Gandhi was a Shrewd Politician and a Saint.
It may sound a bit oxymoron. With a shrewd politician, one conjectures someone like maybe Modi or Indira Gandhi. Both exude lot of negative connotations.
Gandhi was popularly known as Mahatma. That would mean someone with a great soul. We need to remember he was a political leader. He had spent 23 years being a political leader of Indentured Indians in South Africa before he became a Mahatma or Father of the Nation.
People either deify him or try to deconstruct him basing on Boolean searches about his differences with Ambedkar or Subhas Bose or the court room speech of Godse yes the Nathuram Godse.
It is indeed easy to deconstruct any being by holding him under a microscope of prejudices. Till date it has not been possible to draw a perfect circle, without any tolerances. How can people expect perfection in an individual, without any margin of tolerances. Maybe in near future the creatures with AI would have perfection built in their algorithm. God has not done that.
Gandhi had differences with everyone including his own self. He often contradicted himself and told his followers, not to get confused by his contradictory statements, but believe the latter one, as he knew better by then.
Gandhi’s controversial behaviour and speeches have become famous as it sounds INTELLECTUAL to deconstruct Gandhi.
I would hereby try to do a lego image of Gandhi. He was never a single homogeneous subject. He was made of several small pieces and each small piece would never look like Gandhi. It is only once the assembling was completed the image would resemble Gandhi.
Gandhi before he landed in India never had to contend with a halo of Mahatma. He was a leader and a politician and provided leadership to the 1.5 lakh indentured Indians and was able to ensure certain wrongs corrected viz., The Act demanding all Indentured Indians to register themselves and carry an ID card. This was a discriminatory act and Gandhi’s Satyagrah was borne out of this protest.
Gandhi left South Africa and returned to India after being advised by his the then mentor Gokhale. Gandhi also saw an opportunity of expanding his canvas. He was a leader of 1.5 lakhs indentured Indians there in South Africa. In India he would have the opportunity to play a role of leadership among 30 crore Indians living in India.
Gandhi’s first public campaign was in Champaran. He changed the trajectory of Indian National Congress. First time INC became a public movement away from a being a drawing room party.
Gandhi’s joining Khilafat movement, was not exactly in line with the agenda of Indian National Congress. Khilafat movement was exclusively an Islamist issue. It had nothing to do with the aspirations of Independence of a secular India. Jinnah had opposed INC’s joining the Khilafat movement.
These two important sorties of his early political journey show that he was an astute politician. Champaran campaign worked to change the paradigm of Congress. He had executed a coup within a couple of years and soon emerged as the new chief. In this new edition of Congress, he rose above all his contenders.
Khilafat movement gave him a great lead over his contemporaries. First time the volunteers of Khilafat movement aka Khudai Khidamatagar worked shoulder to shoulder with Congress. Gandhi was accepted as the headman of INC within five years of his reaching India.
He was the first leader who could understand the street power aka common man. INC before Gandhi was a party of elites. This party of “BUND GALA” lawyers could had never achieved what the history has credited INC with.
Gandhi could see the limitations of the trajectory being followed by Indian National Congress. That made him set sails with his ideas that he was convinced about. He had tested the strength of Satyagrah in South Africa and that needed participation of common men.
The TWO persons who carried strong reservation against Gandhi were Jinnah and Ambedkar. Both had sectarian approach and both were used by British to counter Gandhi. Yet neither could match Gandhi in popular appeal.
Ambedkar had his confrontation with Gandhi in the second Round Table Conference. Ambedkar wished to carry the mantle of being the sole representative of the Untouchables, whereas Gandhi’s perspective was that the Untouchables were subset of the larger set of Hindus and Gandhi represented all the Hindus. Ambedkar lost the battle of separate electorate for Schedule Castes or Untouchable on the face of a Fast by Gandhi. He signed the now famous Poona pact. Ambedkar carried the bitterness of this defeat all his life and that made him extremely bitter of Gandhi.
This was reflected in his famous interview to BBC. Though the interview was quite pedestrian, is often quoted to sort of deconstruct Gandhi. The most potent quote in the interview is that Gandhi supported Caste system and Untouchability in Gujarati publications whereas in English publications (largely meant for westerns) he opposed the caste system and Untouchability.
This was a blatant false statement. Gandhi had opposed untouchability both in Gujarati publications and in English publication. Irrespective of all his dislike for Gandhi, Ambedkar (he was not a member of INC) did become law minister in Congress Government courtesy Nehru a protégé of Gandhi. It is obvious that the first cabinet formed immediately after Independence was made by Nehru under the guidance of Gandhi. Ambedkar could had never been made a Law Minister without express desire of Gandhi. This very fact enhances Gandhi’s status. Gandhi did not allow Ambedkar’s bitterness towards himself, to influence his decision
Ambedkar had even tried to trifurcate India by colluding with Jinnah. He and Jinnah both knew that they could not compete with Gandhi in popular support. After a long battle, Congress agreed for a partition i.e. a separate homeland for Muslims. Jinnah’s 11th August 1947 speech betrays his faith in two nation theory.
For both Jinnah and Ambedkar the struggle was for gaining power or hegemony.
I can not fathom how Ambedkar’s becoming a Buddhist helped his fellowmen’s battle against Untouchability.
Babu Jagjeevan Ram another Icon of Schedule Castes scored a vital goal when he abolished the concept of Hindu Pani and Muslim Pani on the Railway Station. On Indian Railway stations there was rarely a running water facility on the smaller stations during 50s. Railways used to employ Hindus and Muslims to serve water to the train passengers. Hindus had reservations to be served water that had been touched by a Muslim. Jagjeevan Ram as Railway Minister removed the concept of Hindu Pani and Muslim Pani. He appointed Untouchables to serve water to both Hindus and Muslims. Consequently in one stroke, he was able to strike at untouchability among the people travelling by train. Till early 80s Jagjeevan Ram, was a bigger Iconic leader of the untouchables than Ambedkar.
Gandhi’s sainthood has been parroted by the Nakali Gandhians hundreds of times and hence does not need to be reiterated by me. They have deified him and assassinated him. Gandhi was neither a deity nor a perfect individual. To deify a person is the ultimate option to erase his ideas.
Gandhi was both ethical and pragmatic. He used religiosity to achieve political objectives. His power of fasting was to move people who respected him. He was a saint and he was a shrewd politician. British saw him as a wily politician and Indians saw a saint in him.
A LEGO structure is made of several small bits. No individual bit has the image of the final structure. Gandhi too was sum of all in his personality.