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Mahatma@150: Two Indians who didnt see a Mahatma in Gandhi

NEW DELHI: For one so wedded to peace, Mahatma Gandhis constant companion in life was the tempest. Often it blew all too ferociously, inviting for him charges of preaching from the pulpit, sidetracking the freedom movement in favour of obscure moral questions, pandering to the Hindu majority or Muslim minority, talking down to Dalits and talking up the virtues of non-violence to the point of discrediting Indias armed revolutionaries.
His protracted battles with the British and with Jinnah are well known. So is the exasperation his proteges like Nehru, Patel and Bose sometimes felt over his approach. Unfairly for both Gandhi and his opponents, though, Indian textbooks, for long after Independence, barely informed new generations about his differences and debates with two of his staunchest and most unsparing Indian critics: BR Ambedkar and VD Savarkar.

Savarkar appeared on the scene before Ambedkar, when Gandhi was in South Africa. As the young leader of a group of patriotic Indians in London, he met Gandhi first in 1909 when the latter visited the British capital, and together, they heaped praise on each other at a public meeting. Both then affirmed their faith in Hindu-Muslim unity, but they had fundamental differences: Savarkar embraced revolutionary methods in the struggle for liberation, and Gandhi abhorred violence.
On his way back to South Africa, Gandhi wrote on the ship his tract Hind Swaraj, in which he voiced his disapproval of armed revolution. Savarkars reply: “We arent fond of violence, but if constitutional methods are denied to us, how else do we fight for our rights?”
Soon, Savarkar was dispatched to Kaala Paani. By the time he was back in a jail on the mainland in 1921 and later placed in conditional confinement in 1924, everything had changed. Gandhi had taken over the Swaraj movement and got the masses to adopt his mantra of non-violence. Worse for Savarkar — now a man transformed after experiences with Pathan jail staffers in the Andamans — Gandhi had openly backed the “pan-Islamic” Khilafat agitation. This was not Khilafat but an “aafat (trouble)”, Savarkar said, and termed the non-cooperation movement and its sudden withdrawal as “eccentric and defeatist politics”.
They discussed their differences in 1927 during Gandhis visit to Savarkars Ratnagiri home and agreed to go separate ways. Savarkar then wrote a series of essays assailing the Mahatma for his “hollow” Ahimsa absolutism, his “fetish” for goats milk, his “needless meddling in politics (in the 1930s) after declaring hed focus on the charkha,” his opposition to railways and modern medicine, and his invocation of “Ram Rajya” and “cow protection”.
Though by now author of the tract Hindutva, Savarkar was no believer in “gau mata”; his Hindutva was political. Gandhi had previously made an appeal for Savarkars release from Kaala Paani; asked in the mid-1930s to issue another plea for end of his conditional confinement, he refused, saying “my way of moving in such matters is different”.
Ambedkar, who earned his spurs at Columbia University, shared with Savarkar a dislike for Gandhian projections of a religious morality. Both also felt Gandhi was wrong in defending the caste system. Ambedkar saw the word Harijan, coined by Gandhi for the Depressed Classes, as patronising and left his first meeting with the Mahatma in 1931 in a huff after Gandhi opposed the Rajs plan for separate electorates for the outcastes. Ambedkar was firm on political safeguards, while Gandhi considered the “political separation of Untouchables” from Hindus “suicidal”.
Months later, at the Second Round Table Conference, Ambedkar accused Gandhi of “treachery” against the Depressed Classes, said he had “created a scene” during debate, and dubbed him “petty-minded”. Gandhis “fast unto death” amid this row, and the 1932 Poona Pact between the two causeRead More – Source

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