Gandhi's Politics


Hello. My name's David Johnson, and this is talking politics today. We've got an extra episode, a Sunday supplement, talking about a really important book about perhaps the most important political figure of the twentieth century Gandhi. Talking politics is brought to you in partnership with the London review of books. The magazine that publishes its political analysis in between essays on art and history, philosophy and technology. Princess Margaret will the garden of Eden. Visit Alabi dot co, UK forward slash talking for reading list of similarly, eclectic pieces to company today's episode and a special subscription offer for talking politics, listeners six months of the be for just one pound initi-. This is a conversation that I recorded with remedy Chandra Guha who is one of India's leading contemporary historians and public intellectuals and he's written an absolutely epic, two volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi. He's just published a second volume Gandhi. The is that changed the world nineteen fourteen to nineteen forty eight. So this is about the period where Gandhi really did change everything. We've talked about Indian politics on this podcast in the past, but probably not enough and we haven't talked enough about this period of history, but also this is about a completely different way of doing politics, and we're going to discuss that too. We began by talking about who in the western tradition or outside of India, could we possibly compare Gandhi to the Gandhi's maybe unique illness, unique in twenty century politics that he kinda transcends politics. He's the father of the nation. Very hard to think of anyone to compare him to maybe Mandela in South Africa, maybe ABRAHAM LINCOLN going further back. He sort of stands about politics and yet as you show in your Burke, as we know about Mandela's we know about Lincoln. It was a DP political life. He fought against his opponents. He took sides. He's an fight with party Lincoln as a Republican Gandhi's Congress. He made mistakes, he made enemies. He made compromises if we start today and then take it back. But today Gandhi today that the father of the nation Gandhi and the the political Gandhi who was on a side in politics, which one dominates in Indian consciousness because there's a kind of a permanent contest between the two India. He's. Siddeley 'Sentinel figure as Lincoln would be in America today or d goal in in France. He's occasionally disputed sometimes forgotten. If he's at all honored acknowledged outside the political system, it's environmentalists human rights activists proponents literally suspicious on trunks Gandhi. Yeah. So it politics except for the two invocations on his birthday. The prime minister will visit his memorial air on second of over and some immoral corrupt. Sometimes bigoted prime minister. We shut his eyes thirty seconds and sit in front of Gandhi memorial, but I think aiming naming, no names, but he informs social life, civil society activism much more than politics per se. The other thing you could say about him is unlike Mondello Lincoln or the goal who during their lives were thought of as being primarily political though, what you describe as a deeply political life. Even throughout there was always this attention how people saw him is easy above. So you have an epigraph to the book from Lord willing given the viceroy nineteen thirty three who says of Gandhi, bottom of every move of which he makes always says, he's inspired by God yet one discovers the political maneuver, and then you have another great quote later on. I think it's from an American profile journalist saying, he's part Jesus Christ part Tammany hall and part your father's part God part yet corrupt politician and dad telling him what to do in his life was that always that sort of people didn't know which Gandhi they were dealing episodes where he was intensely political. When he was organized the congress party. He was signed to put people in positions of influence. He was mobilizing popular action against British after deployment, denied the failed or stored. And then he will start negotiations with the viceroy. He was standing lawyer meticulous draftsman. Of petitions, letters, arguments. And in between these political struggles and political intrigue, there was his work for reform for him. Thomas Cam harmony eradicating untouchability, and they were third side to him. His personal obsessions Mitchell died, held celibacy. Something comes to see you take a whole year. There's a chapter in my book spinning in sovereignty, three, six years sabbatical, not the kind of would take Radha book perhaps from Cambridge, but all these spinning and meditating and reading different kinds of texts. So he was many things in one. Politics was vital, but didn't consumers life in the way it consume the life of other modern statesman and opening up to the charge which in twenty first century politics is the toxic charge, which is hypocrites. And in a way, that's what willington saying. The idea that this guy pretending to be above it and is about it, did that damage him in his life? It's recurrent theme that the people don't like him. You. Can't deal with him. Say he's the ultimate hypocrites. I think immediate pro consuls. So it is of course, Churchill willington people in South Africa, but Indian soda different sites to him so they could take him in all his very to us. And I say in the beginning of the book and I called Gandhi, write in the preface where he says, the achievable defeatable one part of my life, but there's also Hindu-Muslim harmony and untouchability at different points in my life. One note predominates then