sharp, Gandhi as Political Strategists).

In another of his books, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp cites over 200 cases of mass nonviolent struggle throughout history. And he assures us that many more will be found if historians take the trouble to look.

Curiously, some of the best earlier examples come from right here in the United States, in the years leading up to the American Revolution. To oppose British rule, the colonists used many tactics amazingly like Gandhi's—and according to Sharp, they used these techniques with more skill and sophistication than anyone else before the time of Gandhi.

For instance, to resist the British Stamp Act, the colonists widely refused to pay for the official stamp required to appear on publications and legal documents—a case of civil disobedience and tax refusal, both used later by Gandhi. Boycotts of British imports were organized to protest the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the so-called Intolerable Acts. The campaign against the latter was organized by the First Continental Congress, which was really a nonviolent action organization.

Almost two centuries later, a boycott of British imports played a pivotal role in Gandhi's own struggle against colonial rule. The colonists used another strategy later adopted by Gandhi—setting up parallel institutions to take over functions of government—and had far greater success with it than Gandhi ever did. In fact, according to Sharp, colonial organizations had largely taken over control from the British in most of the colonies before a shot was fired. (Source: Gene Sharp, The Politics of Non-Violence).

It's fun to read what's been written about Gandhi by his political opponents in England, or by Marxists in India and elsewhere, or by recent slanderers nipping at the heels of the movie Gandhi. What they've written doesn't reveal much about Gandhi, but it reveals a good deal about the writers.

Gandhi's most bitter critics have called him a charlatan—a deceiving, malicious fraud. After all, who could say the things Gandhi said and really mean them? Well, surely these critics couldn't!

Other, “kinder” critics have felt Gandhi was simply an idealistic fool, with no conception of how power works in the real world. Translated, this means that these critics can't understand how Gandhi's methods worked.

Let's look at these methods of Gandhi's and see if we can spot where their power might come from. And maybe we can clear up some other myths along the way.

Gandhi called his overall method of nonviolent action Satyagraha. This translates roughly as “Truth-force.” A fuller rendering, though, would be “the force that is generated through adherence to Truth.”

Nowadays, it's usually called nonviolence. But for Gandhi, nonviolence was the word for a different, broader concept—namely, “a way of life based on love and compassion.” In Gandhi's terminology, Satyagraha—Truth-force—was an outgrowth of nonviolence. It may also help to keep in mind that the terms Satyagraha and nonviolent action, though often used one for the other, don't actually refer to the exact same thing. Satyagraha is really one special form of nonviolent action—Gandhi's own version of it. Much of what's called nonviolent action wouldn't qualify as Satyagraha. But we'll come back to that later.

Gandhi practiced two types of Satyagraha in his mass campaigns. The first was civil disobedience, which entailed breaking a law and courting arrest. When we today hear this term, our minds tend to stress the “disobedience” part of it. But for Gandhi, “civil” was just as important. He used “civil” here not just in its meaning of “relating to citizenship and government” but also in its meaning of “civilized” or “polite.” And that's exactly what Gandhi strove for. We also tend to lay stress differently than Gandhi on the phases of civil disobedience. We tend to think breaking the law is the core of it. But to Gandhi, the core of it was going to prison. Breaking the law was mostly just a way to get there.

Now, why was that? Was Gandhi trying to fill the jails? Overwhelm and embarrass his captors? Make them “give in” through force of numbers?

Not at all. He just wanted to make a statement. He wanted to say, “I care so deeply about this matter that I'm willing to take on the legal penalties, to sit in this prison cell, to sacrifice my freedom, in order to show you how deeply I care. Because when you see the depth of my concern, and how 'civil' I am in going about this, you're bound to change your mind about me, to abandon your rigid, unjust position, and to let me help you see the truth of my cause.”

In other words, Gandhi's method aimed to win not by overwhelming but by converting his opponent—or as the Gandhians say, by bringing about a “change of heart.”

