Gandhi: Militarist turned Mahatma
by N S Rajaram on 30 Jan 2018 7 Comments

It is a little known fact that until the end of the First World War, Mahatma Gandhi was a strong supporter of both the British Empire and the military. He became the Apostle of Nonviolence only after Bal Gangadhar Tilak died and he became leader of the Congress and began to fanatically advocate what he called nonviolence, to the point of surrender to evil.


Great nations need great armies


One of the important lessons of history is that a nation cannot come into existence much less prosper without a powerful army. While much is made of the ‘non-violent’ freedom struggle waged by Mahatma Gandhi, what made the British leave India in 1947 was Subhas Bose through his INA turning the British Indian Army into a nationalist force. The naval mutiny and other disturbances during the INA trials convinced the British that Indian soldiers would fight for India but not to protect British interests.


This history has been turned on its head by claiming that Gandhi brought freedom through his non-violent movement. The fact is that the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was far more important than Gandhi’s Quit India Movement launched the same year, which was a fiasco. The curious thing is that Gandhi himself had strongly advocated Indians to join the military. He was himself a decorated soldier. Let us take a look at this hidden chapter of history.


A hundred years ago Sri Aurobindo wrote: “The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfillment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and to prevent the strong from despoiling and the weak from being oppressed is the function for which the Kshatriya was created. Therefore, says Krishna in the Mahabharata, God created battle and armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger.”


Sri Aurobindo was not being a warmonger. He knew that mouthing platitudes like ahimsa paramo dharmah without the power to enforce peace is invariably taken as a sign of cowardice. (The second part of the same quote says dharma himsa tathaiva ca which means “So is use of force righteous in the cause of dharma.” But people don’t want to cite this!) Curiously Gandhi himself was of this view until he made a complete U-turn in 1920 and became the Apostle of Ahimsa which to him meant surrender to threats of use of force.


But his Ahimsa advocated surrender to Muslim demands, which leaders from the Ali brothers to Jinnah took full advantage of. Even during the 1948 war in Kashmir, Gandhi threatened fast as a blackmail to get India to release the then enormous amount of Rs. 55 crores to Pakistan.


What it really means is that force (or violence) should only be used to protect helpless innocents by suppressing tyrants. Instead of maintaining peace, the Gandhian brand of ahimsa became a doctrine of surrender to justify cowardice in the face of evil. Here we have Gandhi’s own words on the subject, in the face of the violence at the hands of Muslims.


“As a man of truth I honestly believe that Hindus should yield up to the Mohammedans whatever the latter desire, and that they should rejoice in so doing. We can expect unity only if such mutual large-heartedness is displayed.”


R.C Majumdar on Gandhian Ahimsa


As R.C. Majumdar observed (History of the Freedom Movement in India, Volume II, pp 313-14): “The first sentence is one of those pro-Muslim sayings which bore the special trademark of Gandhi and did incalculable harm to Hindu-Muslim unity by putting a premium on Muslim intransigence. It was repeated in 1947 when Gandhi made the proposal, which astounded even his devout followers, that Jinnah should be the supreme ruler of India, with a cabinet of his own choice, which might consist only of Muslim ministers. The word ‘mutual’ in the second sentence is meaningless, as Gandhi never dared make similar request to the Muslims, and they never showed the slightest intention of doing any such foolish thing.” Gandhi’s attitude did not change even after the creation of Pakistan.


But it was a different Gandhi who supported the British war effort until he took over as the leader of the Congress after Bal Gangadhar Tilak died in 1920. The national movement which had been militant until then suddenly turned soft with Gandhi stressing nonviolence more than freedom. Did the Jallianwalah Bagh Massacre of April 1919 convince Gandhi that the British could never be defeated by militant activism? Was it for the same reason that he surrendered to Islamist demands after the Khilafat and the Moplah Rebellion of 1921 – 22? These are questions that need to be raised.