the other. It's like a pianist playing different things at different times. So I think that's the way to see and you have to the court ruling in one is Gandhi thing. I make my hope goblin of consistency. I am true to myself from moment to moment which is a beautiful. So the political Gandhi, we talk about his life if we had to characterize. So one word you can attach to him. He was a nationalist. He was some kind of nationalist, but again, I would use the term patriot. Okay. So that was what I was going to ask you because nationalism again is a twenty first century world with particular. -tations what what kind of patriot was he wanted to free his people of foreign through. But I think what is special about Gandhi's nationalism compared to other Indianapolis style. His time is that the Indian National Congress, which is a political organization inherited lead before him was a debating club, middle-class man, often English speaking, but middle class men professionals, lawyers, professors doctors, he made it a mass organization bringing in peasants workers, women and operating in the vernacular, many different languages of that's the first thing and in the second thing is I think that's where idea, understanding nationalism is fundamentally different from testicle European nationalism is that it refused to reduce Indian Ness to particular language or a particular religion. You know, Pakistan is the homeland of Muslims and all do is the uniting language, right? Just as you know, in on his book on Britain, which talk. About consolidation of the nation on religion language. And so so very special features of Gandhi's nationalism that religious and linguistic pluralism is fundamental to his project to bring people together. And this is partly because he spent so much time in the Deisler and in South Africa, he met people of very different backgrounds, Parsi Muslim Christian colleagues, clauses associates, Democrats who are as far away as possible within the Indian subcontinent. These different distinctive former rationalism which suited to the large complex, heterogeneous character. One of the struck by the Burke candy is known for being a critic of western civilization and also western democratic politics, which he soars fundamentally corrupt. But there's a point where he says, he wishes that India could have something like the American party system Republicans and Democrats, because it's not the nomination. So it's not sectional there each in different ways trying to represent the nation death. So there is some crossover with a kind of idealized version of the, but it's one, it's closest to the American. In the early nine thousand nine Gandhi said, I don't believe in parliamentary democracy. You know, he was reacting all western institutions, but he comes back to India, the operational councils. This is what happened England at the rise of the labor party's very important for him because he sees that they can be competitive politics. A different kind of politics can emerge, and he comes to this formulation raters where Gina is reading the Muslim League to represent Muslims. He said, please Hindus and Christians also as your members and oppose our policies. So we can have slightly left as like right to different. But he goes, I think whether it is politics of it cast or with race or gender, his continuously refining opening out his mind and shedding some view prejudices. So it's very important not to cut him out of context and that vision of a democracy in a nation where too broad movements compete represent the nation as a whole in the twenty first century and not just in India, eight seems it's you think it's gone. It going. The live anywhere. What I'm sure at some smaller European countries. I don't know your Bedwell, but I'm sure it's alive in some European countries. If people think of Gandhian politics. Actually, they probably think more of a method than of a goal. The goal is broadly Indian independence, but the method is passive resistance, closest English term for it, and I stopped because Dan did not like the passive resist. It's not passive. It's active nonviolent this. Okay, let's call it non problem this and it crosses over into what we call civil disobedience. And so on a one way that whole region replay collection sometimes characterises you have to think about three parties to the relationship as the people doing the resisting, the people who are breaking the law, the people who are oppressing them, punishing them. So the resistors accept punishment, and then there's always an audience. So it's kind of active communications. The classic inspired by Gandhi's Martin Luther King breaking the law in the American South being oppressed being water cannoned by the brutes in the south, the audiences, the north. Absolutely. So who was Gandhi's audience for this in the axe of active nonviolent disobedience? Who is he speaking his audience was. Middle-class apathetic Indians and also the university. His movements were sympathetically covered in the press. It's begins again South Africa, which is the prequel to this book. So he starts his nonviolence, South Africa, and the Telugu, and Tamil, and impress in India, pick it up. So the homeland is interested in the struggles of the dice per then returns on and launches much deeper and wider movements of nonviolent resistance to spend the message across India. So you know, in Assam which is the eastern province right on the borders, close to Bangladesh and Burma very far away from the political heartland. If there's a nonviolent protest in Bombay and what I can use and their news reports and or rumors circulating, it inspires the abbey to join the movement. So