This is a followup to the comments on my post on Gandhian Self-sufficiency.
It is more than a bit unfortunate that we have a tendency to immediately label any criticism of any person as a sign of disrespect. Any person whose image cannot withstand the harsh glare of honest criticism says something about the fragility of that image. The image takes on a aura of such holiness and awe that any hint of possible flaws is taken as sacrilegious. Taken to an extreme, this sort of idol-worshipping ends up with the worshippers lynching anyone daring to profane the sacred image.
For the record, I do believe that Gandhi was a giant of a man. But for all his greatness, he was still cut from the same cloth as you and I. The same human frailties, the same hopes and ambitions and fears. The difference between a Gandhi and one of us is one of size, not of substance. If we keep that in mind — not just about Gandhi but everyone — I do believe that we would have a useful working hypothesis. Those great big people are magnified images of ourselves. And that which magnifies the virtues, magnifies the flaws as well. An old Chinese saying says that the bigger the front-side, the larger the back-side.
I heard that Chinese saying on the radio (I think it was Fresh Air with Terry Gross.) The program was about the late Joseph Campbell. Campbell was a great big man whose work on the power of myths is legendary. I have enormous respect for the man. So I was fairly shocked to learn on that radio discussion that he was an anti-semite. The mind reeled. How could that be! A man with so much obvious humanity stooping so low? Then one of the discussants mentioned that Chinese saying and I had a sort of epiphany.
The epiphany was of the type that accompanies growing up, of maturing. I realized that all my heroes have pretty large backsides, just as much as they have front-sides. The two men I admired the most, the Buddha and Einstein, too had large backsides. That realization deepened my understanding of who they were and why I respect them. Knowing that they too have their faults did not imply that I stopped considering them worthy of respect, but only that they were more like me than I would have suspected. That is what happens, I suspect, in the case of parents and children. As children we grow up adulating our parents. At some point in our lives, we do realize that they too have their faults. Rarely do children end up losing their love and respect for the parents.
All I am trying to do here is to explain that my criticism of Gandhi does not imply that I don’t consider him worthy of respect. I do not consider anyone above criticism and that goes with a greater force for someone placed on so high a pedestal as he. Idol-worshipping, it would appear, is not limited to the religious sphere in India; it creeps into the political sphere as well. That is not to say that all other peoples are not guilty of idol-worshipping as well. Only that in India it has been taken to stratospheric levels. Mention the name “Gandhi” and people are willing to believe and do anything. A recent display of that sort of insanity was when a bunch threatened to commit suicide unless a certain Gandhi became the prime minister of India.
Here is what my position is with regards to Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi is widely acknowledged to be the Father of the nation. OK, I am willing to grant that. Then I look around and see the nation and find it less than desirable. Therefore, I conclude that there must have been something the matter with the father if the child (the nation) is so pathetic. I am merely taking the argument to its logical conclusion. Gandhi was great; he was the father of the nation; the nation is pathetic; ergo, the father was not perfect. Now some would argue that Gandhi was great and he is the father of the nation, but it is not his fault that the nation is pathetic. My objection to that would be that you cannot have it both ways: if he was the father, then both the praise and the blame for his progeny rest at his feet. You cannot simultaneously claim that he was the father and yet assign no responsibility for the way things turned out. It is logically consistent to say that he was a great man but the nation did not follow what he preached. In that case, he was not the father of the nation.
The same goes with Nehru. It is silly to praise Nehru for all sorts of supposedly good stuff he is responsible for and to adorn each and every public institution with his or his progeny’s name and turn a blind eye to the disasters that he and his progeny have inflicted on an adoring nation. I find it bitterly ironic that educational institutions carry Indira Gandhi’s name when she was strictly opposed to education for the masses. Every time I come across the name of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, I can only marvel at the blinkered pig-ignorance that motivates the naming of educational institutions after her. I don’t think that there will ever be an institute called the “Adolf Hitler Institute for Jewish Advancement”.
My basic concern is to figure out what is the reason for what India is today. How did it get here? Is there something wrong with our national character? Is it that external forces have ruined us? Where did we go wrong? Were our policies good and if so, what explains the state of India today? If our policies were bad, who was responsible? What can we do so as to correct our mistakes? What were the mistakes and why were they made?
One cannot hope to answer those questions if there are some people and some policies that are not to be questioned. I think that unless we can critically look at the past, we may end up repeating the mistakes that were made. I suspect that most of us are fairly well off and we don’t really believe that India is badly off at all. So we are comfortably numb to the real state of affairs, because acknowledging otherwise would be to burden oneself with the unpleasant task of doing something about it. We pretend that there are no hard problems and therefore no real hard work needs to be done. And if someone turns up with bad news, we heap abuse on the messenger and when he goes away, we will continue to live happily ever after.
This messenger is here to stay for a bit longer.