Gandhi at Lahore Railway Station on his way to Kashmir | Flickr | Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi at Lahore Railway Station on his way to Kashmir | Flickr | Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
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Writing a few years before Gandhi’s 100th anniversary, Ram Manohar Lohia, arguably the most astute interpreter of his politics, classified Gandhians into three categories. The first was sarkari (governmental) Gandhians, the Congress leaders who used the Mahatma to climb the ladder of power. Mathadhish (priestly, those who run maths) Gandhians, those who presided over the Gandhian establishment, belonged to the second category. Lohia made little attempt to conceal his contempt for both, represented in his mind by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vinoba Bhave.

Against both these orthodoxies, Lohia posited a third type of kujaat (heretic, out-caste) Gandhians who followed Gandhi in unorthodox ways. Lohia argued that Gandhi’s orthodox disciples were not his true legatees. Gandhi, he argued, would be saved not by his faithful followers but by heretics. Lohia, of course, placed himself in this third category. Deeply respectful but instinctively irreverent, he developed some of the key ideas of Gandhi in his own way without parroting Mahatma’s lines.


Also read: Why Gandhi and Ambedkar never engaged with Hedgewar, the founder of RSS


Need to rescue Gandhi

Today, in the midst of the official 150th-anniversary celebrations, we must look for ways to rescue Gandhi from this crass appropriation by an ideology diametrically opposed to the Mahatma’s worldview. Lohia had alerted us about this possibility in his book Marx, Gandhi and Socialism: “Ever since the attainment of statehood [by India], priestly Gandhism is tied to the apron-strings of governmental Gandhism”.

He was of course talking about the nexus between goody-goody spiritual Gandhians and power brokers of the Congress party. As Gandhi was reduced – literally – to a toothless icon of timeless values, ever-smiling on the currency note, the real Gandhi was erased from public memory. Barring a brief period before and during the Emergency, the Gandhian establishment was so cosy with the powers-that-be that it lost its radical edge and the touch with the new generation.

This set the stage for the ultimate appropriation of the Mahatma by the legatees of his assassin. The Sabarmati Ashram closing its doors to the victims of the 2002 massacre signalled this shift. As the BJP rose to power, first in Gujarat and then at the Centre, it was not difficult for it to take over Gandhian institutions. Barring exceptions like the Gandhi Peace Foundation and the Sarva Seva Sangh, the vast network of Gandhian institutions either withered away or turned collaborators.

Gandhi, now reduced to his spectacles and bald head, is just a mask available for any and every cause. He can be used to promote vegetarianism of the most violent variety. He is the patron saint of the most inane and harmless environmentalism. And, of course, the brand ambassador of Swachh Bharat.

We need to save Gandhi from this travesty of Gandhism. We need heretic Gandhism to save Gandhi.


Also read: Indian liberals must reconsider their rejection of Mahatma Gandhi


Unlearning Gandhi

If the Gandhi centenary was about learning from his life, the 150th anniversary has to be about unlearning his stereotypical image. Polar opposite ideologies of the 20th century – from Marxists and Ambedkarites to the Hindutva brigade – joined hands to create this stereotype. Both his admirers and detractors created the image of a goody-goody saint – a traditional, orthodox and conservative Hindu saint – out of touch with the realities of our times and the struggles for shaping the future.

The best way to mark his 150th anniversary would be to start busting this image. Gandhi was no doubt a pacifist, but not at the cost of suffering injustice. He said repeatedly that violence is better than cowardice or meek acceptance of oppression. The uniqueness of his message lies not in his advocacy of non-violence, but in using non-violence as a tool of proactive resistance.

He was a strict vegetarian, but insisted that meat be prepared in his ashram for Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He advocated protecting nature, but his environmentalism did not rest on superficial symbols. He wanted to challenge the nature of modern civilisation, which is at the root of environmental destruction. He supported a return to pre-modern civilisation, but he was not a traditional man in any sense of the term. His sensibilities, his techniques, his message were informed by a distinctly modern outlook.

