Mahatma Gandhi and Hindu-Indian Nationalism
Posted by robertpriddy on March 2, 2012
Indian nationalism origins The phenomenon of Indian nationalism as an open political movement for independence (Swaraj) gained real impetus in the 1920s with the return of Gandhi to India, and as the world knows, reached its goal in 1947, when Sathya Sai Baba was around 20 years old (depending on which of his two much different birth dates one finds the best documented). Sathya Sai Baba always warmly endorsed Mahatma Gandhi.
As regards nationalism, the ideals of Gandhi and Sathya Sai Baba were in some respects very similar, but not in others. One must realize that the adulation of Gandhi has been adumbrated both by a rising tide of historical research and critical voices concerning Gandhi himself and by historical events (which never followed Gandhi’s recipe for religious revival and agrarian rather than industrial development). There are many parallels between their ideals and religious preaching, neither of which produced anything remotely like the promised results.
The religious and political contribution of Mahatma Gandhi is still paid lip service and sometimes revered by a great number of Indians and many world figures, including various non-violent peace movements. Yet It is a historical fact that both Gandhi’s doctrines have long since ceased to have any effective role in Indian society, faced as was the nation with such a divided populace with its overwhelming problems of poverty, suffering, crime and extreme religious violence etc.
In hoping to capture some of the effulgence of Gandhi’s symbolic legacy, frequent lip-service is paid to his name by those who themselves could never agree with the policies and beliefs Gandhi himself held, and whose own actions and agendas diverge vastly from their figurehead. Though Gandhi, above any other single figure, eventually led Indian nationalism to victory of Independence in 1947 through his courageous personal example, his almost complete lack of political vision for India after the British meant that he left no legacy of constructive politics or real plans for social improvement. He withdrew from the Congress Party leadership and was side-lined after Independence.
Romantic historical revanchism A strong concurrence between Gandhi and Sai Baba was their desire to reinstate as far as possible the ancient Indian social and political system – the ‘Rama-raja’ (Divine Rule) – as the ideal of their nationalism. That can only belong to the scrap heap of failed policies, for Indian nationalism is firmly allied to constitutional democracy. Sai Baba went much further than Gandhi in wanting as full a return as possible… to what in reality was a kind of royal despotism under Brahmin priestly influence and the caste system, in which the millions of villages would be regenerated to fulfil a central social role in Indian life. Instead, ‘voting with the feet’ in the constant move of millions to city slums, and the relentless conditions for the agrarian populace leading, for example, to countless farmer suicides, show that this was but vain sentimentalism. Economic progress and money have now become as much the ruling passion of Indian politics as in any other capitalistic society. Sai Baba repeatedly went so far as to prophesy that – through its return to the ancient values and practices – India would renew the values of the entire world, and even that the values (the Hindu conception of Sanathana Dharma or ‘eternal righteousness’) would before many decades have overcome all national differences creating unity between all opposed and warring nations! (See details of this in the previous blog here).
Non-violence was the ideal for which Gandhi was known, but it failed to stop millions of deaths in Hindu-Muslim rioting after partition when vast and brutal uncontrolled destruction and murder resulted from the conflict between the Hindu nationalist movement and the Islamic nationalists led by Jinnah. Hindu-Muslim conflict killings still flare up regularly within India, which had a long history of massive violence. Since Independence, India has further rejected non-violence ever since through its huge military and nuclear build-up and its violent militaristic suppression of many minority populations, sub-cultures and groups (the best know of which are in Kashmir and tribals in Manipur and in the Deccan). Non-violence (ahimsa) was adopted as a key Divine Human Value by Sathya Sai Baba, with much reference to Gandhi, but Sai Baba himself befriended such horrendous figures as Idi Amin and endorsed the former Indian President who designed the delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons! He had most PMs and Presidents of India as his devotees, but he failed totally to correct their corruption and glaring suppression of human rights of many minorities. Further, Sai Baba never once spoke up against the indiscriminate and sometimes mass killing of minorities by the Hindu-dominated Indian governments he supported in public. He kept well away from any controversy that might involve him in losing support (and donations) from those of the Hindu majority who would believe in him.