Now, to many people, that sounds pretty naive. Well, I'll let you in on a secret. It was naive. The belief that civil disobedience succeeded by converting the opponent happened to be a myth held by Gandhi himself. And it's shared by most of his admirers, who take his word for it without bothering to check it out.As far as I can tell, no civil disobedience campaign of Gandhi's ever succeeded chiefly through a change of heart in his opponents. But this doesn't mean civil disobedience didn't work. As a matter of fact, it did work. The only thing off-kilter was Gandhi's explanation of how and why it worked. (Source: This is the text of the 1990 Annual Gandhi Lecture for the International Association of Gandhi an Studies, delivered at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville on October 2).

The next would be rather more surprising to notice:

In 1914 Gandhi was quite far removed from the most radical elements of the Indian Freedom Movement. In 1913, poor emigrant farmers from the Punjab in California launched the Ghadar Party and released their manifesto calling for complete independence from British Rule. Several years earlier, before his internment, Tilak had cogently described the Indian condition under British colonial occupation as being utterly ruinous and degrading. Tilak, Ajit Singh, Chidambaram Pillai and their associates in the National Movement saw few redeeming qualities in the British dispensation, and saw colonial rule as being entirely inimical to India's progress, asserting that the contradictions between the British oppressors and the Indian people were completely irreconcilable.

Although Gandhi was critical of specific aspects of colonial rule, in 1914, his general outlook towards the British was more akin to that of the loyalist Princes than the most advanced of India's national leaders. Particularly onerous was his support of the British during World War I. Even as the Ghadar Party correctly saw in World War I a great opportunity for India to deepen its opposition to the British, and liberate itself from the colonial yoke, Gandhi instead tried to mobilize Indians on behalf of the British war effort. Although many biographers of Gandhi have studiously omitted making any mention of such dishonorable aspects of Gandhi's political life, Martin Green makes a brief reference to Gandhi's attitude towards World War I when he was in England:"To return to London in wartime: Gandhi quickly raised his ambulance corps amongst the Indians in England. As before, he had offered his volunteers for any kind of military duty, but the authorities preferred medical workers". Martin Green also observes: "Many of his friends did not approve the project. Olive Schreiner, who was in London, wrote him that she was struck to the heart with sorrow to hear that he had offered to serve the English government in this evil war - this wicked cause". (See Martin Green, Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary, p. 247)

Gandhi's ideas on non-violence did not then extend to the British Imperial War and upon his return to India in 1915 attempted to recruit Indians for the British War effort. Gandhi's position echoed that of the Maharajas, many of whom (like the Maharaja of Bikaner) played a pivotal role in supporting the British, both in terms of propaganda and providing troops. Gandhi's attitude towards the empire emerges quite clearly from this statement of Martin Green: "Gandhi himself had twice volunteered for service in this war, in France and in Mesopotamia, because he had convinced himself that he owed the empire that sacrifice in return for it's military protection." (See Martin Green, Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary, p. 267)

Gandhi's role in championing the British War effort did not however go unchallenged. At a time when Gandhi was still addressing "War Recruitment Melas'', Dr. Tuljaram Khilnani of Nawabshah publicly campaigned against War Loan Bonds. When Gandhi sought election to the AICC from Bombay PCC, the delegate from Sindh opposed his election in view of his support to the British war effort. The Ghadar Party was especially acerbic in it's criticism of Gandhi and other such political leaders in the Congress who had not yet been able to sever their umbilical chord to the British Raj.

But even as Gandhi was able to justify in his mind support for the imperial war, his attitude towards the revolt of Chauri Chaura (1921) brought about a very different and very harsh assessment. Labeling it a crime, he wrote thus: "God has been abundantly kind to me. He has warned me the third time that there is not yet in India that truthful and non-violent atmosphere which and which alone can justify mass disobedience....which means gentle, truthful, humble, knowing, never criminal and hateful. He warned me in 1919 when the Rowlatt Act agitation was started. Ahmedabad, Viramgam, and Kheda erred. Amritsar and Kasur erred. I retraced my steps, called it a Himalayan miscalculation, humbled myself before God and man, and stopped not merely mass civil disobedience but even my own which I knew to be civil and non-violent" . (See Collected Works, vol. 22, p.415-21)

