Gandhi was an excellent social activist, great communicator and an inspiring leader. However, he had some serious flaws and shortcomings that were not brought to light.
This will be one of the longest answers in this thread, but I assure you, it will also be one of the most comprehensive.
In this answer, I wish to highlight points in which Gandhi’s vision and approach failed rather than highlight his greatness as I believe there are already many books dedicated to his greatness.
Before I go any further though, I’d like to say that I have a profound respect for Gandhi despite his many flaws. I also only cover the reasons why smart people criticize (hate is too strong a word) Gandhi as there are many fools who hate him for stupid reasons like that pretentious movie “The Legend of Bhagat Singh”. I will divide this answer in five parts.
A) Criticism of Gandhi’s ideology.
B) Criticism of Gandhi’s actions.
C) Gandhi’s hypocrisy.
D) Indirect consequences of Gandhi’s actions.
Let us start at the beginning:-
A) Criticism of Gandhi’s ideology: –
What is Gandhi’s ideology? Non-violent resistance, complete freedom, self-reliance and equality. All are good ideas and worthy to aspire to. But there are some unsaid parts of Gandhi’s ideology one of which seemed to say,
“I don’t care if you are a good leader or not, unless you agree with me, I will not support you.”
[Just to be clear, I’m not saying he said this statement, I’m saying his actions demonstrated this statement. I apologize for this ambiguity]
Here are a few examples on which I base this claim:-
In 1927 Mahatma Gandhi, referring to C. Rajagopalachari, had declared,
“I do say he is the only possible successor”, Rajaji was clearly his favorite then. But because of a disagreement between both these men in 1942 about the Cripps commission, Rajaji was kicked out of the congress! And Gandhi was quoted to have said
“Not Rajaji, but Jawaharlal will be my successor.”(see Walking among lions)
This meant that a great statesman like Rajaji would only be a mere governor-general while Nehru would occupy the most important post in India. A tragedy.
[By the way, I’m not saying Nehru didn’t deserve the PM post, I’m just saying that the process of electing him was not very democratic, but authoritarian]
Another example is passive-aggressively forcing Netaji to resign from the Indian National Congress and parting ways. This forced Netaji to deal with fascist regimes like Japanese Imperialism and Nazism and ultimately led to his sad demise. A great statesman was once again wasted.
These are not isolated examples, preferring Panditji over Sardarji (another great politician) is also another oft-repeated instance of Gandhi’s dictatorial tendencies.
Also, take a note of Gandhi’s ego here. To him, Gandhi’s successor and Indian prime minister mean the same thing!
I also think he did a poor job of explaining how it should work. Some people think just surrendering yourself to the enemy is Gandhism. This lead to people like Rasaiah Prathipan (does any one know him?) to their sad and untimely demise.
He also opposed science and technology deeming it to be “satanic”. He stuck to this ideology so blindly that he let his wife die instead of giving her an injection because he argued that injections are violent. (Read Freedom at Midnight)
A politician should know to compromise, sometimes your ideology won’t be the best. For instance, Abraham Lincoln was able to convince the Liberal Republicans, conservative republicans and radical republicans to work together even if they opposed each other. Why couldn’t Gandhi do that?
B) Criticism of Gandhi’s actions
Although I liked and appreciate movements like Champaran and Kheda (justice to peasants) and Salt Satyagraha (defying taxation) I have problems with movements like Non-Cooperation movement, Quit India movement.
Allow me to explain my problems with each of them: –
(i) Non-cooperation: – This was a very novel idea at the time and was initially a massive success. The British feared for the first time that they might loose India. But they didn’t have much to fear, because Gandhi always had a talent for destroying what he had painfully created.
Due to Chauri Chaura incident, he called off the movement.
The Largest Independence movement in history was called off because of his idealism!
I really think if he tried, he would be able to persuade his followers to get back to peaceful methods (similar to what he did to alleviate communal violence after 1947), but no! Instead he called it off. Do you now what happened after that?
19 people were sentenced to death, 110 people were sentenced to life imprisonment and 6 people died in police custody!
(see “Trials and convictions”)
(ii) Quit India movement: – I am sorry Gandhi, but this is the worst thing you have ever done! Yeah, you made a great speech, but nothing else was good. Even though this started with good intentions(everything Gandhi did started with good intentions!), it eventually help fuel the partition. A lot many people did not support it.
The communist party of India opposed it because it wanted to support Soviet Union. Muslim leaders opposed it completely, due to which the Muslim League made a deal with the British. They seemed to say,
“We will support you in the war provided you support us in our bid for partition”
[Again, I’m not saying this exact quote was said]
this allowed the Muslim league to grow tremendously and allowed it to recruit thousands of Indians. (Read Freedom at midnight)
Which makes me come to the partition. Most congress leaders thought that partition was unavoidable and voted for it. But why did they?! When the Southern states seceded from the United States, Abraham Lincoln did not say, “Well, it is inevitable isn’t it?”. No, he launched a full-fledged war and preserved the union. Why couldn’t Gandhi do that? Oh yeah, ahimsa.
C) Gandhi’s hypocrisy: –
In a way, Gandhi is the world’s most famous hypocrite. He contradicted himself so often that when one of his followers asked, “Why do you say one thing this week and another thing the next?!”
Gandhi replied, “Ah! Because I have learned something new this week!”
(Freedom at midnight)
This sounds like something profound, but I assure you, it was a very weak argument.
Some instances of his hypocrisy:-
- In world war I, Gandhi agreed to recruit Indian soldiers not for logistics or for the ambulance corps, but for combat. Killing for independence is wrong but killing for the British is okay. (see )
- He opposed imperialism in India but in South Africa, he said “that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.” (seeThe Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Government of India (CWMG), Vol. I, p. 105.)
- He opposed untouchability but supported the caste system. (see )
D) Indirect consequences of Gandhi’s actions: –
It is almost common knowledge that Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Rajaji and other pacifists were given significantly less stringent sentences than some of the firebrand activists . This is not to say that GPNR did not suffer, they did. But at least they were given a fair trail. This had dire consequences for other revolutionaries like, , , etc (taken from ).
They were jailed in the infamous Cellular jail.
How a cellular jail cell looks from inside
This gave the British a kind of protection. When people accused them of brutality and racism, they would just point to the moderate prisoners like Gandhi and claim that they treated their detractors with respect.
Gandhi also influenced Nehru on his disastrous economic principles and defense. For instance, Nehru refused to order an air strike to assist the Indian army. (See India after Gandhi pg 400-401)
When a non-Russian thinks of powerful Russian leaders, Ivan the terrible, Peter the great and Josef Stalin come to mind.
When a non-American thinks of American leaders, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln come to mind.
But when a non-Indian thinks of India, Gandhi and only Gandhi comes to mind. This is unfair because Patel, Nehru and Netaji were also great leaders.
E) Conclusion: – As I said in the beginning, I consider Gandhi to be a person of towering intellect and morality. He fought against the evils on untouchability, established secularism and united India under a single banner. Because of him, we are able to trade with the British without any hard feelings. I consider him a great social worker but an average politician blinded by his idealism.
I also think people of different states like Gandhi to different extents. The people of Bengal, for instance like him a lot more than the rest for his role in stopping communal violence whereas, the people of Punjab like him to a lesser extent because of failing to do so in their state.