Skip to main content

Gandhi 'touched' soul of India's masses as Communists 'failed' to offer alternative

By Harsh Thakor* 

Seventy three years ago Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic who made an impact on humanity at large as few individuals ever did in the history of mankind. 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 Gandhi. He could encompass every part of India to touch the very core of the soul in the masses.
Yet, Gandhi has been analyzed from different perspectives. One of them classifies him at the level of a prophet, a great champion of non-violence and thus as a liberator of mankind. Another one is critical of Gandhi's opposition to capitalism, caste and landlordism, but recognizes Gandhi as a truly anti-British mass leader who won independence for India.
No doubt, Gandhi has been criticised for twisting or even attempting to suppress genuine peasant struggles and workers’ strikes. He propagated trusteeship of workers with big industrialists like GD Birla and peasants with landlords. There was no agenda in his programme for confiscation of land or no-rent protest. He did not side with any movement, let alone revolutionary resistance, that did not fit into his scheme of non-violence.
The view is also strong that the crumbling British economy the British rulers were compelled to leave India. The verdict of Indian Independence was not because of Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose but because of the disintegration or collapse of the British economy with Britain virtually unable to afford to keep India as a colony.
Yet, writers like Louis Fisher hailed Gandhi as some kind of a prophet or crusader for liberation. Journalist Edgar Snow, who earlier criticised Gandhi “supporting” the big bourgeoisie, later glorified Gandhi’s role in the very house of industrialist GD Birla. Albert Einstein said, “Scarce has anyone with such flesh, blood and bones ever existed on this earth.”
Gandhi’s ideology of satyagraha took its birth in South Africa, where he took up only the cudgels of only the Indian business community. Indeed, he won concessions for the India business class, yet he showed little concern for the black people. On his return to India, Gandhi he set off from where he took off in South Africa to pursue his path of non-violent resistance.
In Champaran, in 1917, Gandhi closed all avenues for the abolition of tax payment or receiving the promised wages at market rates. Indeed, he made no call for non-payment of rent or boycott of Indigo cultivation. He repeated the same same experience in Kheda area when the struggle took the shape of a no-rent payment protest, or for the reduction in land revenue.
In Ahmedabad in 2018 Gandhi was responsible for making compromise between the struggling mill workers and the owners for rise in wages by holding repeated meetings during the three week long lockout. Advocating non-violence, the workers had to agree to receiving less than the 35% per day promised to them.
Following the Salt March of March 1930 for three continuous weeks, several peasant movements sprouted. Armoury was raid in Bengal and there was army revolt in Peshawar. There were no-rent strugglesin Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There was tribal armed struggle in Nasik and confiscation of land in Kheda. A huge contingent of workers went on strike in Sholapur and attacked law courts, police stations, railway stations and municipal offices. In Peshawar the struggle grew so intense that the British resorted to aerial bombardment.
The civil disobedience movement, which began after the Salt March, led to the arrest of 90,000 people. However, all through Gandhi, who was himself in jail, expressed dissatisfaction with the militancy that entrapped the whole nation. At the 1931 round table conference he entered into what came to be known as Gandhi-Irwin agreement, which suspended a massive movement.
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 governments set up in 1943. At that time too Gandhi called for the struggle to maintain non-violence.
Many consider Gandhi indirectly responsible for the death sentence to Bhagat Singh and his comrades, who were genuine nationalists. Criticised for opposing the Hindu and Muslim soldiers laying down their rifles protesting an order to fire on a mob in Garhwal, Gandhi in 1946 he condemned the naval ratings strike which hit British. These incidents are cited as his testimony of dual nature of non-violence.
Gandhi told journalist Charles Petrasch on Garhwali soldiers:: "A soldier who disobeys an order to fire beaks the oath which he has taken and renders himself guilty of criminal disobedience. I cannot ask officials and soldiers to disobey, for when I am in power I shall in likelihood make use of the same officials and those same soldiers. If I taught them to disobey I should be afraid that they might do the same when in power."
On the naval ratings strike of 1946, Gandhi said, "I might have understood if they had combined from top to bottom. This would have meant handing India over the rabble. I would not want to live up to 125 to witness that consummation. I would rather perish in the flames."
Marxist historian Rajni Palme Dutt said, Left-wing critics of 1930-40s hardly recognized Gandhi’s role in raising the national movement, inspiring most backward inactive masses
Gandhi has been criticised his view on caste system: "A healthy division of work based on birth, a very beautiful and beneficial thing and not a bad one a unique contribution of Hinduism to the world. Varna is the recognition of a definite law that govern shuman happiness. We must treasure and conserve all the good qualities we inherit from our ancestors, and that therefore each one should follow the profession of his father so long as the profession is not immoral."
On untouchability, Gandhi said, "The only pure way of self-purification is not by use of physical force, nor a renunciation of Hinduism, nor non-co-operation, with the caste Hindus. Only by ridding themselves of your vices like drinking and eating meat. You will be able to obtain your uplift and overcome prejudices of caste Hindus."

