I stumbled upon a brilliant post in another blog about Gandhi’s role in Freedom Movement. The writer uses the works of R.C. Majumdar to re-interpret Gandhi’s philosophy and politics and show how disastrous these proved to be for India and the Hindus. The biggest sin of Gandhi was to inject the virus of anti-Hinduism into the political discourse of India, which was carried forward by Nehru, his side-kick, with devastating effects for the Hindu civilisation. The anti-Hinduism of Congress politicians that we see today is Gandhi’s only enduring gift to India.
The unity of India and the continuity of the Hindu civilisation in its own home land is now looking uncertain due to Gandhi’s muddle-headed policies and their consequences. He compounded his sins by imposing the imbecile Nehru on the unwilling Hindus as their “leader.” I am personally sure that Gandhi will ultimately prove to be the Strangler of India and the Father of Pakistan. He was truly a deranged man. The more I read about him and become familiar with his flip-flops, intellectual dishonesty and double-standards for Hindus and Muslims, the more I dislike him. Essentially, he walked into the opposite camp bag and baggage, leaving his own people behind and becoming immune to their horrendous suffering which arose as a result of his deranged policies.
I don’t know who wrote the following essay (the blog gives no credit), but I suspect the author may be NS Rajaram.
GANDHI, KHILAFAT AND PARTITION
Background: need for revisiting history
Every age views history and its heroes in the light of its own experience and values. As a result, events and personalities are periodically re-examined and their true significance reassessed. For nearly fifty years, Gandhi’s position as the Father of the Nation, and as the pre-eminent figure in India’s struggle for freedom has stood unchallenged.
In recent years, voices of doubt about his role in the national movement, especially his policy of what many see as excessive accommodation of Muslims are being raised. A few critics go so far as to claim that he was only a Son of India who went on to become the Father of Pakistan.
One need not take such an extreme position. Nonetheless, fifty years after he left the scene, the need for a re-examination of Gandhi and his real contribution can hardly be disputed. Even his strongest critics have to admit that his influence on the social and political movements of this century has been enormous, and by no means limited to India. Every fight against injustice, every struggle against oppression, has drawn its inspiration from Gandhi and his methods.
From Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, Gandhi’s influence has been profound and acknowledged. His influence on the Indian national life, however, is an enigma. Those who claim to uphold his legacy — especially the most prominent political dynasty that carries his name — cannot be said to live by his ideals of service, simplicity and poverty. Nor do they look with favor upon the heritage and tradition from which he drew his strength and sustenance.
The fact is that the Congress Party today, which he led for nearly quarter of a century, has fallen into the hands of an elite that is largely hostile to the Indian tradition and culture which the Mahatma embodied; it is now the hands of individuals representing interests and values far removed from the people of India. Its recent electoral fortunes seem to underline this failure.
How do we account for this phenomenon of the successors of Gandhi being simultaneously alienated from the people and their tradition and in turn rejected by them? This alone is sufficient to call for a re-examination of Gandhi and his contribution to nationalism. To understand the present, we must visit the past.
The Gandhi enigma: saint or politician?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as the Mahatma, is a unique figure in modern history. Though a politician most of his working life, he is remembered today mainly as a spiritual figure who drew his inspiration from the best in all religions. Even while acknowledging his role as a political leader, there is a marked tendency to regard his political career as a mere sidelight in a life dedicated to spiritual quest. B.R. Nanda, probably the best known among those who may be called ‘authorized’ biographers of Mahatma Gandhi wrote:
It was inevitable that Gandhi’s role as a political leader should loom larger in the public imagination, but the mainsprings of his life lay in religion not politics. … His deepest strivings were spiritual.
So here is an anomaly. Those who claim to be his followers swear by ‘secularism’ — the separation of religion from the affairs of the state, while Gandhi himself was opposed to the notion. Whatever the admirers of Gandhi’s ‘spiritualism’ may claim, it is as a politician that he left his mark on history. While his religious thought has exercised little influence on the spiritual movements of the last hundred years, his influence on the political scene has been enormous.
