IF Gandhi is your hero, it can be a deflating experience to read what he actually did and said at crucial points in India's political history. The authorised version of the Mahatma is very different from the real one. Far from being a wise and balanced saint, Gandhi was an emotionally troubled social activist and a ruthlessly sharp political negotiator. As India's Transport Minister Dr John Matthai said in 1947, the final failure to reach a satisfactory settlement with the Muslim League stemmed in part from the 'Gujarati mentality' of the Congress leadership—'ie that of a trader driving a hard bargain'.
Gandhi remains the most baffling and inconsistent figure in the Indian freedom movement, a man who worshipped truth yet often had trouble identifying it, who shunned adulation yet seemed to do all he could to encourage it.
A close reading of his statements on a particular subject usually results not in a sense of illumination, but of obfuscation. He often changed his mind, and many of his pronouncements amount to ental spring-cleaning rather than an exposition of ideology. His opponents during his lifetime portrayed this as hypocrisy, but in fact there always seems to have been a sincerity to his actions. To British officials he was 'a twister', and his methods were simply devious: one provincial governor described him as being as "cunning as a cartload of monkeys". The befuddlement about his aims and motives, however, extended beyond Whitehall and New Delhi and into his own head. If in doubt about a suitable course of action, Gandhi would resort to tuning in to his often arbitrary 'inner voice', and expect others to listen to its dictates.
Gandhi's famous Autobiography, which was first published as a series of articles in the 1920s, is indicative of his singularity. The book's themes are apparent from the chapter titles, which include 'The Canker of Untruth', 'A Sacrifice to Vegetarianism' and 'More Experiments in Dietetics'.
One of the results of Gandhi's experimentation with truth was that he was apt to move rapidly between different aspects of human life, and try to unite them within a unified theory. He intertwined religion, politics and philosophy with personal health, sexual relations and dietary fads. For him there was no distinction between the public, the private and the political. As his children found to their cost, it was not possible to have a one-to-one relationship with Gandhi. In an effort to avoid deceit, he tried to be open about all his doings. Thus, when it became known that he was sleeping with his great-niece Manu, he announced at a prayer meeting that "he did not want his most innocent acts to be misunderstood and misrepresented. He had his granddaughter (sic) with him. She shared the same bed with him. The Prophet had discounted eunuchs who became such by an operation...It was in the spirit of God's eunuch that he had approached what he considered his duty".
The day-by-day diaries of Gandhi's long-term secretary Mahadev Desai ('M.D.') are instructive. On one page, Gandhi will be instructing a follower to add turmeric to her diet; on the next he will be promoting the need for cow protection, absolute punctuality and the use of Hindi; then he will begin attacking the drink evil and the smoking of cigarettes; next he will condemn inter-caste liaisons and the remarriage of widows, only to change his mind a few pages later and vigorously promote it. The logic of some of his pronouncements is hard to follow. After the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in 1919, he complained that the dead "were definitely not heroic martyrs. Were they heroes they would have unsheathed the sword, or used at least their sticks or they would have bared their breast to Dyer and died bravely when he came there in all insolence. They would never have taken to their heels."
There were many contradictions in Gandhi's way of living. He deified poverty and condemned modern industrialism, yet relied on lavish donations from the Birla, Sarabhai and Bajaj families, whose fortunes came from just such sources. He always travelled with a giant entourage of disciples, many of whom were renowned for their cold hauteur towards outsiders, yet he claimed to dislike special treatment. He wished to live like India's rural peasantry, but wherever he went herbs, vegetables and chaste goats would be garnered, buildings scrubbed, whitewashed and decorated in an appropriate style, and mud refrigerated for him to smear on his stomach as one of his many 'nature cures'. His opponent Mohammad Ali Jinnah made the point that he spent less than Gandhi on train fares despite travelling first class, since he only had to buy one ticket.
A remarkable amount of Gandhi's time and energy was taken up not with the fight against British rule, but with the promotion of social change. He was a great believer in the increment of human excrement, which he referred to as 'black gold'. He had elaborate theories about its management and its use in the cultivation of crops, a passion that must have been aided by his having no sense of smell. His biographers tend to steer clear of his
bodily preoccupations, but they form a substantial chunk of his Collected Works, and it is hard not to see them as critical to an understanding of his personality. He had an obsessive interest in other people's diets and internal health, and his cure for almost any ailment was a saline enema, which he liked to administer to his acquaintances himself. His letters to his followers are full of instructions on matters such as the use of hip baths as a cure for vaginal discharge, and his opening question each day to his female disciples was: "Did you have a good bowel movement this morning, sisters?" After he took his vow of brahmacharya in 1906, Gandhi seems to have adopted massage and purgation as a substitute for other intimate contact. In his book Gandhi and his Disciples, which explores some of the more baffling aspects of the Mahatma's teachings, Ved Mehta makes the interesting point that despite his detailed reading of contemporary ethical and social writers, Gandhi was unaware of the emotional or psychological implications of his 'experiments'. There are numerous reports of the distress caused to members of his entourage by being separated from him, and of the 'hysterical' reactions of his bedsharers when he showed the slightest sign of rejecting them.
