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Gandhi -150th birth centenary

Harsh Thakor

Exactly 150 years ago a person came into our world who made an impact on humanity at large as few individuals ever did in the history of mankind whether for good or evil. Arguably there is no man in this millennium in India who could understand the language or idioms of the masses and relate to them in the depth of M. K. Gandhi.

In my view however historical a figure he was in essence not an anti-imperialist crusader but a reactionary who championed the interest of the propertied classes. Morally he bent or twisted every movement when it took a genuine mass character and confrontation of the peasantry with landlords or of workers against industrialists in the name of non-violence. There was no agenda in his programme for confiscation of land or no-rent protest. He did give an initial boost to the anti-imperialist discontent absorbing all the important anti-imperialist elements like peasant rebellions or workers strikes but succeeded in shaping it to the very tune of the British rulers or bourgeoisie.

He had the genius of a magician like no leader in a 3rd world country ever in disguising himself as the saint of the masses and conceal his class character as a representative of the comprador classes. The Western countries hailed him as a liberator of the Indian masses and his ideology as a model for emancipation of people worldwide to protect the interests of imperialist hegemony prevent any confrontation with the monopoly of imperialism.

Gandhi's Satyagraha was seemingly liberal but morally it forced or imposed its will on the broad masses of the people where he revealed great egoism and he revealed authoritarian tendencies in the Congress party itself. It supressed the deep class antagonism or hatred for the British rulers.

Gandhi's economic theories protected the propertied classes and at the core and it is utopian to club Gandhism with Marxism or Socialism negating its class character. Although having similarities with Socialism in terms of goal of sharing resources Gandhism basically emphasizes on the individual being the centre of everything as against the collective spirit of Socialism. Gandhi’s trusteeship policies would be a blessing for the big corporates in capitalizing their monopoly over oppressed sections and his panchayat raj concept advocated practice of the medieval days and would be used totally in favour of the lanlords or rich peasantry.

The base of his political ideology of Satyagraha took birth in South Africa where he took up only the cudgels of the Indian business community and deliberately isolated the African black community whom he termed as savages. His compromising character was revealed on many an occasion when the shape of any struggle against the Dutch took on a militant character. And he even supported volunteering of fighting on the side of the British in the Boer war.

After returning to India he set off from where he took off in South Africa to pursue his path of non-violent resistance.

In Champaran in 1917 he compromised the struggle for a settlement for the peasantry with the Indigo planters. Making no call for non-payment of rent or boycott of Indigo cultivation and only made an impartial inquiry. The same experience was repeated in Kheda area when the struggle took the shape of a no-rent payment protest or for reduction in land revenue, Gandhi in the end betrayed the struggle.

In Ahmedabad in 2018 he was responsible for compromising an important struggle between the millworkers and owner for rise in wages through holding repeated meetings during the 3 week long lockout dissuading militancy, asking the workers to demand 35% of the wage and advocating non-violence and avoid picketing.

After the Salt March in 1930 several peasant movements sprouted up as well as strikes, powerful mass demonstrations, the Chittagong Armoury raid in Bengal, the army revolt in Peshawar, etc. A huge contingent of workers went on strike in Sholapur and attacked law courts, police stations, railway stations and municipal offices. In Peshwar the struggle grew so intense that the British resorted to aerial bombardment. When the water was simmering at its boiling point Gandhian leadership repeatedly thrust its lid over the pot to diffuse al such struggles.

The non-cooperation movement in 1920-21 began in striking pomp with boycott of foreign goods, law courts, government offices, schools and colleges. But after a while Gandhi began to denounce it wishing to only enforce the boycott of foreign cloth. Significantly the beneficiaries of boycott of foreign cloth, agreed with the interests of the Comprador merchants.

With Civil disobedience movement at its peak with 90,000 people filling the jails the Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed which morally curtailed all the revolutionary democratic rights. Gandhi-Irwin agreement suspended the civil disobedience movement thus the aims of complete independence were thrown into the grave. Only right that was won at was the one of peaceful boycott of foreign cloth and not for any type of militant demonstration, or against British goods specifically.

At the time of the Quit India Movement of 1942 a flurry of peasant struggles broke out encompassing all over India in Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Midnapore in Bengal, parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Orissa, with parallel govts set up in 1943. Gandhi again called off the struggle when it reached its crescendo.

