Social Sciences

The Gandhiism Dogma Redux And The Need To Spar With Its Resolute Apologists

India Against Corruption (IAC) movement is the GandhiOne of the unintended consequences of the current public awareness and activism around the revival of intense fascination in media and intellectual circles around the personality, principles and methods of MK Gandhi (MKG). The resemblance of the looks and agitational techniques of Anna Hazare with his professed inspirational mentor, if it can be termed that has touched off a wave of opinions and opinion-making on the supposed similarities, contrasts between the two in general and in particular an elaborate rehashing ritual of the Gandhian legacy.

Most of this regurgitation is on familiar lines and starts on the path of political reassessment and eventually loses its way in the familiar woods of nostalgia, ideological rigidity and the good old weakness for hero-worship. The current trend of Gandhian revivalism in the press and blogosphere retreads and intersects the same old beaten track of personality mania and Gandhian absolutism in terms of the primacy of MKG’s brand of moralism and his ‘unique’ method of satyagraha.

Let us look at the typical elements of Gandhian ideology:

  • While to the gentry, MKG is ‘father of the nation’, to the Gandhian intelligentsia, he is nothing short of an apostle and saint.
  • To a Gandhian devotee, the moral and spiritual perfection of MKG is a sine qua non of his personality and is an article of faith for him.
  • It is a normal trait of this ideology to look at history of pre-independence India with rose-tinted Gandhian spectacles and anoint MKG with almost sole credit of winning India liberation from British rule.
  • To a Gandhian devotee, while assessing Gandhian legacy of pre-freedom era, the dividing line between, history, fiction and fantasy is very thin indeed.
  • It is typical of its adherents to aggressively articulate a Gandhi-centric view of India’s freedom struggle where all who differ with MKG are to be dismissed as extremists and rebels. Critics like Tilak, Bhagat Singh, SC Bose, BR Ambedkar were at varying points of time in India’s history slapped with such labels.
  • Comparing every leader and public figure of the past and the present with MKG, and dismissing them by pronouncing their inferiority and smallness with the towering persona of MKG.
  • To concoct a veneer of ‘Dharma’ or moralistic do’s and don’ts around the alphabet soup of terms like ‘satyagraha’, ahimsa’,’truth’, ‘means and ends’ ‘universal love’ and what-not.
  • To elevate Gandhian Satyagraha and fasting to the esoteric heights of a spiritual and purificatory purgatory, that bears the onerous cross of transforming the hearts and minds of the adversary.
  • To confer the Gandhian patent and copyright on all methods of protest and agitation that does not involve use of arms and then subject them to a microscopic examination on their adherence to the Gandhian dharma

All these marks of Gandhiism should be red flags smacking of a mania, cult or religion revolving around a personality. It should make any discerning critic and skeptic sit up and take notice.

Gandhi worship and the license with history

It is not an easy task when you undertake the occasion of speaking against established and entrenched opinions of the majority and mainstream intellectualism, especially when it comes to holy cows like MK Gandhi. The problem in the case of Gandhi is that his larger-than-life reputation, sainthood and ‘spiritual’ baggage that always go with him, has clouded perceptions of most people and ingrained a steep reverential bias that mostly preempts any objective assessment of his legacy.

Any rational and dispassionate student of history of pre-independence India would be led to entertain some suspicions of MK Gandhi’s motives and his tendency time and again to unleash a cocktail of religion, politics and spiritualism into the freedom movement. The 3 prominent political opponents of MKG; BR Ambedkar, EVR and Jinnah have exposed much of his political opportunism and inconsistency. Unfortunately most people have lost their sense of critical analysis in the haste and urge for idolatry of certain freedom era political figures and have largely ignored the many valid criticisms of these 3 critics.

There exists a tendency of uncritical intellectualism to hoist personalities on the pedestal of genius or apostle-hood on the basis of post-facto assessments and rationalizations of events and getting blown further away from objectivity in the frenzy of the thrill and delight of such self-reinforcing conclusions.

Gandhi’s charisma, popularity and the spirit of the times in which he reached his peak provided the intellectual justification and rationalization for many of his medieval and outmoded ideas. This notoriously common error of judgment and perception is the staple of many biographical rhapsodies on many statesmen and political celebrities.