I think the first instance it is a way of course sharing the British rulers within India, inspiring other Indians who are the periphery of social life or political action to join the struggle. And at. Tertiary level to have a global impact. The impact of this way doing politics has spread. It's often invoked in a whole range of settings Occupy Wall street had kind of Gandhian. But of course, the Gandhi version of the context was very important. Even though he was appealing to this global audience, there was also a goal and and it was about shaming the British. Do you think it's over applied? I sometimes think as it were Gandhi pops up on the t. shirts everywhere there is a peaceful protests, but they, they all have that quite targeted, go and actually, I think, okay, pie Wall Street, the who is the audience. I didn't think they had no answer to that question for that kind of purchase. My sense of it is it's become slightly too broadly applied and actually there it doesn't work everywhere. Absolutely. Absolutely. I think absolutely, right. I didn't Gundy very goal. He also had apart from the long term goal of shaping the British into leaving India. He had short in medium-term goals of redrawing certain laws. So his first civil disobedience movement roller terra was aimed at obnoxious law of sedition with very harsh criminal. So to get that on the statute. Books. The next movement was aimed partly at foreign clubs to inspire Indians boycott foreign cloud and inspire domestic industry. The third movement, which was the sort March was targeted at a particular regressive tax that hit the most and the last movement criteria which is conceived at a macro level that the British quitting. So I think in radio essentially context, their particular targets, you have go back to thirty five years ago in this country. So women rhythm common, you know, we don't want nuclear missiles, right? So that sweating, it's more focused and in some ways, most we one banks Wall Street and capitalism to a generalized actually. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. In his lifetime. He writes at length about this, I suppose what's often held up as the absurd extension in Gandhi's own version of it history in the second World War where he at various points in the. He would have preferred Hitler to been resisted in this way. Call it passive and to the twenty first century reader. It's actually it's shocking to read it did. He mean, I mean, it's hard to know what register he wrote these letters to Hitler percent, right? The British commanders and bring it. And of course, within his own party, they will more sensible, pragmatic voices like Giovanni who finally convinced him that Hitler could not be resisted in that way. And hence the congress party meant the offer, sadly spun by the viceroy that they were joined the war effort. But yes, absolutely. So I think hoochie to have said probably Apocrypha, Kelly, that if Gandhi had been fighting the French given up nonviolence within a week, now, George will says, talks about it. Georgia will had served in Burma and several times writes that these tactics only work is the British. So there was a sense in which you could shame certain kinds of Englishman, not willing who was the most hardline viceroy, but Irwin and Wavell and some others reading before that. So yes. Gandhi was sometimes in thinking that nonviolence was of very general education. I think it is still of enduring relevance in less than two hour -tarian state. I mean, you can't resist ruler of not Korea nonviolently, but as was shown in eastern Europe, post of where post got the rulers of Chicago care Romania, Poland were hesitant, somewhat timid were not as ruthless could have been in the previous decades. Nonviolent resistance did work likewise in the American South where it did not work Africa, which the counter example. So the African National Congress is inspired by Gandhi and founded in nineteen twelve and for fifty years committed Gandhian nonviolence under black leaders like album totally, and so on and in early sixties reluctantly, and inevitably they give up on on violence. So I think it's clear that there's a particular context in which nonviolence works. I think certainly in something that is not a rootless and. Brutal totalitarian regime nonviolence is always to be the preferred option, and there is another side. It's not just nonviolence violence. It's also it's how you accept the oppression and the punishment is gonna come your way. And I always felt with with Mandela there, he abandoned one half of the Gandhian project. He absolutely exemplified the other half which is to speak to your audience by the manner in which you behave under the most appalling conditions actually. And that's one aspect of Gandhi adopted the dignity and rectitude and the courage with all those years of solitaire environment. But after he was released to have no bitterness, no rancour to reach out to the whites. The way Gandhi Nehru remained within the Commonwealth. Absolutely. That that latter part of mandala is gone. I mentioned that line from the American journalists that he's Jesus politician part your dad, but you wanted him to be your dad much. I mean. Is fascinating about. It's not really a private life because there is no private life, but his treatment of his sons is pretty awful. Okay. And he was unbelievably morally demanding you letting him down if you didn't live up to the most extraordinarily high standard. And as you say, sounds pretty worse than but it wasn't like he didn't talk like that to the Indian people to this man expected the highest moral standards, which makes him very rare for a political leader of of