Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Revisiting the past

Found a very good post in a blog which gives a brilliant summary of the Gandhi's influence on India during the freedom movement and after. It is based on a three volume magnum opus by an impeccable historian, R.C. Majumdar.


Background of the author
The late R.C. Majumdar, often called the dean of Indian historians, completed a three-volume work on the Indian Freedom Movement. In this he put forward two fundamental theses that few Indian historians were willing to face. First, Gandhi's role in the achievement of freedom was exaggerated by the beneficiaries of his 'legacy'. Next, the freedom movement demonstrated that the Muslim leadership - if not the masses - was concerned more with Pan-Islamic issues than national issues, and Gandhi often acquiesced to it. As example, Majumdar cited Gandhi's defense of the Ali brothers when they invited the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India in defense of Islam. The Ali brothers actually went further. They claimed that such a jehad (holy war) would be carried out not only against the British, but also against the Hindus who refused to cooperate in the enterprise. (This was discussed in some detail in Part I.) Little of this is found in history books in use today. As Majumdar points out, all this has been whitewashed to suit the political interests of certain groups. The result is massive distortion of history.

"The fact is that the Congress Party today, which he led for nearly quarter of a century, has fallen into the hands of an elite that is largely hostile to the Indian tradition and culture which the Mahatma embodied; it is now the hands of individuals representing interests and values far removed from the people of India. Its recent electoral fortunes seem to underline this failure. How do we account for this phenomenon of the successors of Gandhi being simultaneously alienated from the people and their tradition and in turn rejected by them? This alone is sufficient to call for a reexamination of Gandhi and his contribution to nationalism. To understand the present, we must visit the past."

"The Congress party, the dominant political institution in the half-century after independence, treats him as its icon. As a result, any criticism of Gandhi and his politics is likely to bring down the wrath of interested parties who hold up his 'saintliness' as a counter-argument. His martyrdom is invariably brought up in silencing arguments against his policies and actions.

This creates a peculiar problem for anyone trying to study the history associated with Gandhi and his times. Gandhi the Saint intrudes on the scene whenever one tries to unravel the complexities of Gandhi the Politician. And yet it was Gandhi the Politician and not Gandhi the Saint who dominated the national scene in the decades leading to independence. It was Gandhi the Politician, and not the Saint who turned Swaraj into a movement in support of the theocratic aims of the Khilafat; it was Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who expelled Subhash Bose after his election as Congress president; it was Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who imposed Pandit Nehru over Sardar Patel as prime minister of India against the wishes of the party; it was also Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who imposed his will on the newly formed Congress Government to release funds for Pakistan which was then at war with India."

"In January 1948, many Hindu and Sikh refugees in Delhi had taken shelter in some abandoned mosques. Gandhi put pressure on the Congress Government to have these refugees evicted from these temporary homes. As a result, a large number of refugees — including women and children — were forced to spend the nights in the cold rain. Such heartless behavior in the service of an abstract principle (which no one understood) only exacerbated mutual hatred already at fever pitch. It is an irony of history that the 'Apostle of Nonviolence' was directly responsible for two of the most violent explosions of this violent century. This is inevitable when one selectively imposes dual standards. "

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