Saturday, March 26, 2011

Love thy nemesis.

MK Gandhi did what no other Indian leader had done before him. He turned India’s struggle for freedom from the British Raj into a mass movement in a relatively short time. But, with his emphasis on religion and non-violence, he also managed to acquire a gamut of enemies. His most relentless enemy was, perhaps, the erudite Dalit leader, Dr BR Ambedkar. The good Doctor never forgave Gandhi for his chosen nomenclature for the Dalits (literally, “down-trodden” or “crushed”), viz., Harijan (“children of God”). He saw it as a devious and hypocritical ploy to keep the Dalits captive within the confines of the Hindu religion. After India became free, Ambedkar even led a mass exodus of the Dalits to Buddhism. He also never forgave Gandhi for opposing, in the early 1930s, the grant by the British of a separate electorate for the Dalits by embarking on a fast unto death. Gandhi was also hated by the orthodox Hindus for “favouring” the Muslims; by the fanatic Muslims for insisting on Hindu-Muslim unity (they saw it as a way of perpetuating Hindu dominance); and by the revolutionary radicals who thought of him as a reactionary and a coward for shunning violence. Contrast this with what happened in Lancashire which Gandhi visited during his voyage to Great Britain to attend the Round Table Conference in 1931. The boycott of British textiles that he had called for in India had been partly instrumental for triggering the unemployment of the British textile workers. Nonetheless, when he confronted them, while some of the out-of-work hecklers booed him and threatened to tear his eyes out, many others somehow sensed his innate goodness and cheered him as “Good old Gandhi”. Amazing, considering this was their first and only sighting of Gandhi.