Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born on October 2, 1869, to parents Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi and Putlibai Karamchand Gandhi in Porbandar, Gujarat.
Fondly called ‘Bapu’, Gandhi played a major role in India’s struggle for independence. He was a social reformist and an anti-colonial activist, who employed the idea of nonviolent approach towards gaining independence from the British Raj.
His contribution towards the upliftment of women and minority communities, and instigating several civil rights movements in the country that eventually led to India’s independence in 1947, is what gave him the honorific and much deserved title of ‘Father of the Nation’. Or so is the popular opinion.
The (Un)popular Opinion
A pretty common and noticeable trait in mainstream literature, whether its school textbooks and research papers, or novels, is the glorification of Mahatma Gandhi’s contributions, and of the Gandhian ideology. The popular opinion of most common citizens and influential people remains that he was a great personality. Often revered as a saintly individual who gave up on the material gifts of life, the Gandhian ideology mainly revolves around ‘satya’ (truth), ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence), ‘sarvodaya’ (progress of all) and ‘swaraj’ (self-rule), the essence of a lot of which has been incorporated into the provisions of our constitution, especially in the directive principles of state policy.
Does this mean that there prevails no conflicting opinion on Mahatma Gandhi’s actions and decisions in about thirty years of his contribution towards the freedom struggle in India, and that he has steered clear of criticisms? Certainly not.
Though limited, there does exist literature which discusses a plethora of alleged mistakes committed by Gandhi in the due course of his life, with some even questioning his moral sanctity.
Consenting To The Partition
The partition inflicted upon the people of our country, unimaginable horrors, including the vivisection of the country into two separate states of India and Pakistan that led to mass migration of people, and killed millions.
People commonly believe that Mahatma Gandhi opposed the partition staunchly. Yet, after the Congress and the Muslim League approved the partition plan proposed by Lord Mountbatten, Gandhi consented to it.
“I told you that we would not give even an inch of land as Pakistan under coercion. In other words, we would not accept Pakistan under the threat of violence. Only if they can convince us by peaceful argument and if their proposal appeals to our reason would we concede Pakistan,” MK Gandhi had stated at the post prayer speech on June 4, 1947. “The Congress Working Committee insists that they have not granted anything under duress… They have taken this course because they realised that it was not possible to get round the Muslim League in any other way. For, once the Muslim League agrees to at least some points, our task becomes easy,” he added.
The seventeen-page book ‘Why I Killed Gandhi’ contains the last statement given by Nathuram Vinayak Godse before the Punjab High Court (translated to English language): “The Congress which had boasted of its nationalism and socialism secretly accepted Pakistan literally at the point of the bayonet and abjectly surrendered to Jinnah. India was vivisected and one-third of the Indian territory became foreign land to us from August 15, 1947.” It further reads, “Gandhi is being referred to as the Father of the Nation. But if that is so, he had failed his paternal duty inasmuch as he acted very treacherously to the nation by his consenting to the partitioning of it.”
Making Nehru The First Prime Minister Of India
Another unpopular opinion on Gandhi is that he was involved in the manipulation of the Indian National Congress’ presidential election, that appointed Jawaharlal Nehru as the successor of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and India’s first-ever prime minister, instead of Sardar Vallabhai Patel.
Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, in his book ‘Patel: A life’, published in the year 1990, wrote: “April 29 was the last date for nominations. By April 20 Gandhi had indicated, privately at any rate, his preference: Jawaharlal.”
“Please go through the enclosed cutting…. I have not spoken to anyone of my opinion. When one or two Working Committee members asked me, I said that it would not be right for the same President to continue…. If you are of the same opinion, it may be proper for you to issue a statement about the cutting and say that you have no intention to become President again…. In today’s circumstances I would if asked prefer Jawaharlal. I have many reasons for this. Why go into them?” Gandhi wrote to Azad when a newspaper highlighted the possibility of him being re-elected as the INC president.
