Tuesday, 6 September 2011

South African Satyagraha as origin of Gandhian Corruption

'A movement takes its downward course from the time that it is afflicted with a plethora of  funds.  When  therefore  a  public  institution  is managed from the interests of investments, I dare not call it a sin but I
do  say  that it  is a  highly  improper  procedure.  The  public   should be the bank for all public institutions, which should not last a day longer than  the  public  wish.  An  institution  run  with  the  interest  of accumulated capital  ceases  to  be  amenable  to  public  opinion  and becomes autocratic and self-righteous. This is not the place to dwell upon  the  corruption  of  many  a  social  and  religious  institution managed with permanent funds. The phenomenon is so common that he who runs may read it.'
M.K Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa.

"The Black Act applied to the Chinese as well as to the Indians whom they therefore joined
in the Satyagraha struggle. Still from first to last the activities of the two communities were
not allowed to be mixed up. Each worked through its own independent organisation. This
arrangement produced the beneficent result that so long as both the communities stood to their
guns, each would be a source of strength to the other. But if one of the two gave way, that
would leave the morale of the other unaffected or at least the other would steer clear of the
danger of a total collapse. Many of the Chinese eventually fell away as their leader played
them false. He did not indeed submit to the obnoxious law, but one morning some one came
and told me that the Chinese leader had fled away without handing over charge of the books
and moneys of the Chinese Association in his possession. It is always difficult for followers to
sustain a conflict in the absence of their leader, and the shock is all the greater when the leader
has disgraced himself. But when the arrests commenced, the Chinese were in high spirits.
Hardly any of them had taken out a permit, and therefore their leader Mr Quinn was warned to
appear along with the Indians. For some time at any rate Mr Quinn put in very useful work."
Leung Quinn disappears from history in 1911. Did he really abscond with the money of the Chinese Association? It is difficult to reconcile his exemplary record of personal courage and sacrifice with so sordid an end.
A book by Melanie Yap, '

Colour, confusion and concessions: the history of the Chinese in South Africa

reveals how acrimonious the split between the 'passive resisters' and the 'no resisters' became
- indeed, it featured a full scale gun battle!- and also chronicles the manner in which the Court froze
the assets of the Chinese Association and ultimately used its funds for the endowment of a
Chinese only ward at the Johannesberg hospital.

Writing 'Satyagraha in South Africa', in Gujerati, some years after he'd left South Africa, Gandhi can
be pardoned lapses in memory.

Still, even to the casual reader, Gandhi's jaundiced view of passive resisters like Leung Quinn, Pundit Ram Sundara and Thambi Pillai appears 
appears to be based on gossip. He makes a grave charge against Quinn based on what his enemies said about him
once he. himself, had been deported and had no means to defend himself.
Why does Gandhi quite gratuitously defame Quinn? Well, he is trying to make two points
1) Only celibates can do Satyagraha. Otherwise, like Ram Sundara, passive resisters will fall for the temptations of the flesh and 
disappear from the scene. THUS only celibacy (brahmacharya) is free from corruption (brashtachara). The essence of
Corruption is intermingling of the pure with the impure. Gandhi point out that though the Indians and the Chinese were
in the same boat, they kept their struggles separate. Thus, his own support of Khilafat had not rendered him impure
though no one believed he actually wanted the re-establishment of the Turkish Caliphate. The Gandhian principle here is
that alliances are purely tactical and involve no long term commitment. There can be no intermingling or harmonizing
of intent. That would be corrupt.

2) Money entrusted to an institution breeds corruption. Thus the only truly worthwhile institution in public life is the 
Saintly Gandhian who, because he is celibate, has no private life at all. In the language of Carl Schmitt- the Gandhian alone
is the fitting Homo Sacer to rule society.

How does Gandhi make his case?
By repeating gossip and mean-spirited slander. He was a barrister by profession. The paper he edited was called 
'Indian Opinion'- which Indian's opinion?- his own- it had nothing to do with objective news or rational analysis.

But if Gandh's 'Satya' (Truth) turns out to be whatever gossip he chooses to hear or whatever nonsense he happens t
to chance upon in some pamphlet by a faddist, and if moreover, Gandhi admits no objective test- utilitarian or deontological
- of these received truths, then Gandhian Truth is Corruption merely and the Struggle for it a fool's quest.

