Mahatma Gandhi - The biggest political fraudster who walked this earth.
opinion published by NRI Herald Australia 31 December 2021
The Mahatma’s simple way of life is now firmly anchored in India’s collective imagination and the rest of the world. It was, however, a supreme political hoax.
His alleged poverty was just a myth, the result of a great communication campaign. One remembers, by the way, the famous remark of one of his assistants, Sarojini Naidu: “It takes a lot of money to keep Gandhi in poverty.”
It has always been practically impossible to touch his image. When we learned that he was “allowing” teenage girls from his ashram to sleep naked with him (and thousands of them vying for this privilege), his devout followers explained that this was a way of “putting his vow of chastity to the test.”
In the name of his cause, he also had to endure naked massages given to him by these same girls for an hour every day, in addition to daily saltwater enemas.
According to his close associates, it was tough to work with him. He dictated their every move, including what and when to eat. The word “compromise” did not exist in his dictionary.
In 1920, at an Indian National Congress meeting, he said: “So long as you choose to keep me as your leader, you must accept my conditions, you must accept dictatorship and the discipline of martial law.”
Gandhi, the imperialist
Pacifism only appeared late in Gandhi’s philosophy. During his younger years in South Africa, he volunteered to raise an Indian brigade to serve the British Army in the Boer War.
The British authorities didn’t see any value in this plan. But after Gandhi insisted, they nevertheless eventually gave in and trained them as stretcher-bearers.
As a sergeant major, Gandhi won medals in the Boer War and, four years later, in the Anglo-Zulu War. As Gandhi approved and legitimized India’s caste system, he understood and accepted the racist logic of South African apartheid.
For example, he sought to deny Africans access to the Indian district of Johannesburg. And all this while showing an overflowing sympathy concerning the colonial power, as oppressive as it was. He writes in his autobiography, in the chapter entitled Two Passions:
“Hardly ever have I known anybody to cherish such loyalty as I did to the British Constitution. I can see now that my love of truth was at the root of this loyalty. It has never been possible for me to simulate loyalty, or for that matter, any other virtue. The National Anthem (God Save the King) used to be sung at every meeting that I attended in Natal. I then felt that I must also join in the singing. Not that I was unaware of the defects in British rule, but I thought it was on the whole acceptable.”
Until the last days of the anti-British campaign, he endorsed conflict. He supported terrible riots in Calcutta (current Kolkata) under the pretext that it was “a use of violence for a moral cause.”
He gave his blessing to a sort of prince, the nawab of Malerkotla, who had ordered the shooting of ten Muslims for every Hindu killed in his territory. And, in a prayer meeting in June 1947, a few months before his death, he said: “If we had the atom bomb, we would have used it against the British.”
Gandhi, the hungry
Gandhi was the pioneer of the hunger strike as a form of political protest. He later used it successfully against the British, but the first time he used it in 1932 was remarkably unpleasant.
Belonging to a higher caste, he opposed a proposal by the British authorities to grant the “Untouchables” (the lowest social class) a separate electoral status so that their interests could be better represented. His fast was supposed to last until death. It lasted five days until the Hindu rulers pressured the leader of the Untouchables to refuse British reforms.
In 2008, reports of conversations that took place in the British Cabinet at the time resurfaced. They show us how Churchill reacted to Gandhi’s threats of hunger strikes: “We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.”
When the Cabinet found out that glucose was added to the Mahatma’s orange juice and that he was massaged with nutritious oils, the Prime Minister commented: “It is apparently not a fast, merely a change of diet.”
Poverty and opposition to anything modern were the backbones of Gandhi’s philosophy. He hated the industry and the media of his time; he lamented the invention of the telegraph, the radio, and the telephone.
This did not prevent him from spending a lot of time on the national antennas during his significant hunger strikes, at the height of his fight for independence. In his biographer Judith Brown’s words, he advocated a way of life “clearly and consciously based on poverty.” He was also against modern medicine and refused to have his wife injected with penicillin when she contracted pneumonia. She died of it. (He later found it quite acceptable to take quinine for his malaria.)
