Our occasional contributor and a friend of Pak Tea House (PTH), freethinker has written a piece entitled Gandhi-bashing on Pak Teahouse and has complained about the conservatism of yours truly. I respect freethinker‘s views but two things must be made clear: first of all PTH does not indulge in Gandhi bashing by design. In fact, it gives space to all sorts of opinions as some of the robust discussions here would testify to this un-trumpeted policy. Secondly, in an attempt to engage with the mainstream, PTH also tries to tread carefully. The purpose is not to offend fellow Pakistanis who represent the diversity of views, beliefs and layers of social conditioning found in the country as a whole. If freethinker holds that PTH is conservative, there are many others who view PTH’s earlier attempt to raise issues of sexuality as an insult to Pakistan and one of our hate-commenter termed us as b****rds hellbent on defaming the country. In fact, I had to delete quite a large number of abusive comments simply because they had more expletives than substance.
In any case, let me state this at the outset that Gandhi was a great leader and politician; however, there can be several views on his politics and religious beliefs. In my personal opinion his death at the hands of a Hindu fundamentalist was a tragic blow to Indian secularism and chances of Indo-Pakistan peace right at the start of our respective and troubled nationhood[s]. PTH has no ‘line’ on Gandhi-ji; and its contributors and readers are free to make their own assessments. This is why I am posting freethinker’s piece here that deals with the issue at great length.
Comments and opinions are invited. Raza Rumi (ed.)
Gandhi-bashing on Pak Teahouse
The radicals among us who have been following Pak Teahouse for some time know that Raza Rumi toes a somewhat conservative line when it comes to the posts that he decides to put up at PTH. Of course he is not to blame…one article about the mushroominig sex industry in Pakistan was enough to caused raised eyebrows among the devoted readership of PTH and he had to follow it up with a post to explain himself.
But right now I want to talk about a different kind of conservatism. That patriotism-driven prejudiced conservatism that makes us Pakistanis angry at the big bad India and Gandhi. Helping us stay in our cozy shells of nationalist pride is none other than the loud and fiesty champion of the secularists Yasser Latif Hamdani (YLH). Now don’t you dare charge him with jingoism and bigotry because he’s a well-read secularist who knows what he’s talking about. Now obviously I can’t presume to tell him that he’s got his history wrong, as he suspects we’re all likely to be brainwashed and get our facts from movies, but I’m writing this because as a Pakistani who’s had plenty of opportunity to observe how anti-Gandhi critiques feed the ego of many shamelessly patriotic bigots in my country, I have some concerns that YLH’s lash-outs against Gandhi might be different from his usual scholarly insights.
Now it should be apparent to everyone that worshiping Jinnah is a significant part of our social conditioning here in Pakistan, while on the other hand our textbooks tell us nothing about Gandhi, his philosophy of Satyagraha, or his monk-like ascetism, apart from a mention here and there of how Gandhi hampered the Pakistan Movement. The first mention of Gandhi is with regards to Khilafat Movement, which serves to contrast Gandhi’s sentimental and silly (and ultimately devious) support of the ‘disastrous’ Khilafat Movement and Jinnah’s dispassionate yet acute (and ultimately sincere) political judgement. So in our national imagination, he emerges as the antithesis of the Jinnah. They are opposites that have to be described in black and white, and have to stand in opposition to each other to reinforce each other’s blackness and whiteness. It’s almost mythological – an archetypal Good-vs-Evil narrative that informs that Pakistani collective unconscious. No shades of gray, as a commenter pointed out in response to YLH.
Notice how this Pakistani psychological construct plays out when YLH writes about either Gandhi or Jinnah. He can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. In his article about Gandhi, he devotes two paragraphs to Jinnah before the conclusion, in a typical thesis-antithesis-synthesis format. And again in his comment to the recent post about Quaid-e-Azam, he proves Jinnah’s greatness by contrasting him with Gandhi, and this time, as I suppose comments are more hastily written, the antithesis seems really out of place too: we see how he has to precede it by assuming that the reader will be a fan of Gandhi. The comment also reveals the illogical nature of the underlying binary construct informing his ‘reasoned’ arguments: if you don’t like Jinnah, it naturally follows that you like Gandhi, and to make you like Jinnah, you have to be shown how Gandhi is bad.
I’d also like to point out that YLH is a Pakistani lawyer idolizes Quaid-e-Azam and likes to have an opinion rather than allow for doubts. I wonder if he knows about how we’re all hard-wired for unconscious confirmation bias, and how that might have gotten in the way of his judgement. And apparently Only his reading of history is right: Khilafat Movement was bad, Jinnah’s use of the religious rhetoric is to be ignored in favour of his secularity, Gandhi’s views about the ‘liberated’ Western woman were obviously misogynistic and Gandhi offering Jinnah the premiership of India was ‘bribe’ and not a sign of his last desperate appeal to Jinnah.
In the article YLH wrote about Gandhi, he also failed to tell us how Gandhi managed to inspire leaders like Lech Walesa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandel. He’s silent about the insights Gandhi was able to achieve in his philosophy of the nature of self, violence and sexuality, and the self’s relationship with the cosmos. His worldview remains relevant for green political theorists and anarchist philosophers today. And a knowledge of his worldview is relevant for the discussion that flared up at PTH because a lot was said about Gandhi being anti-technology and having a belief in castes. The quotes given by YLH in the comments do not make Gandhi a caste-ist, because in the society Gandhi envisions, there is no superiority and inferiority based on your caste – all caste roles are equally significant, and together they constitute a harmonious social order with a social division of labour, much like the Islamic social order which envisages a social order based on the division of social and economic responsibilities according to sex.
Returning to the Manichaeistic dualism of black and white, I’d like to briefly highlight it’s significance for nationalism. As Mubarak Ali shows in his ‘In the Shadow of History’ (in the section ‘Heroes and Hero Worship’), nationalism is about constructing heroes and villains, and that means mythologizing the icons that come to represent the heroes and villains. Unfortunately that reduces historical figures in all their human complexity to caricatures, caricatures cast in black and white, representing how our ideological orientations reflect on them. This definitely especially happens with religious leaders – like the Prophet Muhammad, who can be seen both as a pro-woman savior and a misogynistic exploiter. Gandhi is somewhat of a ‘Prophet’ himself, as his followers claim that be placed on the same footing as Jesus Christ and Buddha, and ‘Prophets’ have always lived in ideologically contested spaces in our memories.
The solution to this is to place historical figures in their respective historical and cultural contexts, and giving a sincere thought to what constituted their worldviews. Gandhi was not infallible, and neither did he claim to be. And, slandering aside, his worldview had its critics right from the start: B.R.Ambedkar and E.V. Ramasaimi Naicker could not reconcile with his being anti-State (he said ‘the State represented violence in a concentrated form’) and anti-technology (he did want humanity to go back to the villages, and despised the valuing of ‘intellectual’ labour over manual labour like hand-spinning khadi cloth), and his condemnation of politics without spirituality. You can hate the Gandhian worldview, or any other, for whatever you find distasteful in it, but you cannot reduce it to its caste-ism, misogyny, and primitivity without understanding the larger picture behind. That larger picture will helps one make sense of this world as long as one remains critical of its shortcomings, just like one should with any religion too.