09 November 2008

Gandhi: Obstacle to National Independence?

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 96-97:
But probably the most surprising obstacle to Indian independence was the man who was widely supposed to be leading the campaign for it: Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi's need for spotless moral perfection hamstrung his party's progress. His principal object was to make the Indian people worthy of freedom in the eyes of God. The object of actually achieving freedom from the British was secondary. Gandhi's most influential work, Hind swaraj, published in 1908, set out very clearly his point of view: that European civilization was corrupt, atheist and destructive, but that merely driving the British out of India would not serve to make India free. To be free, Indians needed to relinquish violence, material possessions, machinery, railways, lawyers, doctors, formal education, the English language, discord between Hindu and Muslim, alcohol and sex. It is for this reason that his campaigns so often faltered. Gandhi stood for virtue in a form purer than politics usually allows. Whenever he had to make a choice between virtue and politics, he always chose virtue. He strove for universal piety, continence and humility, regardless of the consequences. Even if a person were faced with death, or a group with obliteration, he would sanction no compromise of moral integrity. It is impossible to assess how the Indian nationalist struggle might have proceeded without Gandhi, but there are ample grounds for thinking that a more earthly campaign led by a united Congress, perhaps under the joint leadership of Motilal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, could have brought dominion status to India in the 1920s. Gandhi 's spiritual style of leadership was a source of inspiration to millions, but, politically speaking, it was erratic. Within Congress, too, it created divisions. Congress was not a church, and Gandhi's mystical judgments were often difficult even for his closest followers to accept.


languagehat said...

Good lord, between this and the previous excerpt I've lost most of my respect for Gandhi!

Joel said...

Good. This isn't the half of it. His crazy religiosity also alienated the Muslims and the Untouchables.