Here we go again. The first impulse from the troglodytes on seeing something that is troubling is to shut their own eyes and insist that others be prevented from seeing it also. Apparently their conception of the good society is one in which the people are rendered blind and mute, and where they get to dictate to the people what is allowed to be said, heard, written or read, and by whom. At the center of the current turmoil among the troglodytes is a book by Joseph Lelyveld, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India.”
Here’s a bit of the background information, from the Asian Age link above:
Maharashtra government will initiate steps to ban sale of a controversial book on Mahatma Gandhi by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Joseph Lelyveld.
“Gandhiji was a respected leader and is known as the father of nation. He led the freedom movement of India. The government will initiate steps to ensure that the book is not published in the state,” industries minister Narayan Rane told the Legislative Council on Tuesday.
The minister also informed that the state government would write to the Centre for not publishing the controversial book.
Congress MLC and Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Manikrao Thakre said in the upper house that the book ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India’ has maligned the character of the Father of Nation.
This issue is doubling interesting to me. First, because I am a free speech fundamentalist. I think the Indian government’s penchant for banning books is reprehensible. I am convinced that India’s backwardness is revealed by its government’s paternalistic attitude which seeks to suppress all dissenting views. India is at best what I have been calling a cargo-cult democracy, not a real democracy where people have the maturity to figure out for themselves what is the truth and what is not.
Second, I am not an admirer of MK Gandhi. Indeed, I believe that most of India’s ills — even today — is because of his mistakes. He was a towering figure in the Indian landscape and his shadow continues to darken the path even today. I have read very little of his voluminous writing. When I read his autobiography — “The Story of My Experiments With Truth” — I felt revolted by his egocentricity and arrogance, and his drive to dictate to all what they must do.
I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to people who give orders, even those who are powerful enough to dictate to the masses. In my view, all profound changes in human societies are due to powerful people who dictate (perhaps not overtly) to the masses. For weal or woe, great leaders determine the fate and fortunes of societies. It is not whether they were dictators or “democratically” elected leaders that matters; what matters is whether they were wise enough to have dictated correctly.
From what little I have read of Gandhi’s writings, I could tell that he was not wise. I think he was rather stupid actually. Take for instance his much quoted claim that “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” It is not only inane bullshit but bullshit with a cherry on top.
But I didn’t have to read Gandhi to know that he was definitely not what he was cracked up to be. I saw the evidence around me and could not but conclude that he must have had more than a few screws loose. Stupidity — or even full-blown mental illness — is not a crime. But if it leads to misery on a civilizational scale, I stop being forgiving.
Gandhi was the Father of the Nation. That’s repeated ad nauseum, in every government mandated textbook, and by every mealy-mouthed politician in India. That’s a reasonable premise.
India is a desperately poor, starving, impoverished, backward, illiterate, kakistocracy. The world’s largest “democracy” is most definitely the world’s largest kakistocracy — rule by the most corrupt and the least competent. There are other nations that are equally miserably poor but they are tiny compared to India. India is a collection of 1.2 billion people. India’s poverty is a class apart.
If Gandhi is the father, and India is the child, then looking at India today should tell us a lot about Gandhi.
The objection may be that Gandhi passed on over 60 years ago and he cannot be held responsible for the disaster that India is today. Actually no. Gandhi is still responsible for the disaster that he thrust on India. Gandhi dictated that Nehru would succeed him in dictating to India. Nehru’s departure saw the rise of another dictator — Indira Gandhi. Nehru was a garden variety average intellectual and a below average thinker. Indira was even worse. She dragged the country into poverty — even going so far as to amend the Constitution of India to declare it a socialist country.
The whole bunch of thieving politicians arise from the socialist control of the Indian economy, for which Gandhi cannot be absolved of responsibility.
Anyway, I am getting side-tracked. Let me get back to the issue at hand. The banning of a book on Gandhi. Gandhi was a serious weirdo. Not your friendly neighborhood weirdo but a world-class weirdo. Here’s an excerpt from a WSJ review of Lelyveld’s book by Andrew Roberts titled “Among the Hagiographers“:
Joseph Lelyveld has written a generally admiring book about Mohandas Gandhi, the man credited with leading India to independence from Britain in 1947. Yet “Great Soul” also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him. Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals.
For all his lifelong campaign for Swaraj (“self-rule”), India could have achieved it many years earlier if Gandhi had not continually abandoned his civil-disobedience campaigns just as they were beginning to be successful. With 300 million Indians ruled over by 0.1% of that number of Britons, the subcontinent could have ended the Raj with barely a shrug if it had been politically united. Yet Gandhi’s uncanny ability to irritate and frustrate the leader of India’s 90 million Muslims, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (whom he called “a maniac”), wrecked any hope of early independence. He equally alienated B.R. Ambedkar, who spoke for the country’s 55 million Untouchables (the lowest caste of Hindus, whose very touch was thought to defile the four higher classes). Ambedkar pronounced Gandhi “devious and untrustworthy.” Between 1900 and 1922, Gandhi suspended his efforts no fewer than three times, leaving in the lurch more than 15,000 supporters who had gone to jail for the cause.
A ceaseless self-promoter, Gandhi bought up the entire first edition of his first, hagiographical biography to send to people and ensure a reprint. Yet we cannot be certain that he really made all the pronouncements attributed to him, since, according to Mr. Lelyveld, Gandhi insisted that journalists file “not the words that had actually come from his mouth but a version he authorized after his sometimes heavy editing of the transcripts.”
