Mar 22, 2009

The long-overdue Gandhi vs. Hitler post

I had resolved to put down my views on this a long, long time back - even before I started blogging here. It's time to deliver.

I should warn you - the ideas in this post are going to be rather radical, and anything BUT politically correct. You may feel outraged. If you aren't sure you can handle that in a mature manner, don't read it.

Based on all that I've read/seen/heard/understood, my own sense of right-and-wrong, and the logic that works in my head, here's what I have to say.

MK Gandhi was, for lack of a better word, a loser. His great, and in my opinion his only, achievement was to unify most of our population using religion. India, as we know it today, was never really a nation ruled by a single ruler, before the British. We had our own regional/linguistic/cultural sub-identities, that actually exist even today. The British united us as an administrative unit, and Gandhi united most of us as a people.

My first problem - is with the manner and philosophy with which he achieved this. India wasn't, isn't, and will probably never be a Hindu state. Religion is, in my opinion, one of the greatest destructive forces ever invented by man. Nearly all religion is based on faith, with no evidence available to prove the existence of 'God'. Even if there is such a force, there is no definite knowledge of it's form. There is no justification for the rules that the followers of a faith are forced to live by. Some faiths prohibit eating any meat, some prohibit only pork or beef, while others allow everything. Can anyone prove their way is 'right'? Secondly, no single faith can claim to be followed by an absolute majority of the world's population. Are all the people of any one faith much better off than all others, in this world? And I won't even bother questioning the concept of afterlife - that's blind faith in its worst form. Yet, people are ready to die, and to kill, in the name of religion. Wars are being fought. Landmarks being destroyed in a mindless way. All this - for what rational reason?

Gandhi based his work on the concept of Bhakti - total devotion to god and a lifestyle of self-denial. These regressive, counter-productive principles somehow appeared noble to a people who had been exploited over centuries and had come to expect no better. He basically told people to accept that their lives weren't meant to be happier, and take pride in their decision to waste their lives. Since no rational grounds could support such a philosophy, religion and faith were called into play. People were encouraged to derive happiness from 'being on moral high ground' in their own heads, and not through material comforts or real achievements that the rest of the world would admire. He gave them a sense of purpose, but no real purpose.

This has caused a lot of damage in the long-term. For one, we had partition - an inevitable fallout of Gandhi's basic Hindu philosophy. I know people will say there were a million other factors that led to partition. But in my opinion, the fundamental reason was Gandhi's choice of religion and Bhakti to unite the country. Obviously, it left many people out. What followed was inevitable.

The other terrible legacy is socialism. In the Gandhian system, productivity and ambition were equated with greed and deplored. Sacrifice and simplicity were extolled as righteous virtues. Bhakti means basic existence, with absolute insignificance of this life being the ultimate goal. There is no room for pursuit of economic development, as priorities are spiritual. As an example, take Satyagraha - fast unto death. It basically relies on sympathy of other people to get things done. You aren't directly doing anything, yourself, to achieve the changes you want to see in the world. You are prepared to just throw away everything you have - your own life, which ostensibly has no great value. But since someone else may not have the stomach to witness your senseless death, your objective might be achieved. What a pathetic method.

Unfortunately, these philosophies shaped the policies of the Indian state post-independence. Profit was a dirty word. Ambition and aspirations were throttled, since they went against the principle of simple living and nirvana. Competition was discouraged. The result - the shameful 'Hindu rate of growth', while our south-east Asian neighbours galloped ahead. History has proven something that seems so obvious now - happiness for all can only be achieved through creation of more wealth, and not by state distribution of limited wealth among the weak. Gandhi would rather have you not bothering with wealth at all, and wasting your life with Bhakti.

My second major problem is with the principles of non-violence and turning the other cheek. I just don't get it. Nature designed us to compete and ensure the survival of the fittest. That's how the world improves and moves forward. How can we, and why should we, turn away from that?

We were an oppressed people, but we were large in number. Civil disobedience and non-cooperation made it difficult for the British to administer us, but we could have made it a lot tougher by taking up arms. Sure, the British had great military resources, and may have exterminated our people in great numbers. But, there would've been a cost - financial as well as human - for the British in this case, and that would've got us our independence a lot more swiftly.