Perhaps most importantly, both Gandhi and Sai Baba were deeply involved in a struggle for personal power. While it is known that Gandhi was a smart manipulator and very politically ambitious and astute, this aspect of both Gandhi and Sai Baba (and many gurus) is not widely enough studied or therefore generally accepted (especially by the Hindu-nationalistic masses in India). India’s most brilliantly gifted polymath and authentic historian of the 20th Century, Nirad C. Chaudhuri (deceased at age 101 in 1999 with an honorary Oxford doctorate and a CBE), has shown a many-sided understanding of Gandhi’s behaviour. The quotations (on right above from p. 31 and 49) and below remind in various ways of the behaviour of Sathya Sai Baba, while the following is about Gandhi:-
“At no time did the Indian people cease to respect him. His position as the greatest man in India was never questioned. But that was maintained by his religiosity, with its accompaniment of asceticism and renunciation paraded with every kind of theatricality. This exalted his practical political activity by throwing a veil over its real motive force, namely, the hatred of British rule, and by infusing into it a moral and spiritual value which it never had, although as I have already explained, to Mahatma Gandhi religion and nationalism were inseparable. (Chaudhuri ibid p. 274)
Though Sai Baba did not express hate of British rule, he adopted a yet stronger nationalistic fervour against most Western influences than did Gandhi (who was educated in UK), including those of morals, scholarship, science, technology and more. There is an obvious difference between Gandhi and Sai Baba as to the role which was foremost – i.e. the political or the religious. Sathya Sai Baba tried mostly to downplay – even hide – many of his political engagements, for this would obviously not befit a God Incarnate and self-pronounced Creator of the Universe, but they were very extensive behind the scenes, but also were not hidden from public view. Of course, Gandhi was more respected than Sathya Sai Baba by the Indian people, for Sathya Sai Baba’s actual following is far smaller than his propagandists have constantly tried to establish in public consciousness- His relative fame was far less than Gandhi’s both within India and throughout the world. “Gandhi’s saintliness was also real”, wrote Chaudhuri, and he was never charged with sexual abuse, cover-up of murders or even gross historical inaccuracy and making utterly fantastic predictions, for which Sai Baba is widely known.
Both Gandhi and Sathya Sai Baba spoke out against the discrimination of the casteless Dalits called ‘harijans’ (meaning ‘Children of God’) by Gandhi . Sai Baba also referred to them with this title (Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 2, p. 139). This usage shows massive insensitivity, and the term eventually became politically incorrect in India and was banned after a long struggle begun by B. R. Ambedkar (the famous scholar and lawyer who was a prominent outcast and defender of their rights, who is also regarded as a Bodhisattva by some Indian Buddhists, though he never claimed himself to be so) and presently continued by others, especially P.L. Mimroth, who wrote: “You will appreciate that literal word of ‘Harijan’ is synonymous to illegitimate child of Devadasis (ed: ‘temple dancers and prostitutes’) in olden days… This insulting definition given by Mahatma Gandhi… has been totally rejected and discarded by the followers of Baba Saheb Ambedkar…” (i.e. different person to B.R. Ambedkar – see full report in thumbnail scan – right). Sathya Sai Baba never once criticized the continuing practice of temple prostitution, nor actually defended the Dalits against their Hindu persecutors unless in the vaguest of general terms. That he has so often spoken in glowing terms of India as the progenitor and shining example of religion (i.e. original Vedic Hindu religion, and definitely not Judaic, Christian or Islam) – and has never taken up the crying needs of the many suppressed minorities or the constant crimes against humanity in exploitative labour, child prostitution, organized beggary and score of other terrible ills shows that he went along with the agendas of the brown sahibs and nationalists to clamp down wherever possible on negative reports on their national ills. That was a striking resignation of moral courage, considering the invulnerability he came to enjoy from any kind of legal process through top government protection.