Atanu Dey On India's Development

Bose, Gandhi, Ghadar and India’s Independence


Did you know there’s a connection between UC Berkeley and India’s political independence from the British? Let me get to that after this.

It was a pilgrimage of sorts for me. During last weekend’s visit to Ahmedabad, I went to Gandhi’s ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river. Never been to any of Gandhi’s ashrams before. Even though I have been to Wardha (quite close to Nagpur) many years ago, I have never visited Gandhi’s Sevagram ashram there either. Interestingly, the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad is within half a kilometer of Subhas Chowk. Gandhi and Subhas are studies in contrast.

Walking around the ashram, I once again realized why I cannot stomach Gandhi. He is too slick, too holier-than-thou, too wily for my liking. I have a visceral distaste for any person who is venerated so mindlessly, and mostly through ignorance, by the masses. Gandhi is worshiped. Or rather the carefully created image of Gandhi is worshiped. I have no doubt that Gandhi himself worked at crafting that image, not just the Congress party.

The sayings of Gandhi are displayed on walls, inside and out. The overly-familiar “Be the change that you want the world to be” is there of course. What made my blood boil was “If blood has to be shed, let it be ours.”

Nice, that one. Very nice. I suppose one should become even more holier-than-thou and decide to commit mass suicide — that way you even save the oppressor the trouble of slaughtering you. That’s not too far fetched actually. I believe Gandhi advised the English to not fight the Germans and instead allow themselves to be killed and thus gain a moral victory over the Germans.

The man was certifiably insane. Insanity is, however, not a crime. What is a crime is insanity that destroys a civilization. Yes, Hitler was insanely violent. I think that Gandhi was insane and violent. What is worse, Gandhi’s violence is camouflaged in the cloak of non-violence. Forcing people to do what one desires by threat of violence is violent blackmail. If someone tells you that unless you do as he says, he will kill you, that’s violent blackmail. (Non-violent blackmail is when someone says that they will tell the cops about your tax evasion or marital infidelity.)

On several occasions, Gandhi threatened to kill unless his command was obeyed. He threatened to kill himself. I see no difference between that and say pointing a gun at a child’s face and saying, “Do as I tell you or the child gets it in the face.”

I think that Gandhi was an ego-maniac as well. I read his autobiography and that message comes across very clearly to me. He could not stand anyone who challenged his authority. Subhas Chandra Bose did not approve of Gandhi’s carefully calculated pacifism. Gandhi basically decided that Subhas is his enemy. When it comes to practical matters, I suppose Gandhi decided “love thine enemy” is not applicable, and saw to it that Subhas is buried.

Truth, as the Indian motto goes, alone triumphs. Once the varnish that the Nehru-Gandhi family has applied so thick on the Gandhi image eventually wears off, the truth will come out. Satyam eva jayate.

Bose is gone. In the history books we read in our schools, he is not credited with anything noble or good. All praise is for Gandhi. Once in a while, one gets glimpses of the truth. A year ago, the Pioneer had an op-ed, Subhas Chandra Bose: A hero forgotten by the nation. Here’s an excerpt which quotes a letter written in 1976 by PB Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court (1956):

“When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee who as the British Prime Minister in post-War years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India and stayed in Raj Bhavan, Calcutta, for two days and I put it straight to him like this: ‘The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time, which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’

“In reply, Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN mutiny which made the British realise that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in a smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, ‘Minimal’.”

The trouble is that Gandhi’s ghost still stalks the spirit of India. The name Gandhi casts a spell over Indians. If you have that as your last name, you get automatically elected in the Indian “democratic” system, even though you may be a certifiable moron. Indians only know that India’s independence (and what a fine independence it is!) from the British was only due to Gandhi and the Congress party.

Many years ago, after having left India, I slowly started to learn about India. I learned that India did exist before Gandhi, the Nehru-Gandhi family, and the Congress party. I learned that many different organizations and many other people have fought and died for Indian independence. In San Francisco, I visited the Ghadar Party memorial.

The Ghadar Party, initially the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, was formed in 1913 in the United States under the leadership of Har Dayal, with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president. The members of the party were Indian immigrants, largely from Punjab. Many of its members were students at University of California at Berkeley including Dayal, Tarak Nath Das, Maulavi Barkatullah, Kartar Singh Sarabha and V.G. Pingle. The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, especially in the United States, Canada and Asia.

