Sunday, November 20, 2005

Gandhi fought against foreigners and the natives

The Mahatma's Case AMULYA GANGULI
THE TIMES OF INDIA Teusday, October 4, 2005

Even after conceding that Gandhi fathered the nation, Swagato Ganguly has blamed the Mahatma (The God That Failed, Oct 1) for much of India's ills. Yet, in the admission of his fatherhood lies the key to understand the Man of the Millennium. A basic feature of Gandhi's life and politics was that he was not just a freedom fighter like Nelson Mandela. Even as he opposed the British, Gandhi wanted to ensure that the Indians were ready for their freedom. It has to be remembered that the most harmful effect of colonialism was not economic exploitation, but cultural subjugation.
Gandhi's first battle was against this conviction of inferiority which enabled a few Britishers to rule over many Indians. His objective was to instil a sense of self-respect among Indians by making them feel proud of their Indianness. As William Shirer, the author of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich writes in his book on Gandhi, when he called on the Mahatma, he found him sitting on the floor plying the charkha. Gandhi asked Shirer whether a chair should be brought for him, but Shirer declined and sat on the floor. The episode is symptomatic of Gandhi's politics. He wanted to demonstrate that Indians sat on the floor (and ate with their fingers and had their own dress codes) and were not ashamed of their customs. If the whites wanted to join them, they would have to do so on these terms, and not the other way round.
It is this attitude which made him discard western clothes and tell journalists, who asked him how he felt meeting the King in Buckingham Palace in his meagre attire, that the monarch was wearing enough for both of us. Arguably, in his endeavour to emphasise the distinctive Indian personality, Gandhi took his anti-western stance too far, to the dismay of Tagore and Nehru. But, then, the Mahatma was not a man of compromises. It has to be remembered also that, to him, the fight with the British must have seemed an endless struggle. Gandhi, therefore, fought on two fronts against foreigners and the natives. And the latter had not only to be taught to be self-reliant and worthy of respect by weaving his own clothes but also by cleaning the latrines, a lesson which the country doesn't seem to have learnt even now.
Gandhi may have also calculated that to make his non-traditional attitude towards untouchabi-lity acceptable, he would have to identify himself closely with eternal India through his dress, religiosity and austere lifestyle. An obviously anglicised person such as Nehru wouldn't have been able to do this. In the process, Gandhi had no alternative but to turn his face against western civilisation, a yet to be attained good idea. Had he praised industrialisation and preferred allopathic medicine, he would have been a charlatan to the masses. His was a canny strategy to topple an empire, leaving the future to take care of itself. The writer is a political commentator

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