Placing Gandhi mania along the outlines of sociological and historical insight

The field of politics and public life belongs to the arena of social behavior. There are geniuses in many fields and in most objective disciplines, the condition of genius can be traced to individual qualities and merits. But in the field of politics, statesmanship and public life, the categorization and appellation of a personal genius is neither objective nor fair. In this field, the success and celebrity of a practitioner is largely an endowment of public perception, mood and socio-cultural dynamics. One should try not to transfer the credit of a process to a personality in the desperation of the urge for hero-worship.

Conventional exogenous cause theory postulates that a person, event, or condition, that is responsible for an action or result impacts public sentiment and perception and shapes the outcome of current and future events. This version of cause-and-effect theory almost always assumes an external event or an individual as the primary agent of causation.

MKG’s life and legacy is a very interesting case study for the critics of ‘exogenous cause and rational expectations theory’ of social behavior. MKG can be considered a hands-down winner in the pre-independence era popularity contest. It is the habit of conventional thinking to attribute the unfolding of events leading to India’s deliverance from British rule as the outcome of Gandhi’s specific strategies, game-plans and moves and the thrall of his ‘unearthly charisma’.

The truth is not so linear and socio-political events cannot be likened to cricket and baseball games. Even group games like cricket, baseball, soccer etc do not lend themselves to the facile cause-effect theory extrapolation.

It is not just with Gandhi, and if a wide period of historical events is studied and dispassionately analyzed, even Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela would come across as by-products and culminations of a trend or wave of complex yet endogenously regulated socio-economic and cultural undercurrents, and not its initiators or progenitors.

That wave or trend in case of MKG and Mandela was ‘the saturation of the peak of imperial or colonial might and the onset of its exhaustion and decline’. This trend was quite perceptible in the case of British Empire, which was financially ruined by the 2 world wars and was licking its post-war wounds by staging an ‘honorable’ exit from India. The same trend of declining social mood in Britain also overthrew W Churchill, whose electorate did not care 2 hoots for his wartime oratory and heroics. In the same way the ‘wild fire’ of the Civil Disobedience movement was more likely the culmination of a festering and simmering aggression in the Indian masses caused by the economic and psychological toll inflicted by wars and world-wide economic depression, rather than the wave of the magic wand of Gandhi’s clarion calls to duty.

Typical Gandhian rhapsodies and the critical response to it

Two fictional theories that are the staple of Gandhian folklore are

  • Gandhi won us freedom without the use of arms
  • Gandhi single-handedly mobilized the masses and empowered them to overthrow British rule

One wonders how such lies are easily believed. Surely, Gandhi and his cheer-leaders did not take to arms. But many Indian agitational groups were not so idealistic. There were armed struggles with the British. INA of Bose was one such notable example. Bhagat Singh had his own set of armed followers and successors. Even the civil disobedience movement (CDM) at its peak was not without its violence and arson. Gandhi had no control over the violent turns of the CDM, though he used make long faces about the violence apart from his usual holier-than-thou posturing on non-violence. He tried some call-off bluffs which the country did not care the least about. Many countries after 1947 saw the exit of British from the colonies in rapid succession, though they had no Gandhis. India’s freedom would have surely come at that time, Gandhi or no Gandhi. People must not try to twist the lessons of history to suit their pet misguided notions.

While it may be counter-intuitive, it needs to be considered that no leader can work any wonders with mass mobilization unless the masses driven by desperation and angst themselves develop the willingness to take to agitations and revolts. To crown a specific individual, in this case, MKG with the sole credit for the culmination of a trend that is the result of many complex social and political undercurrents of a specific time period is an intellectual predilection that is not supported by rigor of observation or critical thinking.

Most adulatory articles on MKG would assert the centrality of Gandhi’s role on the transition to independence. But what else would one expect from an advertorial sites dedicated to Gandhi. It is one of the cardinal rules of skepticism and critical thinking to give a hard look to the source of opinion. Expectedly there is a lot of exaggeration of his role and contribution, especially the part about Gandhi soothing down the CDM violence. To a student of the Wave principle of Human Behavior and events, the credit given to Gandhi is so typical of post hoc rationalization of the role of a prime personality for the natural subsiding of a wave event. Every wave event waxes and wanes. It is highly plausible that CDM violence was already decelerating when Gandhi happened to visit some affected places, which he anyway was bound to.

It is the habit of stock political analysis to hunt for a heroic head on which to place the crown of achievement. Very few can resist the thrill and climax of hero-worshipping orgasm.

