Nationalism and the Gandhi Myth

Arjuna & Irmin

Perceptions of India in the West are distorted and deformed by the myth attached to Gandhi, the reputed "father of Indian independence" who has become a saintly figure beyond criticism.

British colonialists often cultivated an admiration for Gandhi because he was their least dangerous adversary; today Westerners are enthralled by Gandhi because they see him as a global prophet of non-violence and anti-racism.

Tolerant MuslimMore than fifty years after Indian independence and Gandhi's death, it is time to reassess our judgments of Gandhi and his influence on the history of India. Maintaining the current mythical image of Gandhi is not only an obstacle to an accurate vision of Indian history; it is also dangerous. It is dangerous for us, for Europeans, because it encourages us to take pleasure in our pacifism and in our fantasies of "global brotherhood," at a time when we are being submerged by prolific foreign races, threatened by creeping ethnocide and by the progressive destruction of our racial and cultural identity. And the peaceful invaders (for the moment) of Europe, along with their collaborators within European governments, use precisely the emotional blackmail of "tolerance" and "global brotherhood" to sow guilt among Europeans, inhibiting us from defending our identity, our territory, and even our right to exist.

Mohandas Gandhi was not the only Indian leader who struggled for independence. Several other leaders, unjustly ignored, played equally significant roles, if not greater. These were, notably, Aurobindo Ghose, who later distanced himself from politics and became "Sri Aurobindo"; Bal Ganghadar Tilak, the Brahmin scholar, author of important studies on the Vedas; and above all Subhas Chandra Bose, the "Lion of Bengal," who did not hesitate to join the Axis camp to achieve his patriotic objectives.

We should also ask whether Gandhi truly represented the real tradition of his people, the Hindu tradition, and the answer is certainly closer to "no" than "yes." This harsh judgment is shared by several of the greatest contemporary specialists on India (in particular Alain Daniélou, whose books are an inexhaustible source for all those who wish to discover Hindu civilization and tradition), and it should be more widely known, if only to counterbalance persistent ultra-pacifist propaganda, the purpose of which is to spiritually numb and disarm all forms of majoritarian nationalism, even in India itself.

Our idealized image of Gandhi is a reflection of our own naivety. By any objective standard Gandhi's legacy, on the issues that concerned him most, was a series of failures with disastrous results: He fought hard for ecumenical Indian unity within the secularist Congress party, but his concessions to Islam, in the name of multi-faith inclusion, only facilitated greater Muslim communal solidarity, each ecumenical concession generating more particularist (and eventually separatist) demands; he believed that Muslims and Hindus could live together in fraternal concord, and his celebrated fasts were designed to achieve that end, yet he presided over the partition of India, sanctioning (though reluctantly) the creation of a theocratic Muslim Pakistan, at the cost of at least a million lives and the forcible transfer of an estimated fourteen million people; he urged non-violence (ahimsa) to his fellow Hindus, even in the face of appalling atrocities, and received only more Islamist atrocities in return, often bloodcurdling in their ferocity. Passivity and brotherly love in response to violence and hatred are simply foolish; Gandhi's claim that they represent distinctive Hindu moral principles would (if true) say nothing positive about the tradition he professed to uphold.

Gandhi's Pacifism

"We should with a cool mind reflect when we are being swept away. Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence. If they put all of us to the sword, we should court death bravely; may they even rule the world, we shall inhabit the world. At least we should never fear death. We are destined to be born and die; then why need we feel gloomy over it? If all of us die with a smile on our lips, we shall enter a new life. We shall originate a new Hindustan" (6th April 1947).

"Not one of those [Hindus] who have died in Punjab is going to return. In the end we too have to go there. It is true that they were murdered but then some others die of cholera or due to other causes. He who is born must die. If those killed have died bravely, they have not lost anything but earned something ... After all, the killers will be none other than our Muslim brothers" (23rd September 1947).

(Quoted by Nathuram Godse, Gandhi's assassin, in his court defense.)

Gandhi can thus stand as the perfect embodiment of the anti-racist, multicultural hero: His rhetorical flights of pacifist fancy and his sentimental talk of human brotherhood were regularly contradicted by intractable social realities, as are the bromides of multiculturalism wherever they are dispensed. Peoples belonging to radically different cultural or racial groups cannot, in fact, live amicably within the same nation, and Gandhi's belief that they could turned out, during his own life, to be manifestly false.

Hindu ethno-nationalists were political losers in the debates and infighting during the decade leading up to Indian independence, but subsequent history has demonstrated that their analysis was correct:

German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the semitic races -- the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifest here. Germany has shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.
The preceding sentences, written in 1939 by Madhav Golwalkar, the leader of the nationalist RSS, are frequently quoted today to discredit Hindu nationalism, but their substance happens to be true. Nationalism and multiculturalism are indeed antonyms. It is, as a matter of fact, "well-nigh impossible ... for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole." Gandhi believed otherwise, and history proved his error.

Muslim leaders were under no such illusions. Also in 1939, Raja Sahib Mahmudabad, chief lieutenant of the Muslim League's leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, wrote to a fellow Muslim:

When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian -- there is no denying about it. It is the Koran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Koranic laws that we want -- and that we will have -- but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth.
Unintentionally Mahmudabad was re-stating, from his own Islamic perspective, Golwalkar's warning: the near impossibility that a cohesive ethno-cultural group, with a firm sense of common purpose, will voluntarily accept any nationalism other than its own.

Gandhi once pleaded with Jinnah, "you can cut me in two if you wish, but don't cut India in two." Yet in the end Muslim intransigence and militancy received their reward in the form of Pakistan, a separate homeland for Indian Muslims, replete with a constitution that irrevocably enshrines Muslim dominance; Indian Hindus, still suffering today from a restive Muslim minority, received their reward in a secularist ("multicultural") India, which denies the Hindu majority any institutional expression of their ethno-cultural character. Hindu leaders may have profited from secularism, but the Hindu masses they nominally represented did not.

