M K Gandhi went to South Africa in 1893 to practice Law there and returned back to India in January 1915 after 21 years. In South Africa, Gandhi first introduced his ‘non-violent passive resistance’ against the British to extract concessions for Indians living in South Africa. Gandhi was totally unconcerned about the plight of local Africans in the hands of the British. He considered Indians of South Africa as better positioned vis-à-vis local Africans, possibly for being brown in skin color. Gandhi’s racial stratification was later observed in India when he did not oppose the Hindu caste system. He gave the Indian untouchables a grand name of Harijan and lived with them many times, but, unlike Savarkar, did not fight against Hindu caste system.
In 1909 Gandhi went to England from South Africa to push for the rights of Indians living there. While in England, Gandhi talked to many Indians there about India’s freedom movement and shared his opinion about those Indians, as well as, his own perspective with Lord Ampthill in a letter. Gandhi wrote that letter on 30 October 1909 to Lord Ampthill. Lord Ampthill was a British Civil Servant and Governor of Madras from 1900 to 1906. On returning to England in 1906, Lord Ampthill took up the cause of Indians in South Africa. He chaired an Advisory Committee on Indian students in the United Kingdom but disagreed with the Secretary of State for India on the issue of Constitutional Reforms. On 13 July 1909, Lord Ampthill was appointed as Deputy Lieutenant of Bedfordshire.
Lord Ampthill wrote an introduction to Joseph Doke’s book M. K. Gandhi: an Indian Patriot in South Africa in 1909. So, Gandhi knew Lord Ampthill very well and considered the latter as a well wisher of India. This letter of Gandhi to Lord Ampthill is an eye-opener. The contents of the letter exposed what Gandhi thought about the then Indian leaders and their method of freedom struggle. His mentality towards British, modern Western civilization and his future course of action, when he would return back to India after six years, were also visible in the letter. The future split of the Indian National Congress in 1923 into ‘pro-changer’ and ‘no-changer’ groups was hidden in that letter too.
The first decade of the twentieth century was important from the point of view of India’s freedom struggle. Violence against the British officers and rule had started crystallizing in India. Many prominent nationalist leaders were directly and indirectly in favor of armed and violent struggle for freedom of India. There was another group who opposed any violence. Taking advantage of the division in the nationalist leaders, the government prosecuted Bal Gangadhar Tilak on a charge of sedition and inciting terrorism and deported him in 1908 to, Burma (Myanmar), to serve a six-year prison sentence. Revolutionary Sri Aurobindo Ghosh was arrested for Alipore bomb case in 1908. After one year he came out of the jail and gradually shifted to spiritual life. Barin Ghosh, another convict of the same case, was sent to Cellular Jail. Savarkar was arrested and put under trial in 1910. Gandhi’s letter to Lord Ampthill should be understood in the above mentioned context.
Gandhi in his said letter wrote, inter alia, “I have for some time past been wishing to place before Your Lord-ship the result of my observations made here during my brief stay on the nationalist movement among my countrymen……….. I have made it a point to see Indians here of every shade of opinion. Opposed as I am to violence in any shape or form, I have endeavored specially to come into contact with the so-called extremists who may be better described as the party of violence…….
I have noticed impatience of British rule. In some cases the hatred of the whole race is virulent. In almost all cases distrust of British statesmen is writ large on their minds. ……… I have practically met no one who believes that India can ever become free without resort to violence……. It may then be just possible that the British rulers in India may at least do as the Indians do and not impose upon them the modern civilization. Railways, machinery and corresponding increase of indulgent habits are the true badges of slavery of the Indian people as they are of Europeans……. To me the rise of the cities like Calcutta and Bombay is a matter for sorrow rather than congratulation…….
Violent methods must mean acceptance of modern civilization and therefore of the same ruinous competition we notice here and consequent destruction of true morality……. Passive resistance is soul-force exerted against physical force. In other words love conquering hatred……. The information I have given Your Lordship is quite confidential and not to be made use of prejudicially to my countrymen……..” [Source: “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi”, page 200-202; https://www.gandhiashramsevagram.org/gandhi-literature/mahatma-gandhi-collected-works-volume-10.pdf]. Today Indians should compare the so-called ‘Mercy Petition’ of Savarkar vis-à-vis the above mentioned letter of Gandhi.
Thus six years before his return to India from South Africa, Gandhi was not only taking interest in the Indian freedom struggle, but also weighing the strength and weakness of the then nationalist leaders from his own view point. He was sharing his observations about those leaders with British officials to position himself before British administration as a future benign and non-violent freedom fighter of India. Gandhi succeeded in his scheme.