I was then at UC Berkeley. Here’s more:

In 1912–1913, the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association was formed by Indian immigrants under the leadership of Har Dayal, with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president, which later came to be called the Ghadar Party. With donations raised with the help of the Indian diaspora, especially with the aid of Indian students at the University of California, Berkeley, the party established the Yugantar Ashram at 436 Hill Street where a printing press was set up with the donations. The first Urdu edition of Hindustan Ghadar appeared on 1 November 1913, followed by a Punjabi edition 9 December 1913. The issues were first handwritten before being printed on the press. Careful measures were taken to shield the party and its supporters from British intelligence, which included the measure of memorising over a thousand names of the subscribers so that no incriminating evidence could fall into the hands of the British government. The articles in the paper were initially authored by Har Dayal, with the printing operation run by Kartar Singh Sarabha, then a student of UC, Berkeley. Copies of the paper began to be shipped to India with returning Ghadarites and immigrants, and were quickly deemed to be seditious and banned by the British Indian government. Later publications from the Yugantar Ashram included compilations of nationalist compositions and pamphlets, including Ghadar di gunj, Talwar and other publications which were also banned from British India.

The British were not stupid. They banned stuff that really threatened their rule over India. The ones that were not a threat to them, the ones that were window-dressings, were allowed to have a free hand. They hanged those who really meant business. Gandhi was not hanged by the British. The British left India when they were good and ready. They left when there was little left in India for them to cart away. India was impoverished. The well had been drained dry. For the first half of the 20th century, India’s economy actually contracted. After the British left, growth became non-negative in 1950s for the first time that century. (Of course that India ended up with the 2 percent “Nehru Rate of Growth” is another story.)

India needs a real independence, not just a political independence. India needs a liberation that is comprehensive. A liberation from the socialist prison, the Congress party and the Nehru-Gandhi family. But there are no Subhas Boses to be seen anywhere, no Kartar Singhs, no lions. There are only sheep. Sheep that bleat pitiably when India is attacked by pathetic terrorists seeking their tryst with 72 virgins. Where have we come — from lions like Kartar Singh to sheep like Manmohan Singh!

We really need a lion’s roar from a Kartar Singh, not a meek bleating from a Manmohan Singh.

This rant is ended. Peace.

Related Posts:

On Gandhian Self-sufficiency (July 2004 — wow a long time ago!):

The Gandhian revolution has been an unmitigated disaster. It ranks up there with communism as ideologies that have wreaked havoc on human societies. The Chinese suffered under communism and only in the past few years have they started up the road to development once they realized their mistake.

India has to look very critically at the burden we bear of the legacy of Gandhi. We must choose to free ourselves from a blind uncritical acceptance of a defunct ideology. Until we do that, I am afraid that we are condemning large masses of humans to needless misery.

Communism fails because it is a first-best recommendation (behave like saints) in a second-best world (where people are selfish and there is not enough to go around.) Similarly for the Gandhian revolution; it would have ushered in a heaven on earth had the nation been a collection of selfless ascetics. Instead Indians are average humans and therefore the same prescription has given the majority of us a living hell.

Idol Worshiping gone Haywire:

Here is what my position is with regards to Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi is widely acknowledged to be the Father of the nation. OK, I am willing to grant that. Then I look around and see the nation and find it less than desirable. Therefore, I conclude that there must have been something the matter with the father if the child (the nation) is so pathetic. I am merely taking the argument to its logical conclusion. Gandhi was great; he was the father of the nation; the nation is pathetic; ergo, the father was not perfect. Now some would argue that Gandhi was great and he is the father of the nation, but it is not his fault that the nation is pathetic. My objection to that would be that you cannot have it both ways: if he was the father, then both the praise and the blame for his progeny rest at his feet. You cannot simultaneously claim that he was the father and yet assign no responsibility for the way things turned out. It is logically consistent to say that he was a great man but the nation did not follow what he preached. In that case, he was not the father of the nation.