Let's face it - we got our independence for two reasons. One, WW2 depleted British resources and will to administer a large, non-cooperative colony. Two, the wide public opinion turned against imperialism. Both could have been expedited if we had taken the Bhagat Singh approach rather than Gandhi's. Metaphorically, the British grew tired of slapping us on one cheek after another. If we had fought back rather than turning the other cheek, this could have happened earlier. And the total cumulative damage suffered by India may well have been lower. If WW2 hadn't occured, I'm not sure just how long it would have taken for us to achieve Independence the Gandhian way. If ever. The legacy - we are still a 'soft' state.

This is why I have little respect for Gandhi. And I'm willing to debate...


If the above piece didn't outrage you enough - take this. I have a lot of respect for Adolf Hitler. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't consider him a role model for myself, nor would I condone the crimes he committed against humanity. But I do believe history has been very harsh on him, since he ended up on the losing side. He did some things right, and deserves some credit for those.

I was assigned a research project for a course during my time at IIT, Madras - 'Anti-semitism in pre-WW2  Germany', and at that time I had to look up 'semitism' in the dictionary. Most of this piece is based on what I learnt and understood during my study for that project, and even later.

Let's try and imagine ourselves in Germany during Hitler's rise. The nation had been blamed for WW1, and dealt very severe terms in the Treaty of Versailles. Their pride was hurt, and their economy shattered. A large part of the population was unemployed, while inflation skyrocketed. In this scenario, the Jews' power and affluence was conspicuous. I don't remember the stats very well, but it was something like - 10% of the population (Jews) owned/controlled 75% of the nation's wealth and resources. And they've never been known for benevolence or endearing behavior anyway. In fact, when the Nazi party came to power and started treating Jews badly - long before taking any hard, organized action, mind you - Jewish business leaders and bureaucrats around the world called for boycott of German exports. This further crippled the German economy. There was a widespread sense of resentment against the Jews, and coupled with a collapsing economy, what happened next was inevitable. Hitler just happened to be the man in charge. You and I may not like what happened, but there were reasons it did, and Hitler did an exceptionally effective and efficient job.

Just as Gandhi used religion to unite a nation opressed, Hitler used race. While Gandhi's methods were passive on one extreme, Hitler's were aggressive on the other extreme. Had Hitler won the war, history would have been written in a very different tone, and what is now termed 'crimes against humanity', may have been termed 'revolution' (in a positive sense).

Think about this. Gandhi needed decades, and favorable external circumstances, to achieve a fractured independence for India. Hitler needed just a decade to turn around a crippled country into a European empire. The achievement is awe-inspiring. The Axis powers lost the war mainly due to two mistakes:
1. Hitler's decision to advance the attack on the Soviet Union by a few months, so that the battle happened in the winter. The Reds, though inferior militarily, were in much better shape to deal with the climate and the terrain, and Hitler refused to back down in spite of early setbacks. If all his power and early successes hadn't fogged his judgment, Hitler would've, in all likelihood, conquered all of Europe.
2. Japan not 'finishing the job' at Pearl Harbor. They had the element of surprise, and caused substantial damage without facing any real resistance. If they had completed the attack as planned, and aimed to defeat the US in war, rather than merely discouraging their entry (the Japs only hit active battleships, and not the fuel storage, workshops or submarine facilities), WW2 may well have had an entirely different outcome.

For a moment, leave aside the concentration camps and the holocaust. Just consider what Hitler managed as the leader of his people - turning around an economy on crutches, restoration of national pride, and almost a conquest of the entire world. Sure, the man had his flaws. Sure, he did many deplorable things. But does he deserve no respect for what he managed to do as the leader of his people? 


  1. After reading the Gandhi description, I don't even have the patience to read about Hitler.
    United the country based on religion - really. Where did you get that?
    Self denial - It is the way you interpret his ideals. Its almost like you have mae up your mind that he was a loser and then woven the whole post around it.
    His biggest lessons were - dignity of labour, equality, secularism. Dont blame Gandhi for making profit a dirty word. That was Nehru. And I dont even blame him. At that time, both US and USSR were doing fine so there was no evidence against either.
    All this when I am not even a Gandhi fan!

  2. using the very freedom he gave us to badmouth him!Hmm theres a word for this in the english dictionary...ungratefulness!

  3. @LoM: Where did I get that? A course in Modern History at IIT, where I was forced to read a lot of independent, unbiased critiques of Gandhi. And a lot of literature I read later, of my own volition. You should too.

    'United the country based on religion'... I'll quote Gandhi:
    "For me, politics bereft of religion is absolute dirt, ever to be shunned"
    "politics divorced from religion is like a corpse, fit only to be burnt"
    "I feel that India's mission is different from that of other countries, India is fitted for the religious supremacy of the world....India can conquer all by soul-force".
    Read about the religious symbolism of the Dandi march here. It also explains why Muslims began to feel left out.