The Congress party, the dominant political institution in the half-century after independence, treats him as its icon. As a result, any criticism of Gandhi and his politics is likely to bring down the wrath of interested parties who hold up his ‘saintliness’ as a counter-argument. His martyrdom is invariably brought up in silencing arguments against his policies and actions.
This creates a peculiar problem for anyone trying to study the history associated with Gandhi and his times. Gandhi the Saint intrudes on the scene whenever one tries to unravel the complexities of Gandhi the Politician. And yet it was Gandhi the Politician and not Gandhi the Saint who dominated the national scene in the decades leading to independence.
It was Gandhi the Politician, and not the Saint who turned Swaraj into a movement in support of the theocratic aims of the Khilafat; it was Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who expelled Subhash Bose after his election as Congress president; it was Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who imposed Pandit Nehru over Sardar Patel as prime minister of India against the wishes of the party; it was also Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who imposed his will on the newly formed Congress Government to release funds for Pakistan which was then at war with India.
All these were political actions that must be evaluated on their own merits, but his ‘saintliness’ invariably acts as a diversion whenever one brings up these and other controversial aspects of his political career. The fact is that Gandhi was first and foremost a man of politics. His views on religion and philosophy are studied today only because of his dominance of the political scene at a crucial period in history. Unlike his contemporary Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi would be little known as a philosopher had he stayed aloof from politics. His writings on religious subjects — like his interpretation of the Bhagavadgita — are known today only because of his importance and influence as a politician; but a halo of saintliness always surrounds him.
In consequence of this halo shielding his political career like a fortress, balanced historical accounts of Gandhi and the party he led are hard to come by. In addition, he has become a valuable asset for interest groups in politics and academia with their own axes to grind; they fiercely resist any attempt at a re-evaluation of his career and achievements. They fear this could lead to his being dislodged from his lofty seat undermining their own positions. Rare has been the author who has breached the fortress, there have been none in recent years.
As a result, to get a balanced picture of Gandhi, especially his early career, we need to go to little known works written at a time when people were willing to write freely about him. One such work is Sir C. Sankaran Nair’s “Gandhi and Anarchy.” Written in 1922 when the Mahatma was yet to acquire his halo, it is an eyewitness account of Gandhi and his politics against the background of the Khilafat agitation and the Punjab atrocities, which became the platform for Gandhi’s first nationwide non-cooperation movement. This was to catapult him to the pre-eminent position in the Congress party that he held for the rest of his life.
Gandhi’s support for the Khilafat led to a major uprising in Malabar known as Mopla Rebellion. Sankaran Nair was from Malabar, and he no doubt felt the pain personally. This is all but forgotten today, if not deliberately suppressed. Nair in his book gives a vivid account of the now all but forgotten Mopla Rebellion — including Gandhi’s own part in it — based on contemporary records. (The Moplas are a Muslim sect of Malabar in Kerala who went on a rampage of murder and rapine following the failure of the Khilafat agitation. It took several months to put down.) He includes also a large number of contemporary documents relating to the Mopla Rebellion and other important events. All this makes his book a valuable primary source.
Gandhi’s religion: Semitized Hinduism
To study Gandhi, one has to come to grips with the fact that to him religion and politics were inseparable. This naturally brings up a basic question: what were his religious beliefs like and what role did they play in his politics? This takes us back to his biographer Nanda’s claim which I quoted earlier, that the roots of Gandhi’s politics lay in his religion.
I feel Nanda has got it backwards. It would be closer to the truth to say: “The mainspring of Gandhi’s religion lay in his politics.” I would go further and suggest that religion for Gandhi was a tool that served to rationalize a particular course of political action that he had already decided upon. This was often justified by his supporters as the ‘faith of the Mahatma’, said to be rooted in his ‘soul force’ (Gandhi’s words). Sri Aurobindo saw it differently. As he wrote:
“I do not call it faith at all, but a rigid mental belief and what he calls soul force is only a strong vital will which has taken a religious turn. That, of course, can be a tremendous force for action, but unfortunately Gandhi spoils it by his ambition to be a man of reason, while in fact he has no reason in him at all …. What he has in its place is a remarkable type of unintentionally sophistic logic.”
