Locating Gandhi (part two)


by guest
6th December, 2010 at 7:54 pm    

This is a guest post by KJB. Part one is located here.

Yesterday I examined Gandhi’s motivations and character. Now I want to turn my attention to how he is viewed in the modern day and why. Rita asked

What is this need in India to worship people? Why can’t we in India learn to examine people like people — like normal flesh and bones human beings??

Rita also bemoaned the treatment of Gandhi as a ‘saint,’ saying

I thought — how come these things are never discussed when we are given this pre-processed, recycled hash on Gandhi in our school text books.

Which is all fair enough, but as I said to her – Perhaps you ought to have enquired into why that is. I would be interested as to what exactly she’s trying to combat here, as the piece gave me no idea. Who believes in this straw-Gandhi that she has created? For whose benefit is her piece? My family and most Sikh people I know absolutely hate the man, for reasons ironically similar to Rita’s but with even less awareness of him than she, and most non-Indians are so ignorant of him that they barely register him as an influence on MLK and Mandela, let alone as an untouchable saintly figure. In fact, I’ve noticed non-Indian (usually American) people use their complete ignorance about him as a basis for making stupid and unfunny jokes, which is hardly worshipful. I hated the man before I read his writing, and now I respect him, but still recognise that he was massively problematic and yes, hypocritical. It’s really worthwhile reading the entire section on Gandhi, gender and sexuality in Javed’s book as it incorporates the most current feminist critique of Gandhi but doesn’t stereotype the man. Ironically, Rita does what she is despairing of: propagating the image of Gandhi as a ‘saint’, because instead of bringing him back down to human reckoning by recognising his complexities, she simply takes the ignorant devotee’s caricature and replaces ‘good’ with ‘bad’.

The reason that Gandhi has been sanitised and repackaged is precisely because he was an openly problematic individual: an idealist, a zealot, but one who was able to actually bring his vision to bear on people. Many Sikhs hate him partly because they feel like he didn’t do enough for them (!) and have gone so far as to relate he and Nehru both to a figure in Sikh history who betrayed one of the Gurus. Hindu fundamentalists (and many Hindus) had a great problem with his insistence on Hindu-Muslim unity and his attempt to improve the position of the lower castes. Why exactly Hindu fundamentalist Nathuram Godse murdered him, I don’t know, but there’s no doubt that his frankness about sexuality and his desire to hold the elite to account in their ascendancy to power were pretty big reasons for Hindu fundies to hate him. As already mentioned, his family and associates were embarrassed by his frankness – thus in keeping with the general tendency to lionise public figures after their death (intensified by ignorance and hero-worship in India, but common everywhere), it was in everyone’s interests to write the man off as a ‘saint’ after his death. Not, as Rita seems to think, so that he would be untouchable (oh the irony of that word!) but precisely so that he would be ignored – a myth to be invoked, rather than engaged with.

All of which might sound like a conspiracy theory, but it wasn’t that organised – it was just a case of everyone doing what was tidiest and most convenient for them. Nehru has received the same treatment (though more thanks to Hindu fundamentalists and an ignorant, hero-worshipping populace than family embarrassment). Earlier this year, in the wake of Rumbold’s PP piece, I was considering doing an essay on Hindu fundamentalism and knowing that it was a topic of interest to him, I asked JM about the expulsion of writer and MP Jaswant Singh from the Hindu-fundamentalist BJP party for having criticised Nehru over Partition. He explained to me that there was nothing surprising about the BJP attacking Nehru, since some of them (he cited Singh and L.K. Advani, I remember) had changed tactics and started to use Pakistan’s Islamic origins as an implicit justification for making India a Hindu-only state. Nehru’s secularism, of course, posing something of a large obstacle to the goal of constructing India as an ethno-religiously (is that the right term?) ‘pure’ state. Somewhat bearing out JM’s remarks is the fact that Jaswant Singh sailed right back into the BJP not long afterwards. With Nehru and Gandhi tidied away, Communism a global and local embarrassment, the only remaining nationalist claim to power from all the groups that Gandhi sought to unite in HS is that of the Hindu fundamentalists’.