    It is also well-known that most of his meetings began with 'Raghupati Raghav...', singing bhajans was a core feature of his sabhas, and all his speeches had references to God and spiritualism.

    This is what he said after Chauri Chaura:
    "God has been abundantly kind to me. He has warned me the third time that there is not yet in India that truthful and non-violent atmosphere which and which alone can justify mass disobedience....which means gentle, truthful, humble, knowing, never criminal and hateful. He warned me in 1919 when the Rowlatt Act agitation was started. Ahmedabad, Viramgam, and Kheda erred. Amritsar and Kasur erred. I retraced my steps, called it a Himalayan miscalculation, humbled myself before God and man, and stopped not merely mass civil disobedience but even my own which I knew to be civil and non-violent"

    Never mind the message, you can NOT deny the use of God and religion to send it through.

    Gandhi's absolute rejection of Western thought, Western science, technology and materialism is also well-documented. How can you deny his influence on our Socialist choice? Do not forget that Nehru became PM mainly because Gandhi wanted it. While Socialism may have been an honest mistake, let's not pretend that it wasn't a mistake.

    Gandhi's principles of equality and simplicity may have great moral appeal, but in truth they were highly impractical. I strongly believe in capitalism and objectivism as defined by Ayn Rand for the simple reason that these systems produce a much higher quality of life. If economic and technological development is to be forsaken in favor of Gandhian principles, give me a rational, practical reason why...

  4. @TDV: I strongly object to your phrase 'the very freedom he gave us'. That is the BS propaganda we are taught in school. If you want to argue, first get all your facts right, and evaluate them in an objective manner. Here are some facts to get you started:

    For starters, he did not totally oppose British Imperialism.
    Quote from 1914, about 300 years into British rule: "Though Empires have gone and fallen, this empire may perhaps be an is an empire not founded on material but on spiritual foundations....the British constitution. Tear away those ideals and you tear away my loyalty to the British constitution; keep those ideals and I am ever a bondsman"

    Martin Green makes a brief reference to Gandhi's attitude towards WWI when he was in England: "To return to London in wartime: Gandhi quickly raised his ambulance corps amongst the Indians in England. As before, he had offered his volunteers for any kind of military duty, but the authorities preferred medical workers"

    Gandhi's ideas on non-violence did not then extend to the British Imperial War, and upon his return to India in 1915 attempted to recruit Indians for the British War effort. Gandhi's position echoed that of the Maharajas, many of whom (like the Maharaja of Bikaner) played a pivotal role in supporting the British, both in terms of propaganda and providing troops. Gandhi's attitude towards the empire emerges quite clearly from this statement of Martin Green: "Gandhi himself had twice volunteered for service in this war, in France and in Mesopotamia, because he had convinced himself that he owed the empire that sacrifice in return for it's military protection."

    From here:
    As late as 1928, Gandhi resisted Nehru and Bose, and campaigned for the rejection of a resolution calling for complete independence at the session of the Indian National Congress. And unlike other leaders in the freedom struggle, Gandhi often entertained false hopes about the British. In a 1930 letter, Motilal Nehru chided Gandhi for resting his hopes on the Labor Government and the sincerity of the Viceroy.

    In much of Motilal Nehru's correspondence with his son, (and with others in the Congress), there are expressions of frustration with Gandhi's tendency towards moderation and compromise with the British authorities and his reluctance to broaden and accelerate the civil disobedience movement.

    Gandhi's Chauri Chaura decision created deep consternation in Congress circles. Subhash Chandra Bose wrote: "To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma, Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai, who were all in prison, shared the popular resentment. I was with the Deshbandu at the time, and I could see that he was beside himself with anger and sorrow."

    Although Gandhi's defenders may disagree, not only were Gandhi's ideas on non-violence applied very selectively, they were hardly the most appropriate for India's situation. At no time was the British military presence in India so overwhelming that it could not have been challenged by widespread resistance from the Indian masses. Had Gandhi not called for a retreat after Chauri Chaura, it is likely that incidents such as Chauri Chaura would have occurred with much greater regularity - even increasing in frequency and intensity. This would have inevitably put tremendous pressure on the British to cut short their stay. As it is, British administrators were constrained to send back British troops as soon as possible, because many clamored to return after serving for a few years in India. Had India become too difficult to control, mutinies and dissension in the royal armies would have occurred more often, and the British would have had to cut and run, probably much sooner than in 1947.

