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Not Gandhian, or is it?

Not Gandhian, or is it?

Author: Ramesh N Rao
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 1, 2008

Mahatma Gandhi sired four sons, and his family history has become as rich and complex as any fable in Hindu mythology and may be more colourful and mixed than any post-modernist parable. Some in the family have leveraged the Mahatma's name to carve out a career for themselves, and of them, one grandson, Mr Arun Gandhi, came to the United States to launch his programme of non-violence. He founded the MK Gandhi Institute For Non-violence.

Mr Arun Gandhi was recently in the news. Invited by The Washington Post to contribute to an online discussion, 'On Faith', he wrote, "Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience -- a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of how a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends."

Not content with that initial salvo, he asserted that the "Jewish identity in the future appears bleak", and any nation that "remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs". Finally, he went overboard, saying that "Israel and the Jews are the biggest players" in the modern "culture of violence".

More than 400 responses flooded the newspaper. Mr Gandhi wrote a half-hearted apology, poorly worded. He wrote that he had criticised other Governments too and so his criticism of the Israeli Government was not special. He then speciously commented that "... (if) people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness and the loss of support from those who would be friends".

He did not tell his readers why he had singled out Jews. Don't Muslims all over the world hold historic grievances, not just against the Jews, but also against many other groups? And is not the continuing violence in West Asia based on a concerted effort by surrounding Muslim nations that have vowed to wipe Israel off the map of the world?

Given the tepid and defensive "apology", readers wrote back even more angrily. Mr Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said, "I think it's shameful that a peace institute would be headed up by a bigot... One would hope that the grandson of such an illustrious human being would be more sensitive to Jewish history." Mr Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, said, "My son Daniel died mighty proud of his Jewish identity. He, like the millions of decent and peace-seeking Israelis, and Americans who proudly carry on their Jewish heritage, did not see his identity as 'dependent on violence' as the title of Gandhi's article implies...".

Soon, Mr Gandhi submitted his resignation as president of the MK Gandhi Institute of Non-Violence. Given the incendiary nature of the flap, the University of Rochester, where the institute is located, accepted his resignation.

This brings us to the more important question about Mr Gandhi, which others have not asked: Was his blog entry an aberration, a single instance of misjudgement and analysis, or was this part of an ongoing pattern of selective attacks and selective support to religious groups?

The Mahatma had advised Jews, when they faced extinction at the hands of the Nazis, "... to lay down the arms you have... You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...". Louis Fisher, Gandhi's biographer, asked him: "You mean that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?" Gandhi responded, "Yes, that would have been heroism." May be, his grandson wants the same.

The Mahatma was consistent in his advice to Hindus, too. When faced with violence perpetrated by Muslims, he asked them to not fight back but die "honourably". Many Hindus succumbed to the Mahatma's advice, and hundreds of thousands of Hindus were killed, raped and assaulted, over a period of three decades that the Mahatma's writ ran over India. Gandhi never advised Muslims to lay down their arms. He sang, "Ishwar, Allah tere naam" but did not acknowledge that Muslims would never accept Allah be called anything but Allah. He did not ask Muslims to look into their hearts and find why they so hated their Hindu neighbours and fellow countrymen.

In an essay I had raised the question as to what would have happened had the Mahatma not backed Jawaharlal Nehru to become India's first Prime Minister instead of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Drawing from Durga Das' book, India from Curzon to Nehru and After, to point out how the Mahatma manipulated India's leaders and masses to do his bidding, it would not be incorrect to suggest that the Mahatma's support to the Khilafat movement led to the massacre of thousands of Hindus and the rape of hundreds of Hindu women in what is known as the Moplah massacre.

Responding to that essay, Mr Arun Gandhi wrote that the "Moplah rebellion" had nothing to do with the Khilafat movement, and that Gandhi's support of Nehru was because he wanted to "encourage young blood in a party dominated by old people"! Mr Gandhi concluded his rather wayward response by saying that if his grandfather had not returned to India from South Africa in 1915, the Congress would have continued to be a "country club," and that the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS "...could have mobilised people into a civil war against Muslims to teach that Hindustan is for Hindus and they better behave...", forgetting that before the Mahatma there were great Congressmen like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak who had both indigenised the Congress and made it a people's party.

Mr Gandhi later acknowledged a connection between the Khilafat Movement and the Moplah Massacre. "But history is not often an accurate recording of events," he complained, and launched a tirade against the RSS. I had said nothing about the RSS in my essay, but Mr Gandhi raised the spectre of a Hindu extremist group that would ethnically cleanse Muslims out of India. He also accused the 1940s bureaucrats and politicians of India of collusion in the assassination of his grandfather.

It is, therefore, not surprising that this loose-lipped Gandhi scion would pen something so obnoxious as he did for The Washington Post. But the disciplined Jews would not take this lying down, and Mr Gandhi has had to resign in shame.

Mr Gandhi's many cousins, nephews, uncles and aunts have succumbed to the lore and lure of their famous ancestor. In fact, his son, Mr Tushar Gandhi, too wags a similar loose tongue, and poses as a 'secular, progressive' person. Meanwhile, the Mahatma's grandson follows in his grandfather's footsteps, blinkered about political and religious dynamics. But he lacks the Mahatma's charisma.

-- Prof Rao is Chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre at Longwood University, USA

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