Friday, 18 March 2011

Gandhi's invisible hands- Ian Desai's ludicrous article

I came across this ludicrous article titled 'Gandhi's invisible hands' by a Rhodes Scholar named Ian Desai.

What happens is that Ian goes to Sabarmati ashram and is nonplussed to find a library there. Even more amazing than the presence of books is the fact that Gandhi had read them! Stranger still, Gandhi had a secretary, called Mahadev Desai, who had also read them! This is proof that not just Gandhi but at least one other person on his staff could read and and write!

Ian records his amazement thus-'As I explored the old, dust-caked books in this startling collection over the following weeks, months, and years, a story of Gandhi’s life and work unfolded before me that diverged from the accounts I knew. The very presence of such a substantial collection of books in proximity to Gandhi—who famously espoused a philosophy of non-possession—suggested that the image of simplicity and detachment long associated with the Mahatma, or “Great Soul,” was misleading: There was clearly a hidden degree of complexity to Gandhi’s life.'

The guy is a Rhodes Scholar. He's studying South Asian history or some such shite at Oxbridge or whatever and he makes this amazing discovery- Gandhi wasn't an illiterate hobo- he owned books. What ever next?

What's next is Ian's second great discovery- viz. that Gandhi wasn't a 'solitary saint' who just one day set off to Dandi on a Salt march or whatever and then everybody just like spontaneously joined in and got clubbed to death or whatever like y'know in that film- what was it called?- Ghoulies? Ghostbusters? No... Gandhi... that was it.. and like y'know when I like went to this place in like India like where Gandhi like lived and like guess what? The dude was into books- like books, man- heavy stuff, no kidding. And like all those other skinny little brown dudes in diapers- well, like a lot of them had been to like College and were like Law students who'd dropped out, like Mahadev Desai, or Chartered Accountants who'd gone rogue, like Kumarappa- and like nobody knows about this coz ... urm... but let Ian tell the story-
'Yet the organizational sophistication behind Gandhi’s dramatic march never got a mention in the headlines the enterprise worked so hard to produce. Its invisibility was partly by design: By effacing their own efforts, Gandhi’s associates reinforced his image as a simple and self-reliant crusader. While most traces of Gandhi’s enterprise were indeed erased from the historical record, Mahadev Desai’s library is a notable exception. Gandhi’s team compiled and utilized an extensive variety of intellectual resources to support the Mahatma’s mission. Desai was the heart of this intellectual operation, helping Gandhi refine his philosophy over the course of his career and providing him with concrete information to use in his ideological struggle with British imperialism.'

What Ian Baba is saying is
1) Gandhi's disciples were self-effacing. This isn't true. People sought out Gandhi because he was the most efficacious 'reputation multiplier'.
Take Kumarappa. Why does he come to Gandhi and why does he stay? The answer is, it was a short-cut to gaining recognition. Why? In what sense? Well, he fancies himself an Economist coz he quit a good career as a Chartered Accountant and had got a Masters from Columbia in Econ. Essentially, he thought he could prove 'the drain theory' w.r.t Indian Public Finance with the result that he ignored the really important fiscal questions for the Indian economist as defined by Ranade and which Gokhale ought to have better developed. But, that was also the purpose for which ICS officers like Hume, Wedderburn and Cotton set up and supported the I.N.CThe Servants of India has been described as similar to the Jesuit order in terms of the importance attached to turning their lodges into libraries and collecting and commissioning statistical and other works. Gandhi's novelty, and his success in reaching out to the masses, lay in rejecting knowledge of any sort. Yes, he read the books that people sent to him but his message never changed on the basis of what he read except in a negative sense- his magpie mind might pick up some new fad or factoid that complemented his general silliness- Gandhi read only to condemn the already highly developed and elaborated project of knowledge-based Indian reform.
2) The important point about the Salt March is not that it was well organized, or that, thanks to the crooked Capitalist Dalmia, it was well financed but that it was well organized and financed to fail.  This is because it's ostensible goal really didn't matter to its sponsors. They got their corrupt deal with Manchester and padded contract from Congress Ministries. The Salt tax was in fact abolished about 15 years later but it was merely a gesture which had lost all meaning. In fact, the price of salt went up, because what had been Govt. revenue turned into a private monopoly rent. Meanwhile, protests about stuff that actually mattered to people went ahead and, more often than not, were quite successful because Gandhians were told to fuck off. The bottom line is that even spontaneous and poorly organized movements can be successful provided they aim at things which genuinely make a difference to people's lives but don't pose an existential threat to the paramount power.
3) History is not- contra Ian Baba- something that gets erased by some magic marker. Ian is simply wrong about Gandhi's helpers being self-effacing rather than celebrity-fuckers. True, his Ashrams had their share of  faceless nonentities and/or schizophrenics without an autonomous identity. But, politically speaking, Gandhi's henchmen were all a bunch of self-aggrandizing sociopaths with delusions of grandeur.  Everybody in India knows about Gandhi's helpers. Indeed, Gandhi is still important to us coz of that Great Uncle or Great-great grandfather or whatever whom he used to give enemas to and who enabled our family to move from the village or moffussil town to a nice middle class neighbourhood in the big City.