When he landed in Bombay (Mumbai) on 15 January 1915 from South Africa, he was given grand welcome and international press coverage, which was not possible without covert British sponsorship. A new leader of the Indian freedom movement was born on that day. Critics of Gandhi, till date, claim that Gandhi was implanted by the British to replace violent freedom movement by non-violent passive resistance. The critics also say that without Gandhi India could have achieved freedom after World War-I.
World War-I spanned between 28 July 1914 and 11 November 1918. On his return to India at the initial phase of World War-I, Gandhi, the worshiper of non-violence, supported the British in the war. Gandhi agreed to actively recruit Indians as the war combatants. Gandhi launched the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917 in defense of farmers forced to grow indigo, and the Kheda Satyagraha, against iniquitous taxes in Gujarat, followed, but both were protests against specific iniquities and not yet a mass movement against the Empire as a whole.
Turkey lost in WW-I and was dismembered by the British and its allied group of countries. When defeated Turkish people were engaged a Civil War against British supported continuation of Khilafat, Muslim community of India launched a mass movement in 1919 to keep that Islamic Khilafat, two thousand kilometers away from India, alive. That was a weird development in Indian politics.
Khilafat Movement in India was led by the famous Ali Brothers. Gandhi took the opportunity and dragged the Indian National Congress, and Indian Hindus to support and participate in the Khilafat Movement. Gandhi was elected President of the First All-India Khilafat Conference in 1919. Gandhi thought to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity in the process. But his short sighted move resulted in large scale killing of Hindus, rapes of their women, forceful conversion of many in the notorious Moplah riots in Malabar area of Kerala during 1921-1922. Instead of condemning the communal riots committed by the Moplah Muslims, Gandhi justified the atrocities on Hindus.
Orthodox Muslim leaders of India did not like Ali Brothers giving importance to Hindu Gandhi for the Islamic cause of Khilafat Movement so much so that elder of Ali brothers had to make a public statement in Lucknow “Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi”. Khilafat Movement died when the new ruler of Turkey, Kemal Attaturk in 1924 abolished the Khilafat and exiled the Khalifa, Muhammad VI.
Khilafat Movement had nothing to do with India’s freedom struggle. But the majority of Indian Hindus were fed on a propaganda that the movement was against British rule In India. The word Khilaf also meant ‘opposition’. Hence Hindus were made to think that the Khilafat Movement was for opposing British rule in India. In WW-I, over one million Indian troops served overseas for the British, of which about 75,000 died and another 67,000 were injured. That was the first major contribution of M K Gandhi, the worshiper of non-violence and truth, in the independent struggle of India.
Gandhi’s misadventure with Khilafat Movement had a devastating effect on Indian politics. It brought Islam in a big way inside the Indian politics. Khilafat Movement united all Muslims of British India in one group for the first time for the cause of Islamic Ummah. Muslims were officially made to feel as a different entity in India. By supporting and participating in the movement, Gandhi and the Congress Party accepted the religious identity of Muslims above their national identity. The extra-national allegiance of Indian Muslims and support for Sharia were also accepted by Gandhi and Congress Party in principle. The concept of ‘two nation theory’ became a construct and Muslims of British India gradually started their assertion for a Muslim country which culminated into division of India and creation of Islamic Pakistan in 1947.
Between 1915 and his death, Gandhi very cunningly deceived the poor Indians to position him as their leader. Congress leader Sarojini Naidu once said that it was very costly to maintain the poverty of Gandhi. M K Gandhi traveled in the third class compartment of the railway. But a full coach was to be reserved for him, which could have otherwise accommodated 70 to 80 poor passengers. Gandhi drank goat’s milk, but the monthly cost of goat maintenance was equal to the monthly salary of a couple of Primary School teachers. More than 70 per cent of Indians were poor then and more than 80 per cent were illiterate. The large poor and illiterate Indian mass, Hindus in particular, could see their reflection in Gandhi’s lifestyle. They identified themselves with him and followed him blindly.
Gandhi showed his aversion towards modern medicine selectively in the case of his wife. In 1944, when Gandhi’s wife suffered from pneumonia, British doctors told Gandhi that Penicillin injection could cure her; however, Gandhi refused to have modern medicine injected into her body, and she died. But 20 years earlier, Gandhi himself underwent emergency appendectomy, a modern surgery, to remove his inflamed appendix.
Gandhi’s gross hypocrisies were guarded by British and Western media, as well as, Indian National Congress. It was not for nothing that Jinnah called M K Gandhi “wily Gandhi”. Gandhi was the wrong man in right time and right place.