              Post to del.icio.us


Filed in: History,India






18 Comments below   |  

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : Locating Gandhi (part two) http://bit.ly/hg1yxf




  1. douglas clark — on 6th December, 2010 at 11:43 pm  

    KJB,

    Thanks for the articles.

    I was rather taken to Gandhi for his more or less invention of the idea of non violent protest on a huge scale. I expect that that is what exercised people I admire like Martin Luther King, President Mandela and indeed President Obama.

    Indian politics, beyond that, are kind of hard to follow. If it’s not about race, it’s about class or caste. If it’s not about that it’s about religion or sexual status. How the heck the world’s largest democracy keeps going is beyond me.

  2. KJB — on 7th December, 2010 at 12:14 am  

    Douglas -

    I’m glad you enjoyed them. Indian politics are hard to follow! What I’m saying in this piece is that at the time of Indian nationalism, various movements emerged (Marxist/Communist-affiliated, nihilist, and Hindu fundamentalist) emerged, seeking to make their claim to power. Gandhi speaks to all of these groups in Hind Swaraj, and makes the case for non-violence, seeking to create a new movement that pragmatically transcends them all.

    The scary thing is that since then, Communism/Marxism etc. have been massively discredited globally, as well as locally in India (due to the violence of Maoist rebels), nihilism never really went anywhere and that leaves… the Hindu fundamentalists. They have managed to survive the turbulence of post-Independence years, and adapt themselves in a way that other groups didn’t. Widespread illiteracy/ignorance in India doesn’t help – the fundies can rewrite historical narratives to serve their own agendas, to imply that Gandhi and Nehru had it all wrong and that sectarian conflict is somehow natural, and secularism is evil (as I’ve mentioned above) and not enough people can challenge them over it. The fact that Congress has so many criminals doesn’t help matters – it leaves people disillusioned with them, and as you’ve observed, identity politics fills the void.

    I really recommend reading Anthony J. Parel’s introduction to HS:

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oc47gUOPZfcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=hind+swaraj+parel&source=bl&ots=K4iGABtvUg&sig=NghS6U1xWRnHtFbyVRi4pHFCbus&hl=en&ei=u3b9TMuoLcSAhAf66oCYCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    (I recommend actually buying the 2009 edition, which I have, although it now is about £19 on Amazon).

  3. Naxalite — on 7th December, 2010 at 12:42 am  

    Communism/Marxism etc. have been massively discredited globally, as well as locally in India (due to the violence of Maoist rebels)…

    Oh really?

    Nowt to do with the massive corruption and self-serving nepotism of CPI and CPI/M?

    Hardly accounts for the very big upswing in support for the CPI (Maoist) amongst the tribal peoples and rural poor across whole swathes of the north and east.

  4. douglas clark — on 7th December, 2010 at 12:47 am  

    Cheers KJB,

    Indian politics are to follow..

    I trust we can get a degree – Indian Politics BA, PP – just by following the cut and thrust on here? ;-)

    I think you made serious points, and I’m just trying to cheer you up. For that can’t have been easy.

    It must have been hard to challenge that. I found ‘Rita Banerji’ a bit up her arse with this:

    Frankly I am responding only as a courtesy.

    Well, that’s you in your place, ain’t it KJB?

    I find your response angry and insubstantial. So angry, that you don’t engage rationally.

    What would she know about engaging rationally. There is, after all the points that Jai put. On which, silence.

    You don’t make intelligent counter-arguments. This is a long-researched, worked, thought out, discussed, scholarly piece of work.

    How so Rita? Just to say, if it is you don’t need to say so, it would be obvious. It would include simple stuff like the names of the people you discussed it with and the citations of the people you read. As it stands you are asking us to take you at face value and asking us to condemn someone else? That is really not on.

    You know how long? In 2003, The London Magazine had asked me to write a piece on why there has been a change in the sexual sensibilities of Indians from the time of the Kamasutras to now. And what was the thinking of the people in that first millennium period, that made it ok to have erotic sculptures on temples then, the way it wouldn’t be ok today.

