Book Review: Re-evaluating Gandhi: How he delayed Independence and mainstreamed radical Islam 

Verdict: Must-read  

Author: Susmit Kumar

Pages: 512, MRP: Rs 999, Publisher: Garuda Prakashan

Reviewed by: Amit Agarwal, author of Swift Horses Sharp Swords & A Never-Ending Conflict. 

Gandhi is revered by the vast majority of Hindus as the hero of Indian independence, and many people throughout the world consider him to be a modern saint who single-handedly led India to independence, just like Moses once did to Jews. He implemented the unique process of non-violence during the freedom movement which cannot be adopted again in any space-time continuum, so he proclaimed. His coterie, especially Nehru, concurred. 

After independence, the leftist cabal, led by his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, drummed up his contribution to such an extent that everyone else, barring Nehru, was eclipsed. However, ground reality was far from this narrative. The book, an erudite re-evaluation of Gandhi, questions this irrational propaganda and tries to bring out his mistakes and follies which are by no stretch of the imagination small in numbers. 

In this regard, author Susmit Kumar has done yeoman service in unravelling ‘Mahatma’ by meticulous research. In this explosive, fascinating, and provocative investigation, Kumar indicates that the popular image of Gandhi is highly deceptive. Despite his famous philosophy of satyagraha, Kumar’s analysis of the evidence forces him to conclude that Gandhi’s ideology was in fact rooted in the dictatorship and independence was delayed by at least a decade. It is not that his personality is now being dissected in the privileged hindsight but Gandhi has been opposed vehemently even by his contemporaries, who were then who’s who of Indian politics like Tilak, Bose, and Jinnah. However, all these luminaries were chucked out one by one from Congress in due course of time. 

I did quite a good amount of research on Gandhi when I was working on the chapter on the Khilafat movement for my second book, A Never-Ending Conflict. I was especially intrigued by his love for Muslims and his hate for Hindus. He never condemned the Muslims’ role in riots which were happening with alarming regularity in his times. Kumar has given a chart which shows how riots spiked after the Gandhi’s association with Khilafat. Even when soul-splitting Moplah riots happened, he defended them without a crease on his face, stating that Muslims are violent by nature. He never petitioned the British for the clemency of Bhagat Singh, but he fought for the Muslim murderer of Swami Shradhananda who was doing Ghar-wapasi on a mass scale. His contradictions were galore. He was also a double-faced fellow who always indulged in mrig-trishna. In the 1920s, he gave the illusion to Indians that Swaraj is just one year away and in the 1940s, he always proclaimed that India would be partitioned only on his dead body. But neither happened and he lived merrily on the bounty of Birlas. Though he was against capitalism and always rooted for socialism and village economy, he collected funds from Industrialists for himself and Congress. His mysterious personality and distinct self-contradictions took their toll and jeopardized the Independence movement. All these facts have been beautifully brought out by the author. 

A subtle subtext from the book is that Gandhi taught Hindus the lesson of Ahimsa, passivity, conflict avoidance and the art of capturing moral high ground, from which even today’s generation suffers. Jaiprakash Narayan, Tilak, CR Das, etc protested against such manoeuvrings, however, the hold of Gandhi on Congress and the nation was such that they all had given short shrift. These parochial worldviews had turned them into a soft community whom Muslims derisively call a lazy and effeminate race. It often results in their genocide too. Muslims being strongly rooted in Islam, laughed at such impractical notions. Gandhi always appreciated such sentiments. In my opinion, he and Nehru did to India what Mohammed bin Qasim, Ghaznawi, Ghori, Taimur, Babur and Nadir Shah couldn’t do.

The book also contains many anecdotes which readers might not be aware of. This makes the book a joy to read. Like Gandhi fainting when AICC barely passed his resolutions at Ahmedabad in 1924. Once Motilal Nehru helped him in retaining his position in Congress. Gandhi repaid handsomely by promoting his son Jawaharlal Nehru all along. He made him Congress President in 1946 even when Patel was elected by a huge margin. This paved the way for Nehru to become the first prime minister of Interim government in 1946.

However, the book abstains from discussing Gandhi’s private life which is no less controversial. It is not that his private life did not impact India’s future. Some unsavoury questions still remain in your mind when you finish reading the book. I differ from the author in his proclamation that it was the Bose and INA who brought India independence. Events of such momentous proportions have multiple factors. Though INA contributions cannot be belittled, it was World War II that made colonialism old-fashioned. In the decade of 1946-56, almost every country got independence, even where no independence struggle was launched. The author is a fan of Bose and quite a good chunk of the book is dedicated to him. Even Nehru is mostly shown in a positive light, which should be treated with scepticism.

The author’s portrayal of Gandhi is intensely analytical and never out of context. At the same time, the tone is balanced and never denigrating. The language throughout the book is simple, fact-based, fast-paced, and at no time, bordering on jingoism. He has given the references and sources for every controversial statement. He also dished a humungous amount of data, painstakingly culled from the various correspondences, newspaper clippings, and speeches. However, the research has been backed up by a few tables only in the book. I wish the author included more screenshots, maps and pictures for easier understanding and to make it more interesting. The other weakness I could find is its weight of more than a kilogram. A tome of 512 pages with a price tag of Rs 999 (Rs 799 after discount) will keep it out of the reach of the general public, who, in fact, need to know most about the man in question.

The book is hard-bound with excellent paper quality, which makes it eminently readable. It has the potential to open the reader’s eyes to India’s true history.

And for those who don’t read the book: Ishwar Allah tero naam.

Reviewer is the author of the history books, Swift Horses Sharp Swords & A Never-Ending Conflict. 

Disclaimer: The book was sent to me by its publisher, Garuda Prakashan, as a review copy a week back and probably, I am the first one to complete the tome, cover to cover. 

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Amit Agarwal