Ian's conclusion is 'The real magic of the Mahatma was not a trick of popular charisma, but in fact a deft ability to recruit, manage, and inspire a team of talented individuals who worked tirelessly in his service.'
This is daft. Firstly, Ian has not named one person whom the Mahatma actually went out and 'head-hunted' or otherwise recruited. People came to him for their own reasons. The Mahatma tried to 'manage' people but failed. There is the story of Kumarappa refusing to pay the Ashramites the inflated per diems they demanded out of the Bihar Relief fund. Gandhi intervened- not to get his Ashramites to reduce their monetary demands, but to get the Charetered Accountant to pay up and shut up. But a C.A is a C.A, even in Gandhian guise. Kumarappa stood his ground. So some other fund was tapped for the Ashramite's expenses. Had Gandhi been a good manager, his Ashrams would have been profit centers rather than bottomless money pits. True, he was fucked in the head- but if Scientology can make money why not Gandhian Ashrams?
Gandhi's disciples, properly so called, weren't talented. They were nut-jobs. They didn't work tirelessly. They sat around spinning yarn. Gandhi loved these goof-balls coz- narcissistic hypochondriacs that they were- their function was to constantly waste his time by demanding yet more worthless medical and dietary advice, thus permitting him to picture himself as a sort of Medical savant rather than the deeply provincial politician that he actually was..

Ian totally misses the point about Gandhi. His notion of Hind Swaraj was one which 'made room for the zamindar and the maharaja'- how? Simple! By keeping the British around- but morally debasing them as nothing more than his periodic jailers and turnkeys.
True, Gandhi sponsored a boycott of foreign textiles- he could scarcely fail to do so since it started while he was still in South Africa cuddling with Kallenbach- in any case, his financiers wanted it- but he resolutely opposed a general boycott of British goods or, in fact, any measure that would have hit British financial interests in a manner that had not already been negotiated without him.
Though a fully paid up nut-job, he was less silly than almost anyone else- at least, from the British point of view.
He was 'a loyal seditionist'- recruiting soldiers for three of Britain's wars was just the beginning of his service to the King Emperor. The English speaking people- if not the Indglish speaking people- owe him a debt of gratitude.
But, perhaps, that is Ian Desai's point.The historical record has been erased. Not the sort of record kept by the Gandhi Foundation or the Indian Govt. or responsible historians- no, the other sort of historical record created by kids cutting stuff out of magazines to create collages in Schools unable to actually teach them how to read and write and like mebbe someday do rithmetic.

Come to think of it Prof.Raghavan Iyer, too, was a Rhodes scholar and wrote his shite book on Gandhi in Santa Barbara Cartland.


Anonymous said...

The Dandi salt march was paid for by the industrialist Dalmia. whom Feroze Gandhi, greatly to his father-in-law, Nehru's embarrassment, got jailed as a fraudster.
Incidentally, A.O Hume had made the first breach in the 'great hedge of India' and therefore the salt tax almost fifty years previously.

Anonymous said... are an idiot. desai is a genius. that you didn't comprehend the brilliant man's work is embarrassing on your behalf.

Anonymous said...

Could you please tell us what an Economic coz is? This is the second time I've seen it in an article... and both times made me doubt validity of the article...

Anonymous said...

No actually Ian Rusiklal Bates Desai is just that dumb

Anonymous said...

... Anonymous ...