BOOK REVIEW: Gandhi at 150: Fit to be junked?
by Punarvasu Parekh on 08 May 2019 6 Comments

As the country is observing the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, there are voices – some quite shrill and strident – exhorting fellow countrymen to come out of his lingering influence in one area where he failed miserably – communal harmony or, more bluntly, Hindu-Muslim relations. One such voice is Radha Rajan, whose latest book, The Shrinking Hindu Nation, once again describes the damage done by Gandhiji to Hindu society politically and ideologically. She discusses a weakness that could be fatal for Hindu society.        


Viewed as the torchbearer of an ancient civilisation under sustained assault from powerful and determined enemies, Hindu society presents a curious spectacle. Its enemies make no secret of the contempt in which they hold it. They are loath to conceal their desire to see it extinct.


Hindus, however, are unwilling even to acknowledge the numerous existential challenges facing them. There is hardly any attempt to understand the nature of forces at play, the challenges ahead and options available. Ostrich-like, the Hindus refuse to face the truth, both about themselves and others. They are squeamish on Ayodhya, on secularist plunder of Hindu temples, on the iniquitous right to education, on tabligh activities of mullahs and proselytization by missionaries. 


In nutshell, Hindu intellectuals are suffering from Solzhenitsyn Syndrome: not calling a thing by its right name, failing to think through a thing to its logical conclusion, not seeing a thing for what it is and superimposing what we want a thing to be upon what it really is. They can advise any American president on how to run the US better and the World Bank on how to lift the world economy.


However, barring a handful of honourable exceptions, they are unwilling to discuss the anti-Hindu orientation of India’s ‘secularism’, the cultural content of Indian nationalism, the interpretation of Indian history, the nature of the Indian society and the role and direction of the Indian state in upholding India’s unique identity. Those who do discuss these matters are summarily consigned to the ‘ultra-right’ if not the ‘lunatic fringe’, fit to be laughed out of court for utter idiocy.     


What explains this pusillanimity? What are and what will be its consequences? Radha Rajan seeks to answer these questions in her latest book and lays the blame squarely on M.K. Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi.


Radhaji’s thesis is that with his unique approach to matters of religion and spirituality which he brought to bear on politics and freedom struggle also, Gandhiji succeeded wittingly or unwittingly in thoroughly de-Hinduising the Indian polity. His leadership prevented the Indian National Congress from developing a nationalist perspective rooted in Indian soil and devising policies that would protect her territorial integrity. True, it was Jinnah and his Muslim League that sought and secured creation of Pakistan. But they succeeded in their nefarious designs of tearing apart the Hindu Punyabhoomi only because Gandhiji disempowered and disarmed the Hindus so thoroughly that we were unprepared both in body and mind to avert partition.


Post-independence, the de-Hinduisation of Indian polity continued with renewed vigour under the name of secularism, which again was rooted in Gandhiji’s approach to the communal problem.


A lot has been written about the events leading to the partition of the country. A few things stand out even to a casual observer. In 1905, when Gandhiji was away in South Africa as Mahatma-in-the-making, people rose in revolt against the Partition of Bengal and eventually forced its annulment. After about four decades, largely dominated by Gandhiji and the Congress led by him, the British divided not one province but the whole country, and the same people accepted it helplessly, with stalwarts like Sardar Patel, Nehru, Rajaji and Ambedkar conceding grudgingly that it was the best option in the circumstances. This contrast should tell us something about the nature of the freedom struggle and Gandhiji’s leadership of the same.


At every stage of the freedom struggle, the nationalist leadership felt that Muslim cooperation was essential for its success. It went out of its way to achieve this objective. Unsurprisingly, the price of the cooperation went on rising in direct proportion to the effort mounted to secure it. At every stage, Congress leaders thought that it was their responsibility to find a solution that would satisfy Jinnah and his Muslim League. At every stage they were told: now that you have conceded so much, why not a little more? After all, it is only a logical step forward. And the hope… if we offer this, Jinnah would be forced to be reasonable.


Nothing availed. Not even Gandhiji’s astonishing offer to allow Jinnah and League to form a government of their choice at the centre. Two nations. Therefore, parity. Therefore, veto. Therefore, right to self-determination. Therefore, partition. It was one straight line. At no stage did the Congress leaders tell Jinnah that we shall go thus far and no further. They had willingly and knowingly entered a blind alley from which there was no way out. There were voices of disapproval, caution and warning from savants. These were ignored. The Solzhenitsyn Syndrome: failing to think through a thing to its logical conclusion.


Radhaji quotes copiously from Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi to show that communal harmony mattered to him far more than struggle or even freedom. Congress leaders, even those who doubted the efficacy or validity of his ways, could not defy him. He firmly prevented Hindus all along from countering the mischief and machinations of the Muslim League. In the end, he was reduced to telling them that if Muslims do not want to stay with us, let them go. For all his human and superhuman qualities of head and heart, he had failed the single biggest test in his political career. Radhaji says pithily, if bitterly, that “behind every Jinnah there is always Gandhi”.


What explains Gandhiji’s failure? Radhaji’s answer is that he strayed away from traditional Hindu concepts of truth and non-violence to secure the immediate political objective of social cohesion and communal harmony.