WHEN Gandhi's Bengali interpreter Nirmal Kumar Bose told him his sexual experiments were unwise, and that according to Sigmund Freud people "are often motivated and carried away by unconscious desires in directions other than those to which we consciously subscribe", Gandhi replied that he had only once heard mention of Freud's name and knew nothing about his writings. This gap in Gandhi's understanding is not to suggest that a Freudian or even a psycho-biographical analysis is the only way to understand him, but it is ironic that the man whom many regard as the embodiment of human wisdom should have shown such naivete about his own motivation.
In his Autobiography, Gandhi presents himself as a shy, inward, nervous boy who sipped cocoa alone in his London bedsit for three years. In fact he made many contacts when he was in the city, meeting among others Cardinal Manning, the Theosophists Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, the Parsi politician Dadabhoy Naoroji and the cricketing prince Ranjitsinhji. He enrolled at the Inner Temple and moved to Bayswater, took lessons in elocution, violin and ballroom dancing, put on a silk top hat, stiff collar, patent leather boots and spats, and carried a silver-topped cane. Rather than concentrating on work like most other Indian students in London, he consorted with a host of cranks, moralists, high-fibreists, Darwinians and utopian communitarianists. Before long he was preaching vegetarianism and pacifism house to house, and writing articles for a paper called The Vegetarian Messenger. His dietary obsessions were already apparent, as he progressed from bread, oatmeal and cocoa to milk, cheese and eggs, and then to fruit alone before reverting to vegetables and nuts.
...Gandhi's time in South Africa represents the most influential period of his life, as it was there that he formulated the moral strategies for which he later became famous. He practised as a lawyer, although never with great success, and realised that his real skill lay in political organisation. Gandhi's spiritual and social ideas were also being developed during this time, and he set up successive idealistic communities called Phoenix Farm and Tolstoy Farm. He began to preach his new morality to those around him; when he thought a friend was too emotionally attached to an expensive pair of binoculars, he threw them into the sea. His aim was to live as wholesome and simple a life as possible, regardless of the wishes of his wife and children.
Kasturba Gandhi was small, strong-willed and conventional. She remained orthodox in her religion, disliked hearing the Gita except from the lips of a Brahmin, and at first objected to wearing hand-spun cloth. She rebelled quietly against her husband, insisting on having private sleeping quarters and her own spending money although it was against his regulations. One of her rare known pronouncements was, "Men are not blessed with the kind of common sense that women have, for we understand the language of sorrow better than they do." It is apparent that they disagreed over the upbringing of their four sons, who were denied any formal education because of their father's theories. In later life they had continual worries over their son Harilal, who drank and gambled and briefly converted to Islam. Gandhi felt this was the result of his having led a "carnal and luxurious life" while the boy was a child, but Kasturba thought there might have been a more prosaic explanation.
In 1906 Gandhi told his wife that he was taking a vow of brahmacharya, believing it would help to conserve his 'vital fluids' and raise him to a higher spiritual plane. His decision is said to have stemmed from the fact that he had been having sex with Kasturba while his father lay dying. Whether or not it was the deciding factor, Gandhi's attitude towards sexuality remained troubled throughout his life. He saw it not as a creative result of human desires and emotions, but as a repellent bodily function through which men became 'emasculated and cowardly' and women were defiled. His ambition was that sexual intercourse should be eradicated from human relationships altogether, except for the specific purpose of reproduction. Although there were elements of Hindu mythology in all this, there was also a good chunk of the prudish Victorian schoolmaster.
In January 1915 Gandhi and his family returned to Bombay. With funds from some Gujarati mill owners he set up an ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati. At Sabarmati Ashram, he was continually taken up by squabbles between the inmates over spinning, stealing, seductions, food, and worries when practitioners of brahmacharya began to engage in sexual experimentation. Adolescent groping among boys in the ashram school resulted in the already skinny Gandhi going on a week-long fast, a traditional form of Indian protest.
At this time he still believed in the benign nature of the British Empire. At the outbreak of the First World War he had raised an ambulance corps staffed by Indians in Britain. When the Theosophist Annie Besant founded a 'Home Rule League' he refused to support any agitation, since he believed the British Empire was the best framework for India and that self-rule within the Empire was bound to be granted once the war was over. "Mrs Besant," he said, "you are distrustful of the British; I am not, and I will not help in any agitation against them during the war."
At a crucial Delhi war conference in 1918, Gandhi supported a resolution proposed by the Viceroy Lord Chelmsford encouraging Indians to join the army—an action that he subsequently tried to wriggle out of in his Autobiography. Shortly afterwards he asked the Congress politician Mohammad Ali Jinnah to join the recruitment drive, on the bizarre grounds that it would encourage Indian nationalism. Even by the strange logic of Gandhi, his letter to Jinnah was peculiar: "Seek ye first the Recruiting Office and everything will be added unto you."