We run into this “unintentionally sophistic logic” over and over again when we examine Gandhi’s career. A movement is started, some incomprehensible, often disastrous decisions are taken leaving his faithful followers in the lurch, and the whole thing explained away with resort to sophistic arguments based on unverifiable claims. Sankaran Nair is more emphatic if less subtle. Writing in the context of the Punjab atrocities, he charges: “Mr. Gandhi is not a student but an impulsive fanatic indifferent to facts but obsessed by phantasmagoria. He jumps to what he calls conclusions, but which have in fact no premises.”
All this might be permissible in religion — for this, after all, is how most religious movements begin. But Gandhi brought the same methods into his politics, for he was pre-eminently a political activist. No matter. As far as Gandhi was concerned, religion and politics went together. This also helps one understand how he could wholeheartedly support a purely theocratic movement like the Khilafat. In this he was a throwback to an earlier age when religious beliefs and institutions dominated politics. It may be said that he was taking India from the Age of Enlightenment, which leaders of the Hindu Renaissance were trying to bring about, back to the Age of Faith, or the Dark Ages.
The practice of using religion to gain secular ends is of course nothing new. Moses did it; Prophet Muhammad did it as did his modern follower Ayatollah Khomeini. In our own time, Mother Teresa justified her consorting with swindlers and mass murderers for the sake of money with the claim: “I am accountable only to God.” This idea of a higher power that places one beyond the pale of humanistic considerations is the foundation of Semitic creeds like Christianity and Islam. But Hinduism, Gandhi’s professed faith, has no room for it. As we shall soon see, Gandhi’s answer to this seeming deficiency in Hinduism was to recast Hinduism suitably to meet his political needs.
This brings us face to face with a little understood fact about religions that has been obscured by the Gandhian slogan of “sarva dharma samabhava” — from which he (and his followers) concluded that all religions teach essentially the same thing, and are therefore equally valid. This is far from true, for Semitic religions — or prophetic creeds — differ from the pluralistic Hindu tradition in two fundamental respects. These differences need to be clearly understood, if one hopes to make any headway in untangling the religio-political dialectic that underlay Gandhi’s politics (and religion).
1. The tenets of prophetic creeds are always communicated through a human medium who claims to be the Voice of God. He (or his followers) may claim to be a Prophet or Son of God, or Imam or something else, but he is always seen as a privileged person who alone can communicate with God. Ordinary mortals must accept his diktats as the word of God, which is enforced by his followers. And this monopoly is facilitated by monotheism: One God can have only One Intermediary. For this reason, the God of men like Moses and Muhammad brooks no rivals. (Pluralistic Hinduism on the other hand knows no such exclusive medium with monopoly over access to God.)
2. A prophetic creed claims to derive its authority from a single book for which a divine origin is claimed. Its followers are not given a choice in the matter. Unlike a Hindu who is free to question, select or reject any part or all of his scripture, a Muslim cannot question the claims of the Quran or the authority of the human representatives known as the clergy. Its religious book is therefore also the source of (secular) authority. The Quran, for example, is both the prayer book of Islam as well as the source of Islamic law — or the Shariat.
It is therefore impossible to separate religion from politics in Islam. Islam abhors secularism. In fact, outside India, devout Muslims view secularism — or the separation of religion from the state — as a great evil. (Gandhi seems to have held a similar view.)
This leads to a third feature of creeds of authority: their scripture can become a convenient device for imposing irrational and even anti-humanistic laws and regimes. God, after all, is needed as authority only in such circumstances, not for justifying acts beneficial to humanity. This holds one of the keys to Gandhi’s political career also: he saw himself guided by a higher force that justified irrational and even anti-humanist policies and conduct. And he invoked a higher principle — ahimsa (nonviolence), to justify positions that could not be defended on rational or even humanistic grounds.
