Saturday, 3 November 2012

Gehazi vs Gandhi

Few occupants of Rashtrapati Bhawan had such unpromising antecedents. A delinquent at School, a sailor who jumped ship at the age of 16, then a stockbroker 'hammered' on 'Change for losing his client's money, Rufus Isaacs, though 9 years older than Gandhi, was called to the bar a couple of years before him and that too only thanks to his family business connections. A further strike against Isaacs, as if being Jewish wasn't enough, was that he was considered to have a bullying style as a prosecutor and was on the wrong side of the original of the Winslow case. Indeed, given these antecedents, one can scarcely blame Cecil Chesterton for focusing on Isaacs as the epitome of Political corruption in the Marconi affair. Yet, within a span of just 15 years, Isaacs  gathered up all the glittering prizes- Attorney General, Lord Chief Justice, Ambassador to Washington, Viceroy in Delhi, and the second highest rank in the Peerage. Not since Wellington (whose ancestral Title was Irish) has a commoner scaled such heights in such a short span of time.
A tribute not less flattering than a peerage, is this poem by Kipling written a couple of year after Reading was appointed Lord Chief Justice- an office he found boring and wished to escape.



WHENCE comest thou, Gehazi,
So reverend to behold,
In scarlet and in ermines
And chain of England's gold ?"
"From following after Naaman
To tell him all is well,
Whereby my zeal hath made me
A Judge in Israel."

Well done; well done, Gehazi!
Stretch forth thy ready hand,
Thou barely 'scaped from judgment,
Take oath to judge the land
Unswayed by gift of money
Or privy bribe, more base,
Of knowledge which is profit
 In any market-place.

Search out and probe, Gehazi,
As thou of all canst try,
The truthful, well-weighed answer
That tells the blacker lie -
The loud, uneasy virtue
 The anger feigned at will,
To overbear a witness
And make the Court keep still.

Take order now, Gehazi,
That no man talk aside
In secret with his judges
The while his case is tried.
Lest he should show them - reason
To keep a matter hid,
And subtly lead the questions
Away from what he did.

Thou mirror of uprightness,
What ails thee at thy vows ?
What means the risen whiteness
Of the skin between thy brows ?
The boils that shine and burrow,
The sores that slough and bleed -
The leprosy of Naaman
On thee and all thy seed ?
Stand up, stand up, Gehazi,
 Draw close thy robe and go,
Gehazi, Judge in Israel,
A leper white as snow !
Isaacs was close to Lloyd George who was fanatically pro-Greek and anti-Turkish. Thus, on the face of it, Isaacs was a terrible choice for Viceroy at at time when Khilafat had transformed the Indian political scene. The Indian view of Reading (Isaacs was raised to the peerage as Lord Reading) is that he tried to drive a wedge between Gandhi and the Ali brothers but, I think, the picture is more complicated. The British were using a self-proclaimed Khilafat agent to assassinate Kemal Attaturk at about this time. The beefing up of the Imperial Intelligence Service had the unfortunate effect of muddying the waters of Populist Politics such that  Governments were under pressure to keep a schismatic 'lunatic fringe' type radicalism alive because, more often than not, it had been penetrated and instrumentalized for murky geopolitical ends.
Kipling, of course, could not have dreamed that his Gehazi would become the Viceroy of India at the time of Khilafat & 'Hijrat'- when 30,000 people emigrated to Afghanistan with predictably tragic results. Yet, his poem- precisely because it is a poem- provides a more suggestive method of approaching Reading's Vicereoyalty- and thus answering the question whether Gandhi could have actually delivered 'Swaraj' within the time-scale he promised- than conventional Historical wisdom on this topic.
Isaac's forte was negotiation and his special skill that of intuiting what was not being said, the mercenary motives and existential threats that dared not speak their own name. It was he who brokered the deal with the Americans, or was it the house of Morgan?, which brought them into the War.
By contrast, the Secretary of State for India, Montague, from a prominent Jewish Banking family, was less happily endowed and cuts a somewhat tragic, or perhaps merely wooden, figure.  Yet, in fairness to him, the lesson of Ireland seemed all too clear. Why was Isaacs not simply arresting Gandhi and prosecuting him for sedition? Or to put it another way, how come Gehazi hasn't gone down in History as the man who single-handedly lost India for the Empire?
The answer is that Gandhi, without asking anything in return, simply hands Isaacs an unqualified victory by both calling off the Bardoli agitation and also pleading guilty on all counts and voluntarily embracing imprisonment.
Gehazi knew he had been out-witted but for the life of him couldn't figure out how or why it had happened.

'And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27).

Gandhi may have been an innocent but, at the end of his bout with Isaacs, if not his second, he won on all point precisely because his defeat was so abject, his pusillanimity so obvious. Yet, even cowardice is better than non-violence and non-violence better than a victory over cowardice. 
Gehazi was needed, he could have been the great Liberal Foreign Secretary who stopped Hitler dead in his tracks. Defeating Gandhi so comprehensively- especially since the little fellow was literally whimpering with fear and not ashamed to say as much- turned him, turned Liberalism, into a Political leper. 
Come to think of it, even Gandhi's second round with Reading- delaying Provincial Autonomy by a decade- gave Indian politics more time to develop without 'foreign entanglements'- chaps turning up with suitcases of cash and arranging assassinations and so on all in the name of Khilafat, or Communism or eating up all your Carrots. Now that's a sort of swadesi, a type of swaraj, we can all get behind. 

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