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Gandhi – A Sainthood that never existed

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My relatively recent acquaintance with Baba was through a video shared by a friend on Facebook. Baba was an unknown saintly figure, in his early thirties, wrapped in a Sinduri dhoti, reciting Shiva Strotram in a powerful voice at an ancient Shiva temple somewhere in Central India. Few months later, Baba was in the national news for his fiery speech at Dharm Sansad criticizing and condemning Gandhi for his role in the partition of India in 1947. 

Gandhi may be a saintly figure to many Indians but undoubtedly he was a key political figure in pre-independence India. We live in the times when political figures of present and past undergo daily scrutiny for their actions and views by the media, public, intellectuals and politicians. Why should Gandhi be spared? Does Gandhi’s well-documented life history elevate his status from being a key figure in the Indian freedom struggle to that of a saint or even a demigod?  Should a political figure not be criticized and assessed for his prominent role in shaping the geographical and political future of India?   

Gandhi’s principles of non-violence and civil disobedience evoked wide interest throughout the world. Witnessing two world wars, the era in which Gandhi lived, was one of the deadliest periods in the history of mankind. India too witnessed large scale religious conflicts and loss of human lives  when Gandhi was alive. In spite of the association of Gandhi with non-violence and compassion, his own response violence with profound Hindu casualties not only remained muted but he even forged alliance with the perpetrators.

In 1920, Congress Leader Gandhi had already partnered with Khilafat movement led by Ali brothers, a branch of which started Malabar rebellion in Kerala, and committed to work on the dual goals of re-establishment of Caliphate in Turkey and gaining the Swaraj in India. Reinstating Khalifa in Turkey to regain a foothold on world stage for political Islam was a sectarian cause having nothing to do with ambitions of the majority of Indians.  

Malabar rebellion triggered a genocide in India known as Moplah massacre. In the history schoolbooks in India, the Moplah massacre of 1921 in the aftermath of rebellion does not get a mention. In 1921, Agrarian Muslim workers, known as Moplah, rose up against the British colonial government and Hindu landowners. Inspiration for the rebellion was the Khalifat movement that was vying for the re-establishment of Caliphate in Turkey after the defeat of Ottomans at the hands of the British Empire in the First World War. Soon the fury of rebellion turned to all Hindus living in the Malabar region of Kerala who became the soft target of bloody retaliation. Several close associates of Gandhi brought the heinous crimes by Moplahs to his attention but he did not denounce them or asked Khilafat partners to intervene.

On the Moplah massacre, Annie Besant wrote that Gandhi did not feel even a little sympathy for the thousands of women and little children. Further she writes – “Can you conceive of a more ghastly and inhuman crime than the murders of babies and pregnant women?…A pregnant woman carrying 7 months was cut through the abdomen by a rebel and she was seen lying dead on the way with the dead child projecting out of the womb…”. 

Such a vivid description of Moplah massacre can shake the inner soul of a casual reader even a century later but Gandhi’s silence on it brings his principled stand on non-violence into question. He chose politics over principles and this was just not a one-off exceptional event when he turned a blind eye to violence. Sunday Guardian writes – “Hence, Annie Besant said, “It would be well if Gandhi could be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the ghastly horrors which have been created by the preaching of himself and his ‘loved brothers’ Muhammed Ali and Shaukat Ali…. “

Annie Besant’s sarcastic writing clearly indicate the closeness of Gandhi to Ali Brothers and their ideological backing to the Moplah massacre. Gandhi willingly ignored the obvious and miscalculated the high cost of Hindu Muslim unity that he wanted to establish.

Swami Shradhanand’s was a well known personality of Arya Samaj and proponent of Vedic Dharma and Vedic practices. He participated in the freedom movement from 1919 hand in hand with Gandhi and became his close associate. He worked on eradication of untouchability, a cause advocated by Gandhi too. Swami died tragically when a man named Adbul Rashid fired two bullets at him when Swami was at his home in Delhi. The assassin forced his way in the home of Swami at the pretext of having a discourse on Islam. Gandhi’s reaction to the murder of his associate in freedom struggle was essentially blaming the victim and calling the murderer his brother. 