    Cool. I can understand why the London magazine asked you about that. It is an interesting question. What has it to do with Gandhi? Oh! here we go…

    When I began to research for that piece one of the things that came out was that Gandhi had actually tried to get those temple sculptures obliterated. He said that (those temples – Konark etc) weren’t a product of Indian ethics and were only the corrupt influence of western ideas on the Indian mind. You know who stopped it – Tagore! Well, that’s where my research began.

    Absolutely. That was where your research began. It didn’t begin anywhere else. It didn’t consider the western propensity in the age of prudity to knock the pricks of statues?

    Oh, well, perhaps not.

    You think you have can a 24 hour fit over it and that’s good enough for a counter-argument? I have projects to complete and a campaign – [do visit and support this campaign http://www.50millionmissing.in ; we are hell-bent on change] to run which I have to tend to every day round the clock. So unless I find an intelligent articulation of an argument, I’m done here. I’ve said what I’ve had to say.

    I myself have spent years and years on the idea that if we could find the DNA of Christ then we could bring him back to life and that would bring him back to life and…

    doh!

    Just because someone thinks something don’t make it true…..

    No matter how long they spent on it.

    I have projects to complete and a campaign – [do visit and support this campaign http://www.50millionmissing.in ; we are hell-bent on change] to run which I have to tend to every day round the clock.

    I am utterly amazed that our good friend, what was her name again, yes ‘Rita’, could take time out of her busy schedule to shit on us.

    For, being unwilling to hang around and talk, that is exactly what she has done.

    Cue earwicga, exit stage left…

  5. Doh! — on 7th December, 2010 at 8:38 am  

    I myself have spent years and years on the idea that if we could find the DNA of Christ then we could bring him back to life and that would bring him back to life and…

    Erm, the standard Christian view is that his Resurrection has already occurred, you know? As for Muslims, they don’t believe Jesus died in the first place.

    doh!

    Indeed.

  6. douglas clark — on 7th December, 2010 at 9:28 am  

    Doh!

    You really want to discuss this sort of stuff? Jesus Christ died for our sins. Allegedly.

    It is quite reasonable for you to say he was resurrected. In the doh! world, at least.

    It is what the bible says, after all.

    It is also to the point that certain artifacts, such as his bloody crown, or the spear, may have been there after him.

    Why does the Catholic Church, in particular, worship bones and stuff?

    And why does it say the Turin Shroud has not been proven, rather than the obvious, that it isn’t anything at all?

    It is because, I’d submit, that no religion is right, and no religion has a grip, on reality…

  7. Antimony — on 7th December, 2010 at 10:13 am  

    Can anyone else please confirm my suspicion that Douglas Clark is quite mad or clearly pissed most of the time?

    WTF are you on about now, Douglas?!?!

  8. Antimony — on 7th December, 2010 at 10:15 am  

    I will admit it is, however, bloody hilarious to read Douglas Clark castigating others for their alleged lack of grip upon reality!

  9. Rumbold — on 7th December, 2010 at 10:37 am  

    Antimony:

    Douglas possesses far more wit and wisdom than many here.

  10. douglas clark — on 7th December, 2010 at 11:30 am  

    Antimony @ 7,

    Can anyone else please confirm my suspicion that Douglas Clark is quite mad or clearly pissed most of the time?

    WTF are you on about now, Douglas?!?!

    I am interested in what you care to see as a drunken comment.

    Was it my comment @ 4, which was an attempt to fisk Rita Banerji or was it my honesty at 6 that sickened you?

    The former is because I consider KJB a friend, and she and Jai exposed a polemicist for what they were. That makes me a drunk?

    Or was it my comment @ 6 that got up your nose?

    I think, contrary to your good self, that there are no bones of Jesus Christ, that there is no blood of Jesus Christ and that all that bones and blood stuff is contrary to logic.

    But, there you go, believe what you want. But don’t expect me to see any miracles. Expect me, instead, to see dirty little people revealing truth in all sorts of areas, like medicine, cosmology, and evolution as heroic and worthy of my respect, but not apparently yours, as hero’s of modernity.

    Sure, they all had flaws.

    I quite like the likes of Rumbold, Jai, KJB and indeed Sunny Hundal, not because they are perfect, but because they aren’t. They just all fall into my category of being ‘people I’d like to know’.

    And I am certainly not perfect either.