Gandhi was also indirectly responsible for the death sentence to Bhagat Singh and his comrades who were genuine nationalists and even had the audacity to pretend that he tried to revoke the sentence awarded. In Garhwali he opposed the Hindu and Muslim soldiers laying down their rifles protesting an order to fire on a mob, in the name of performing their duty and promise of allegiance to the British empire. In 1946 he condemned the naval ratings strike which hit British imperialists in their very belt. To top it all he called the Indian army to take armed action on the Kashmiri people in 1947 which violated. These 4 incidents are a testimony to his hypocrisy or dual nature of his non-violence which he allowed to perpetrate by the oppressors on the masses. Ironically the actions of Bhagat Singh throwing the bomb in the assembly in 1928, Garhwali soldiers laying down arms and refusing to shoot and Naval mutiny did not create a drop of bloodshed but the Gandhian Congress condemned it.

Some sections glorify Gandhi as a champion of secularism. However, his speeches repeatedly had powerful pro-Hindu communal overtones like in the Noakhali riots in 1947 when he urged Hindus to take up arms to defend themselves against Muslims. Earlier he even gave patronage to communal fascist leaders like Madan Mohan Malviya. He also to his last tooth defended the caste system. And even fasted to oppose Ambedkar's demands in the Poona pact. It is ironic that it is Gandhi who blessed the founding of the Hindu Mahi Sabha. Indirectly it was Gandhi's leadership within the Congress that laid the roots for the partition of India where he regularly appeased the cause of the Hindus. In all his prayer meetings he touched upon the essence of Hindusim. Gandhi always appealed to the Muslims as a Hindu leader and not as a national leader when appeasing Hindu-Muslim unity. He was master in using religion to divert the masses from genuine issues or struggles, glorifying concept of Ram Rajya. Ironically Gandhi even gave tacit support to the Khilafat movement which lended support to colonialism and the Muslim fundamentalists or comprador bourgeoise and displayed his repulsion towards the Arab s right to self -determination here.

He took abysmal stands in International politics his lifetime like calling the Indians to fight on the side of the Dutch by volunteering in the Boer war, telling the Jews to surrender their heads to Adolf Hitler in Germany and thus commit mass suicide, support the Axis countries or fascist powers in World war 2 and even refuse to support the allies in World War 2. Significant that Gandhi opposed all movements worldwide opposing fascism like opposing China's armed resistance against Japan.

Although projected as a champion of Brahmacharya Gandhi experimented with young naked women which was hypocritical.

Nevertheless, Gandhi had his positive points He was the pioneer in linking the Indian national Congress to the masses. Without Gandhi the independence movement would never have attained its national character The non -co-operation movement in 1920-1921 and the Salt Dandi march in 1930 and later the Quit India embarrassed the British in their very den. Gandhi depicted more mastery over the idioms and psyche of the masses or creativity in building movements than any Communist leader in India in his time. Even Communists could be proud of emulating his habits.

Above all Gandhi like Marx had great respect for manual labour. He fostered the dignity of labour amongst students within the education system and incorporated programme of manual labour in student’s curriculum which was similar to Marxism. The practices of social labour in his Ashram or even spinning and weaving cloth and his constructive programme had Marxist overtones even if he resolutely opposed class antagonism. Not for nothing did Ho Chi Minh stated that there is no doubt that 'We all revolutionaries are pupils of Gandhi.

In 1947 in Delhi he literally risked his life to save the lives of thousands of Hindus and Muslims which proves his relevance in India today when the nation is engripped by the clutches of Hindutva fascism. In that period no doubt he was champion of secularism defying the communal fascists challenging the Mountbatten award. Probably Gandhi would have been a thorn in the flesh to the forces of Hindutva fascism who have penetrated every sphere of society in India as never before and take proto-fascism to its crescendo.

Like the Maoists in India I would not term Gandhi as pro-British but an anti-colonial reformer. Whatever the defects that were obvious in Gandhi's role we must ask ourselves why no genuine revolutionary alternative was built by our communist party or other genuine revolutionary sections apart from those like Shaheed Bhagat Singh or Ghadr party.

Basically, we have to distinguish between Gandhi the man and Gandhism. His ideology or economic policies were deeply contradictory and a blessing for exploiter classes on the whole but his character possessed deeply humanistic overtones and moralistic virtues. Even Maoists could be proud of emulating his habits. There were simply 2 sides to this man.

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Oct 20, 2019


Harsh Thakore [email protected]

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