Gandhi was a Hindu to his last breath. But he was as far from orthodox Hinduism as one can get. He refused to be shackled by any one religious text, not even his favourite, the Gita. He could brush aside heaps of solid scriptural evidence in support of untouchability by saying ‘this is not the Hinduism that my mother taught me’. His Hinduism was ever-evolving.

From someone who began by defending the varna system, Gandhi went on to become such a trenchant critic of the caste system that he refused to go to any wedding except between a Dalit and a non-Dalit. Equally, while being opposed to Hindu supremacists, Gandhi was no knee-jerk, pro-minority secular politician. He staked and lost one of his most precious friendships, with Ali brothers, over naming the Muslim community as aggressors in Kohat riots in 1924. For all his love for the Bible, he came down heavily on the practice of religious conversions by missionaries.


Also read: Gandhi never celebrated his birthdays, but made an exception on his 75th. For Kasturba


Who is a Gandhi?

Perhaps, the best way to recover Gandhi’s message in the midst of this celebratory din would be to read his life as his message. Over the last decades, those who haven taken Gandhi seriously have reduced him to a writer, or a philosopher, which he was not. His writings were secondary to his principal political actions. He may not have been the best interpreter of his own action.

Let us search for Gandhi in his life and in the lives of those who may not invoke Gandhi, who may not agree with Gandhi, but who are doing what Gandhi would have done. Let us look for him in Shankar Guha Niyogi who combined Gandhi’s teachings with that of Marx. Let us find his meaning in the works of Devanoora Mahadeva who refuses to choose between Ambedkar and Gandhi. Let us turn to Ashis Nandy to understand the meaning of Gandhi’s life and his death Let us look for Gandhis beyond India, beyond the circle of those who have heard his name.

And, above all, let us translate Gandhi’s message in our lives here and now. We cannot talk about Gandhi and remain a mute spectator to the imprisoning of millions of Kashmiris in the Valley. We cannot preach non-violence and turn a blind-eye to the spate of lynchings and other hate crimes. We cannot join the national chorus to celebrate this apostle of truth and not call out those on the national stage who are masters of lies and deceit.

This is not going to be easy. Chanting Gandhi’s name is easy, but following in his footsteps was never going to be easy. As Lohia had alerted us: “By its nature, heresy should be more responsible than orthodoxy”.


Also read: Here’s how Indian films of the 1930s and 1940s used Gandhi in their ads


The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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33 Comments Share Your Views

33 COMMENTS

  1. First get logical then get real. Stop commiting logical fallacies. Read following.
    A fallacy is an argument or belief based on erroneous reasoning. Straw man is one type of logical fallacy. Straw man occurs when someone argues that a person holds a view that is actually not what the other person believes. Instead, it is a distorted version of what the person believes. So, instead of attacking the person’s actual statement or belief, it is the distorted version that is attacked.

      • I did my best to focus only on what author said and also explain you only this needs to be discussed. Keep in mind we are discussing this in the context 150th anniversary of MK Gandhi. Are you looking for new ‘Father of Nation’ in New India? I will let you answer this to yourself. Sorry, I can’t help you any more to understant logic. Good Luck with your life.

        • Sorry. I did not realize that author said:

          ” We cannot talk about Gandhi and remain a mute spectator to the imprisoning of millions of Kashmiris in the Valley. We cannot preach non-violence and turn a blind-eye to the spate of lynchings and other hate crimes. “.

          So it appears that either you or I have reading disability., because I READ THIS COMMENT BY THE AUTHOR IN THIS ARTICLE WHILE YOU DON’T . Only explanation of you argument is that to you sufering of people of book is real, while suffering of Kaffirs, heathen or pagan is unimportant, just like you guys belief that only human has soul and animals don’t so human can do whatever they want to animals.

          • My dear friend focus is on present government’s actions in Kashmir and inaction about lynchings & other hate crimes. YY is not talking about past things. Focus is on present things. How about holding government accountable? Is it imporrant for you? May God help you.

          • My dear friend, Present does not spring out of thin air. it is result of actions of past. So without acknowledging past misdeeds one can not become holier than thou and start selectively condemning one set of people now but not other.

