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The man who knew he was Mahatma

The man who knew he was Mahatma

Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 29, 2006

Gandhi was busy writing articles about his desire to renounce the flesh when India was burning in 1947 and the people of this country were more interested in knowing whether they would live or die rather than in heeding the problems of brahmacharya - KR Phanda/ Prafull Goradia


Mahatma Gandhi is one of those leaders who has left a permanent imprint on world history. This biography, The Life And Death Of Mahatma Gandhi by Robert Payne proves it beyond an iota of doubt. Lenin and Gandhi were the only leaders in the 20th century who brought revolution in political thinking.

The former brought the Czarist regime in Russia to an end by resorting to violent means and the latter by adopting non-violence, was seen to have the British to leave India - the jewel in the British crown. While Russians became masters of their destiny after the 1917 revolution, Hindus had only a change of masters from the English to Crypto-Muslims or pseudo-secularists.

In this biography, Payne has provided details about the incidents in Gandhi's early life which shaped his attitude towards the British, the Muslims, the Hindus, his family members, satyagraha, brahamacharya et al. In Payne's words: "He was a bad father, a tyrant to his followers and rarely made any effort to conceal the authoritarian streak he had inherited from his ancestors.

He was fascinated by sex to the point of obsession and long after he had taken a formal vow of chastity he would share his bed with women saying that all animal passion had died in him and therefore he was behaving with perfect purity, sometime he believed in his own Mahatmaship and this was perhaps the most dangerous of all his beliefs." Payne is not the first person who has highlighted Gandhi's moralistic and at the same time dictatorial behaviour.

After the death of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1920, Gandhi became the supreme leader of the Indian National Congress. In this capacity, he had the chance of interacting with all the Viceroys of India. Almost all Governors General had very poor opinion of Gandhi's method of fighting for freedom. In 1921, Gandhi met Lord Reading and the latter described his first meeting in a letter to his son thus" "His religious views are I believe, genuinely held, and he is convinced to a point almost bordering on fanaticism that non-violence and love will give India its independence and enable it to withstand the British government.

His religious and moral views are admirable and indeed are on a remarkably high altitude, though I must confess that I feel it difficult to understand his practice of them in politics." Twenty six years later, in 1947, Gandhi had a meeting with Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India. This is what he told the Congress leaders after his meeting with Gandhi: "He (Gandhi) is not a practical man. Look at the silly plan he produced to hand India over to Jinnah.

This is not time for idealistic gestures - this is the time for action", (The Last Days of the British Raj by Leonard Mosley, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1961). Beverley Nichols, a distinguished British journalist, quotes a Muslim League's publication of 1943 stating, "He (Gandhi) is both a spiritual and political leader of the Hindus and pretends to speak with divine authority. Nobody can dare to criticise him and yet remain a member of the Congress. A host of prominent Congress leaders had to leave the Congress as they had incurred the displeasure of the Mahatma". (Verdict on India, Jonathan Cape, London 1944).

In his actions and statements made at different points in time, Gandhi's hatred for the British and weakness for Muslims kept surfacing. This dichotomy in Gandhi's behaviour, according to Payne, can be traced to certain incidents which got embedded in his psyche. For example, by the time Gandhi came back from England, the Gandhi family fortune was in full decline.

His eldest brother, Laxmidas Gandhi, who at one time was Secretary to the Prince of Porbandar, had been thrown out of job on the order of the British agent. It is said the Prince had secretly removed some state jewels from the treasury allegedly on the advice of Laxmidas. Since the Prince could not be punished, the British agent had Laxmidas removed from his post.

As Gandhi had earlier met the British agent while on leave in London, Laxmidas persuaded Mohandas to speak to him on his behalf. Instead of listening to Gandhi, the British agent had him thrown out of the room. When Gandhi brought this incident to the notice of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, he advised him, "to pocket the insult." In Gandhi's words, "This shock changed my whole life."