There is another favorite tactic of the Gandhian devotees and fans is to presume most Gandhian critics to be ignoramuses of not only Gandhi’s ideals and methods, but also of history of pre-independence India. To add insult to the injury of this presumed ignorance, these unfortunate Gandhian critics will be sternly advised to read all voluminous tomes of MKG’s works. Then they will also be required to go through all his articles in the by now old and obscure magazine and papers like the ‘Harijan’, ‘Young India’, ‘Old India’ and what have you. The misery still does not end there. They will inundated with links from a plethora of Gandhi worship sites like AppliedGandhi.org, Gandhitopia.com and what not.

Throwing the challenge of reading volumes of a person’s work, is the typical response of rhetoric and setting up of straw-man arguments. For example for someone to understand some personalities and their ideologies, it is not necessary to read their entire works. If critics fall for such bait-and-switch tactics from defenders of dogmas (of whatever type they may be) criticism will go nowhere.

Though his ideology may be expressed in a million or more of his own words, but in action, public statements and shows, in economic and social terms it was nothing beyond sugar-coated village style feudalism.

Then how can one fail to notice the typical Gandhian apologist’s waiver of most flaws of Gandhi and some pathological shades about him, especially in the personality disorders that he had, the way he dealt with his children and wife, his weird experiments with suppression of sexual impulse, his mixing of politics and religion etc., by resorting to apologies like these

  • “He kept learning and innovating as he progressed”.
  • “What Gandhi said and did can perhaps be classified as borderline pathological. Unfortunately, leaders are rarely entirely “normal” – or boring. They have big ideas, and often choose “inappropriately” between competing priorities. Family is often the first to suffer. They, too, suffer hugely. I can assure you than when Gandhi took his fasts he must have suffered. But that’s the beauty of this – that human beings who are innately good can stretch themselves in many ways. In his case there is no doubt that the world looks upon him (despite his foibles) as a “saint”, a role model, not the case of a pathological mind.”

AmbedkarThe ‘world’ may look upon MKG as saint and godfather, but what is the degree of objectivity in it. And does this judging ‘world’ consist of only fawning historians, Gandhian priests, devotees and indifferent masses? What is overlooked by Gandhians is that MKG’s progress and innovation fell far short of the requirements that could have ignited true renaissance of the Indian social and political structure. And some of that progress was also the result of Ambedkarites snapping at his heels and exposing the clay-feet of his spiritualism and liberal ideology (The Temple Entry Act controversy). Taking the credit away from critics like Ambedkar, Phule etc. and conferring it exclusively on their favorite idol is the typical coup of Gandhian eulogy. According to the convenience of the Gandhian apologists glorification of MKG is free to oscillate between the extremes of genius and saint-hood on the one hand and pedestrian human state on the other to grant exemption from any examination of his faults. This is a privilege that only MKG enjoys. Even Nehru has lost it now.

The issue of caste emancipation exposed clearly the Achilles heel of MKG. It is a very bitter irony that the credit for a struggle that was carried on valiantly by Ambedkar was stolen by MKG. Poetic injustice indeed! that Ambedkar became a pariah and the please-all status-quoist MKG ascended to the heights of sainthood. Ambedkar has many a time hauled MKG over the coals over his patronizing sanctimony of the Harijan love affair. But who can listen to the voice of reason when the cacophony of elitist pseudo-intellectualism is so deafening. As much as the mouthpieces of the upper caste Indian intelligentsia may loath it, MKG is an icon of their creation and an astute apologist of their hypocritical ideas and mindset especially on religion and casteism.

His nonsensical views on the purpose of sex education betray his true agenda of religious Puritanism and reveal the confusion in his ideology introduced by his obsession with religion-inspired rubbish.

Another favorite pastime of Gandhian eulogists is to confer on MKG the title of a founder of a school of economics called ‘Gandhian Economics’

Surely there are many views of Gandhi that do convey a liberal perspective and some sprinkling of economic theory. But the construction of a ‘school of thought’ on either economic theory or political strategy from such disparate fragments of opinions being expressed from time to time and accrediting it to a political personality, is most likely the outcome of post-event rationalization and a tendency to romanticize an event in history and its prominent protagonists.

It seems as though Gandhi was thrust into the role of an economic thinker just because India could not produce economists of the caliber of Adam Smith, JS Mill or David Ricardo. If Fabian socialism can be propounded by George Bernard Shaw and can have its fleeting moments of glory, why can’t MKG don the hat of a liberal economist. The only problem is that there appears to be too much ideology and too little economics in Gandhian economics, though it may be a great theory to most nostalgic followers of history or personalities who are having a hard time distinguishing between idealism and practical economic frameworks.