his influence. How did he manage to kind of maintain that charismatic hold with that slightly hectoring style should should've Joel and preached to the wider audience, but he's calling it at Hector, his sons, and I think his relationship is elder son is really, truly tragic figure because if you read his sons writings, he was brilliant. He was gifted. He was also a patriot. He went to jail several times South Africa, and again in India, he's willing to sacrifice. Is to follow his father, but he wanted his career. He fell in love is wife died. He wanted to marry again, Gandhi opposed it. He wanted all career. Alcohol Gandhi was censorious. The line here again, is writing to one of his brothers saying, hurry Lila's, not Gandhi stub of alcohol. Okay, so he absolutely it is relationship with is elder children. He comes out at his worst. Do you want to father all of the things? He expects them celibacy at various points and others to everyone. But this one bit that made me laugh out loud in the boat. You get these letters from young men who basically writing about masturbation and he writes back very seriously and honestly telling them to avoid to follow the warning walks in zone. It's very hard to imagine the other leading political figures of the age. Lloyd, George would. When writing two gerbils masturbation well, never mind Lenin writing back, but that sytem as well. It'd be just what is the celibacy? What was he trying to prove? Celibacy is difficult to understand for protesters and Jews, right? But it's interesting to the religious ethos of Buddhism Janez Eum Catholicism, and Hindus notice Tom, right, and absorb it very early from Jan mentor and self control had multiple objectives. One is to show your PO in a conservative society. You have to show that you can control your passions because many women protesting together, but also self control as a means of purified yourself and preparing yourself a political battle late in my book chapter called the strangest experiment where Gandhi, some are make extraordinary leap of fate, very thinks it's because of his lack of self control in his seventies that. Knew that Muslims are butchering more another patently illogical and bizarre, but some are it's also an activity that is by controlling sexual passions. He can control the religious passions of and communal passions, the Indians, but it is a very important part of his makeup. He as you say, he imposed on his children on his disciples and his assured Gundy two kinds of disciples one in the community in the Asham and the other political disciples. So good, eat meat and smoke a cigar. That was no problem. But if you were living with him, India, you had to be vegetarian. You had to, of course, do manual labor to spin every day at you had to be celebrate. You said that one of his influences environmental. He absolutely does speak to us. Now when he talks about the insatiable western culture where civilization I've always been struck by the line in Harare which he wrote before the story. You tell here where he jerky invented the internet where he says a time is coming more. People just have to press a button and they'll. They'll get food, press a button, and a car will show up, but press the button and the clothes will be there. And he saw this kind of excel A-Rated insatiable consumerism and that's our world. So he's it coming. And now we live in it and India is it as well as everywhere else. And then you read Gandhi and it's resonates, but it's hard to see there is no out. I mean, if the autists celibacy and spinning there is no out, whereas the out for us from, but he's a moderating voice. I mean, there's a line right? Which I called readily epilogue where he says, if India takes industrialization after the manner of the west, it will ship the world bear like locusts, India and China main tip the world. And this happened and the way to read that is not to say all of us who live Gandhi, but to say, surely they are ways of removing assuring human dignity meeting limited human demands by less energy and resource intensive meats. And of course, motivational is important. In India example, the country I live in the last twenty five years and in China to there's been a manic desire for every citizen to own a private car. Not obviously public transport is the way, but people will not have metro, but they were only go in their car which lead to great law, a massive foreign exchange burden because import of oil air pollution and so on and so forth. Gundy is a moderating voice in the suspect because it's get. I mean, I think. Your astronomer. Martin recess some years ago, he said. Zobel scientists, you know, not a cream track poured at this stage of source consumption civilization and loss last one hundred years. And that may be true. Gandhi is moderating was the other thing is meat consumption consumption. We cannot sustain a world in which China and India starts consumate and it starting to happen. Mirada is moderating voices being heard in your at the moment to a limited extent, but not enough a couple more questions to finish. So the book tells epic story of this epic life, which ends with candies assassination before it happens. We're on the road partition, but you ask the question as to when that was set in train and for some people, it predates this entire story that wants Muslims have a separate electorates in India in one thousand nine nine. The path of separation had been said, and you said, that's a real question. You have an answer to it, but you're not gonna tell it to us here. So what is your view about that? I mean this, this is a story which ends on the one hand with Indian independence. On the other hand