Gandhi felt that money entrusted to him was not subject to the sort of scrutiny and accountability that characterize 
money held by an Institution for a Charitable or Social purpose. To argue otherwise would be to subject his disposal 
of funds to a Utilitarian calculus. Later, the 'Harijans' would object that money collected in their name was being used
to maintain high caste lawyers in idleness. Clearly, this sort of thing is best nipped in the bud.

Gandhi was brave, a good organizer and, it may be, somewhat less prejudiced then people of his own class. But, 
his positive contribution to South Africa ended with the appearance of a younger cohort of South African born, Indian,
barristers. Recognizing this, Gandhi, in fact, returned to India and set up shop as a barrister in Bombay in 1902. The 
South African Indians are at fault for calling him back. This was a mistake- though a pardonable one at the time. After
all, the British had mentioned protection of British Asiactic subjects as one of their war aims. 
But, Milner wasn't interested in the 'Asiatic question'. Kitchener, himself, had given the game away to the Boers- the
Liberals would win the next election, so Milner's 'kindergarten' was an irrlevance. The Boers would have everything
 their own way. The Chinese coolie question, artfully managed by Smuts,actually helped the Liberal victory.
 Boers received fabulous compensation awards while the Uitlanders were squeezed out
 Smuts repatriated the Chinese mine workers and showed the mine-owners who was boss. True, Smuts
had a soft spot for fellow barrister Gandhi- but Smuts was deeply hated by his own people because rather
 than in despite of the increasing admiration he won from the British.
Smuts increasing admiration for Gandhi turned out to be a bane, not a boon, for the South African Indians.

It is interesting that Gandhi starts to go completely off his rocker at precisely the time when he is forced into a no-win
political position. The Boers had lost the war but were able to win the peace by making the Asiatics the scapegoat. 
In India, the lesson of the Boer War- as a Liberation struggle- had been taken to heart by the Jugantar Revolutionists.
If the Colonial authorities had thought they could use Kaffir rights or protection for Asiatics as a moral stick with which 
to beat the rude Boers into baffled submission, they had miscalculated. Gandhi himself, not to mention the numerous other
educated Asiatics and European Liberals, were on the spot to show that Milner's 'kindergarten' was corrupt, stupid and
racist. Thus, the Asian question empowered the Boers who, in any case could appeal to the new Jingoistic racism of 
the Yellow Press.
What if the Indian Freedom Struggle had learned the lesson of the Boers? Instead of accepting the British 'Umpire' as the 
protector of 'minorities', 'women', 'Scheduled Castes' etc, they could have posed as guardians of morality keeping the lessr
orders in their place- preventing things like 'Moplah' uprisings, suppressing trafficking in Women and Drugs and so on.

 As a matter of fact, Tariff protection and Congress influence on curbing Trade Union militancy was as good for British
owned concerns as Indian businesses. All the Indians needed to do was assemble enough munitions to put up a fight
at some place where they might have a strategic advantage. A show of force, even if ruthlessly put down, would still
have yielded a settlement similar to that which the Boers received. Indeed, the Indian Revolutionists were preparing for 
precisely this outcome- arranging for a German shipment of arms with the Kaiser's son and also sending out feelers to the
Japanese and the Russians.

But the Jugantar movement was crushed by Police Commissioner Tegart.  Bagha Jatin's lieutenant, M.K. Roy goes to 
Moscow. Will he get Soviet help? Not a chance. The Bolsheviks were only interested in destroying their own country and
sending each other to the Gulags. Roy runs away from Russia and meekly comes back to India to serve out his prison 

In my view, Gandhi goes off his rocker because he was placed in an impossible position in South Africa. Whatever move
he made, strengthened the most implacable and racist of all possible enemies. But, the India he returned to was no different

Whatever move the Congress leaders made either strengthened the Empire or destroyed the cohesion and productive
capacity of the indigenous element or did both simultaneously.

From every point of view- the Gandhian aspect of the Indian Freedom struggle was a race to dig our own mass grave.

