Reading through India’s struggle for freedom during the school years, one might come across many chapters that heap rich praises on M. K. Gandhi. One might even come across entire songs written in his adulation, “De di hame aazadi, na khadag na hi dhal, Sabarmati ke sant, tune kar diya kamaal.” is one of top favorites. He appears no less than the hero of an entire era, the sole champion of Indians under the British Rule, the true enemy of the British, and the man who snatched freedom for his nation from imperialistic forces. But, one pertinent question that arises is—if Gandhi really was so much of a threat to the British in India, why did the British not dispose him of?
The British were known to have mastered both ethical and non-ethical means to get rid of their enemies. They considered themselves honourable, but only to the point where it did not jeopardize their goals. Secret assassinations by the Military Intelligence remain in classified papers, but some are there for public viewing too, like this one:
The British could have easily assassinated Gandhi without a flinch and then could have spun a false story around it (they controlled the media too), if they really believed that Gandhi was a hurdle in their way. Make no mistake, the British empire was no less than the most powerful organization of the world at that time and secretly disposing Gandhi (through poison or otherwise) would have been as easy as stepping on an ant. But they didn’t.
Let’s try finding out why?
We know, for sure, that the British wanted to stay in India for as long as possible. European countries had colonized the world for one reason and one reason alone—profit. India provided cheap labour, cheap raw materials (read free) and a large market. So, we can safely assume that the British’s intention was not to leave India for as long as possible.
Secondly, we can also assume that the British left no stone unturned in getting rid of those who threatened their goals and intentions. They exercised biased laws, corrupt practices and even non-ethical means of political assassinations to make sure they remained in profit, especially in the 20th century. The British colonial history is soaked in blood. We know what happened to the native populations of every British colony, be it North America, Australia, Africa or India. The Chinese opposition the opium was wiped out easily. The White Supremacists had little love for anyone who did not look like them and they did not think twice before removing them from their path. Profit was their only goal.
(both washed down)
Thirdly, as our history books tell us, Gandhi was the biggest threat to the British Empire in India.
Now, factually the first two points are irrefutable. We know that the British wanted to stay in India and we know that the British easily terminated anything that even mildly hurdled their path. Then why did they not dispose Gandhi, the man who is taught in India to be the biggest threat to the British Empire, the man who brought India to freedom?
The only logical explanation is that the third point is wrong, which means Gandhi was not actually a threat to the British Empire at all.
Gandhi was imprisoned and sentenced to five short periods of jail-time, the longest being only six years. Out of these five times, Gandhi went on a fast four times and unbelievably, he was released each time before he completed the sentence. The longest period of jail-time that he served in India was of one year and ten months! How could the British be so lenient on that one person, whom the entire nation looked up to and the leader of the largest independence struggle the world had ever seen!
One might argue, that Gandhi never broke any laws that guaranteed absolute jail-time or death sentence. This argument is baseless because Gandhi did break such laws that were punishable by death and life imprisonments, but amazingly, he was never charged with them. For example, waging war against her Majesty (or waging war against England) was one clause that was slapped on every freedom fighter under trial, regardless of his violent or non-violent background, and that includes the likes of Bhagat Singh (who surrendered willingly) and Savarkar.
Speaking of Savarkar, he was caught abroad under suspicion of anti-British activity. While being deported to India, he tried escaping but was caught and was given two life imprisonments. His charge sheet mentioned “Act of waging war against The Crown”. He was sent to the worst prison in the world, – Kaala Paani, where prisoners prayed everyday for an early death. He was released after serving eleven dreadful years in Kala Pani, on the condition that he would refrain from joining Indian politics and revolutionary activities.
Gandhi was never tried the way other freedom fighters were. Instead, he was released earlier from already short jail-terms, that too unconditionally. If the British intentions were to stay in India and it was very apparent that Gandhi was waging non-violent, but still a powerful war against the British empire, then why didn’t the British do anything? Non-cooperation movement which was led by him was one such movement which warranted charges of sedition. Why did the just sit and let Gandhi throw them out?
Kala Pani was used to drag freedom fighters away from the mainland, so that people forget about them, because killing them would have made people remember them as martyrs or would have have created violent struggles. But Gandhi was never slapped sedition charges and deported to Kala Pani.