The lesson of Gandhi's failure is clear: In interracial relations a group that defines itself by its tolerance will lose against a group that doggedly pursues its own self-interest. Shrewd ethnocentrism is more politically powerful than compromising tolerance. We could call that a sociological law, if it were not so obvious.

"India," as Godse complained at his trial, "was vivisected and one-third of the Indian territory became foreign land to us.... This is what Gandhi had achieved after thirty years of undisputed dictatorship."

Some Critical Views of Gandhi

Alain Daniélou, Histoire de l'Inde, Fayard, 1971:

The Congress party ... was a nonreligious political movement, comprised principally of Indians of Anglo-Saxon education and ideology. To obtain the approval of the Indian masses required the cover of a religious exterior.... Mohandas Gandhi gradually altered his character and appearance. The young anglicized revolutionary lawyer, from South Africa, transformed himself into a half-naked Indian monk. This figure inspired confidence in the Indian popular masses and impressed the Westerners. His companions gave him the title Mahatma ("Great Soul"). However, he never convinced the elites of the traditional Hindu world, who regarded him as an impostor and a dangerous politician....

Since the press of the Congress was for the most part in the English language, whereas the traditionalist parties always used Indian languages, it was easy for the Congress to present, on the international level, the Hindu parties as retrograde, fanatic and ridiculous, and to ensure, at the time of independence, that power be transferred to them, although they represented only a feeble anglicized minority. As the price of this capture of power, Gandhi accepted the partition of India, which was as needless as it was harmful and which all moderate Hindus and Muslims opposed....

On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.... The principal reason for his assassination, by a young Brahmin belonging to the orthodox party, was the anxiety caused by Gandhi's hostility toward traditional Hindu institutions, considered much more pernicious than English indifference. The defense that the murderer pronounced to explain his deed is under interdiction in India. The death of Gandhi was celebrated by ceremonies of thanksgiving in many Hindu cities.

Another reason for the assassination was the Gandhi's overly conciliatory attitude toward the Muslims, in spite of the terrible massacres that preceded and followed the partition of India. Gandhi advised gaining their cooperation by love and disinterestedness, whereas everywhere the Muslims of India and Pakistan chanted, "we got Pakistan for a song, Delhi will cost us a battle." It is difficult to say what would have happened to India if Gandhi had lived. His prestige was great, and he was totally opposed to the industrialization of the country. All his disciples were to spin and weave their own clothing. His absolute egalitarianism, in a country with such diverse races and cultures, was impracticable.

Ranjan Borra, "Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian National Army, and the War of India's Liberation," Journal of Historical Review, no. 3, 4 (Winter 1982):

Apart from revisionist historians, it was none other than Lord Clement Atlee himself, the British Prime Minister responsible for conceding independence to India, who gave a shattering blow to the myth sought to be perpetuated by court historians, that Gandhi and his movement had led the country to freedom. Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Dr. R.C. Majumdar's book A History of Bengal. The Chief Justice wrote:

You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it ... In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly, by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor's palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi's "Quit India" movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji [Bose]. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi's influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, "m-i-n-i-m-a-l!"

Alain Daniélou, Les Quatre Sens de la vie, Editions du Rocher, 1992:

The use made by Mahatma Gandhi of the theory of non-violence as a political weapon has nothing to do with Hindu tradition. Non-violence is a strictly individual technique of personal improvement. It cannot serve political ends and cannot play a role in the governing of states. All of the Bhagavad Gita is in fact a lesson given to Arjuna, who wanted to renounce violence and thus to shirk his duty as a prince and soldier. Gandhi was in fact, thanks to his theories on non-violence, the instrument of massacres on a scale almost without historical precedent, which preceded and followed the partition of India, which he had accepted.

François Gautier, Un autre regard sur l'Inde, Editions du Tricorne, 2000:

It should be said, whatever Gandhi's holiness, that his moral rigidity... and his asceticism caused enormous evils in India, in particular his approach to the question of the Untouchables and the Muslims. He always felt compelled to yield before the demands of the latter, and he obstinately refused to see that the Muslims were always the source of the riots, the Hindus doing nothing but respond. He professed an indulgence without limit toward Jinnah ["supreme leader" of Indian Muslims, later first governor-general of Pakistan], even offering him the premiership of India, although the Muslims constituted only 11% of the population.... You speak of non-violence? But Gandhi exerted the greatest violence with his body in fasting throughout his life to subject others to his will. There was in this not only a very Christian element of self-mortification, but also a blackmail which no one dared resist. "It is beyond doubt," Alexandra David-Neel writes, "that the attitude advocated by Jesus morally dominates, from above, the affected and theatrical character of the Mahatma's fasts."

Savitri Devi, The Lightning and the Sun, 1958:

The late Mahatma Gandhi's much admired "nonviolence" was moral violence; not: "Do this, or else I kill you!" but: "Do this, or else I kill myself! ... knowing that you hold my life as indispensable." It may look "nobler." In fact, it is just the same -- apart from the difference in the technique of pressure. It is, rather, less noble because, precisely on account of that subtler technique, it leads people to believe that it is not violence, and therefore contains an element of deceit, an inherent falsehood, from which ordinary violence is free.

Excerpts from Nathuram Godse's formerly prohibited defense plea are now online, along with a recent interview with his brother and co-conspirator. The assassination of Gandhi was, we should keep in mind, both wrong and pointless, since Godse's real enemy was a mistaken idea, not its most visible spokesman. Godse was an intelligent and articulate man, and he should have employed his talents productively.


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