At the risk of offending Gandhian admirers again, it has to be said that Gandhian opinions on economics were probably a misguided endorsement of crony capitalism which is as harmful as state control. In his support for minimal state control and activity he said to have quoted “In my opinion the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the State.”

This quote is not a truism that can be accepted any longer. It is his opinion and a flawed one at that. State control may be amenable and responsive to democratic change processes, while such remedies are always resisted by ‘private ownership’ through surreptitious means like lobbying and corruption. The economic history of the past 300 years have shown that respite from the excesses and tyranny of private ownership and corporations is only brought about by breakdown of economic structure and resulting economic hardships and crisis which hits the poor and middle class the most.

The sociological and economic component and content of political dynamics and processes have not yet been seriously analyzed and investigated, providing the much needed space for intuitive sounding yet untested theories of conventional thinking to ride roughshod over public opinion.

The current fashion of Gandhian ideologues and the problem with it

With regards to the tendency of constant comparison between Hazare and MK Gandhi and the analytical and intellectual trial of the former on his adherence to the ‘Gold Standard’ of Gandhian tenets and values, here is something to ponder over:

  • There are too many religious, puritanical, irrational and overzealous admirers and devotees of MKG who have erected high and almost impenetrable walls of reputation, virtues, spiritual perfection and what-not around their idol, and also act as rigid and unyielding guardians of that fortress of Gandhian perfection and sublimity.
  • Given that MKG now almost assumes the status of political India’s holiest of holy cows for the intellectual hoi polloi, all efforts of any aspiring Gandhian emulator is destined to be in vain in the popularity parade of Gandhian me-too’s. From the very high ground that the sentinels of the Gandhian moral police have assumed, Gandhian clones in the public is most likely to be rejected either as pretenders at best or as imposters at the worst.
  • IAC ProtestorsMiddle class intelligentsia and masses, who are the primary sympathizers and supporters of the IAC movement are not looking for seals of approval for the Gandhian credentials of Hazare. Run-down and stripped down versions of Gandhi clones or even caricatures will do for them. The mood of antagonism against a political establishment that is supportive of its elite and its minority high-profile palm-greasers and systemic manipulators, has taken hold of their public consciousness for now and is manifesting itself in expressions of support and solidarity for Team Anna and their demands. Given the intensity of the mood, it is not surprising that the finer details of Gandhian spirit and its orthodox rules are given the go-by in public perception and judgement. This is more the case of a movement looking for a leader, than a movement organized from a political top-down approach (which was the case with the Rath Yatra movement). Hazare and his cronies happened to be there at the opportune moment.
  • The obsession with Gandhian purism and perfection seems to be a pre-occupation of a minority in the creamy layer of the middle class intelligentsia whose giddy reverential predispositions towards MKG are not probably shared by the multitudes in that class segment.
  • Regardless of the opinions and objections of the Gandhian intellectual aristocracy, the middle class masses are apparently more than satisfied with Gandhian tokenism or symbolism as long as the methods of its contemporary practitioners do not overtly signify a departure from peaceful and non-violent strategies.
  • The concern and danger here is of one type of personality cult being sought to be countered by another personality cult (Hazare vs Gandhi). A bogey of the present (Hazare cult) being pitted against a ghost of the past (Gandhi cult). Opinion leaders seem to be trying to imprison public opinion into a leadership complex and narrow the choices and options for other kinds of potential leadership. This attitude of weighing every aspiring public figure on the scales of Gandhian judgment can become a millstone around the neck of public assessment of leaders.

To those not mesmerized by the shine and dazzle of the Gandhi cult, all this hyperactivity of some opinion makers and media to embark on the path of Gandhian revivalism seems to be a foolish and futile pursuit. This seems a symptom of the morbidity of harking back to the past and seeking refuge in the phantoms of past glory, perceived or real. While not intending to denigrate the legacy or contribution of MKG, he time and again has been the object of intellectual voyeurism of a section of upper middle class elite, which does not attest well to the intellectual and critical robustness of that class of opinion makers. Just because a brute overwhelming majority of the intellectual crowd considers it a religion or fashion to lionize Gandhi, that does not mean the minority of critical opinion must acquiesce to such collective folly.