The same goes with Nehru. It is silly to praise Nehru for all sorts of supposedly good stuff he is responsible for and to adorn each and every public institution with his or his progeny’s name and turn a blind eye to the disasters that he and his progeny have inflicted on an adoring nation. I find it bitterly ironic that educational institutions carry Indira Gandhi’s name when she was strictly opposed to education for the masses. Every time I come across the name of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, I can only marvel at the blinkered pig-ignorance that motivates the naming of educational institutions after her. I don’t think that there will ever be an institute called the “Adolf Hitler Institute for Jewish Advancement”.

On Unwashed Masses and Idol Worshiping (Dec 2005):

I have a tentative theory why Indians appear to be so susceptible to idol-worshipping. It has to do with Hinduism. Hinduism employs idols as symbolic representation of divine ideals. But the unwashed masses end up confusing the symbol for the real thing. So instead of worshipping the ideal, they end up worshipping the idol. It is a short step from there to worshipping their political leaders. Of course, I should hasten to add that Hindu unwashed masses are not unique in this respect. Unwashed masses of all faiths worship idols, whether in the form of a black meteoritic rock or a cross. Even Buddhist u. m. worship statues of the Buddha even though he expressly denied the existence of a god and thus naturally could not be one himself. But Hindus take that to an extreme and anything from cows to rocks to corrupt politicians are fair game when it comes to idol-worshipping. Case in point, you ask? After the last general elections, a few of the unwashed masses insisted that they would commit suicide if one particular idol declined to become the prime minister of India. Would have been better if they had carried out their threat but unfortunately they chickened out in the end.

  • dodo


    Nice to read more about Ghadar party!

    BTW, I want to share an incident with you. Currently I am enrolled in an MBA program at a US school. Couple of weeks back at the Global Economy class, the professor ( who is a regular at op-ed circuits of newspapers) was talking about India and specifically mentioned the “Hindu Rate of Growth”. After the class I went to him, and explained (thanks to you for your earlier post on this), why this should be termed as “nehru rate of growth” instead! He nodded and seemlingly agreed ( but am sure, he profiled me as a rabid right-winger, I could care less)! But I realized, the false anti-hindu propaganda was well-oiled by so called atheists friends of India.

  • lostparadise

    “I Shall Never Ask for Pardon: A Memoir of Pandurang Khankhoje” is a book worth reading about a member of Gadhar party. This man travelled from France, Germany, Persia and eventually settled as a farmer in Mexico.

    From what I have read of Mahatma Gandhi even I felt like worshiping him. He comes across as a very smart politician and I always felt that he had very sound understanding of India and it’s people.
    Certainly like all others he was not perfect but far better than any other person congress has offered us.

  • tarang_72

    I agree with your some of your points on Gandhi. But why blame him for india’s growth 60 yrs after his death? His name is just used by politicians for their lack of competence. Look at Gujarat, his birthplace. It is way ahead in terms of many economic development indicators than say many parts of india where Gandhi had not that much influence. If Gandhi had that much influence, Gujarat would have been much poorer and stll using ‘Charkhas’ in viallges but the situation is just reverse of that.

  • Atanu Dey


    Why blame Gandhi? Because ideas matter. It does not matter how long ago a person lived for his ideas to cast an influence on how people who espouse those ideas behave. It is a question of guidance and leadership. If the guide leaves instructions that people follow and as a consequence end up at the bottom of the ravine, it is fair to blame the guide.

  • Pingback: Berkeley and Indian independence – Berkeleyside

  • Pingback: Indian History Carnival – 26 | DesiPundit

  • Vishal

    >> They hanged those who really meant business. Gandhi was not hanged by the British.

    Well, may be because they just couldn’t afford the consequences.

    Anyways, it seems like your dislike for Gandhi is rooted in your personal “visceral” distaste, rather than logical, balanced analysis. I agree that Gandhi was not perfect and there surely are many things/beliefs that I strongly disagree with, but painting him almost a a pure evil (or “certifiably” insane) is extremism, IMO.

  • Curious

    “Why blame Gandhi? Because ideas matter. It does not matter how long ago a person lived for his ideas to cast an influence on how people who espouse those ideas behave. It is a question of guidance and leadership. If the guide leaves instructions that people follow and as a consequence end up at the bottom of the ravine, it is fair to blame the guide…..”

    Which of Gandhi’s ideas do youthink that the Indians or the Indian state of today is following?