Gandhi, the bourgeois
Gandhi is often presented as the father of independence, the friend of the poor, the savior of the Indian people. But in reality, he especially saved the ruling classes from a social revolution which, by overthrowing colonial domination, could also attack the whole caste system, which neither England nor the Indian bourgeoisie had any interest in seeing accomplished.
Indeed, since 1906 in India (and elsewhere) reigns a vigorous social agitation, where the workers chain strikes and blockades and where the peasants revolt against their exploiters, the landowners. As always, political parties are light years away from the concerns of the poorest.
These rich indigenous people want India’s independence and the creation of a great nation-state that they could finally rule. They worked to disseminate nationalist ideals through propagandist, parliamentary, or even terrorist channels. But they failed to reach the popular masses, which were too busy trying to survive and fight against their direct oppressors: the bosses, the landlords, and the police.
The Indian bourgeoisie and its ambitions were organized mainly within a political party called the “Congress Party,” which brought together progressive and liberal tendencies. Thanks to its financial support and the aura of Gandhi, who in 1915 became one of its leading figures, it gathered more and more voters until it became the most important party in India.
The Congress, which had its eyes riveted on power, had only India’s independence as an insurmountable horizon. To reach his goal without offending the British (who are essential to the future of the nation), Gandhi needed to do it with the consent of the colonial master; by pleading gently, without ever raising the tone, and by containing the emancipatory outbursts of the people who refused to be oppressed any longer.
Gandhi, the great political fraud
Gandhi and his party tried to prevent strikes from spreading; they condemned popular riots and permanently preserved parliamentary diplomacy from spontaneous and revolutionary action.
But how was Gandhi able to build this reputation as a demigod, a sane man who saw the light, a visionary spiritual guide? Given the number of books, institutions, and posters bearing his effigy, we must note that our time has established him as an icon of pop culture in leftist circles.
While we can easily speculate on the causes of such enthusiasm among reformist movements, it is more difficult to understand why, at the beginning of the 20th century, he managed to gather crowds of followers around him.
The causes of such radiation are undoubtedly multiple, and those that seem to be the most interesting to develop here explain why and not how this immense notoriety was built; the utility of it and what interests it could serve.
We can already find an element of answer by noting that his first followers did not toil in the fields and factories, nor did they die of hunger on the sidewalks. They slept in pretty villas, ran businesses, and had excellent diplomas with which they could access comfortable lives. In a country plagued by hunger and religious mysticism, his aura galvanized the crowds, made them permeable to the interests of the Indian bourgeois classes, and finally diverted their rage and desire for change towards nationalism and building a ruling class preferably Indian and Hindu.
One can understand the interest for many to put at the head of the revolts a man who could play the perfect political game of reassuring the poor with one hand while protecting the rich’s interests with the other.
All there was to do was to fabricate a myth and advertise it. Thus, Gandhi carefully chose his image by abandoning the Western costume worn by his congressional counterparts, using religious symbols and mimicking an ascetic life.
If he certainly took place in third class wagons, it was with an extraordinary expense that he required their redecoration and maintenance beforehand, just like the renovation of entire slums when he was staying among the Untouchables.
Also, the fact that Gandhi frequently lived in a luxurious residence where he was the guest of one of India’s greatest industrialists (Birla) did not prevent many poor people from recognizing him as their shepherd.
We might as well blow up the direct suspense at the point where we are; despite the epidemics of revolts, there will be no revolution in India any time soon. The rich can thank Gandhi for that, the man who made sure nothing changed for the ruling class.
Of course, he said he was concerned about the misery of the people. He intended to alleviate it, mainly by fasting and criticizing progress, making the production system more humane, and basing himself on more local and artisanal economies. In short, he designed a whole vast program of national reforms so that the Indians could eat, pray, and live in peace, but, above all, so that the wealthy could not be dispossessed, or in any case, not immediately.