Gandhi's conclusion to his book on the South Africa Satyagraha is an extraordinary muddle. He takes the view that
since both the Boers and the British were determined to humiliate the Indians, it was his duty as a true Satyagrahi to
do everything in his power to make ineffective any action by Indians miners or laborers. They were welcome to harm
themselves by any act in the name of Satyagraha but forbidden to do anything which might hurt the economic or
other interests of any White person or property owner whatsoever. 
It is noteworthy that Gandhi was writing after the First World War. At no point does he mention the manner in which it
altered the positions of the Indians in South Africa. Purely economic considerations had already put an end to Smuts
campaign to harass the Asians as a means of endearing himself to his own red-necks. Now military and strategic 
considerations- as well as the esprit d'corps which cuts across color lines engendered by the common travails 
of Commonwealth forces- permitted a radical change in the position of Asians in South Africa. But Gandhi
was already completely off his rocker-

"A thing acquired by violence can be retained by violence alone, while one acquired by truth
can be retained only by truth. The Indians in South Africa, therefore, can ensure their safety
today if they can wield the weapon of Satyagraha. There are no such miraculous properties
in Satyagraha, that a thing acquired by truth could be retained even when truth was given up.
It would not be desirable even if it was possible. If therefore the position of Indians in South
Africa has now suffered deterioration, that argues the absence of Satyagrahis among them."

Gandhi is making two claims here- one that he improved the position of South African Indians and,second,
that they would have been better off if he had stayed with them.

These are self-serving claims. Is there any evidence at all to support either? 

Confining ourselves to the evidence he himself presents, we find his propaganda work in India had embittered not just the Boers but many
working class whites against not just himself but also the Asians in South Africa.
Indeed, the worsening in the condition of Indians in South Africa- though partly a strategic game of shuttlecock between 
the Imperial power and the dominant White community- was something his own tactics both precipitated 
and facilitated. However, once Indians in South Africa showed they were in a position to inflict considerable costs on
society- especially if they acted in concert with organized labor- including white labor- then they achieved the removal
of costly to enforce and purely obnoxious measures. However, nothing w.r.t right of representation or immigration was 
conceded as this would affect the relative balance of power. Gandhi, of course, never sought such measures. Essentially
Gandhi's usefulness to Smuts lay in the vituperative zeal he displayed in attacking and condemning as immoral any
agitation which might raise wages or working conditions for Indian labor. Clearly, if some people become better off
through Satyagraha, then Satyagraha is corrupt. Moreover, the racial argument against Indian immigrants focused on their
lower standard of living. Any economic amelioration in their condition would tend to militate against the very foundation 
of Satyagraha as wholly Indian and pure and distinct from any other sort of struggle.
Indeed, it would be no better than the Socialism espoused by the likes of Saklatvala who had married an English girl!
Gandhi and Smuts were both barristers and near in age. They certainly formed a mutual admiration society later in life. What explains their lack of rapport in 1908? Gandhi's own explanation is that Smuts was brilliant but a born equivocator. His intentions may have been honest but allowed himself to be misunderstood. The result was that Gandhi was hoodwinked into rushing off to 'voluntarily register' for which he received a thrashing from some Pathans. But why was Gandhi so keen on giving his finger-prints? That too voluntarily? It is one thing to submit to an injustice by reason of force majeure but to refuse to submit to force and demand to submit voluntarily means only one thing- the rule is just and salutary and it is offensive to suggest that those brought under the rule would not do so voluntarily. Let us say there were a rule 'Indians must wash their hands after defecation. Penalty for non compliance 5sh.' I would object to this rule because it seems to imply that Indians will only wash their hands after defecating from a motive of avarice. However, the Pass Law was not a salutary and good rule. Gandhi may have thought he was being very clever and holier than thou in claiming the right to be the first to voluntarily register under it. The apologetics he produced on this subject defy belief. As Woodrow Wyatt was to discover, Gandhi's casuistry tied no one but himself in knots. This is Gandhi on the Cabinet Mission Plan ''I have been examining the Mission's Statement with my aged lawyer's mind. Now the Cabinet Mission have put out their document they no longer have the right to interpret it. The lawgiver cannot interpret his own laws. That is for the courts. The Cabinet Mission's Plan doesn't mean what they think it means.'
Gandhi was aged, he was a lawyer- but the notion that a Plan doesn't mean what the Planners think it means is not one any lawyer can reasonably entertain. Was he senile? But if so, his senility was of no recent date.

In contrast, Smuts- the poor Scholarship boy- was very much better educated, intelligent and accomplished as a lawyer or statesman. Gandhi's inflated self-opinion would have weighed little with him.
However, Gandhi- unlike Smuts- somehow won the hearts of his countrymen and won a get reputation without achieving
anything for them. Smuts had good reason to envy Gandhi and return the slippers he made for him while in prison.