It is my sense that to fashion himself a convenient tool for his politics, Gandhi took the pluralistic Hinduism and gave it a Semitic exclusivistic twist by making ahimsa — or nonviolence — his central creed or dogma. In his hands, Hinduism became a dogmatic religion like Islam, with ahimsa at its center, and Gandhi as the Prophet of ahimsa. Like all prophets he could be tyrannical in imposing his beliefs. This took the form of ‘fasts unto death’ to gain his ends — a tactic that bordered on blackmail.
Ahimsa Applied Selectively
But this creed of ahimsa was selective, and applied only to the Hindus. As one examines his political career, one sees that he insisted that Hindus be true to ahimsa, while he condoned and even rationalized violent behavior by Muslims. This went with his principle of sarva dharma samabhava. Muslims were acting according to the teachings of Islam, and the Hindus also had to be true to the teachings of Hinduism — at least his version of it with ahimsa as the central creed.
In practice, this ahimsa translated into a complete submission of one side to the demands of the other, making it indistinguishable from appeasement. His notion of ‘tolerance’ was for one side to completely submit to the demands of the other.
The following statement by Gandhi, made as far back as 1909 illustrates Gandhi’s attachment to appeasement in the name of unity, and his propensity for combining contradictions with the help of his ‘unintentionally sophistic logic’ — as Sri Aurobindo put it: “As a man of truth I honestly believe that Hindus should yield up to the Mohammedans whatever the latter desire, and that they should rejoice in so doing. We can expect unity only if such mutual large-heartedness is displayed.”
As Majumdar observed (Volume II, pp 313-14):
The first sentence is one of those pro-Muslim sayings which bore the special trademark of Gandhi and did incalculable harm to Hindu-Muslim unity by putting a premium on Muslim intransigence. It was repeated in 1947when Gandhi made the proposal, which astounded even his devout followers, that Jinnah should be the supreme ruler of India, with a cabinet of his own choice, which might consist only of Muslim ministers. The word ‘mutual’ in the second sentence is meaningless, as Gandhi never dared make similar request to the Muslims, and they never showed the slightest intention of doing any such foolish thing. Gandhi’s attitude did not change even after the creation of Pakistan.
This would have had the effect of realizing the dream of Muslim leaders like the Ali brothers — of replacing the British rule with Muslim rule! We shall see later that this seems to have the intention of the Khilafat leaders when they supported Gandhi in his Nonviolent Non-Cooperation movement which he launched in support of the Khilafat.
All this introduced a strong element of moral relativism in his dealings, with different standards of behavior permitted for the Hindus and the Muslims over the same issues. In practical terms, this became a policy of appeasement rooted in moral relativism — insisting on non-violence where Hindus were concerned, but tolerating and even rationalizing violence on an unprecedented scale by the Muslims. It was only natural that this should have inflamed animosities leading to violence on a large scale. The Mopla Rebellion, which is discussed next, is a vivid example of Gandhi’s dual stand rooted in moral relativism. As one studies the consequences of his actions, and his equivocal conduct in the face of unspeakable atrocities committed on innocent people, his halo seems to lose some of its luster.
He and the Congress seemed to learn nothing from it. They repeated the folly leading to the holocaust of the Partition. Like the mythical Bhasmasura, he was himself consumed by the violent passions unleashed by his equivocal position on non-violence. So were a million others, who, unlike Gandhi, had no hand in it. This was a high price to pay for one man’s reputation as a saint — the Apostle of Non-violence; at the least he was also the Apostle of Moral Relativism.
The politics of Moral Relativism
The point of all this: just as Gandhi’s religious ideas were rooted in his political needs, his ‘spiritualism’ also cannot be studied in isolation from his politics. He and his teachings derive their importance only because of his career as a politician. Take away the politician, there is little left — and that little has nothing to do with India or Hinduism. Most people do not realize how great was Gandhi’s debt to nineteenth century Western pacifists like Thoreau and Tolstoy, and how little his philosophy owed to the Hindu tradition. His most important work, “Hind Swaraj,” does not contain any reference to a single major Indian work.
