Thursday, December 03, 2009

Alternative History: freedom or transfer of power?

Come to think of it, the Congress Party at the outset was almost a non-starter. It debuted, on 28 December 1885, somewhat anemically under the baton of Allan Octavian Hume, Esq., formerly of the Indian Civil Service, a decorated veteran of the 1857 rebellion and coincidentally also a noted ornithologist, with the aim of keeping a watch over native civil unrest and collaborating with the British Imperialist administration. The idea was perhaps to act as a facilitator for the Indian accommodation to the powers that happened to be.

I just finished reading Freedom Struggle Betrayed: India 1885- 1947 (originally entitled Indian National Congress: How Indian? How National?). Described by its publisher as a search for answers to basic political and economic questions, it tells a story about how India won freedom and what role the Indian National Congress played, quite different from what we read in school history and other popular narratives. The thrust of the argument here is that what we learned about what happened is a huge and horrendous lie.

The Indian National Congress was always a collaborator or comprador of the British Raj right from the beginning with a program of lukewarm petition politics. It was so when Dadabhai Nowroji, Gokhale, Sir Phirozeshah Mehta and like-minded moderates − closely linked with the Indian businessmen, financiers and landed gentry − were running it in the early days. It remained so even when Mahatma Gandhi took over the reins of the Party and steered it right till 1947. The book cites evidence, chapter and verse, from various published sources to make a case for the betrayal of the freedom struggle by the Congress Party at every step of the way. It points a finger at Gandhi as the principal villain. Among his many trespasses cited in the narrative are the famous Champaran campaign, his intervention in the Ahmedabad textile strike and the Kheda episode. In all these instances, Gandhi persuaded the victims of injustice − the working class and the peasantry − to settle for less than what they had fought for. The beneficiaries of his intervention were the exploiters who got away with having to pay less than the rightful penalty. Similarly, in other instances where Gandhi claimed to be agitating against the British Raj, he would stop the movement when it had gained momentum but before it had really started to hurt the Raj. The famous example was the Chauri Chaura incidence. All these are seen by the authors of the book as an abject continuation of petition politics at the cost especially of the downtrodden masses, i.e., the working class and the peasantry. Gandhi is also accused of manipulating the Congress Party to suit his will and whims. There is a long list of transgressions in the book to his debit. The book is sharply critical of Nehru as well for his socialist “pretensions” and his claim that he was a champion of the rural masses. But once again the blame is shifted to the puppet master or Svengali aka as the Mahatma for manipulating Nehru on many policy issues favouring the other side. The trouble with Nehru was that he was a fairly decent writer with probably a writer’s ability to deceive himself and others.

My own take on reading the alternative history of the Indian freedom movement and thinking about it in the light of what little I’ve managed to learn on my own about Gandhi is that there could be quite a bit of truth in what it says. Reading Girja Kumar's BRAHMACHARYA Gandhi & His Women Associates is a big eye opener. One of the grossest instances of his interference in the lives of his associates is how he punished an adopted daughter Jeki for her sexual transgression involving his own son Manilal. and In one of my earlier posts, I had written, inter alia, as follows: “This [Girja Kumar’s] narrative is based mostly on Gandhi's own writings. In it, the so-called Mahatma comes out as manipulative, pathologically obsessive about sex and sin as well as power-crazed. His logic sounds circuitous, serpentine and often self-contradictory and specious, at times even inane. He apparently played God with the lives of those close to him. He was too intrusive and interfering.” He could have lived up to the image the report in question accords him, in short.

Did India wake up to freedom at midnight on 15 August 1947? Or, was there simply a transfer of power from the British Imperialists to their equally ruthless Indian compradors?

Take your pick or toss a coin.