On the other hand, a majority of the Indian National Congress members were clearly in favour of Patel. 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committee had nominated him. Then why was’t he elected the president? Jawaharlal Nehru’s nomination had almost missed the deadline, and no PCC member had nominated him yet. ‘To Gandhiji’s wishes, (Acharya) Kripalani “sent a paper round, proposing the name of Jawaharlal” during a WorCom meeting in New Delhi. According to Kripalani, “the members of the Working Committee signed it and also some local members of the AICC”,’ wrote Rajmohan Gandhi in his book.
Once Nehru was formally nominated by some working committee members, attempts to convince Patel into withdrawing his name, and to nominate Nehru instead, began. He turned to Gandhi for advice, who advised Patel to do so, which he did without any hesitation. “Gandhi had once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the glamorous Nehru,” were the words of Dr Rajendra Prasad.
Ahimsa: Gandhi’s Flawed Notion Of Pacifism
A major principle of Gandhian ideology is adhering to ‘Ahimsa’ or non-violence. For many, Gandhi is a saintly figure whose principle of non-violence and resistance with truth, in the face of hostility and violence, is something that is considered an ideal, and a courageous quality in an individual. Even today, people quote and remember this Gandhian principle in the face of war, to perhaps stir-up a notion of moral superiority.
This does not mean that the ideology hasn’t averted any criticism. Though uncommon, there are people who believe that the Gandhian ideology of ‘Ahimsa’ was problematic. It should be noted that such criticisms do not imply support towards unnecessary acts of violence, but rather, the extent to which Gandhi propagated non-violence.
“Since the year 1920…Gandhiji’s influence in the congress first increased and then became supreme. His activities for public awakening were phenomenal in their intensity and were reinforced by the slogan of truth and nonviolence which he paraded ostentatiously before the country…But it is nothing but a mere dream if you imagine that the bulk of mankind is, or can ever become, capable of scrupulous adherence to these lofty principles in its normal life from day to day,” said Nathuram Godse in his last statement before the Punjab High Court.
“I could never conceive that an armed resistance to an aggression is unjust. I would consider it a religious and moral duty to resist and, if possible, to overpower such an enemy by use of force,” he added.
Gandhi’s notion of ‘Ahimsa’ deemed even more problematic to critiques when he advised the Jewish community who were facing a mass genocide in the Nazi-ruled Germany, to adhere to the principles of non-violence and truth.
“If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon…if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanks-giving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant,” he wrote in his book ‘My Non-violence’.
Questioning The Sanctitude Of The ‘Mahatma’: Experiments With Celibacy
Mahatma Gandhi is popularly known for his ideologies and contribution towards the independence of our country. He is known for leading a simple lifestyle, disassociated from the material pleasures of life, although many believe differently.
Several of his contemporaries have questioned the very weird chapter of his life, his experiments with celibacy, which is commonly known to people, yet not commonly talked about.
It does not come as a surprise that Gandhi has had strong and wavering opinions on sex. In his autobiography, ‘The story of my experiments with truth’, he mentioned that he got married to Kasturba at the young age of 13. “I must say I was passionately fond of her. Even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me. Separation was unbearable,” he wrote.
He also mentioned how he could not be with his father in his final moments as he was in his room with his wife. “I saw that, if animal passion had not blinded me, I should have been spared the torture of separation from my father during his last moments,” he wrote. This incident was a factor which would eventually lead him to the path of becoming a brahmachari (celibate) in due course.
Gandhi embraced brahmacharya (celibacy) in the year 1906, which meant a complete change in the way he lived his life, including celibacy and even strict diet. His path to brahmacharya took a weird turn when he started conducting experiments to test his self-control on sexual urges.
Girja Kumar’s book ‘Brahmachari Gandhi and his women associates’ discusses how in the 1920s, Gandhi would rest his hands on the shoulders of women during his morning and evening walks, following a massage and a bath. “The massage was followed by (a) bath with the presence of a woman attendant almost essential,” wrote Kumar (pg 6).
Gandhi was also brutally straightforward about his problematic experiments on celibacy. In a letter (letter 16) to his ashram manager Munnalal G Shah, dated March 6, 1945, he wrote, “Abha slept with me for hardly three nights. Kanchan slept one night only…she had no intention whatever of observing brahmacharya, but wished to enjoy the pleasure of sex. She therefore, stayed only reluctantly and undressed only for the fear of hurting me.”