Gandhi didn’t have a monopoly on India’s freedom struggle — there were others too

More Than Just The Mahatma

By Sanjeev Nayyar in ‘Hindustan Times’ Mumbai, 24/9/2007

Savarkar, Subhas Bose and Bhagat Singh left a legacy that India can be proud of. A re-evaluation of Gandhi’s role in India’s independence is necessary to give other leaders due credit.

IN HIS article, ‘Our violent streak’ (Sept 7), Ramachandra Guha would have us to believe that India got freedom because of Gandhi’s Ahimsa, that violent revolution is bad and its advocates-cum-practioners, Veer Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, though adored by large sections of today’s society, were mere revolutionaries who could not have brought the democratic reforms that non-violent politicians brought to independent India.

This article contradicts Guha’s rendition of history. It tells you why the British gave India freedom, enunciates (i) the philosophy of Ahimsa, (ii) Veer Savarkar’s contribution to freedom struggle and his vision of India. It looks at the contribution of Bose and Savarkar factually and not through the prism of the left or the right.

Firstly, did Ahimsa give India independence? No.

It was none other than Lord Clement Atlee, the British Prime Minster responsible for conceding independence to India, who shattered the myth that Gandhi and his movement gave India freedom. Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Dr. R.C. Majumdar’s book ‘A History of Bengal’. The CJ wrote: “My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!” ((Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian National Army, and the War of India’s Liberation-Ranjan Borra, Journal of Historical Review, no. 3, 4 (Winter 1982)).

Atlee’s thoughts were echoed by Mr. Fenner Brockway, political secretary of the Independent Labor Party of England, “There were three reasons why India became free. One, the Indian people were determined to gain independence. Two, was the revolt by the Indian Navy. Three, three Britain did not want to estrange India, which was a market and source of foodstuffs for her”.

By the way, what did the concept of “Ahimsa” as expounded by Gandhi mean? “When a person claims to be non-violent, he is expected not to be angry with one who has injured him. He will not wish him harm; he will not cause him physical hurt. Complete non-violence is complete absence of ill-will against all that lives”. (History and Culture of Indian People Vol 11).
 
Sri Aurobindo said on Ahimsa, “You can live it in spiritual life, but to apply it to all life is absurd”.

Gandhi did precisely that and more by stretching the ideology of Ahimsa to a ludicrous extent. Few know that when Great Britain braced itself to face a German invasion in the mid-1940 Gandhi published an ‘open letter’ to ‘every Briton’ urging “cessation of hostilities”. Excerpts: “No cause, however just, can warrant the indiscriminate slaughter that is going on minute by minute…I do not want Britain to be defeated, nor do I want her to be victorious in a trial of brute strength…I want you to fight Nazism without arms”. (H.M.Seervai, noted constitutional authority, in “Introduction” pp. 143-144 of his book “Constitutional Law of India”, Supplement to Third Edition, 1988)

Speaking on the Defence Budged in the Lok Sabha in 1957 noted Gandhian Acharya Kriplani said in the Lok Sabha, “The mounting expenses on the Army must be cut down. The followers of Gandhi and adherents of universal peace should not increase military expenditure”. What followed was the humiliation of 1962 in the war against China’s invasion of India.

Now turn to Savarkar whom Guha portrays as a violent revolutionary and nothing more.  In reality, Veer Savarkar was a strategic thinker, author, social reformer and rationalist.

It was Savarkar who, during World War II, encouraged Indians to join the army, firmly convinced that Indians must be strong in military terms. In a manner of speaking, he was the forerunner of Bose. It was he, not Gandhi, who first lit the swadeshi bonfire of foreign clothes in Pune on 7th October 1905. (Ironically, Gandhi criticized that action from far away in Phoenix, South Africa although he himself did precisely that 16 years later.)

 To pull down the steel walls of orthodoxy, Savarkar brought untouchables into the hall of the Vithoba temple in Ratnagiri district. Being a rationalist he asked Indians to test the knowledge of their ancient books on the touchstone of science. If modernists love him, as Guha concedes, it is not because of Savarkar’s violent defiance of the British rulers but because he suffered unimaginable mental and physical torture as their prisoner in the cellular jail in the Andaman Islands; it was suffering of the kind that Gandhi never had to undergo. Even after the British left, Nehru was grossly allergic to the man and falsely implicated him in the Gandhi assassination case without even prima facie evidence.

It is because Indians admire courage and bravery that Savarkar, Bose and Bhagat Singh continue to be revered. Our failure to admire them would mean disowning the legacy of Chandragupta Maurya (a Jain), Maharana Pratap, Shivaji, and Guru Gobind Singh!