Sri Aurobindo was one of the few to see Gandhi in his true dimensions — as a Western pacifist in Hindu garb. He said: “… Gandhi is a European — truly a Russian Christian in an Indian body. … When Europeans say that he is more Christian than many Christians (some even say he is “Christ of our times”), they are perfectly right. All his preaching is derived from Christianity, and though the garb is Indian the essential spirit is Christian. He may not be Christ, but at any rate he comes in continuation of the same impulsion in him. He is largely influenced by Tolstoy, the Bible and has a strong Jain tinge in his teachings; at any rate more than by the Indian scriptures — the Upanishads or the Gita which he interprets in the light of his own ideas.”
A more insightful account of Gandhi’s ‘spirituality’ has never been written. The catastrophe of the Khilafat and its aftermath seemed to do little to change his belief; he repeated the blunder with Jinnah and the Muslim League leading to the greater catastrophe of the Partition. The issue here is not merely the division of India, which may have become unavoidable by then, but his conduct in the face of such a great human tragedy. He persisted with his dual standards resulting in untold hardships for Hindu and Sikh refugees, while insisting on the protection of Muslim property. The results could be tragic as the following example shows.
In January 1948, many Hindu and Sikh refugees in Delhi had taken shelter in some abandoned mosques. Gandhi put pressure on the Congress Government to have these refugees evicted from these temporary homes. As a result, a large number of refugees — including women and children — were forced to spend the nights in the cold rain. Such heartless behavior in the service of an abstract principle (which no one understood) only exacerbated mutual hatred already at fever pitch. It is an irony of history that the ‘Apostle of Non-violence’ was directly responsible for two of the most violent explosions of this violent century. This is inevitable when one selectively imposes dual standards.
While much is made of his non-violence, his moral relativism was at least as important a part of his religio-political philosophy. Its contribution to history was also incomparably greater. His message of non-violence has fallen by the wayside — his followers resort to violence when it suits them — but his practice of moral relativism continues in the form of appeasement in the name of ‘secularism’. This has resulted in opposition to such enlightened policies as a uniform legal code for all. Humanistic reform benefiting beleaguered Muslim women, is the casualty.
Gandhi’s moral relativism — of applying different standards to different people — came to the fore during the Khilafat agitation and the Mopla Rebellion that followed on its heels; it came to the fore again during the Partition twenty-five years later. To understand Gandhi, and his often incomprehensible political moves, we need to come to grips with his moral relativism along with his peculiar logic. They offer a better insight into his career than his ahimsa, which in any case operated only selectively. It has become irrelevant today outside academic circles.
When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa, circumstances allowed him to rapidly gain ascendancy in national politics. His method was to use non-violent non-cooperation to gain Swaraj (self-rule). Muslim leaders like the Ali brothers (Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali) did not share his vision but simply found him useful. Their main interest was the restoration of the Sultan of Turkey following Ottoman Turkey’s defeat and dismemberment in the First World War. This was known as the Khilafat movement more of which later. Gandhi promised support for the Khilafat in exchange for the support of the Ali brothers and the Muslims of India for his non-cooperation movement.
The Khilafat movement was a disaster in more ways than one. Indian history books carefully leave out the Khilafat fiasco, or if they mention it all they present it as a unifier of Hindus and Muslims. The reality is quite different. It resulted in a massacre of tens of thousands of innocent Hindus all over India. It was particularly virulent in Kerala where a Jihad (Holy War against infidels) called the Mopla Rebellion erupted which took several months to put down. To make matters worse for Gandhi, Muslim leaders like the Ali brothers, whom he had sponsored and supported during the Khilafat, publicly humiliated him; Mohammed Ali even said that a Muslim thief was better than Gandhi, simply because of the thief’s faith in Islam!
