Gandhi under Cross Examination
by Leo Rebello on 02 Oct 2008 1 Comment

As a student, I was much impressed by the short biographical textbook we had in the tenth grade on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It was so well written that it left an indelible mark on my mind about the courage and honesty of Mahatma Gandhi. 

Later, I had the opportunity to work with many stalwarts of the Gandhi era. I know Arun Gandhi (his grandson, now residing in the United States), Rajmohan Gandhi (his grandson in India) and Ela Gandhi (his granddaughter residing in South Africa) who, in 2000, personally took me to the Phoenix settlement (Gandhi’s spiritual retreat in South Africa). 

Therefore, some years ago, when an Indian journalist said, “Gandhi was a bastard bania” on Star TV, I reprimanded him as did many others. His “derogatory comments” remained a bone of contention for more than a month. The anchor who interviewed him lost her lucrative job and the journalist had to apologize to avoid legal proceedings. 

Then I came across a celebrated book The 100 – a ranking of most influential persons in history by Michael Hart. Gandhi was nowhere on the list of 100, in which Muhammad appeared first, Isaac Newton second, Jesus Christ third, Buddha fourth and Niels Bohr (father of the theory of atomic structure) the last entry. I was shocked; but the reasons given by the author for including Gandhi in a supplementary chapter titled Honourable Mentions and Interesting Misses seemed sound to me. Below are the first three of five paragraphs on page 526 of the said book:

“Mohandas K. Gandhi was the outstanding leader of the movement for an independent India, and for that reason alone several people have suggested that he be included in the main section of this book. It should be remembered, though, that Indian independence from England was bound to come sooner or later; in fact, given the strength of the historical forces tending towards decolonization, we can today see that Indian independence would surely have been achieved within a few years of 1947 even had Gandhi never lived. 

“It is true that Gandhi’s technique of non violent civil disobedience was ultimately successful in persuading the British to leave India. It has been suggested, however, that India might have gained independence sooner if the Indians had adopted more forceful methods instead. Since it is hard to decide whether on the whole Gandhi speeded up or delayed Indian independence, we might reasonably conclude that the net effect of his actions was (at least in that respect) rather small. It might also be pointed out that Gandhi was not the founder of the movement for Indian independence (the Indian National Congress had been founded as early as 1885), nor was he the main political leader at the time independence was finally achieved.

“Still, it might be maintained that Gandhi’s principal importance lies in his advocacy of non-violence. (His ideas, of course, were not entirely original: Gandhi specifically said that they were derived in part from his readings of Thoreau, Tolstoy, and the New Testament, as well as from various Hindu writings.) There is little doubt that Gandhi’s policies, if universally adopted, would transform the world. Unfortunately, they have not been generally accepted, even in India.”

I am not much of a student of history, so the more I read about Gandhi’s contribution to the freedom struggle of India, that more the halo of ‘Mahatma’ (great soul) lost its glow. The final blow came when the authors of this book asked me to write a foreword. 

Writing a foreword to a formidable treatise whose subject is an icon for millions is not easy. I have gone through this manuscript and can say that it is an excellent analytical work. For two reasons: (a) the authors are quoting directly from ‘authentic sources’ like Gandhi’s ‘An Autobiography: My Experiments with Truth’ and (b) the questions they are asking have never been asked before. 

Rev. Joseph Doke (the first biographer of Gandhi) asks Gandhi if he was prepared to be a martyr. Gandhi asks Doke if he would like him to write part of the biography. Then Gandhi promotes this biography with precision, in London, India and throughout the empire, while suppressing its release in South Africa where he lived for 21 years. Why? Through questions like these Col. G.B. Singh and Dr. Timothy Watson put Gandhi in the witness box, which makes this book different. 

G.B. Singh has been researching Gandhi for over two decades and also studying Hinduism and Indian politics. He is a career military officer in the American army and claims to have been influenced by the modern skeptical movements. His first book Gandhi Behind the Mask of Divinity (Prometheus Books, 2004) has been succeeded by Gandhi Under Cross-Examination, which probes the subject more deeply. Here Watson joins Singh in an intensive ‘re-search’ conducted without prejudice. Watson is a Canadian educationist. 

The authors claim that Gandhi worked for the empire. The evidence is contained in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhi’s own words, they aver. Gandhi made repeated appeals to the high caste Indian population of South Africa to join in the war effort to stem the Zulu uprising in Natal in South Africa. He even led a campaign to form a volunteer ambulance corps made up of Indians, which he led as a commissioned officer with the rank of sergeant major. He also acted as a wartime correspondent through his own newspaper, Indian Opinion. Why would Gandhi have done this? Why would he act as a recruitment officer in the Boer War, the campaign against the Zulus, and the First World War on behalf of the British Empire? Questions such as these need to be addressed to set the record straight. 

The authors prove that Gandhi has not presented the truth before the world. Considerable evidence analyzed by them shows that the racial train and coach incidents (travelling from Durban to Pretoria) in South Africa, and other instances, are not true. Gandhi fabricated, embellished, and even lied to further his own political agenda. Obviously, his conscience was pricking him for lying. He knew he was playing with the truth. Hence, he very aptly titled his biography My Experiments with the Truth.

As a professional writer and having worked closely with several Gandhians and been influenced by many Gandhian precepts, I understand that the reputation of an icon of the modern era hangs in the balance. But let it be noted that neither the writer of the foreword nor the authors of this book are out to demolish the reputation of a great man. 

The book helps readers understand that M.K. Gandhi was an astute businessman, a cunning politician and a deeply religious man. To that extent this book makes you a scholar rather than a pedantic follower. No doubt it is a provocative book. But it also offers a new perspective on history and helps to de-programme our minds from establishment indoctrination. After reading this book the readers will be in a better position to decide whether Gandhi is relevant today or not. 

The author is World Peace Envoy and lives in Mumbai. This article is based on his Foreword to Gandhi Under Cross-Examination, by Col. G.B. Singh and Dr. Timothy Watson, Sovereign Star Publishing Inc., 2008

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top