            So if you did not condemn past actions by one set of people, you have no moral right to condemn other set of people now, unless you moral standards are that of Goebbels. Dr. Goebbels felt that killings by Russian troops in East Prussia was barbarism but not killings by Germans in Russia.

          • So Shailendra, according to your logic Dr. Goebbels’s focus of condemnation was Russian actions at that time, he was not talking about past. This the logic your are using to justify selective condemnation by YY, which no unbiased person would accept..

  2. Gandhi is an important milestone in India’s freedom struggle and reform of the Hindu religion. But by no means he should tower over the entire discourse like he has been made to do by the Gandhians, politicians and social workers. He was just another leader in the league of extra ordinary leaders like Tilak, Savarkar, Subhash Bose, Ambedkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar. The fact that RSS / BJP is using him today is unnerving not because they were opposed to him in his lifetime but because they do not show the same level of respect to Savarkar and Golwalkar , all this for mere vote garnering.
    For so long as 2nd October is a holiday and Gandhi the father of nation, paeans to Gandhi will be paid by many and mostly only for the sake of it.
    India needs to move away from such God-ification of Gandhi. Today’s time demands India follows no one from history but rather follow the real heroes of today’s times who are more relevant than any Gandhi or Nehru or Patel or Ambedkar……

  3. The author is the best example of a ln extreme closet Sanghi. He pretends to oppose Modi and RSS while at the same time wants appreciation from them. If not why does he hide the fact that his original name given by his father was Salim. He is ashamed of that and hides behind Yogendra. AK found it out and threw him out of the party literally.

  4. The author needs a reality check. All our ‘heroes’ of 1947 were just paper tigers
    Under the watch of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Jinnah etc. millions of Indians lost home, hearth, loved ones and everything they possessed. What happened was unprecedented inhumanity on an epic scale. And all those responsible are worshipped as heroes. In fact we can talk of anyone of them without invoking the horrors of partition, the original sin.

  5. You Cant Talk about Kashmir if you dont speak on 800 year continous Ethnic cleansing of Pandits
    Article written to appease Jihadis and Polpot party cadres

  6. We Indians are fed up of both Gandhi and Kashmir. We will not talk about either. But, Yogendra Yadav should have seen the video uploaded by Snehesh of the Print, in which he interviews half a dozen Kashmiri Youths who seem to have a very positive view about the way forward.

  7. We can’t talk about Gandhi if we don’t speak up on Kashmir and lynching’s

    Really? We kept silence about ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims in Pakistan, suppression of Tibetians , kicking out Pandits from Kashmir valley. So Is modern Kumbhkarna, named Yogendra Yadav suddenly waking up?

    • Really? Are you equating actions of Pakistan, China or kicking out Pandits by fundamentalists with WRONG actions of an elected Indian govt? False equivalnce. Is this your moral explanation, perhaps for support of ruling party?

      • Are those people human or animals? If we believe all human are equal then comparison is valid.. otherwise it is trick that secus paly to take Hindus & Buddhists for ride.

        • So, what ate you are complaning about? YY didn’t say other wrong things were OK. First state your position or principles or criteria before asking others if you disagree. Do you accept that detention of Kashmiris in the name of democracy or development and lynching’s is wrong?

          • Kashmiris themselves are problems. Thousands of people died because of their fanaticism. So government has to take action to save lives. We don’t want to keep losing our soldiers. If the rights of fanatics, stone throwers, their supporters are etc. violated then too bad so sad.

            Kashmir was given special status, because of Kashmiri mole end up being PM of India. Kashmir was princely state like Baroda or Hyderabad. They were not given something like article 370, then why was Kashmir given that benefit? the reason seem to be Kashmiri pandit was PM of India then.. So Kashmiris were pampered with article 370 and now behaving like spoiled kids.

            If Kashmiris don’t want outsiders right to buy property in Kashmir why should people of Hyderabad, Gujarat, Maharashtra etc. allow other to take job & properties there for example Keralites, Kashmiris?