Gandhi's Chauri Chaura decision created deep consternation in Congress circles. Subhash Chandra Bose wrote: "To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma, Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai, who were all in prison, shared the popular resentment. I was with the Deshbandu at the time, and I could see that he was beside himself with anger and sorrow." (Quoted from The Indian Struggle, p.90)

To describe Gandhi's decision as a "national calamity" was indeed right on the mark. To lay such stress on non-violence - that too only three years after he had been encouraging Indians to enroll in the British Army was not only shocking, it showed little sympathy towards the Indian masses who against all odds had become energized against their alien oppressors.

For Gandhi to demand of the poor, downtrodden, and bitterly exploited Indian masses to first demonstrate their unmistakable commitment to non-violence before their struggle could receive with Gandhi's approval (just a few years after he had unapologetically defended an imperial war) was simply unconscionable. Clearly, Gandhi had one standard for the Indian masses, and quite another for the nation's colonial overlords. But this was not to be the first occasion for Gandhi to engage in such tactical and ideological hypocrisy.

Let me show more information about some unrealistic and communal attitude of Mahatma Gandhi during the World War II and this write ups to Hitler. The words of Dr.Koenraad Elst shows it on his write ups on January 2004-

Mahatma Gandhi's admirers are not in the habit of confronting embarrassing facts about their favourite saint. His critics, by contrast, gleefully keep on reminding us of a few facts concerning the Mahatma which seem to undermine his aura of wisdom and ethical superiority. One of the decisive proofs of Gandhi's silly lack of realism, cited by both his Leftist and his Hindutva detractors, is his attempted correspondence with Adolf Hitler, undertaken with a view to persuading Germany's dictator of the value of non-violence. I will now take upon myself the ungrateful task of arguing that in this attempt, Gandhi was (1) entirely Gandhian, and (2) essentially right.

Both of Gandhi's letters to Hitler are addressed to "my friend". In his first letter dd. 23 July 1939 (Complete Works, vol.70, p.20-21), and which the Government did not permit to go, Gandhi does mention his hesitation in address sing Hitler. But the reason is modesty rather than abhorrence: "Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be impertinence." But the sense of impending war, after the German occupation of Czech-inhabited Bohemia-Moravia (in violation of the 1938 Munich agreement and of the principle of the "self-determination of nations" which had justified the annexation of German-inhabited Austria and Sudetenland) and rising hostility with Poland, prompted him to set aside his scruples: "Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth." Even so, the end of his letter is again beset with scruples and modesty: "Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you. I remain, your sincere friend, Sd. M. MK Gandhi".

The second letter of Gandhi was written where he again called Hitler as “My sincere Friend”. Let me have some excerpts from the write ups from Dr.Koenraad again-

On this occasion, Gandhi took the trouble of justifying his addressing Hitler as "my friend" and closing his letter with "your sincere friend", in a brief statement of what exactly he stood for: "That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed." This very un-Hitlerian reason to befriend Hitler, what Gandhi goes on to call the "doctrine of universal friendship", contrasts with the Hitler-like hatred of one's enemy which is commonly thought to be the only correct attitude to Hitler.

Gandhi was a political propagandists who believed in lies and started with religious outsoars to dignify peoples with religious quotations which is simply a political stuntmanships.Ganhdi on several occasions, would begin with statements such as "God has warned me", or "...spoken as such.....". Coming from any ordinary person, such claims would normally be viewed with great suspicion and skepticism because they can only be accepted on faith, never independently verified. In fact, any ordinary person who claimed as often to have a 'hotline' to 'God' might even be seen as a lunatic, as someone prone to hallucinations. But from Gandhi, such utterances were quietly tolerated or accepted.

