Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Justice Katju and Mahatma Gandhi

I say 90 per cent of Indian are idiots.  You people don’t have brains in your heads.... It is so easy to take you for a ride.  You mad people will start fighting amongst yourself (sic), not realizing that some agent provocateur is behind a mischievous gesture of disrespect to a place of worship. Today 80 per cent Hindus are communal and 80 per cent Muslims are communal.  This is the harsh truth, bitter truth that I am telling you.  In 150 years, you have gone backwards instead of moving forward because the English kept injecting poison.

Justice Katju
Justice Markandey Katju, retired judge of the Supreme Court of India, said those words in a seminar organised by the South Asia Media Commission on 8 Dec 2012 in Delhi. 

Now he tells us in his blog that Mahatma Gandhi was “an agent of the British.” He lists three reasons.
1.     By injecting religion into politics, Gandhi helped the British policy of ‘divide and rule.’
2.     Gandhi’s satyagraha diverted the revolutionary freedom movement into “a harmless nonsensical channel.”
3.     Gandhi’s economic ideas were “nonsense” and deception of people.

Gandhi and religion

Gandhi was a deeply religious person.  He was a devout Hindu and, as Justice Katju points out in his latest (as of now) blog, he sometimes waxed poetic like most deeply religious people: he went to the extent of calling the cow “a poem of pity”  and demanded the protection of the animal. 

In spite of such facts, Katju’s allegations against Gandhi reveal a partial or selective understanding of the Mahatma.  When Gandhi demanded the protection of the cow, he was using the cow as a convenient symbol, a symbol that would be easily understood and accepted by a large majority of Indians.  “The cow to me means the entire sub-human world,” said Gandhi (and Justice Katju has quoted that too).  “Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives.”  What Gandhi wanted Indians to learn was profound respect for all creatures. All that exists is sacred – that’s what Gandhi meant, in other words.  It is unfortunate that Justice Katju could not rise to that level of understanding and chose to interpret Gandhi literally.  Justice Katju misleads his readers with selective quotes and interpretations.

Gandhi did not consider even the scriptures as the ultimate truths.  How would he then expect us to take his words as the final truths?  Scriptures are like poetry (even as the cow was to Gandhi).  They are not to be interpreted literally.  Gandhi did not accept the Rama of the Ramayana and the Krishna of the Mahabharata as gods.  “My Rama,” said Gandhi, “the Rama of my prayers is not the historical Rama, the son of Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya.  He is the eternal, the unborn, the one without a second….” [Harijan: April 28, 1946].  “I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharata ever lived.  My Krishna has nothing to do with any historical person,” wrote Gandhi. [Young India: Jan 1, 1925]

In a 1942 article Gandhi wrote, “Rama is not known by only a thousand names.  His names are innumerable, and He is the same whether we call Him Allah, Khuda, Rahim, Razzak, the Bread-giver, or any name that comes from the heart of a true devotee.” [Harijan: Feb 15, 1942]

Gandhi defined God as Truth.  The pursuit of God was religion, for him.  The pursuit of the ultimate truth is a perilous adventure.  That’s why Gandhi called his autobiography his “experiments with truth.”  His entire life was an experiment.  He was a learner till the end of his life.  That spirit of enquiry is the real religion.  Cows and idols as well as other religions and their scriptures, anything at all, can be means of arriving at one’s religious truths. 

The failure to understand this is what misleads people like Justice Katju as well as quite many other critics of Gandhi.  A similar failure is what produces religious fanatics and extremists and contemporary India’s cultural-nationalists.  They fail to see the wood for the trees. They are incapable of perceiving the vision of the mystic or the saint or the prophet or whatever.  And Gandhi belonged to the category of the saint and the mystic – despite the shrewdly calculative and political acumen he possessed.

Revolution and Non-Violence

A simple logical question that demolishes Justice Katju’s entire argument in this regard is: why should revolutions be necessarily violent?  If we can achieve the goal without using violence, isn’t that far better and far desirable?  Gandhi was shrewd enough to understand the logic of the British and hence use the same logic against them.  It was a battle of wits instead of battle with deadly weapons. 
A man with a different vision

The British perceived themselves as the most civilised race on the earth.  They viewed it as their “burden” to civilise the world: “the white man’s burden.”  What Gandhi showed to the British was that they were not so civilised, after all.  They were using violence like the savages while the Indians were non-violent.  It is that logic which the British had no answer for.  They could have answered weapons with weapons, violence with more violence.  But how could they afford to counter civilisation with savagery?  Gandhi used their weapon against themselves.  Shrewdly.  Wisely, may I say, Justice Katju?

Gandhian economics

Gandhi’s economics was based on the simple understanding that the earth has enough to meet the need of everyone but not the greed of anyone.  True, many of Gandhi’s views in this regard were not practical in a world with rising populations and complexities of needs.  Hence I’m willing to grant certain space to Justice Katju in this regard.  But, once again, what’s required is a proper understanding of Gandhi’s vision rather than condemnation of his views.  Gandhi envisaged a simple world, a utopia of sorts.  His was a romantic dream not much different from the Biblical Eden.  It was an impractical dream.  But it was neither “nonsense” nor “deceiving the people” if we are able to rise to the level of Gandhi’s thinking and world-vision.

The world chose to follow the diktats of human greed rather than the poetry of simple needs.  What have we made of the world with that choice?  A planet that is being plundered and raped over and again, mercilessly...


 Justice Katju argues that Akbar is more fit to be the father of the nation than Gandhi because of the former’s religious tolerance.  I don’t want to discuss Akbar here lest this post becomes a book rather than a blog.  But the Justice should remember that distance always tends to lend enchantment to the view.  The farther back we go in history, the easier it is to glorify people since their feet of clay would have been replaced with legends more precious than the costliest metals.  Gandhi’s feet were indeed made of clay.  He would not have wished legends to replace them.  That was one of the aspects that made Gandhi great.  There were many other aspects too.  He deserves deeper study than the eminent Justice has bothered to do hitherto.    


  1. Brilliant write! Thought provoking, logical, impartial..!

  2. Yes,Gandhi had many angles to understand..!

    1. Perhaps Gandhi will remain far beyond the grasp of contemporary India though England has just honoured him with a nine-foot bronze statue in Parliament Square!

    2. Perhaps Gandhi will remain far beyond the grasp of contemporary India though England has just honoured him with a nine-foot bronze statue in Parliament Square!

  3. Brilliantly written with a nuanced understanding of the whole controversy.

  4. Dear blogger, have you read "Annihilation of caste" by Ambedkar. If not I would request you.

    1. I haven't read it though I'm aware of the arguments vaguely. Hope to read it. At any rate I don't think the kind of reform that Ambedkar envisaged is practical.


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