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Gandhi, Gandhiism & Gandhians — three different things

Mat Bhed hone par bhi mann bhed ho na paye.

“Even if differences of opinion arise, let there not be differences of heart (ie. hatred & enmity).”

This is a thought that originated between Mahatma Gandhi and the followers of his philosophy, including Jayprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave. Gandhi and other leaders of this period nurtured a certain mental and political culture — a system of discourse, debate, introspection, thought and action — that is broadly known as Gandhiism. The underpinning principles of this system / doctrine / philosophy / worldview are Sattya and Ahimsa — Truth and Non Violence.

I am not a follower of Gandhiism or of Ahimsa. I am a critic of this school of thought, but I have slowly come to appreciate its value. I am a student of Gandhiism, and I remain skeptical of many aspects of Gandhiism.

My upbringing in a Congress-supporting family involved in politics, voluntary social service and journalism, only deepened my skepticism. My childhood exposure to the genteel hypocrisy of most Gandhians — their tendency to grab plum political positions as well as the high moral ground with unruffled ease — made me regard them, and also Gandhi, with a jaundiced eye.

After graduating in 1986, for six months, I lived in an Ashram in South Gujarat that owed its parentage to both Gandhi and Jayprakash. I lived in an environment where khadi Gandhiism, and not Hindi, was the spoken language. We breathed, ate and sat Gandhiism. When I left the place after six months, it was with the feeling that this was a place for cronies who did not use their own minds, and preferred to live in a hallowed past, or an imagined utopian future.

I felt I had spent some months studying the rotting corpse of Gandhiism. While Gandhiism per se may have been wholesome and useful when alive and kicking, it stank because it was now a corpse only awaiting its formal burial. I hated the emasculated circuitous all-too-reverential logic that the people there exuded.

Cowardice on Hiroshima Day

I saw real cowardice in action, at first hand. When I returned in 1987 as a freelance journalist to the Ashram, I got unwittingly caught up in some local disturbances at the nearby Kakrapar Atomic Power Station on Hiroshima Day. It was a disturbance that these Gandhinans themselves had fomented in earlier years, through sloganeering and pamphleteering. (I know because I too was there as a sceptical participant.)

But when the movement got out-of-hand and turned political, ugly, riotous and chaotic, these Gandhian ‘leaders’ did not want to be in the picture. They chose to safely stay home and let events take their own course, leaderless.

I was a naive freelance investigative journalist who believed he could transform the world with his writings and expose’s. The Ashram people gently told me that they would prefer to stay away from Kakrapar this year, and none of them would accompany me to the hot-spot.

So I went by myself to the trouble spot — a village called Bedkua-dur that morning, to find myself in the midst of a pitched battle. A dozen policemen had fallen to the tribals’ amazing prowess with cloth slingshots to hurl stones 500 metres or more. A dozen tribals had fallen to retaliatory firing by policemen; a dozen more had been arrested. The village leaders had gone into hiding, and refused to come out and quieten the people whose leaders they claimed to be.

By virtue of having participated in the sloganeering the previous year, I felt partly responsible for this situation. And so, after making unsuccessful attempts to call the village Sarpanch from his home, where he was hiding, I made an effort to act as a go-between and broker a ceasefire. But I was swiftly rounded up by the police as a prime suspect, and hustled into a police van. There, on the way to the lock-up, I was kicked and bashed up with rifle butts by half a dozen constables who wanted to avenge their injured colleagues. They believed that I was the leader of these agitating tribals.

I was denied even a phone call to the Ashram or my parents, and slept on the floor in a tiny 10ft x 12ft police lockup with a dozen tribals, including a looney and a drunken murderer who raved and ranted all night.

After a couple of days, I was produced before a magistrate who would not listen to me at all, and then remanded to judicial custody (a larger, darker cell which I shared with a truck driver). I was charged under TADA and considered as a naxalite-type person, inciting violence against the state.

Four or five days later, one guy from the Ashram visited me for a few minutes and later phoned my parents in Mumbai. After this, the Ashram washed its hands off me, and never contacted me again.

Fortunately for me, my parents were extremely influential with the Gujarat government at that point of time. And so, thanks to their efforts, an enormous amount of good luck, and timely intervention by Mr N Vittal who was then the Home Secretary of Gujarat, the charges against me were completely dropped. I was freed after spending about 10 days in dark cells in Vyara — 3-4 days in judicial custody after 5-6 days in police custody.
As an experience, I have never regretted it.

But I never ceased to hold in contempt this bunch of sheltered posturing Gandhian doctrinaires who showed no mind of their own, no conscience, and no willingness to walk the talk.

George Bernard Shaw quipped that Islam was the world’s best religion, and the Muslims were the worst adherents of Islam. In a similar spirit, I feel that Gandhiism is undoubtedly one of the world’s best guideline for individual and collective action, but it is sad how Gandhians interpret it and turn it into a dogma that makes them truly a bunch of ‘followers’ in the worst possible sense of the word.

I value Gandhiism as a school of thought. I came to appreciate it and value it even more after I spent those memorable six months in the company of Gandhians. Gandhiism is indeed a fine distillate of Indian religious and philosophical thinking, and a repository of values. And the fine distinction that I learned at the Ashram between Mat Bhed and Mann Bhed continues to influence my actions in some degree.

Footnote & disclaimer: I can never presume to judge Gandhi, because, for all his faults and failings, he must have been an extremely tall man whose mental processes I cannot easily comprehend. Also, I cannot judge a person who lived in a different era and a different context that I cannot even begin to understand. I am denied of any possibility of understanding the demands that his context made on his mind.

That said, I also feel that Gandhi was just another man, and therefore must not be lionized and worshipped. In all correctness, one must try to understand his philosophy, but putting Gandhi on a pedestal means doing him and oneself a grave inhustice.

I have read his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, and would highly recommend it even for its thought-provoking qualities. I have also read Thomas Payne’s biography of Gandhi, and found it very objectively written. But my limited reading and exposure surely does not make me an authority on Gandhi, Gandhians or Gandhiism.

So anything contained here is just another opinion — my opinion. So if what I said here upsets anybody, well, I’m sorry. I could be wrong, just like anybody else.

Posted in Activism, Mahatma Gandhi, Our Future, Personal, Philosophy.

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2 Responses

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  1. HariOm Chawla says

    I totally agree with your interpretation, Krish. Gandhi as a leader committed many mistakes, which are not generally highlighted because when you worship a person, you conveniently tend to ignore his minnus points. Gandhism is alright, particularly the economic theories, the insistence on khadi and village industries, the concept about personal relations, respect for women and downtrodden etc. and their practicality had been amicably shown by Munnabhai”s Gandhigiri. But Gandhians, the followers, are miles away from the original concepts, as are all the followers. Swami Vivekand had said that Gautam Budha provided a new lift to the Hindu society, but his followers did more harm than good and thus Adi Shankracharya restablished the supremacy of Snatan Dharma. It is same with followers of all great saints.

  2. chandrakant parmar says

    gandhi. gandhism ,and gandhian,,,,,,,,,,,,aal must be one now they are three diffrent things, to follow gandhism needs lot of courage, and now adays nobdy has time and courage, , gandhiji fought for others, without any selfishness, ……hope for good….

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