27th June 2011
Please don’t “misunderestimate” Gandhi’s genius
Many of India's "educated" people seem to have little sense of history and seriously underestimate Gandhi. Regardless of all his flaws and shortcomings, Gandhi remains a towering figure – both as a man of love and non-violence and as a man of superlative strategic genius.
A small movement of his feet, clad in thongs, would set the entire country aflutter and dashing off after him. If at all there is an illustration in the world in recent times of the sheer power of goodness and morality, his example must surely rank at the top. (I'm talking very broadly here – for even Gandhi did not claim he was perfect.)
As illustration of this erroneous sense that many people in India have about Gandhi, and in order to help minimise this common misunderstanding about Gandhi's role in India (and the world), here's what a commentator wrote on this blog today, and here's my response:
Both Anna H and MKG are/were deluded and misguided messiahs. If you think AH has no idea or theory of a state or nation, even MKG did not really have any. His vision of a Sevagram economy and society if implemented would have landed India in a greater disaster than Nehruvian socialism.
Gandhi's charisma, popularity and the spirit of the times in which he reached his peak provided the intellectual justification and rationalization for his mediaval and outmoded ideas and methods. While it is a hypothetical argument now, Gandhi with his idealistic theories and satyagraha antics delayed our 'freedom' from colonial rule by atleast 50 years, by crowding other effective agitational methods.
I’m unable to agree. Gandhi did know precisely what he was doing, and why. He kept learning and innovating as he progressed, and he can’t be considered to have been widely read, but he did have a justification for what he promoted. His worldview was simplistic in the extreme, but that simplicity was founded on love. That not everyone felt it (e.g.Jinnah or the Harijans) is inevitable.
I do not agree that without Gandhi India would have got its independence 50 years earlier. First, he came on the scene only 30 years before independence (from 1915). Second, all other programs before his movements were elite-based and the masses in India did not care for independence, for they could not distinguish between ancient Hindu kings, Mughal rule, and British rule. In fact, many of the things in their life were getting better in the British rule, so they were not particularly anti-British (recall that the British did not commit any major atrocities before 1919 Jalianwalah Bagh, after Gandhi had come on the scene and started turning up the pressure by one notch).
The first mass movement in India occurred in 1921-22, being called off after Chauri Chaura. It was the first mass expression of the people after 1857 (which was much smaller in extent).
It was these growing mass protests that unnerved the British. They had no reason to fear anyone but Gandhi. What if he did not call off his non-violence moment after Chauri Chaura? He held an instrument more powerful in his hands than anyone before him – and after him. He could turn the entire country on and off like a tap. That power was what ultimately put the fear of God into the British – and indeed the Quit India of 1942 was at least a partial expression of that power.
And it was through his efforts that we slowly got a democracy – based on the 1935 Act. He carefully tutored DEMOCRATS like Nehru, and shunned violent rebels like Bose. Without his over-arching influence India would have become a broken nation, racked by internal violence of a magnitude 10 times more than what you see today.
He could not prevent the partition of India, but without him India would not have been 3 countries, but 30.
I don’t buy your arguments. Gandhi was a genius, and he did have a solid theory. Read his work – it goes into millions of words. He had very clear understandings of what he was doing and why.
Let IAC not compare the super-genius Gandhi with a half-baked copycat AH, or a confused Ramdev.
(Note:I use a Bushism in the title of this blog post for I find this interesting word more illuminating than the simple word, "underestimate", given it can be used to refer to the concept of serious under-estimation).
'Gandhi did not oppose science' ("Most Indian philosophy of the last few centuries consists of the study of Indian philosophers of the past. Gandhi was one of the few who produced a philosophy of his own")