  8. MK Gandhi was a harmony and truth seeker and made it part of his life and mission. I agree Sarkari and Mathadhish may not save Gandhism. We need Kujaat to bring back Gandhism in the mainstream as MK Gandhi never left us but majority of us are not with him. In new India we have Nathuram Godse followers claiming legeacy of MK Gandhi an ultimate hypocricy like as French writer, La Rochefoucauld, defined hypocrisy as “the tribute that vice pays to virtue”.

  9. Nice article.As usual Bakhts start vomiting.They want to critcize Gandhi Ji also but still they are a bit afraid ,will do it very soon.
    Kashmiri pandits are intelligent but a very weak family who left Kashmir due to the situation which was created by our Govt that time.
    Kashmiri Pandits were killed but the same tome Muslims were also killed.It happens in a majority and minority state,as it happens now in our country Muslims are lynched.Some Kashmirs Pandits are still in Kashmir why they were not killed,how are comfortable there.
    So not a big deal. Let us honour our history and dont blame yesterday for today.
    We are human first forget about religions live as Humans and love each other.

  10. Usual intellectual but useless rant from Yogendra. He starts from very high pedestal when all that he wants to do is to criticize Modi, BJP or RSS. If he wants to talk Kashmir, talk by all means and none is stopping him. He can organize protests, marches, candle lights processions all over India and the world. He can go on fast until death saying Gandhi would have done the same thing. No wonder Kejriwal threw him out of AAP!! Are we Gandhian? None of us will bet we are. Do we agree fully with Gandhi’s ideas? No, not entirely but we all respect him for what he was and hence, we call him Father of the Nation. When we are looking at the political level, we cant ignore ideas of Ambedkar, Savarkar, Golvaklar and Updadhyay and adopt what is best from their ideas for the tomorrow’s India.

    • How can anybody respect someone without agreeing with and following his ideas (broadly, not strictly). That’s not respect but a ritualistic formality.
      You don’t respect anyone, not even those who you have mentioned. You don’t respect your parents, your elders because you don’t understand what respect is. Bas like every indian, your respect is limited to “ telephone greetings – ha papa pranaam, kaise hain! If you don’t ever pranam your father, but follow his path and ideas, that would be the real regard to your father.

  11. View of a person whose only purpose is to criticise the present establishment. Article links bits n pieces and suddenly concludes it to criticize…. you know whom.

  12. The actual headline should be:

    “We can’t talk about Kashmir if we don’t speak up on Kashmiri Pandits, their killings and mass exodus.”

    • Sadiyon se bharat ka sosan krne waale pandito or daridra brahmano k saath to ye hona hi Jinhone hamesha anyaay k alawe kuch nahi diya bharat Badi panditayi yaad aa rahi hai tumhe. Kabhi kisi kamjor jo tumhare saamne hai uske liye aawaz uthao. Are chodo apne liye to uthao aawaz. Nahi uthaoge kyun ki Himmat nahi hai. KP KP karte rahoge kyunki bakiyon ki tarah sade hue debate-debate khelne k liye.

      • If you want to talk in Hindi write in Hindi/Urdu news paper. Here barely few understand Hindi. India is Hindustan, not Hindistan.

  13. “We cannot talk about Gandhi and remain a mute spectator to the killing, rape and eviction of 5,00,000 Hindus from the Valley”. Oops. I read it wrong. YY actually wrote: “We cannot talk about Gandhi and remain a mute spectator to the imprisoning of millions of Kashmiris in the Valley. “

    • Tum uthao na awaaz. Un pandito k liye. Lekin bhid se alag uthao. U pandito k naam pr Feku k dalle mat ban jao. Aukaat hai. Kuch nahi hai. Tumko lag raha hai ki tum awaaz utha rahe ho ha ha ha. Are na tumko kuch milega, na un pandito ko jo kayaro ki tarah apni dharti maa ko chodh aaye. Feku sare maze loot jaiga aur tumlog samajhte rehna ki tum revolution k part ho. Ha ha ha ha. Thu

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