What was the Mopla Rebellion like to make historians shy away from it? Sankaran Nair has this to say: “For sheer brutality on women, I do not remember anything in history to match the Malabar [Mopla] rebellion. … The atrocities committed more particularly on women are so horrible and unmentionable that I do not propose to refer to them in this book. I have selected a few out of literally hundreds that might be selected from the English and vernacular papers… One narrative is by Mrs. [Annie] Beasant.” [See Appendix for more.]
This brutality was to be equalled if not surpassed in the holocaust of the Partition, which was the result of Gandhi and the Congress failing to learn from their mistakes. What was Gandhi’s reaction to the Mopla outrages? At first he denied that the atrocities took place at all. But he could not keep it up for long in the face of overwhelming evidence including reports from his Muslim friends. He then equivocated and rationalized. He called the Moplas “God fearing” and said they “are fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner they consider as religious.”
This from the Apostle of Non-violence! It applied to the victims, but the perpetrators could be excused as ‘God fearing’ because they were acting according to their religion which sanctioned violence against unbelievers. It is not easy to find a better example — or worse — of moral relativism. This was too much for Annie Beasant. That spirited Englishwoman wrote: “It would be well if Mr. Gandhi could be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the ghastly horrors which have been created by the preaching of himself and his “loved brothers”, Mohammed and Shaukat Ali. … Men who consider it “religious” to murder, rape, loot, to kill women and little children, cutting down whole families, have to be put under restraint in any civilized society.”
It is hardly surprising that the partisans of Gandhism — not to mention its beneficiaries — don’t want to be reminded of the Khilafat or the Mopla Rebellion. It is time, though that we did re-examine this history and its impact on modern India, for it has lessons to offer. But first, what was this Khilafat that simultaneously catapulted Gandhi to the top of the Congress leadership, and had such catastrophic consequences for the country? This is what is examined next.
Khilafat: Sophistry and Obscurantism
The Khilafat agitation is one of the defining events of modern Indian history, but history books today treat it in a perfunctory fashion if they mention it all. Gandhi had a direct hand in the Khilafat agitation. In his “Gandhi and Anarchy,” Nair makes it central to his evaluation of Gandhi and his politics. Majumdar provides more details. But both assume readers to be familiar with the historical background to the agitation, which may not be true of readers today. So here is a brief account.
When the First World War ended in 1918, Ottoman Turkey, which had fought on the same side as Germany, had suffered a massive defeat. The result was the break-up of the Ottoman Empire ruled by the Sultan of Turkey who had also pretensions to the title of the Caliph or the leader of all Muslims. The defeat of Turkey was seen as a major blow to the prestige of Islam especially by many Muslims and their leaders in India. They formed committees to press the British Government to restore the Sultan in a movement known as the Khilafat. Here in brief is the history behind the Khilafat.
The Khilafat movement is generally described as a demand by the Muslims for the restoration of the Sultan of Turkey to his rightful office of the Caliph. This is a serious misrepresentation. Muslims outside India did not recognize the Turkish Sultan as Caliph; it was strictly an Indian movement but with a foreign focus. The Turks themselves under Kemal Ataturk eventually drove their Sultan into exile. The last Caliph with a legitimate claim to the title was the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustasim. He had been executed by the Mongol Huleku Khan (grandson of Chengiz) following the sack of Baghdad in 1258.
Recognizing its value as a political symbol, the Mameluk Sultan of Medieval Egypt invited a member of the family to set up a puppet Caliphate in Cairo. These Caliphs were “complete nonentities” — as the Encyclopædia Britannica puts it — and their claim was ended for all time when the Ottoman (Turkish) Sultan Selim invaded Egypt in 1517. Later, the Ottoman Sultans styled themselves Caliphs, but this was a nineteenth century politically motivated fiction concocted to buttress their rapidly slipping hold over the provinces of the Empire. It was a cynical ploy by the Ottomans who had themselves extinguished the last vestiges of it.
