Gandhi matters enormously and he is rightly considered the “Father of the Nation.” That of course means that Gandhi is to a very large degree responsible for what India became (or failed to become) after India’s independence from the British raj.
I haven’t always been a critic of Gandhi. Like the overwhelmingly large percentage of Indians, I uncritically accepted the idea that he was a “a great soul”, a mahatma. Mind you, Mahatma became his de facto first name, not the middle name. I was taught in school that he gave freedom to India, and I believed that to be true. Indians owed their freedom to him, and therefore he should be venerated, if not worshiped by all, and not just Indians.
But of course, I knew next to nothing about nearly everything. I didn’t know the history of India not because I was stupid but there’s fancy little history taught in India. It was quite late in life that I realized that what little “history” is taught is in essence government propaganda. The government is not in the business of conveying with any accuracy the nature of reality; its main agenda is to retain power and maintain authority over the people.
I did not have to struggle in school, partly because there wasn’t much teaching and learning involved, and partly because I was somewhat intelligent. Fortunately, we did learn reading, writing and arithmetic — which provided the foundation for learning a bit of science. Totally neglected were the social sciences — history, philosophy, and most unfortunately economics and political science. Lacking any exposure to those areas, I did not have the tools to understand what India was and how it came to be what it was, and what India could have been and why.
It was sheer blind luck that I stumbled upon the social sciences, albeit after finishing my undergraduate and graduate studies in engineering and computer science. Learning economics and political science revealed to me that practically everything I believed in was wrong. It wasn’t that I was a little off in my comprehension of the world; I was utterly, categorically and thoroughly wrong about the world in general, and about India in particular.
All this throat-clearing is justified, as I will explain in a bit. For now, here are the highlights of my mistaken worldview. Gandhi was a great soul; he freed India from the British; democracy is great; therefore India, the largest democracy, is great; India had a wonderful government; the Indian education system is great because it is controlled by the government; India is poor because India is overpopulated; government action can make India great by command and control of the economy; etc, etc.
Now I believe pretty much the exact opposite of what I believed before. Gandhi was a vain little silly man. He was a stooge and useful idiot for the British. He was instrumental in delaying the departure of the British from India. He did not understand how the world worked. He was delusional in believing that he alone knew what was true, good and holy, and therefore he had a divine right to impose his values and preferences on others. He was a sexual deviant who was tortured by his abnormal sexual appetite, and that led him to impose a crooked sexual morality on his followers.
He was given to wholesale condemnation of those who disagreed with him. He did not like to be challenged in his convictions. He refused to concede that he may be wrong. He knew god’s mind (especially the Christian god) because he had a direct relationship with him. (Note: I don’t use the conventional capital G for god.)
He was ignorant of his own ignorance. Although only trained in legal studies, he fancied himself to be a master social planner, a wise architect of the economy, a great scholar of history, social sciences, religion, nutrition, medicine, geology, and whatever struck his fancy. For instance, he was an expert on plate tectonics and therefore knew that earthquakes were god’s punishment for social evils. He, unlike us mere mortals, knew the mind of god.
Gandhi was a dyed in the wool racist and casteist. For instance, he knew Africans were racially inferior to Caucasians, and Indians were superior to Africans — therefore the Europeans were wrong in clubbing Indians with Africans. The solution to the social evil of untouchability was to elevate one caste over the rest. He named that caste “Harijan” — the people of god. In Gandhi’s estimation, since I am not a Harijan, I was associated with the devil (a concept that he enthusiastically embraced from Christianity.)
Gandhi was a crypto Christian. I don’t really care what people believe in the privacy of their own minds, and what they practice in the privacy of their own property. However, I strenuously resist anyone thrusting his religious convictions on others. Turning the other cheek is great if that’s what floats one’s boat but forcing people to do so is immoral and reprehensible.
Gandhi advised Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs to commit collective suicide so that Muslims will not have to murder them (and thus gain bad karma.) He gave that same unsolicited advice to Jews — please die by your own hands so that the Nazi’s don’t have to have blood on their hands. I suppose he was being pragmatic: you’re going to anyway die at the hands of the bloodthirsty (Muslims, Nazis), so why not save them the bother and kill yourselves already.
I did not learn in school that Gandhi liberally and regularly prescribed suicide to peaceful communities. It was quite late in the day that I learned to my horror that the “Man of Peace” was actually quite the vicarious bloodthirsty vampire.
Here’s Gandhi in August 1947. “I am grieved to learn that people are running away from West Punjab, and I am told that Lahore is being evacuated by non-Muslims. I must say that this is what it should not be. If you think Lahore is dead or is dying, do not run away from it but die with what you think is the dying city.”
Although the term had not been invented then, I suppose Gandhi was a master of what we now call “virtue signaling.” If there was something that he considered a virtue, he was ready to tell the world that he epitomized it. Peace, poverty, anti-materialism, rustic living, pacifism — you name the virtue, and Gandhi was ready to show the world that he was all for it. But if it suited him, he would conveniently ditch the signaling and do what was expedient. The apostle of non-violence would readily command Indians to die for Britain’s battles.
I have a visceral hatred of Gandhi. I suppose you may have gotten that impression but I have to stress that point. What I find most distasteful about the man is that he was the ultimate solipsist. All that mattered was whatever he preferred, and everyone had to follow his diktat.
I like this quote from the Anglican theologian, C. S. Lewis (1898 – 1963) who wrote that:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience
Gandhi was that “omnipotent moral busybody” who was happy to torment peaceful people for their own good.
Gandhi desperately wanted to be a celibate. Therefore everyone should be a celibate. He even advised (commanded?) married couples to abstain. Don’t want to be celibate? Then clearly you are an evil person, aligned with the devil. But of course, he had to signal his commitment to celibacy by sleeping and bathing with naked nubile females. Do as I say, not as I do.