References:

  1. Gandhi’s experiments with chastity – http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/thrill-of-the-chaste-the-truth-about-gandhis-sex-life-1937411.html
  2. Comparing Ambedkar with Gandhi – http://sidshome1.blogspot.com/2008/03/ambedkar-against-gandhi.html
  3. Ambedkar’s views on Gandhi’s political tactics on the Poona Pact issue – http://ambedkarism.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/statement-by-dr-b-r-ambedkar-on-gandhi%E2%80%99s-fast-poona-pact/

Image Sources:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_smiling_1942.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ambedkar_speech_at_Yeola.gif
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IAC-pune-protesters3.jpg

About the author

Ranganath R

An accountant and a man of commerce by background and education, I am a Business Applications analyst by work and profession. I am a lover of diverse intellectual pursuits and interests. I have over time cultivated interests in literature, history and social sciences.

In terms of beliefs, I have had in the past my share of swings between irrationality and rationality. As hopefully thinking processes and impulses mature, I am learning to cultivate the faculty of examining all systems and forms of thought and opinions, in whatever it is received and only accept those that accords with reason, logic and understanding.

10 Comments

  • “It is not an easy task when you undertake the occasion of speaking against established and entrenched opinions of the majority and mainstream intellectualism, especially when it comes to holy cows like MK Gandhi. The problem in the case of Gandhi is that his larger-than-life reputation, sainthood and ’spiritual’ baggage that always go with him, has clouded perceptions of most people and ingrained a steep reverential bias that mostly preempts any objective assessment of his legacy.”
    Well congrats,glad too see finally someone has taken the bold step in this direction here ,have some quibble about some points but later… , for now congrats 🙂

  • A very good one.. the same parallels exist with MLK in the US.. he is considered a hero and role model for African Americans.. of course, it would be considered ‘racism’ to point out his (several) shortcomings..

  • gandhi was a good man. a great man, actually. brought out indians of their slumber. asked men to be good with men. tried to do so in the framework of religion. did not understand that religion is the treachorous snake which finally bit him. a muslim took away a bit of the land, and a hindu blamed him for islamic extremism. both were naive fools, who could get nothing done for their constituencies .haha.

  • O’ high king of Rhetorica please step down from thy high throne and engage in a tete-e-tete immersed in realitalia.

    You accuse Gandhi of having many failings but fail to mention sufficient events, quotes etc. to prove/disprove them.

    You accuse Gandhi apologists of being elitist intellectuals at times and of being mass intellectuals at others, which is it?

    You demonize Gandhi just as ‘they’ lionize him, without proper critique of facts. Your opinions or eloquent waxings (repeated a 100 times as the may be) cannot magically become facts.

    The purpose of references is to quote from them and build opinions based on them. A woefully inadequate list at the bottom is either an attempt to seem intellectual or to protect your ass from accusations of plagiarism.

    A Balanced argument is built by providing your own opinions and citing facts in support and opinions in opposition. A single-sided diatribe is built .

    Do I agree with most of what you say
    – Gandhi’s religious/social failings
    – Our need for hero-worship
    – Post-rationalization and attribution as cause of “fantastical” history

    YES

    Do I believe you failed in your attempt to put together a cogent argument to make the naysayers question and critique their own beliefs?

    YES

    • Karan

      Noticed these responses after a very long time. So not sure if you would be even following this any more

      Anyway Thanks for your detailed parsing of my article and points that you agree with.

      The task of building a strong case against Gandhi and his cult is IMO not in the scope of a single article. Take it as one of the initial salvos.

      Changing mindsets is not in my power alone, but your criticism and the lessons from it are well taken

  • Mr Author: You’d start showing a little respect to Mahatma Gandhi and all the other freedom fighters if you got a little taste of the life of people in pre-independence India.

    The more number of posts I read in this website, the more amusing it gets. This website is by a bunch of Eurocentric Apologists who throw blasphemous rants on anything and everything Indian in the name of free-thinking.

    My advise: Be more productive by doing things worthwhile. First do something worthwhile for your country before you throw rants online on people who have contributed for the betterment of this country

    • Ok So criticizing Gandhi makes us Eurocentric Apologists?!!

      But evaluating BR Ambedkar’s legacy in a positive way does not absolve us of that charge.

      Also I have not read Nirmukta make blasphemous rants on anything and everything Indian, because blasphemy is related to certain specific religious and cultural opinions and traits. Nirmukta certainly blasphemes them. This article was not just about Gandhi, but also about the cult and dogma revolving around him.

      As to your advice all I can say is it applies to you in equal measure.

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