While Gandhiji used Hindu concepts such as truth, non-violence, sacrifice or Rama Rajya, he took care to sever them from their traditional Hindu roots. For example, he called his ideal society Ramrajya, but “let no one commit the mistake of thinking that Ramrajya means a rule of the Hindus. My Rama is another name for khuda or God. I want khudai raj which is the same thing as Kingdom of God on earth. The rule of the first four caliphs was somewhat comparable to it”. Not calling a thing by its proper name, you said?


In hindsight, Gandhiji’s view of Non-violence was twice removed from its Dharmic meaning: it was extreme and one-sided. Hinduism prescribes minimization of violence, not absolute non-violence. It places righteous violence at par with non-violence (ahimsa paramo dharma, dharma himsa tathaiva ch). Krishna exhorted Arjuna to fight, but also took care to protect the eggs of a bird laid on the battlefield shortly before the commencement of war.


In contrast, Gandhiji exhorted Hindus to practice non-violence in the face of extreme provocation. He asked Hindus in Pakistan to be slaughtered happily by Muslims without anger or anguish in their heart. He advised Hindu women in East Bengal to end their life by taking poison or biting their tongue or suffocating themselves. Remarkably, he rarely if ever asked Muslims to shun violence to secure their objectives. Although he claimed to speak for all Indians, on all important occasions he spoke to Hindus as a Hindu leader, allowing Muslims to act as they pleased.


Gandhiji wanted to arouse the conscience of his adversaries through voluntary suffering. This betrayed a lack of understanding of the mindset fostered by Abrahamic religions: extreme self-righteousness, contempt for other traditions and their adherents, and single-minded focus on the cause of world conquest presented as bringing the light of True religion to the kaffirs or heathens. Any act of forgiveness or magnanimity on the part of their opponents is regarded as a favour done by Allah or God to his chosen people. Transformation of heart is out of question with such a mindset. It is amazing but true that a keen realist like Gandhiji, with his ears close to the ground, consistently refused to learn from his own experience with Muslims. He preferred to see Islam not as it was but as he wanted it to be.     


Gandhiji’s failure against the “religion of peace” holds a lesson for us. It shows that there is a hard core at the heart of Islam (and also Christianity) that even a man of oceanic goodwill like Mahatma Gandhi could not melt. Unfortunately, we have drawn wrong lessons from his assassination and continue to pay the price for it even today.


Radhaji’s documentation apart, a few observations are in order. Whether Hindus were prepared for an outright civil war with Muslims at any stage of freedom struggle is only a matter of conjecture now. What the British government would have done in such a situation is also a matter of speculation.


Secondly, history moves in strange ways and today’s catastrophe may prove to be a relief, even a blessing, tomorrow. In hindsight, that applies to partition also.


Finally, Muslim appeasement by Congress started much earlier than Gandhiji’s arrival on the national scene. The anti-Hindu orientation of Indian polity is not Gandhiji’s work alone. Jawaharlal Nehru and his political and ideological successors have much more to do with it.


None of this detracts from the Radhaji’s warning against the continuance of Gandhian tendencies in contemporary thinking. When she speaks of the shrinking Hindu nation, the shrinkage is not just territorial, but also demographic and ideological.


Even as jihadis are educating the world about Islam, as Bangladeshi infiltrators are changing the demography of the northeastern states, as Kerala and West Bengal are drifting to becoming Hindu-minority states and as Kashmiri pundits continue to live as refugees in their own country thirty years after leaving their homes and hearths under duress, Hindus are reluctant to claim even post-partition India for Sanatana Dharma.


Indeed, they are trapped in a slogan of their own making: sarva dharma samabhava (roughly, equal respect for all religions). The slogan is as one-sided as Gandhiji’s non-violence. While Hindus elevate ideologies of power like Islam and Christianity to the status of Dharma, the courtesy is never reciprocated. The faulty Gandhian approach to the communal problem is best exemplified by India’s policy to Pakistan.


Radhaji’s book has come at an appropriate time. The last few years have seen a new awakening in Hindu society, epitomized by the rise of Narendra Modi as the most popular and powerful political leader in the country. He has shown gumption to speak to Pakistan in the only language it understands, adopted a no-nonsense approach to Islamic terrorism, hooliganism and separatism and firmly affirmed the Hinduness of Indian civilization – ‘yes’ to Ganga aarati, chants of Jai Sri Ram and Navaratri fasts and ‘no’ to skull cap, iftaar parties and mosque visits. He has destroyed the myth of the power of the Muslim vote bank as also of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Simultaneously, he seeks to unify the Indian people on the platform of inclusive growth.


No wonder he is facing a stubborn and powerful resistance from the old establishment which, from the days of Nehru to Rahul Gandhi, has regarded “Hindu communalism” as a bigger threat to the country than jihadi Islam. Sinking their differences, his enemies have combined against him in a determined bid to oust him from power on the strength of old equations of caste and communities. A fresh term for Narendra Modi would deal a lethal blow not just to the parties and leaders ranged against him, but also the ideologies and politics that they represent. His defeat would push the Hindu awakening back by several years.


Radhaji’s book reminds us that this is Hindu India’s arguably last opportunity to seize the moment and reverse the downtrend which started a century ago. If they do not act now, they are just a few decades away from being outnumbered by Muslims in their own country. The next few weeks would tell us whether the call has been heeded.


The Shrinking Hindu Nation

Radha Rajan

Voice of India, New Delhi. 2019.

Pages: 247.

Rs. 495/-.

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