In the preamble to this piece, I had said that I will explain why I began with an autobiographical note. It’s because the education (or the lack of a proper education) I received made me susceptible to all kinds of wrong notions. It is the same for practically every Indian of the generations that followed after India’s independence. Government propaganda made Indians incapable of knowing some vital but simple truths about the world. Consequently they could not have chosen wisely the form and function of the government they elected.
Being ignorant of who Gandhi was and what he accomplished, they elevated him to sainthood and uncritically endorsed whatever he wanted. He wanted a village economy; they agreed. He said that commerce and industry were bad; they agreed. He said that swaraj was superior to British raj; they agreed.
I am not saying that British raj was better than swaraj. I don’t see the material difference between the two. What they have in common is “raj” — the rule of many by a select few. It doesn’t matter that the rulers are white-skinned foreigners or brown-skinned natives: it is still authoritarian rule. I am not even against authoritarian rule, per se; I am against incompetence and unaccountability.
One may object and say that accountability is assured by the guarantee of universal franchise. But that’s not so because if the people are systematically mistaken and misled about the nature of good governance, then democracy does not help. It does not matter in the least whether the crooks are home grown or foreign, white or brown — misgovernance is misgovernance.
India has been a desperately poor country for nearly all of human history. That’s not unusual since all countries have been desperately poor for nearly all of human history. But for the last couple of hundred years, some countries were able to escape abject poverty. At first, only a few countries in the Western hemisphere, and then gradually other countries began to escape poverty in the second half of the last century. But prosperity evaded India. Why?
I claimed that Gandhi is rightly considered the “father of the nation.” Here’s my justification. I lay India’s evident poverty at Gandhi’s feet. He laid the solid foundation upon which the immense superstructure of India’s poverty has endured for too long entirely needlessly.
Gandhi forced Jawaharlal Nehru on India. Nehru then took India down the path of Marxist/communist madness. He was enamored of centralized command and control of the economy. He, like Gandhi, was ignorant of his own ignorance, and like Gandhi he too was an authoritarian. He thought that he knew it all. He was too arrogant to entertain any self-doubt and to seek advice from others.
Mind you, the people were enthusiastic about Nehru because Gandhi was enthusiastic about Nehru. And Nehru pushed the cult of Gandhi on the people through his totalitarian control of the education system. After Nehru, the people were eager to have a return of Gandhi — Indira. And then Rajiv, and then Sonia “Maino” Gandhi.
India is a large country. Its government is a leviathan with a massive momentum propelled by the people. The people choose the type, scale and scope of the government. It is not for no reason that India has had dysfunctional governments with minor deviations (PVN Rao, and AB Vajpayee.) The saddest part is that Indians as individuals are not particularly stupid or unenterprising. Indians are pretty unremarkably average in the world population. Their failure to reach their potential prosperity is because they are trapped in an institutional environment that generates poverty, and which is nearly impossible to change.
Reform of the government can only happen if the people change their understanding of the government. But the government controls the systems — education, the media, the intellectuals — that could effect that change in the minds of people. It’s not in the interests of the politicians, bureaucrats and judiciary to make those changes that will reduce their power and prestige.
So the same song continues to play and the people continue to faithfully dance to it. Anything remotely critical of the holy cows (Gandhi, Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, Sonia, et al) was not allowed under the governments that preceded the BJP raj, and now Modi has been elevated to the same position.
Like they used to worship Gandhi and Nehru, now the people worship Modi. The French cynically say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
What prompted this meditation? My friend, APD, forwarded me a recently published piece by Ramchandra Guha. India Would Have Been a Totalitarian Not a Liberal Country Without Gandhi.
The irony of the title of the piece is totally missed on whoever wrote the title. The subtitle “[Gandhi’s] liberalism shines even more brilliantly on the 75th anniversary of his death” only adds to the cognitive dissonance of the attempted hagiography.
Fact of the matter is that India is a totalitarian state, never mind that they have periodic elections. If India is a liberal state, then I am the Empress of China. (Pretty hard that one since I am a male, and China doesn’t have an empress.) Only someone totally clueless about what constitutes a liberal state would make that claim. That is, Ram Guha, the “eminent” historian, is clueless.
But Guha is celebrated as a great intellectual. That’s not surprising at all. In a country that is nearly 100% poorly educated and that too deliberately ill-educated, it would be surprising if Guha wasn’t a noted intellectual.
The American economist Paul Samuelson is credited with having written, “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treaties—if I can write its economic textbooks.” If you can control what the masses believe to be true, you control the nation’s destiny.
Not just economics textbooks, the entire Indian educational curriculum has been designed by an incompetent government since at least one hundred years, and it is no surprise that the people continue to select kakistocratic governments (government by the most corrupt and the least competent.)
The vicious circle is completed: education controlled by a kakistocratic government leads to uneducated, ill-informed people, who then select the next set of incompetent crooks (politicians, bureaucrats, intellectuals) to lead them.
Is Guha a crook? Well, the majority of those who read his vacuous bile do think he is brilliant. He’s a popular intellectual. Therefore, I suspect that he’s a crook. He aims not for fidelity or advancing understanding but for fueling popular misconceptions and delusions.
But perhaps I should be generous and note that he could not have written anything critical of Gandhi since that’s a dangerous gambit. In the piece, he inverts a well-known idiom: instead of damning with faint praise, he praises with faint criticism.
I am not done. In the next piece I will address a few specific points in Guha’s column. For now, I welcome pushback and comments.
Hat tip, VB, for the image at the top of the post.
[A few selected previous posts on Gandhi.
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