    Some critics saw in Gandhi's Chauri Chaura turnaround as indicative of his deep fear and distrust of the Indian masses - that Gandhi feared the spontaneous energy of the poor and the downtrodden more than the injustice of British rule.

    I can go on quoting, but I hope you get the picture. Crediting Gandhi for our Independence is just wrong. We would've probably got it sooner without him.

  5. You have certainly read a lot about him. But it is like Gandhi in your head is a black character. I believe, all characters are grey. This notion makes your analysis a bit biased. Re your points, I will keep it short:
    1. Religion - No where in the comments has he slighted muslims. He had amongst his best comrades Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Frontier Gandhi. He went on anshan post communal riots in multiple places which means he was tolerant on the religious front. Using religion to bind people was infact a master move. Nothing else brought people under one umbrella.
    2. Socialism - No one is pretending it wasnt a mistake. It was but an honest one. We just took the wrong way which it that time seemed the right one considering the circumstances we were under. At that time there were a handful industrialists and rest of India was poor. Most of north was migrant. Socialist state seems the right choice. It is easy to call it a bad decision but remember, hindsight is 20:20. What was and is foolish is hanging on to the notion of socialist state for so long.
    3. Capitalist ideals - I am all for capitalism but I believe his principles of simplicity and equality are timeless. This is probably what forces us to save and does not push us down a credit spiral. About shunning technological advancements, I dont think he denied it. It is a matter of interpretation. The PSU's being set up under the aegis of govt had good tech. But being labour intensive at that time was right practically as well as economically. Labour was cheaper than machines and practically because, India was in a state of unrest and it was important that har haath ko kaam ho.
    So there, I agree he wasn't perfect but he wasnt a one sided character.

  6. I admit my analysis is quite biased - but there's a reason for that. If he had been judged fairly in Indian history, given credit only for what he achieved, and his flaws also pointed out, such an analysis wouldn't be necessary. But when he is put on the high pedestals of Mahatma and Father of the Nation, and educated Indians label any criticism, even if fact-based, as 'ungratefulness', a strong rhetorical tone needs to be adopted for making any impact.

    Regarding religion, you can not just say 'he was tolerant' and give him a clean chit - that is gross oversimplification of the issue. While he did not explicitly slight the Muslims, his ideologies and his actions had a very strong, almost fundamentalist Hindu flavor. This clearly made Hinduism 'mainstream' in what was historically a truly secular country, and was perceived by Muslims as a threat to their identity and relevance in Gandhi's vision of India. Indifference can sometimes cause nearly as much psychological damage as open hatred.

    To believe Gandhi wasn't smart enough to realize any of this, would be quite naive. Read this fully. The consequences were the birth of the two-nation theory, and eventually partition - where almost a million lives were lost, and problems created that exist even today.

    Even if he didn't intend to create a religious divide, he ended up doing just that. I, for one, would not absolve the single most important leader of the country, of the responsibility for such a calamity.

    Regarding Capitalism and modern Western civilization - his views are unequivocal and it would be every generous to interpret them differently. He had disdain for these, as he considered them morally corrupt. Given a free hand, he would probably have set all of India on a massive spiritual journey, where extremely high moral standards had to be met, and any worldly desires were to be shunned. As noble as they sound, most of his ideas are impractical, and regressive in all senses other than moral/spiritual.

    There are also critics who label him a hypocrite who demanded high standards of the weak and the vulnerable, facilitated elimination of peers who challenged him (e.g., Bose, Bhagat Singh), and had a compromising, subservient attitude to superiors (read British). They also cite several arguments and examples to support their theories. But since their credibility is limited, I haven't included those. In my opinion, he was a loser, but not really a villain. That's the best I can offer.

  7. Awesome post, I'm out of words to commend you and can't help but marvel at the quality of the analysis and the extensive citings. A perfect 4.5/5 post

  8. Very good post. These could be my views to the last alphabet. And btw - I am guessing you might have but if not you should try reading an unabridged copy of Mein Kampf. It is absolute bliss.

  9. @Rahul: Thanks. Sorry, for some reason, I did not notice your comment earlier.

    @Mrugu: Thanks again. Good to see you agree rather fully for a change :) I haven't read the Mein Kampf yet, though I own a copy and plan to get around to it some day. I have read a lot about pre-WW2 Germany, though, and anyone who does that and is unbiased, cannot help but empathize with Hitler to an extent.