Gandhi’s flip-flop on war and nonviolence


The spectre of Mahatma Gandhi, the supposed Apostle of Nonviolence, looms large over the history of modern India. Curiously, he didn’t start out that way and was once openly supportive of warfare. He served in two wars in South Africa - the Zulu War (1906) and the Boer War, both on the side of the British. The first was against the African tribe known as the Zulus and was a purely colonial war. The second was against Dutch settlers in South Africa. He was a non-combatant serving in the ‘Ambulance Corps’, attached to the Army (British) Medical Corps. He was a conscientious soldier and was decorated by the British for his war service.


Gandhi’s writings and views prior to his domination of the Indian National Congress (1921) have been studiously suppressed by historians because they show him in less than favorable light with regard to his then racist notions as well as his pro-war and pro-British sentiments. Writing in 1903 Gandhi commented: “We [Indians] believe as much in the purity of race as we think they [the British] do. …We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominant race.” He had negative things to say about South African blacks, calling them uncivilized and strongly objected to Indians being classed alongside them.


Gandhi asks the British to recruit Indians in Africa


This sounds extraordinary, but his support for war and Indian participation are even more extraordinary considering his later obsession with ahimsa. In the Zulu War of 1906, Gandhi actively encouraged the British to recruit Indians arguing that Indians should support the war effort in order to legitimize their claims to full citizenship (of South Africa). Even more remarkably, in his columns in the Indian Opinion, Gandhi urged the Indian population in South Africa to join the war and appealed to the government to give “Indians the opportunity of a thorough training for actual warfare.”


This from the later Apostle of Nonviolence! This is still not the whole story. As late as 1918, when he was back in India, he accepted the Viceroy’s invitation to a war conference and attempted to recruit Indian soldiers. In his pamphlet Appeal for Enlistment, Gandhi wrote: “To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them… If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army.”


Gandhi’s work for the British war effort


It is surprising that Gandhi should have been accorded such a high honor as invitation by the Viceroy. Gandhi was still regarded as a war veteran - a recruiting sergeant though no longer in uniform. And the invitation was for a war conference.


This was exactly the advice given by Veer Savarkar and followed by Subhas Bose for which they have been excoriated by the supposed followers of Gandhi! As late as 1918, when he was nearly fifty, Gandhi maintained a perfectly sensible position recognizing the importance of military training in the defense of the nation. It is also interesting that the British saw him as their faithful ally, according him the rare honor of meetings with the Viceroy.


The wisdom of Gandhi’s earlier position was vindicated when Subhas Bose transformed the armed forces of British India into defenders of the Indian nation by leading the INA. As previously noted, this is what led to the hasty exit of the British from India leading eventually to the collapse of the British Empire worldwide. (This accounts for the continued British hatred of Subhas Bose; their historians will praise Gandhi and Nehru but become apoplectic at the mention of Bose even today.)


Nehru: cowardly pacifism plus nepotism


If anyone, it was Nehru and not Gandhi who was a life-long pacifist, even to the point of weakening India’s defense forces and national security. Unlike Gandhi, Nehru and his family had no military background. Nehru had imbibed the fashionable anti-military attitudes affected in British leftist circles a century ago. To Nehru anything coming from the European Left was Gospel Truth. This is still true of Nehruists today like Rahul Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha and other supposed Intellectuals.


This led Nehru to promote his Communist favourite V.K. Krishna Menon, as Defense Minister, of all things. Menon was arrogant and ill-mannered and notorious for humiliating high military officers in front of their subordinates. His policies and conduct weakened the military and was partly responsible for the humiliation at China’s hands in 1962.


Menon and K.M. Panikkar, India’s Ambassador to China, were pro-China and went on to undermine India’s interests by first supporting China’s takeover of Tibet and promoting Menon’s favourite but unfit officers like Pran Nath Thapar and Brij Mohan Kaul to key positions in the army. Whether Menon did this because they were pliable (unlike Thimayya and Thorat) or because they were related to Nehru and promoted them to curry favor with Nehru is immaterial. The result was a serious deterioration in both the competence and morale of the army. The rest is history.


Panikkar, who was India’s delegate to the United Nations, had a hand in India rejecting a permanent membership to the UN Security Council in favor of China. But he must have been pressed by Nehru in this enterprise.

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