This was only the beginning of Gandhi's humiliation at the hands of the Europeans. More such incidents were to follow. Gandhi had not succeeded as a lawyer either in Rajkot. Porbandar or Bombay. Under the circumstances, he was happy to accept the offer to go to South Africa to help the firm of Dada Abdullah & Co in its law suit against a distant cousin based in Johannesburg. He needed income so badly that he was not even distressed at the thought of leaving his wife behind.

On his journey to Pretoria, he was asked by a European at Pietermaritzburg to shift to a van compartment though he had a first class ticket. On his refusal, he was pushed out and his luggage was tossed out on to the station platform. Talking about this incident in later years, Gandhi would say that his political mission in life against colour prejudice began on that night when he shivered in the waiting room at Pietermaritzburg.

Further on in his journey to Pretoria, the Dutchman in charge of the passenger coach ordered Gandhi to sit outside the coach on the coach box. Later when Gandhi was returning to South Africa with his family, he was beaten up by European youth on the orders of Captain Harry Sparks as they did not want him and other Indians to come to South Africa. These incidents largely determined Gandhi's hatred of the British.

In sharp contrast to the above, Gandhi's partiality for Muslims knew no bounds. According to Payne, "His (Gandhi's) association with Muslims had been a happy one; his ancestors for five generations had served in the courts of Muslim princes; his grandmother's life had been saved by a Muslim bodyguard. He was genuinely convinced that the Koran was divinely inspired and he had read it attentively and with profit".

Hindu-Mohammedan unity is an unalterable article of faith, wrote Gandhi. Both Sir Sankaran Nair and Annie Besant had blamed Gandhi and his Muslim friends for the butchery of innocent Hindus in the Moplah riots in today's Kerala. Gandhi instead praised the Moplahs and called them brave. Gandhi had the audacity to call Abdul Rashid, the murderer of Swami Shraddhanand, his brother.

This callous attitude of Gandhi bothered many Hindu leaders of that time. Dr BR Ambedkar who had seen the Mahatma at close quarters was forced to observe that Gandhi had never called Muslims to account even when they were guilty of heinous crimes against the Hindus. The legendary VP Menon in his book The Transfer of Power in India (Orient Longman, Delhi 1957) records that, "He (Gandhi) lived for it - indeed he eventually died for it".

Gandhi showed his usual stubbornness in his talks on the question of the creation of Pakistan with Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah held at Marble House, Bombay in 1944. Jinnah told him in no uncertain terms that the Muslim League was the sole representative of the Indian Muslims and that because of their religion, tradition, culture and history Muslims could not live with the Hindus. Therefore to end the Muslim-Hindu conflict forever, Gandhi should agree to Pakistan for Muslims and Hindustan for Hindus.

Gandhi did not agree and the talks failed. This prompted Jinnah to give a call for Direct Action which led to the Great Calcutta Killing in August 1946. On August 15, 1946 an English journalist met Jinnah in Bombay and found him seething with rage. This is what he said about the Hindu leadership, "They were treacherous, weak-willed, dirty, slovenly, incapable of governing themselves and still less of governing others."

In 1946 and 1947, Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah and other Muslim League leaders had asked for an exchange of population. Gandhi and Nehru did not lend an ear. Even Pyarelal, Gandhi's secretary had suggested an exchange of population after the Noakhali riots. The Congress party agreed to India's division on a religious basis but did not ask Muslims to leave for their Darul Islam. Muslims, all over the world, are happy that Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah created a new country for the Indian Muslims. What is it that the Hindus should be proud of?

While India was burning in 1947, Gandhi was busy writing a series of articles in the Harijan about his desire to renounce the flesh and all its temptations; it should be possible for a man dedicated to God to lie in bed with the most beautiful woman on earth and feel not the slightest desire for her. The people of India were less interested in the problems of brahmacharya and ahimsa than in knowing whether they would live or die.

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