The various Indian Muslim leaders of the Khalifat agitation — the Maulvis, the Maulanas and Their Highnesses like the Aga Khan — were not of course unaware of this history. But they correctly surmised that it did not really matter as long it suited their purpose and some useful dupes could be found. Their belief was justified when Gandhi and the Congress launched the non-cooperation movement in support of the Khilafat demand. (One also suspects that the at least some Muslim leaders entertained the utopian scheme of restoring Muslim rule in India, which they believed had been usurped by the British.)
Gandhi’s own stand on the Khilafat betrayed a remarkable degree of ignorance and confusion over the issues. He seemed to be ignorant of both the history and the political situation as it stood at the time of the Armistice in 1919. He seemed unaware of the basic fact that neither the Arabs nor the Egyptians had any desire to be ruled by the Turkish Sultan — let alone submit to him as their Caliph. Syria and Lebanon — formerly under Ottoman rule — were now under French control. It was not therefore, in the power of the British to restore them to Turkish rule, even were they so inclined. And most absurdly, the Turks themselves had no use for their Sultan cum pseudo-Caliph whom they drove into exile. In the face all this, Gandhi’s massive agitation for the restoration of the Sultan bordered on the preposterous.
By no stretch of the imagination can the Khilafat be regarded an issue affecting the nation or Swaraj. In return for his support for the Khilafat, Gandhi obtained, or thought he obtained Muslim support for launching his nationwide non-violent non-cooperation movement. Islam sets no great store by non-violence, but Khilafat leaders like Mohammed Ali agreed to support his agitation in return for Gandhi’s promise of Swaraj within a year!
To compound the confusion, Gandhi had gone on to redefine Swaraj to mean support for the Khilafat. In his words: “To the Musalmans Swaraj means, as it must, India’s ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question. … It is impossible not to sympathise with this attitude. … I would gladly ask for the postponement of the Swaraj activity if we could advance the interest of the Khilafat.”
So Swaraj, which previously meant self-rule, became transformed overnight into support for the Khilafat! So which ‘Swaraj’ activity was he willing to postpone, and which ‘Swaraj’ had he promised to the Ali brothers within the year? Did Sri Aurobindo not tell us that Gandhi was endowed with a “remarkable kind of unintentionally sophistic logic?”
This is not the whole story of Gandhi’s surrender on the Khilafat issue. This apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity went on to claim: “We talk of Hindu-Mahomedan unity. It would be an empty phrase if the Hindus hold aloof from the Mahomedans when their vital interests are at stake.” This ‘vital interest’ was the restoration of the Khilafat in far away Turkey at the cost of national freedom! On this Majumdar observed (Vol. III, p 50):
If a hundred million Muslims are more vitally interested in the fate of Turkey and other Muslim states outside India than they are in the fate of India, they can hardly be regarded as a unit of Indian nation. By his own admission that the Khilafat question was a vital one for the Indian Muslims, Gandhi himself in a way admitted that they formed a separate nation; they were in India, but not of India.
It is sobering to contrast this sophistry and equivocation on the part of Gandhi (and his followers) with Sri Aurobindo’s ringing statement on nationalism made many years earlier (1908): “It [nationalism] overleaps every barrier; it calls to the clerk at his counter, the trader in his shop, the peasant at his plough; it summons the Brahmin from his temple and takes the hand of the Chandala from his degradation; it seeks out the student in his college, the schoolboy at his book, it touches the very child in its mother’s arms…”
There is no room for sophistry here — of being “in India, but not of India.”
There was no room for sophistry in the words of the Khilafat leaders either, that was supplied by Gandhi and his followers. Khilafat leaders like the Ali brothers made no secret of their loyalty to Islam above India. As Majumdar records (op. cit. p 53): “In their public speeches they emphasized the identity of the interests of the Indian Muhammadans with the interests of the Muhammadans everywhere in Tripoli and Algeria in preference to those of the Hindus.” When there were rumors that the Amir of Afghanistan might invade India, Muhammad Ali said: “If the Afghans invaded India to wage holy war, the Indian Muhammadans are not only bound to join them but also to fight the Hindus if they refuse to cooperate with them.”
