By T Vijayendra:
On October 13, 2013, Youth Ki Awaaz published an article by Rita Banerji on certain aspects of M.K.Gandhi’s behaviour with young women titled ‘Gandhi Used His Position To Sexually Exploit Young Women: The Way We React To This Matters Even Today‘.
I have no issues with the author’s stand. She is quite correct and I recommend reading the article. The topic has been dealt with by a large number of authors and I had heard about it from my father even in the 1950s. As Ms. Banerji correctly observes, Gandhi’s associates including Nehru, Patel, Bhave, Kriplani, Mashruwala, N. K. Bose and many others freely expressed their opinion and their disapproval.
It seems most of these ‘perverted’ activities took place in the last decade of his life, that is between 1938 and 1948, or between the age of 69 and 79 even though he had declared himself a ‘Brahmachari’ (celibate) as early as 1906. My argument is that after the huge initial success that Gandhi experienced in India, in the last ten years of his life, he faced failure, isolation, derision and humiliation. His sexual dalliances were a part of this failure and they further fed into the disapproval that he faced on several fronts. At the same time, leaders of the Congress party and Indian bourgeoisie continued to ‘use’ him to their end without subscribing to his ideas. His murder likely came as a relief to these people and they quickly went about sanitising his image and turned him into a martyr and saint. Attempts were made to wipe out all the prickly facts about his life.
A hero’s welcome awaited Gandhi when he landed on January 9, 1915, at the Apollo Bunder in Bombay. He received a ‘Kaiser-I-Hind’ Medal in the King’s birthday honours list of 1915. His political mentor on the Indian scene was Gopal Krishna Gokhale. In the first 20 years, he gained huge popularity in India. He rejuvenated the Congress party – from a club of elites to a political party of the masses, launched nationwide movements against the British which involved millions of people and, by all accounts, shook the British rule in India.
At the end of this period, two major things happened.
To draft a new Constitution involving self-rule for the native Indians, the British invited leaders of different parties to the Round Table Conferences in 1930-32. The concept of separate electorates for the ‘Untouchables’ was raised by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Similar provisions were already available for other minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Sikhs. The British government agreed with Ambedkar’s contention, and the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s ‘Communal Award’ to the depressed classes was to be incorporated into the constitution in the governance of British India. Gandhi strongly opposed the Communal Award on the grounds that it would disintegrate Hindu society. To register his protest, he started an indefinite fast at Yerwada Central Jail on September 20, 1932. A compromise was reached on September 24, 1932.
Gandhi became immensely unpopular among the Dalit masses. Many others, including Tagore, disapproved of the hunger strike against a fellow Indian and thought it was very undemocratic. For the first time, the hunger strike was seen as authoritarian and even as a kind of violence much against Gandhi’s own principle of non-violence.
Ultimately, this led Ambedkar to the non-violence of Buddhism and he concerned himself in organising Dalit masses to “educate, agitate and organise” themselves. Gandhi was isolated.
The new Constitution came into being and Congress contested elections in 1937 in several states and won. The taste of power revealed all the weaknesses of the party – love for power, nepotism, its essential Hindu character, its love for what we these days call the ‘development agenda’ and so on. Quite a lot of this was antithetical to Gandhi and hence he was marginalised in national politics. The era of using Gandhi and paying lip service to him had begun.
Gandhi was also facing a failure in history. All his principles were negated. Independence was not achieved without violence. Up to a million people died in communal riots in the course of a few months. Few revolutions in history were so violent!
Gandhi himself was aware of this contradiction and was deeply anguished by it. “Gandhi’s anguish…[was] centred around his tragic discovery that the freedom struggle led by him had not been the unique non-violent struggle that he and the whole world believed it to have been. The discovery forced itself upon him when the country erupted into savage violence on the eve of Independence.”
In spite of the fact that Gandhi had stated that he will rather die than accept partition of the country he was persuaded to accept it. After Independence, Gandhi was even more isolated. No one needed him. His heir and Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, stopped meeting him and did not answer his long letters.
What comes across is that in his last decade Gandhi was a lonely and miserable person. I think he went to the riot-hit Noakhali in Bengal to escape this situation. I think that he called these young women – Anu and Abha – to be his companions to seek relief. His deviant behaviour in this period is well documented.
In my opinion, his sexually deviant behaviour was a part of this isolation and humiliation. He led a public life and was supposed to ‘walk the talk’. So he could not hide his activities and he justified it as his experiments with Brahmacharya and Truth. He also had quaint 19th-century ideas about celibacy, taboo on masturbation and the power of semen. In his own mind, he probably convinced himself. After all, who is wrong in one’s own eyes? But the hypocrisy, lust and perversity of the act was apparent to everyone and it was publicly denounced in his own time, and documented extensively.
However, under this onslaught, Gandhi eventually conceded defeat even if unwillingly. He said he felt like a “broken reed”. His ego and narcissism had been broken by people around him who fortunately understood and did better than we do today! His assassination, while mourned by the whole nation also came as a big relief to the leaders concerned. My father in the 1950s told me that Gandhi died at the right time. Obviously, this sentiment was shared by many thinking people at that time. History may even regard Nathuram Godse as a kind man who helped Gandhi to attain martyrdom and sainthood in our memory! Just imagine, if like Pachauri, Gandhi had been jettisoned from his own ashram?
The puzzle remains – why the hypocrisy of the present generation of leaders about Gandhi? Gandhi alive was an embarrassment but Gandhi dead became an asset! It became even more convenient to use him by putting him on a pedestal and hiding his warts and wrinkles. A myth was quickly developed making him a martyr and saint. People outside India readily embraced this oriental myth. After all, is not myth-making an integral part of nation building?
Featured image credit: Ibrahim Areef/Flickr.