Guha makes it out that leaders like Savarkar and Bose had narrow views on democracy or economics. Excerpts from Savarkar’s writings on independent India show that he was a realist and democrat, “In India, all citizens would have equal rights and obligations irrespective of caste, creed, race or religion provided they avow and owe an exclusive and devoted allegiance to the State. The key industries or manufactures and such other items would be altogether nationalized if the National Government could afford to do so and could conduct them more efficiently than private enterprise”. Veer Savarkar by Dhananjay Keer.
 
Bose was more than a thoughtless, violent revolutionary as Guha implies. Wish he had read Mihir Bose’s biography on Bose titled “The lost hero: A biography of Subhas Bose” Quartet Books (1982). The author shows that of all the leaders in the 1920s and 1930s, it was only Bose who had the foresight and vision to think of a viable liberation struggle and plan for the country’s development in the post-independence.  

Gandhi had admirable qualities but the problem was that he wanted to be everything to everyone. With Tilak’s death in 1920 he assumed leadership of the Hindus. Through the Khilafat Movement in 1921 he tried to enlist the Muslims. When Ambedkar championed the cause of the Depressed Classes he sought to become their leader too, coined the term Harijan. For a brand to be successful the consumer must be clear about its attributes, what it stands for. So also for a leader!

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Gandhi didn’t have a monopoly on India’s freedom struggle — there were others too

  1. Psudo

    Ram Chandra Guha is an ass . Period.

  2. N

    But Gandhi was one of the few who figured out how to hurt the empire the most – through their economic lifelines. Very powerful.

    • sanjaychoudhry

      Not really. The “hurting the economic lifeline” tactic was invented by Aurobindo Ghosh, Veer Savarkar, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Lala Lajpat Rai much before Gandhi came to India. The Swadeshi Movement orchestrated by them lasted from 1905 to 1908. Gandhi only took their legacy forward.

      Read more here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swadeshi_movement

      • answertoyourquestion

        hurting the economic …
        whatever was neither invented by Gandhi nor by aurobindo company. nor by tilak.
        it is the way that every one does it. that is what brits did to india. they hurt our economic lifelines.

  3. Andrew Obike

    One can not deny the contribution of Gandhi’s nonviolent movement to India’s freedom, if not for any other reason it motivated the people to take their destiny in their hands, to refuse to be passive in the face of injustice and oppression but rather to be courageous in asserting their rights while upholding the dignity and sanctity of human life. The British claim that it was ‘minimal’ is based on defending their wounded ego, they lacked the humility and were too embarrassed to give him any credit.

  4. answertoyourquestion

    “…Sri Aurobindo said on Ahimsa, “You can live it in spiritual life, but to apply it to all life is absurd”….
    it is aurobindo’s statement that contradicts hinduism not Gandhi. hindus always thought religion to be a practical thing. something inseparable from any other walkof life.

    hypocrisy again from aurobindo. this again reflects his western mode of thinking. ahimsa was carried to its utmost many times in india by buddha who was ready to give his life in exchange to that of a goat. and by mahavira and others.
    cowards like aurobindo have nothing better to do than comment on gandhi.
    gandhi was jealous of bhagat singh and aurobindo was jealous of gandhi.
    gandhi’s ideas were right. but he didnt have a true guru to guide him. he didnot have god to guide him. thats why he lost his ways many times.
    aurobindo on the other hand. didnot practise anything that is hinduism and simply wrote books. really sorry for aurobindo. it would have been better if he was hanged in 1910. he would have become a martyr and it would have inspired indians to fight hard in the yugantar-gadar plot to overthrow brits.
    instead he went on to lead a life of deception similar to Gandhi.

  5. answertoyourquestion

    considering how subash chandra bose named his army troops after gandhi and not aurobindo.
    it should be clear about what kind of role aurobindo was playing in indian fredom struggle.
    gandhi is flawed . but he inspired some people.
    the violent revolutionaries’ love for his country increases many times when he considers that his country men are naively relying on non-violence for freedom. it would contrast them from the british and all the more convince him that this country of ours is worth dying for.
    so stop shitting about how Gandhi resulted in
    partition and muslim appeasement and semitising hinduism and making hindu men eunuchs and so on..
    it was complicated dudes. not that simple.
    yaah you should show that Gandhi was not the only guy involved in the freedom struggle. but i dont see you doing it. instead youa re focusing more on Gandhi than even the gandhians. why dont you write up on other revolutionaries describing their sacrifices.
    my advice: dont spend too much time bashing gandhi it would play it into the hands of the communists, musilms and dmk. (because they all hate gandhi as much as you do and stand to gain by it. that is why pakistani websites labour to bash gandhi so do the maoist websites.)instead use your energy to push the other freedom fighters into the light.

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