THE truth about Mohammad Ali Jinnah is that his political ideology developed and matured in a gradual and complex way over fifty years, and that the founder of the homeland for Indian Muslims remained a secularist of sorts to the end. In Pakistan itself he has been an uncomfortable father of the nation, and it was not until 1993 that the first volume of his papers was published. (The collected works of Gandhi, by comparison, run to ninety lovingly prepared volumes.) Yet his achievement, however flawed it may be, was phenomenal.
While a student in England, he enjoyed strolling around the streets of London, visiting the British Museum, and developed an interest in politics, going to the House of Commons to listen to the maiden speech by Britain's first Asian Member of Parliament, Dadabhoy Naoroji. Unlike Gandhi, who undertook a remarkably similar voyage into London life, (he) does not seem subsequently to have been troubled by shedding the outward trappings of his cultural heritage. Before long he had forsaken his Sindhi tunic and turban for smart hand-tailored suits, starched collars, two-tone shoes, spats and a monocle, apparently in emulation of Joseph Chamberlain. In later life he owned over three hundred exquisite suits, and was said never to wear the same silk tie twice to court.
Back in India success came quickly, one colleague remembering him as 'omnipotent' as soon as he came into a courtroom, partially because people were afraid of his precise, powerful, aloof manner. He combed his jet-black hair, grew a tentative moustache, and was said to scrub his hands scrupulously throughout
the day. Jinnah attended a meeting of the political campaigning organisation, the Indian National Congress, in Bombay in 1904, and was immediately marked out as a promising newcomer. Two years later he travelled to a Congress session in Calcutta, acting as secretary to the ageing and respected Dadabhoy Naoroji. Before long he gained a reputation as an uncompromising but resolutely non-communal politician. He must have realised that if he were to succeed in Congress like Naoroji and G.K. Gokhale (a mentor whom he shared with Gandhi), it would not be by virtue of his Muslim origins, but through a secular appeal.
IN 1913 he decided to join another political organisation, the Muslim League, while insisting that such action did not "imply even the shadow of disloyalty to the larger national cause". As the Congress activist Motilal Nehru told his friends, "unlike most Muslims (Jinnah is) as keen a nationalist as any of us. He is showing the community the way to Hindu-Muslim unity." Jinnah became well known in the years leading up to the First World War as a promoter of religious unity, insisting that Hindus and Muslims should battle together for an end to colonial rule.
He remained a Congress stalwart, and in 1913 sailed to Liverpool with Gokhale for an official meeting with Lord Islington, the Under-Secretary of State for India. On return, he put forward a sensible proposal that the India Office should be funded by the British exchequer, rather than from India. He was also adamant that Indians should be allowed to become officers in the Indian army—after all, they were "good enough to fight as sepoys and privates". His political method was to campaign on small but important constitutional issues of this kind. The notions of revolutionary terrorism or a mass popular uprising were anathema to him.
Although the families of Jinnah and Gandhi had at one point lived little more than thirty miles apart in Gujarat, the similarities in their origins did nothing to unite the two men. The fatally antagonistic tenor of their relationship was set at their very first meeting. It took place in January 1915 at a garden party organ-ised by the Gurjar Sabha (Gujarat Society) of Bombay to celebrate Gandhi's return from South Africa. Jinnah was the chairman of the society, and in response to his speech of welcome, Gandhi said he was "glad to find a Mahomedan not only belonging to his own region's Sabha, but chairing it".
This would be a little like a British politician commenting pub -licly on a colleague's foreign racial origins, in a situation where such matters were entirely incidental.
THE FORCE OF TRUTH
By now Jinnah was married. During the First World War he had begun wooing Ratanbai, or 'Ruttie', Petit, the young daughter of one of Bombay's richest Parsi merchants. They courted in Darjeeling, and Jinnah was soon pursuing Ruttie, although her father, Sir Dinshaw Petit, was adamantly opposed to the marriage, even taking out lawsuits against his former friend and barrister. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, characteristically, would not let go, and Ruttie married when she was just eighteen at his luxurious house on Malabar Hill in Bombay. She had converted to Islam a few days before, and taken the name of Mariam, which is what Jinnah's more orthodox Muslim colleagues now called her. All links with her family were severed until her separation from Jinnah less than a decade later. Their first and only child, a daughter called Dina, was born on the night of August 14, 1919.
Jinnah was now in his early forties, and Ruttie had a flamboyance to her character that, initially at least, inspired and stimulated him. His wife was beautiful, shocking, with long hair, bejewelled headbands, and she smoked cigarettes in an ivory and silver holder. She was intelligent but unhappy, taking refuge in a rather dippy kind of mysticism of the type that was fashionable at the time. At a dinner given by the Governor of Bombay, Lord Willingdon, Ruttie wore a low-cut Parisian evening dress, and Lady Willingdon promptly ordered a servant to bring her a 'wrap' on the grounds that she might feel cold. Jinnah was so insulted that the couple left at once, and never saw the Willingdons again socially.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT