Tainted Mahatama Gandhi Remains Divisive And Controversial Even In Death

Gandhi-Bhupinder-Liddar

TFG--banners website-F2Gandhi-Bhupinder-Liddar2First there are those who elevate him to status of almost a saint and a major force in achieving India’s freedom from British colonial rule. These devotees will not entertain or tolerate any questioning of his views on race, caste, women, sex and his personal lifestyle. On the other extreme, there are those who irrevocably and at the very outset dismiss him as a racist, misogynist and sexist, who made little or no major contribution to India’s freedom movement. Finally, there are those on middle ground, who recognize his contribution to India’s freedom movement, but have serious reservations and questions about Gandhi’s personal life.

Waisakhi on Canada-BHUPINDERBy Bhupinder S. Liddar

Even in death, Gandhi remains divisive and controversial!

First there are those who elevate him to status of almost a saint and a major force in achieving India’s freedom from British colonial rule. These devotees will not entertain or tolerate any questioning of his views on race, caste, women, sex and his personal lifestyle.

On the other extreme, there are those who irrevocably and at the very outset dismiss him as a racist, misogynist and sexist, who made little or no major contribution to India’s freedom movement.

Finally, there are those on middle ground, who recognize his contribution to India’s freedom movement, but have serious reservations and questions about Gandhi’s personal life.

The question arises: should one, while recognizing Gandhi’s role in freedom movement, not be able to raise questions about his views on race, caste and his lifestyle? Some even question whether it is appropriate to discuss Gandhi’s views and lifestyle after almost six decades of his death.

Should we stop discussing or talking about a dead public and historic figure, just because he or she is dead? Admittedly, we human beings are always curious about personal lifestyle of public figures, be they actors, singer or politicians. Quite an industry has developed around US President John F. Kennedy and his flings with actress Marilyn Monroe. Many want to more what went on in the White House. This is not to malign Kennedy or Monroe, but merely for sake of curiosity.

In Canada, 9-year old Sarah Coyne showed up at Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in Montreal, in September 2000, claiming to be his daughter. Though unknown to most, if not all,  it turned out to be true. In 1991, Trudeau, then 71, was listed as the father on her birth certificate. Deborah Coyne, a University of Ottawa professor, then 36, is listed as her mother. No fuss and everyone moved on.

Similarly, Anne Pingeot with her daughter Mazarine, showed up at French President Francois Mitterand’s funeral in 1966, claiming to be his long-term mistress. She and Mitterand’s wife stood side-by-side at the grave, accompanied by their respective legitimate and illegitimate children! Again, life moved on.

Thoughts-GandhiGiven the entrenched hypocrisy in Indian culture – one wife, legitimate children, no flings – such a public admittance of infidelity will be too much to swallow. Perhaps, the reason for reluctance to discuss Gandhi.

Some academics in Ghana last year successfully petitioned University of Ghana, to banish Gandhi’s statue from the campus grounds in the capital Accra, accusing Gandhi of being a racist. The petition stated: “How will the historian teach and explain that Gandhi was uncharitable in his attitude towards Black race and see that we’re glorifying him by erecting a statue on our campus?” The statue was a gift to the Ghanaian government, from Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, during his visit there last June. Similarly, in 2015, Gandhi’s statue in Johannesburg was defaced by protesters calling him a racist.

 The source of Gandhi’s racist views are expressed in his letters from South Africa. In one he describes the Africans as “the raw kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” (Kaffir is a derogatory term for a black African).

Gandhi’s biographer and grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, has said that his grandfather was undoubtedly “at times ignorant and prejudiced about South African blacks.”  Also, South African President Nelson Mandela is quoted having said: “Gandhi must be forgiven those prejudices and judged in the context of the time and circumstances.”

In 2014, novelist Arundhati Roy accused Gandhi of perpetuating a discriminatory caste system. In personal matters, Gandhi is accused of forsaking his wife and sleeping naked with younger disciples and female family members, to test his abstinence.

While leaders like US civil rights leader Martin Luther King admired and held up his non-violent means to achieving political ends, others like anti-apartheid leader and later President of South Africa President Mandela chose violent means to overthrow oppressive regimes. Mandela was head of his African National Congress party’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Dead, but not gone, as the controversial legacy of Mahatma Gandhi lives on!

Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor/publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. www.liddar.ca

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