Calling Gandhi, a political stooge will certainly be unfair to the man, but the British seemed to have found out a way to use him to their advantage. I wonder if Gandhi knew that he was being used, but then again a person of his knowledge, following and stature couldn’t have gone without noticing that he was getting special treatment.
Gandhi moulded public opinion and decided the fate of the freedom struggle without the fear of noose or Kala Pani. Quite Remarkable. He ended the non-cooperation movement because of a suspiciously petty incident, which was criticised by most freedom fighters including Subhash Chandra Bose.
It is well known that Gandhi aided the British during World War II and also fought against the freedom struggle of the native African population against the British. He raised Indian volunteers to fight for the British in the world war. Historians have always struggled to explain why the messenger of peace and non-violence was recruiting for the British Army.
Could Gandhi be an opportunist who gained concessions as well as contacts from the British? Gandhi gave contradicting response when questioned about this during the 1920s.
He was awarded Kaisar-i-Hind medal the very year he landed in India, by the British. He conveniently took up Satyagraha movements on one hand and recruited men to fight for the British from the other (1917-1919). We must remember that the British sent Indian men on the worst front-lines, where the probability of dying was the highest. They wouldn’t let the white men die first, would they?
The English valued their higher standards of living and anyone who was not of their race was expendable. They valued their life. But they constantly lived under the fear of a possible nationwide violent rebellion. America became independent from them in 1776 through violent struggle. The first War of Independence in 1857 was also violent, which showed them the future of an upcoming violent struggle, which, if happened, would make sure that none of the British could make it out of India alive. They needed someone who would not just mould public opinion, but would also lead their anger astray, putting them on the course of non-violence. A thousand men had gathered around the police station of Chauri Chaura village and had burned the police station down. They were afraid of a similar nation-wide incident. With less than half a million militaries and less than one lakh British on the soil, an armed struggle with half a billion people was a very mismatched idea.
A violent struggle meant that the British Raj would have been wiped out in less than a month. That’s what the revolutionaries wanted to do, which Gandhi continuously tried to undermine, encouraging the youth to not follow them. Conveniently, he had little to speak on violent atrocities of the British, but more on the violent struggles of the revolutionaries.
It is apparent that the British wanted Gandhi to pacify the Indians for as long as possible, so that the eventual Independence is delayed as long as possible. Gandhi’s fasts worked on the Brits, not because that they were afraid of his death, but because of the violent struggle that India would jump into after his death, which Gandhi knew very well himself, making him quite hypocritical. Gandhi’s fast was actually a threat of violence. The argument peddled by the apologetics is that an armed struggle would have brought freedom, but not democracy and unity is also mismatched, because America became a democracy as well as a united country of fifty states, after a violent struggle.
Gandhi was right where the British wanted him to be. He did whatever aided the British Raj to stay longer, knowingly or unknowingly. There was no need for the British to charge him with sedition and send him to Kala Pani, or hang him, or even secretly kill him. Assassinating or hanging him could have pushed to country to violence, but deporting him to Kala Pani wouldn’t have that effect and yet they didn’t do it. The man which we are taught to have brought the biggest empire of the world to its knees, was probably not a threat at all. The people who were actual threats, were either hanged, shot, assassinated secretly, or sent to long term imprisonments.
As a barrister, Gandhi knew about the British laws and the bureaucracy better than almost all Indians, which he definitely used to his advantage. The Gandhi we know and read in general public is not the same man. His narrative is changed today by those who came into power after independence. History is written by the Victors. His mistakes overlooked, his past wiped, his hypocrisy subdued and deleted from history, Gandhi was declared the Father of the Nation called India. One such example is the making of the film Gandhi, which was funded one-third by the Indian treasury. Indira Gandhi and other major key persons from the Congress were present during the key pre-production points of the film. They decided the script, thus the world knew about only what they wanted them to know.
So, did Gandhi really was a threat to the British Raj? Did he really get us the Independence like our textbooks claim? Did he aid the British because of which they didn’t get rid of him?
I am just a man asking questions. After reading this essay, it is your responsibility to look for the answers and make sense of everything that Gandhi stood for or not stood for. And don’t forget, to ask more questions.