That Gandhi espoused such religious-centric views is not surprising considering the milieu in which he was raised and educated. Most British-educated Indians were kept completely ignorant of India's rich history of rational thought and (pre-industrial) scientific endeavor. So it was inevitable that Indians would seek inspiration from religious texts - Hindus from the Gita, Muslims from the Quran, Sikhs from the Granth Sahib. But unlike Tilak who derived from the Gita, a call to action, a call to rise against injustice, Gandhi found in the Gita an appeal to pacifist idealism. In a world that was rife with violence, Gandhi's insistence on non-violent purity was, in practical terms, an exercise in infantile futility. Not only did it delay the onset of freedom, it led to particularly disastrous consequences during partition, and in Kashmir.

Whereas the Muslim League was armed, the Congress was not and entirely dependent on the British police and military apparatus. When the partition riots first began in West Punjab and East Bengal, the Congress had no means to defend the hapless victims. Being unable to prevent the slaughter and rape, or protect the stream of Hindu and Sikh refugees, it lost the moral authority to prevent a communal backlash in India. A similar situation prevailed in Kashmir. The Muslim League sent in its armed hooligans even as Kashmir's most popular political party, the National Conference had decided to throw in its lot with secular India. In Baluchistan and the Frontier Province, majority sentiment was in favor of unity with India. Had the Congress been armed, it could have at least held out for a better deal, and at least some of the horrors of partition may have been averted.

There were many other serious incongruities in Gandhi's world view. As one reads through Gandhi's letters and sundry writings, time and time again, he uses the term 'Dharma 'in the context of how Indians should behave vis-a-vis the British, and the term "right" in the context of what the British could do to their Indian subjects. In Gandhi's ethical framework, not only did the conquered have very limited rights, they were burdened with all types of duties under the rubric of 'Dharma '. Conquered Indians were repeatedly lectured on how they must be concerned with the highest morality when dealing with their British oppressors - even as the British conquerors were little restricted by any 'Dharmic' pressures, and enjoyed the ultimate authority to take away the life of Indians they chose to put on trial for 'sedition'.

In all other theories of democratic liberation, ethical and moral codes emanated from one essential principle - which is the fundamental right of enslaved people to be free from alien exploitation. But in Gandhi's moral framework, the need of the Indian masses to liberate themselves from a brutally unjust colonial occupation did not come first; it was subject to all kinds of one-sided conditionalities.

Even Scriptures on Gandhi shows he was communal and against the roles of the untouchables of India. Some of this scriptures shows the same:

On the advice of white promoters of Gandhi, black clergy and civil rights leaders traveled to India to seek Gandhi's advice about solving the problem of segregation and civil rights of blacks. How little did they know that Gandhi regarded the black people slightly above the animal level? Moreover, they were ignorant of the fact that caste system was originally imposed, as racial discrimination (Varna Ashrama Dharma) similar to the Apartheid system, on the black natives of India by their Caucasian conquerors. But later on due to emergence of new racial groups due to miscegenation between the two groups, Varna Ashrama Dharma evolved into caste system tied to hereditary occupations. Untouchabilty is as integral a part of Hindu faith as anti- Semitism of the Nazis.

It is noteworthy that not a single black leader met Dr. B. R. Ambedkar – M. A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, M.Sc. and D.Sc. degrees from London University and Bar-at-Law from Grey's Inn, London - who was the undisputed leader of the Untouchables at that time. Gandhi propaganda machine manipulated the visit of black leaders, as it did not want them to find truth about Gandhi's views on the caste system. "I believe in Varnashrama (caste system) which is the law of life. The law of Varna (color and / or caste) is nothing but the law of conservation of energy. Why should my son not be scavenger if I am one? He, Shudra (lowest caste) may not be called a Brahmin (uppermost caste), though he (Shudra) may have all the qualities of a Brahmin in this birth. And it is a good thing for him (Shudra) not to arrogate a Varna (caste) to which he is not born. It is a sign of true humility."


A.T.M.Abdullahel Shafi
Assistant Professor
Peace and Conflict Studies
University of Dhaka
(Currently a Masters Student at the Institute of Sociology, University of Heidelberg, Germany).

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