This extraordinary statement was probably rooted in his belief that the Muslims had a right to rule India after the British usurpers left, and it was the duty of the Hindus to support them. Still Gandhi supported his ‘dear brother’ Muhammad Ali for being true to his religion! Gandhi’s conduct during the Khilafat seems to knock the bottom out of any claim for his being the ‘Father of Indian Nationalism’.
The lesson of the Khilafat fiasco may be summarized as follows: it showed that the enthusiasm of the Muslim masses in India could be aroused only through appeals to religious symbols of an alien culture rooted in an alien land. In order to gain their support for his non-cooperation movement, Gandhi had to go to a discredited foreign institution, and associate himself with characters like the Ali brothers who had no scruples over inviting the king of Afghanistan to invade India in defense of Islam. In the bargain Gandhi had to redefine Swaraj itself, changing it from a symbol of nationalism into a pan-Islamic theocratic symbol of no relevance to India. It is only natural that the whole issue should be mired in obscurantism and sophistry.
The following single statement by Gandhi demonstrates both: “I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact, with the Maulana Muhammad Ali because it is his religion, with me because, in laying down my life for the Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the knife of the Mussalman.”
So it was a bargain in which Muahammad Ali gets to keep his Caliph while Gandhi is rewarded with the cow. Even after all this compromise and appeasement, the conduct of the Khilafat leaders leading to the Mopla Rebellion showed that the country had gained nothing in return. The nation, the people of Malabar in particular were made to pay a terrible price. It was only in 1929 that Swaraj as complete independence returned to the Congress agenda.
What one finds disturbing in all this is Gandhi’s willingness to go the full distance in this sordid affair, even to the extent of defending the Muslim leaders’ invitation to the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India. He justified this also on the ground that their religion (Islam) teaches it! Is it any wonder that his successors failed to give a national vision to India?
Lessons of History
All this highlights a vital point made to me by the distinguished scholar Dr. D. Prithipaul, formerly professor of philosophy at the University of Alberta, Canada: the Muslims of India have never behaved like a minority. Instead, they see themselves — or at least their leaders do — as a privileged lot whose views, beliefs and practices must take precedence in every aspect of national life. This allows them to set the rules of conduct not only for themselves as believers, but also for the non-believers. And this includes everything connected with the country — from politics to the arts, extending even to how history should be presented.
This helps one draw an important political and historical lesson: the primary, even the sole concern of the Muslim leadership has been maintaining the separateness of Muslim identity. The great fear of the Muslim leaders — a depressingly large number of who come from theological backgrounds — is that the Muslims of India might rediscover their ancient heritage and even return to it. This is probably the reason why the ulema want the Muslim masses to remain backward and ignorant. The Muslim intellectuals, however, seem to live in constant dread of exposure of the Islamic record resulting in a possible Hindu backlash. This leads them to convoluted semantic exercises — denying the historical record that is for all to see.
The Mopla Rebellion also demonstrates that a population with a low level of education and culture may be aroused to a fever pitch of fanaticism with appeals to religion. It certainly helped Khilafat leaders like Mohammed Ali that the Muslim clergy had kept the Muslim masses in state of backwardness. The question is, is the situation any better today?
A careful examination of the Khilafat — its background and the aftermath — shatters several myths about Gandhi and the Congress. Since he was by far the most influential political leader at the time he cannot escape responsibility for the two great catastrophes — the Mopla Rebellion and the Partition. He learnt nothing from the former to make him prevent the latter; the same tactics were followed with similar results. Even worse, he kept assuring that he would never allow the country to be partitioned but allowed it in the end. Those who trusted him paid a heavy price. In the face of the extraordinary violence that his politics unleashed, the claim made for Gandhi as the Apostle of Nonviolenceis not easy to sustain. As previously observed, moral relativism went with his ahimsa in the guise of sarva dharma samatva. His ahimsa is now dead and gone, but the plague of moral relativism continues to visit the country and its politics.