Gandhi’s relevance

Be that as it may, the relevance of Gandhi, who was a complex personality, cannot be set aside in the present context. Indeed, Gandhi would have condemned the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the post-Godhra riots in 2002, as also the recent Supreme Court judgement favouring the building of the temple. Probably Gandhi would have been a thorn in the flesh to the Hindutva forces who have penetrated every sphere of society in India as never before.
He may well have also been a crusader to defend people’s right to dissent with proto-fascism at its crescendo today. Within boundaries, he would have been an opponent of globalisation and condemned Operation Greenhunt in Dantewala, or arrest of urban intellectuals like Varavara Rao or incarceration of Prof GN Saibaba.
Gandhi would have been a most vocal opponent of the war mongering pro-nuclear policies of the current BJP regime and championed movements against nuclear missile bases. He might well have also raised his voice against India’s policies and behaviour on Kashmir. He might have been mascot for civil rights movement. Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar today plays a major role in opposing Operation Greenhunt.
Without Gandhi the independence movement would never have attained its national character A great architect and connoisseur in crystallizing or building liaison with all the movements prevailing, the non-cooperation movement in 1920-21 and the Dandi march in 1930, and the later the Quit India embarrassed the British in their very den, adopting most creative methods.
Gandhi depicted more mastery over the idioms of the masses or creativity in building movements than any Communist leader in India in his time. The methods he deployed to mobilise masses or galvanize movements are even a lesson for Communists or social revolutionaries and in preliminary stages similar to the mass mobilisation adopted in the revolutionary movements of China and Vietnam.
Ranji Palme Dutt
Not without reason, well-known Marxist historian Rajani Palme Dutt in book ‘India Today’ said, “No other leader could have bridged the gap during the transitional period, between the actual bourgeois direction of the national movement and the awakening, but not yet conscious masses. Both for good and evil Gandhi created it. The role only comes to an end in proportion as the masses begin to reach clear class consciousness of their own interests and the actual class forces and class relations begin to stand out clear in the Indian scene, without need of mythological concealments.”
Palme Dutt added: “Left wing critics of the 1930-40s hardly recognized Gandhi’s role in raising the national movement and the Congress from its previously relatively narrower range to an all-India national mass movement, inspiring the most backward inactive masses with national consciousness and awakening them to struggle.”
In 1947 in Delhi Gandhi 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 gripped by the clutches of Hindutva. A champion of secularism defying communal forces challenging the Mountbatten award, even Maoist historian Suniti Kumar Ghosh praised Gandhi’s work in thwarting the communal forces in his book “India and the Raj.”
Like Marx, Gandhi had great respect for manual labour, encouraging students to perform menial work and not look down on it. He depicted mastery over the idioms of the masses or creativity in building movements than any Communist leader in his time. 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.
Gandhi incorporated programme of manual labour in students’ curriculum. His village industries plan had subtle similarities with Marxist goal, even if idealistic. A communist would be proud of emulating the lifestyle of Gandhi. Not for nothing even Lenin classified Gandhi as a Tolstoy in 1920. Ho Chi Minh stated, “I and others may be revolutionaries but we are disciples of Mahatma Gandhi, directly or indirectly, nothing more nothing less.”
Gandhi was essentially an anti-colonial reformer. Whatever the defects that were obvious in Gandhi's role, one must ask ourselves why no revolutionary alternative was built by India’s communists party or other revolutionary sections, apart from those like Bhagat Singh or the Ghadar Party.
---
*Independent journalist who has been covering mass movements

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.