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Beneath the surface

Rajmohan Gandhi on the Mahatma’s belief that even a violent fight against tyranny is better than cowardice.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2011 23:09 IST

I am astonished that a responsible journalist like Karan Thapar should nonchalantly display sentences out of context and calmly spread the absurd notion that Mahatma Gandhi would have asked targeted victims today to merely “offer themselves as sacrifices” to their oppressors and just “pray for them”. (Sunday Sentiments, January 22). Does the author know that Gandhi repeatedly said that while non-violence was his ideal, cowardice was worse than a fight, even a violent fight, against injustice or tyranny?

As for Gan-dhi’s reported ‘praise’ of Hitler, Thapar should not be surprised to find that the leader of a colonised nation, which India was until a few months before Gandhi’s death, on occasion uttered a favourable word for the coloniser’s enemy.

But Gandhi was aware of Hitler’s evil. This is what he wrote in Harijan on November 26, 1938: “...the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war”.

In that month (November 1938) when Gandhi wrote the above lines, this is what Winston Churchill said about Hitler in the House of Commons: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.” Does this mean that Churchill too failed to understand Hitler’s evil? And if Gandhi was only a meek figure offering his other cheek, why did Churchill fume so much and so often against him?

Gandhi was both a professor of ethical non-violence and the practical leader of a nation. But it is ridiculous to present Gandhi’s “ideal solutions” as his practical recommendations. Would Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, and millions of Indians, have followed Gandhi year after year if he was advocating bizarre policies? Would Subhas Bose have called Gandhi ‘Father of the Nation’ if he thought that Gandhi prescribed spineless surrender before tyrants as his policy?

(Rajmohan Gandhi teaches political science and history at the University of Illinois, US)

*The views expressed by the author are personal