We know something about Smuts 'holistic' philosophy. As a military man, he wanted to worsen conditions for the Indians
so as to get a measure of what they were capable of so as to have a countervailing power to that of the mine-owners
and the big planters. Smuts wanted to know- as Gandhi tells us- if the 'Orientals' were other-worldly, lacking in vitality,
and a race born merely to serve. Smuts did not want a slave caste of this sort to pollute the energy and self-affirmation
of the South African 'holon'. Gandhi eagerly embraced a position of moral abasement worse than any Smuts devised
because, ultimately, he agreed with Smuts. Indians had no place in South Africa. Indeed, they had no place in India.
They should simply stop having children and die out as a race. True, towards the end of his life, Gandhi was very keen 
that his great niece should go out and get raped a few times. But, not so that she could have children. The rape should 
be enjoyed purely for spiritual purposes as the crest jewel of the Satyagrahi.
True, Gandhi had probably already gone quietly mad by 1903,  but his mean-spirited condemnation of people like Leung Quinn based
on nothing but rumor (this in contrast to his treatment of perfidious Smuts) show that he was riddled and rotten to the core
with conceit and sanctimounious humbug.

Gandhian corruption begins when it dispenses with any objective method of verification of truth claims. It clamors for 
authority without accountability- the Saint's as much as the harlot's 'prerogative throughout the ages'.
Why, then, is Gandhi still a heavy industry?
The answer is that it is a primrose path to Money, Power and self-aggrandizement.

Sheikh Abdullah spoke of the 'Gandhi topi' as a money-spinning machine. Corruption wears a Gandhi topi when seeking to spin money out of anything- even Anti-Corruption agitations. No one is too stupid or too violent or too prejudiced to wear it.
But as everything else wrong with India, this too is not our fault. Only the British should be blamed.


  1. I looked at the Gandhi online archive and found this-

    'There are many Kaffirs who do not of their own acco rd stop drinking, hence wherever it is found necessary to use compulsion against them, legislative measures are resorted to to stop them from drinking. The man who stops drinking under compulsion by law, and not as a matter of duty, cannot be called a virtuous man. It is the man who of his own free will avoids drinking that is really virtuous.
    There is the same difference between compulsory and voluntary registration.'

    I think Gandhi really was convinced that there was some sort of subtle legal distinction which he alone had spotted and which would turn the tables on Smuts and secure to the voluntary registrants a status far superior to those who had registered merely as a matter of law.

  2. @chetan-I confess, I can make no sense of it unless Gandhi's offer to Smuts- viz. let him register voluntarily and he'd get all the Indians to do so within a month, at which point Smuts might as well withdraw the law- was meant to secure Gandhi's position as the dictator of the Indians. In that case, his bile against those who registered, or those like Ram Sundar who left rather than return to Prison, had some reason to it. It showed that they did not consider him their dictator but were disciples simply. However, since Gandhi couldn't deliver what he thought- in fact he got a beating for registering- Smuts had no excuse to scrap the law. So Gandhi had to backtrack.
    However, he'd been made to look a complete fool to the legal community in South Africa. His argument for voluntary registration is that it is a great convenience and boon for Indians from any part of South Africa. Applying his own argument re. 'Kaffirs' and booze- the Govt. ought to make it compulsory because there would always be at least one Indian too degraded to see that he ought to register voluntarily.

  3. The real question I should be asking is why the Indians would want to support Gandhi. Suppose registration made immigration from Natal more difficult then there's an economic motive for maintaining a show of passive resistance as it muddies the waters for illegals. But the moment Gandhi registers, that hope vanishes. A good reason to beat the fellow.
    Perhaps, voluntary registration in the form originally envisaged, with some people being allowed to sign rather than give fingerprints, was sufficiently manipulable to give a cover to illegals.
    What I don't know is whether Gandhi really wanted to stop illegals settling in Transvaal.
    Still, no question, you're right that Gandhi thought he'd been very very clever-
    'Our pledge has been honoured and the demand that we insisted upon has been conceded which means
    that we shall be treated as men. No one else knows about the law as much as I do and can explain it as well as I. I do not say this out of pride; only because whatever explanation I give, will be correct to the
    best of my judgment. I am thoroughly familiar with all that has happened since 1903. There is only one task we have accomplished through the fight, and that is to have prepared the ground. What
    remains now is to construct a building on it.'