  11. douglas clark — on 7th December, 2010 at 12:14 pm  

    Antimony @ 8,

    Are you perfect? Have you got a some sort of perfect gene or summat? A perfect grip on reality?

    Perhaps you do Antimony, but perhaps you don’t.

  12. Sam — on 7th December, 2010 at 3:26 pm  

    KJB,

    This was a much more nuanced view of Gandhi, and did address a lot of the points that were troublesome in the article by Rita Banerji.

    One thing though, I feel that a lot of hindu fundamentalists and other hindus primarily hated him for what they perceived as a ‘betrayal’ and supporting Muslims over Hindus, which is how his calls for communal unity were interpreted in the wake of Partition and the creation of Pakistan. Also his insistence on Non-Violence at all costs was seen by many of this group as ensuring that India would remain ‘weak’ . You can actually easily find Godse’s speech online that he delivered during his trial where he lays out his reasons for the assassination in that manner. It is an interesting speech, and on reading it, I was struck by how some of Godse’s justifications for killing Gandhi did bring up similar points to those that Rita Banerji raised..

  13. Daniel Hoffmann-Gill — on 7th December, 2010 at 3:28 pm  

    It trot back here after some time away from PP and see that anonymous posters are still knocking Douglas Clark.

  14. Jai — on 7th December, 2010 at 6:27 pm  

    This was a much more nuanced view of Gandhi, and did address a lot of the points that were troublesome in the article by Rita Banerji.

    Agreed. Part 2 is a very good conclusion to Part 1, and serves as another effective rebuttal to Rita Banerji’s wild allegations.

  15. douglas clark — on 7th December, 2010 at 7:21 pm  

    Daniel Hoffman-Gill,

    Good to hear from you again. How’s life treating you?

  16. Daniel Hoffmann-Gill — on 7th December, 2010 at 7:58 pm  

    Very well thank you sir, just having a browse about the discussions here and seeing what was around and noticed you getting harassed, which perturbed me but hopefully that’s the exception rather than the rule. All the best to you.

  17. KJB — on 7th December, 2010 at 9:32 pm  

    Sam:

    I feel that a lot of hindu fundamentalists and other hindus primarily hated him for what they perceived as a ‘betrayal’ and supporting Muslims over Hindus, which is how his calls for communal unity were interpreted in the wake of Partition and the creation of Pakistan.

    Yes, that’s my main impression – that may not have come across very clearly in my saying ‘hold the elite to account,’ but I meant his attempts to stand up for Muslims (the main religious minority) and the lower-class, lower castes (social minority? I don’t know how you’d put that, really) because the nationalist elite were of course overwhelmingly upper-caste, upper-class Hindu and, in keeping with a wannabe-hegemonic group, not really bothered about helping those outside their specific group.

    Certainly, Sikhs I know resent him for the same reasons you’ve mentioned. He does deserve blame for making Partition inevitable though – I think his idealism was necessary, but became unrealistic and thus his assassination was not really surprising.

    Also his insistence on Non-Violence at all costs was seen by many of this group as ensuring that India would remain ‘weak’.

    Ah! I had heard about this, but I didn’t know how widespread a view it was. I did not know Godse had given a speech (although he is of course only one man, and not necessarily representative of the many people who hate Gandhi for their own varying reasons!) and I will definitely look that up.

    Thank you all for the positive remarks, and Douglas I appreciate your comments – it’s pretty much a law of the Internet that if you are honest and direct about what you think and tend to post frequently anywhere online, you are going to get negative attention, unfortunately. You give as good as you get, though!

    I have tried to give a fairly nuanced view of Gandhi that shows my respect for his philosophy and its moral strength without hero-worshipping him. I have a LOT of problems with him, and HS was a roller-coaster of intense admiration and utter frustration for me, frankly. I am not an expert on him (as you can clearly see!), which is why I referred to people who really can claim to be, but I have spent the last year studying British imperial ideologies and Indian nationalism and researched Gandhi and Nehru a LOT as I thought I was going to be doing my Master’s dissertation on them, so Gandhi has obviously become a subject of great interest.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Pickled Politics © Copyright 2005 - 2010. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions.
With the help of PHP and Wordpress.