Pattabhi Sitaramayya wrote, “At the Gauhati Congress Session of 1926, Gandhi expounded what true religion was and explained the causes that led to the murder. Now you will perhaps recall why I have called Abdul Rashid (the murderer) my brother and I repeat it. I do not hold him guilty but Guilty are those who excited feelings of hatred against one another”.

A popular quote of Gandhi on non-violence (Ahimsa) goes – “Ahimsa is the highest ideal. It is meant for the brave, never for the cowardly” .

As Gandhi said that violence is for cowardly, by calling a violent murder his brother he sided with a coward and not with a brave person who lost his life. 

According to an article in The Hindu Business Line:

“Mahatma Gandhi saw his alliance with the Ali brothers as “striving to be the best cement” between the Hindu and Muslim communities. It was his way of ensuring Muslim participation in national politics.”

Gandhi saw Hindu Muslim unity as a political tool and was willing to forsake his principle of non-violence for political gains which one could hardly expect from a person with saintly character.   

Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar, one of two Ali Brothers, at the zenith of Gandhi’s partnership with Khilafat movement in 1921 said: 

“However pure Gandhiji’s character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussalman, even though he be without character. Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mahatma Gandhi”.

Decades, after Gandhi joined hands with Khilafat leaders, were rife with Hindu Muslim political discords and bloody massacres proving that his Khilafat partnership neither fulfilled the lofty goal of Hindu Muslim unity nor did it make British India a non-violent society. Majority of Muslims despised Gandhi, let alone viewing him as their leader. 

Despite of Gandhi’s misplaced confidence in his ability to bring Muslim and Hindu on a common ground and to be seen as the leader of all in the freedom struggle against British, his mass followers were only the Hindu populace of India. Muslims either openly hated him or did not trust him. As the events leading up to the independence unfolded, direct action day in Calcutta in 1946 announced by Jinnah, communal riots in Noakhali in 1946 and partition time massacre in Punjab in 1947, indisputably proved that Gandhi could not win the confidence of Muslims. Muslim leaders viewed violence as a powerful and swift means available to them to achieve their political goals. In spite of Gandhi’s willingness to forsake his principle of non-violence, majority of Muslims did not rally behind him and remained loyal to Muslim League and Jinnah. 

During his lifetime, Gandhi came under fiery criticism from his colleagues and enemies alike for his actions. From far corners of India and the world, he regularly received letters against his decision to join Khilafat movement and over his silence on Moplah massacre, which he, in his characteristic Gandhian way, underplayed by blaming the victims and giving a clean chit to perpetrators for having polluted mind and holding nameless individuals who excite the hate guilty. 

In the recent past, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, Gandhi came under attack for his views. At the height of BLM protests, Gandhi was denounced for his anti-black racism and for not speaking against the brutalities of the British Empire against the native Africans. A petition to remove Gandhi’s statue in an Asian dominated city in the UK, Leicester, received 5000 signatures in 2020. 

Imagine somebody in our times calling George Floyd’s killer cops brothers. And saying in a Gandhian way – “I do not hold them guilty but Guilty are those who excited feelings of hatred against one another”. What will the world’s reaction be?    

Though the post-independence politics of India led to ‘beatification’ of Gandhi and his name became a passport for peaceful credentials of India on the world stage, the debate on Gandhi did not end. It shifted to private circles. At clubs, universities, hostel rooms and  tea stalls, people have debated Gandhi for not doing enough to prevent the partition of India and mused at his famous experiment with celibacy and criticized him for lacking the compassion for the freedom fighters on death row. Kowtowing to Jinnah and granting more concessions to Pakistan would have turned worse, is a view privately held by many, if Gandhi had not died an untimely death by the bullets of an assassin in Jan 1948.  

Gandhi’s sainthood exists on the official records but in reality Gandhi’s actions, principles and beliefs have come regularly under scanner and even got assailed and refuted by the general public, media and intellectuals. The act of arresting a virtually unknown Baba for expressing his views on Gandhi itself is a blatant violation of Gandhian way, for Gandhi accepted his criticism gracefully and non-vindictively regardless of how stinging the criticism was.  

Aparajit is my pen name. I am a working professional living in the Netherlands. I am a keen observer of the religion, culture and society of Europe from the Indo perspective.  

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