We do know for certain that he advised the Czechs and Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, saying that “a single Jew standing up and refusing to bow to Hitler’s decrees” might be enough “to melt Hitler’s heart.” (Nonviolence, in Gandhi’s view, would apparently have also worked for the Chinese against the Japanese invaders.) Starting a letter to Adolf Hitler with the words “My friend,” Gandhi egotistically asked: “Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?” He advised the Jews of Palestine to “rely on the goodwill of the Arabs” and wait for a Jewish state “till Arab opinion is ripe for it.”
In August 1942, with the Japanese at the gates of India, having captured most of Burma, Gandhi initiated a campaign designed to hinder the war effort and force the British to “Quit India.” Had the genocidal Tokyo regime captured northeastern India, as it almost certainly would have succeeded in doing without British troops to halt it, the results for the Indian population would have been catastrophic. No fewer than 17% of Filipinos perished under Japanese occupation, and there is no reason to suppose that Indians would have fared any better. Fortunately, the British viceroy, Lord Wavell, simply imprisoned Gandhi and 60,000 of his followers and got on with the business of fighting the Japanese.
Gandhi claimed that there was “an exact parallel” between the British Empire and the Third Reich, yet while the British imprisoned him in luxury in the Aga Khan’s palace for 21 months until the Japanese tide had receded in 1944, Hitler stated that he would simply have had Gandhi and his supporters shot. (Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931, with the Great Soul praising the Duce’s “service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people.”) During his 21 years in South Africa (1893-1914), Gandhi had not opposed the Boer War or the Zulu War of 1906—he raised a battalion of stretcher-bearers in both cases—and after his return to India during World War I he offered to be Britain’s “recruiting agent-in-chief.” Yet he was comfortable opposing the war against fascism.
Although Gandhi’s nonviolence made him an icon to the American civil-rights movement, Mr. Lelyveld shows how implacably racist he was toward the blacks of South Africa. “We were then marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs,” Gandhi complained during one of his campaigns for the rights of Indians settled there. “We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized—the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals.”
In an open letter to the legislature of South Africa’s Natal province, Gandhi wrote of how “the Indian is being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir,” someone, he later stated, “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” Of white Afrikaaners and Indians, he wrote: “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.” That was possibly why he refused to allow his son Manilal to marry Fatima Gool, a Muslim, despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity.
Gandhi’s pejorative reference to nakedness is ironic considering that, as Mr. Lelyveld details, when he was in his 70s and close to leading India to independence, he encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his spiritual quest, Gandhi began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women. He told a woman on one occasion: “Despite my best efforts, the organ remained aroused. It was an altogether strange and shameful experience.”
Yet he could also be vicious to Manu, whom he on one occasion forced to walk through a thick jungle where sexual assaults had occurred in order for her to retrieve a pumice stone that he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, Gandhi “cackled” with laughter at her and said: “If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy.”
Yet as Mr. Lelyveld makes abundantly clear, Gandhi’s organ probably only rarely became aroused with his naked young ladies, because the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,” he wrote to Kallenbach. “The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.” For some reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were “a constant reminder” of Kallenbach, which Mr. Lelyveld believes might relate to the enemas Gandhi gave himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations.
Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about “how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.” Gandhi nicknamed himself “Upper House” and Kallenbach “Lower House,” and he made Lower House promise not to “look lustfully upon any woman.” The two then pledged “more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.”
They were parted when Gandhi returned to India in 1914, since the German national could not get permission to travel to India during wartime—though Gandhi never gave up the dream of having him back, writing him in 1933 that “you are always before my mind’s eye.” Later, on his ashram, where even married “inmates” had to swear celibacy, Gandhi said: “I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women.” You could even be thrown off the ashram for “excessive tickling.” (Salt was also forbidden, because it “arouses the senses.”)
In his tract “Hind Swaraj” (“India’s Freedom”), Gandhi denounced lawyers, railways and parliamentary politics, even though he was a professional lawyer who constantly used railways to get to meetings to argue that India deserved its own parliament. After taking a vow against milk for its supposed aphrodisiac properties, he contracted hemorrhoids, so he said that it was only cow’s milk that he had forsworn, not goat’s. His absolute opposition to any birth control except sexual abstinence, in a country that today has more people living on less than $1.25 a day than there were Indians in his lifetime, was more dangerous.
Telling the Muslims who had been responsible for the massacres of thousands of Hindus in East Bengal in 1946 that Islam “was a religion of peace,” Gandhi nonetheless said to three of his workers who preceded him into its villages: “There will be no tears but only joy if tomorrow I get the news that all three of you were killed.” To a Hindu who asked how his co-religionists could ever return to villages from which they had been ethnically cleansed, Gandhi blithely replied: “I do not mind if each and every one of the 500 families in your area is done to death.” What mattered for him was the principle of nonviolence, and anyhow, as he told an orthodox Brahmin, he believed in re incarnation.
Gandhi’s support for the Muslim caliphate in the 1920s—for which he said he was “ready today to sacrifice my sons, my wife and my friends”—Mr. Lelyveld shows to have been merely a cynical maneuver to keep the Muslim League in his coalition for as long as possible. When his campaign for unity failed, he blamed a higher power, saying in 1927: “I toiled for it here, I did penance for it, but God was not satisfied. God did not want me to take any credit for the work.”
I will pause here for a bit before I conclude this post.
Read: Part 2 of this post.
Listen: Joseph Lelyveld talking about his book on KQED Forum.