with. Titian the candy. And so my view is that I can't really say, well, partition became inevitable almost certainly by the late thirties, it was set in stone. Nothing Gandhi could have done to stop. Not really another British Jeanine, nine, so on. But I do feel partition could have been handled differently in a more compassionate way. I've said in another book of mine, India after Gandhi, Mountbatten hastened. It Mountbatten didn't prepare the independent dominions of Pakistan and India so that the administrative and police and security stuff would be in place. I also feel country. What many Indians thing I'm not not algebra United India. Partition could only avoided if the cabinet mission plan of nineteen Forty-six been accepted. And under that plan, the princely states were more or less autonomous to the very weak center. The provinces could have opted out. So you been absolutely balkanized as an Indian. I know that Pakistan became a frontline state in the coal which saved us in some ways. In some ways may consider fighting all these wars and we have the Russians the Americans. All right. So Kelly partition could have been done in a way in which life could be minimized. Staggered out administrative arrangements were not in place. Mountbatten was was or better glory and other people enrolling for himself. Also, I feel that Indian Pakistan need much better relations. They have to work constructively to solve the Kashmir dispute on. But I see this kind of incessant morning for the United India. I simply with it on the other hand, India has it was at the moment, not in the grip of, but there is a dominant strain of the kind of nationalism. The Gandhi oppose all his life and candies party congresses are not deeply knowledgeable by this, but it's in a little trouble as an electoral force mode is the dominant politician of the age is cyclical. I mean, are we in a pattern where these things come and go? Or is this a trend away from the Gandhian. It's hard to say this certainly a away from the Gundy and credo of interfaith harmony. Religious toleration is increasing violence in world, and indeed the abusive language used by politicians today, for example, would appall Gandhi, political corruption. So all of that is true. But I like to say emphasize something that which is implicit in the book that Gundy does not belong to India loan. And in that sense, he's like his great predecessor, the Buddha India kicked out the Buddha, which included the message of social equality after the Buddha died Ramat ISM rea- asserted itself, and the caste system reasserted itself, right? So we make Gandhi, but the rest of the world will of our and so I didn't. That's how I see India today in the politics society. The culture economics is profoundly Ungun Deon more or less. But as I said, he doesn't belong to us alot. You'll be one last comparison. This may start us. Plea bizarre, but reading the book, it struck me that there are so many sides to Gandhi, and he is he's ubiquitous in culture in ways that go beyond politics person. You remind me of someone who's completely opposite from him, which is nature in the sense that there is the political nature. There is the anti political nature, and there's the kind of post political nature. The nature who's trying to take people beyond politics, and you get those sides Gandhi to play Gandhi Gandhi, who's in a way pushing back against a political world. And then there is the kind of Gandhi who transcends politics. And I think the global Gandhi potentially transpose x. which one in your mind is dominance. Having written this life. I'm not asking to compare them to nature, but it just partly because he's on t shirts. Nature's that sort of it's the political Gandhi is now more or less irrelevant. Because formal colonialism is ended nonviolence says a form of protest. I think in many ways I think his message interfaith. How many Gandhi is opposed to resist fundamentalism and to the aggressive eight is not a moody and Richard Dawkins would both by Gandhi problematic, right? And in a world driven by religious misunderstanding, sectarian conflict across not as India everywhere. I think it's his message of respecting understanding religious diversity, and it goes sitting your way through it, which I hope will come back in. And is that a message negotiate your way through it was going to push you on this negotiating your way through it a political strategy, or are we talking about something in the end women, we're talking about the fate of the planet here took about insatiable consumption, and there's a part of Gandhi PawSox the probe, political and social. So at eleven of the state, you need a state that is not a denominational state that is not a clear critic state that is not a majority in each state. Unlike Israel, Pakistan at the level of structures of law and the constitution. But every social life, you know, I think somebody's, for example, Italy visited this country, but some parts of this country London preeminently have hindered religious difference much better than the French eleven of everyday social life. This has to be toleration and respect for people of different lifestyles has to be encoded at the level of everyday life and also guaranteed by the state. So both important. Tweet the link to rummage hundreds book and also to an upset we recorded with Pankaj Mishra while back talking about Mody Trump and populism in contemporary Indian politics transcription. This upset will be available to if you want to read it back to business as usual on Thursday de join us for that. My name is David Runciman, and we've been talking politics.

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