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How Ambedkar, Communists, Periyar, and Muslim League opposed the Quit India movement and Gandhi

While Congress vigorously dismisses non-left ideologues' objective assessment of Gandhi, what has been kept under wraps is that even its ideological compatriots such as Periyar, BR Ambedkar, and others had unflattering opinions about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

In a democratic country, the easiest way to accumulate power is to idolise an individual, exaggerate his contribution to the country, and continue to bill oneself as his loyal follower. Over the years, the individual assumes a god-like significance, and his so-called followers seek legitimacy to extend their party’s rule by appropriating the self-crafted legacy of that individual and aggrandising his purported accomplishments. The relentless deification of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in India by the Congress party is a case in point.

Decades before India earned its hard-fought independence, a section of the elite political class belonging to the Congress party began rallying behind MK Gandhi, putting him on a high pedestal and exalting him to the levels that few other freedom fighters attained.

The veneration continued well into the decades after the independence as the leaders of the Congress, a party that appropriated Gandhi and studiously brushed aside his inadequacies and blunders, continued invoking him when they saw power slipping away from their hold and into the hands of their ideological opponents. The practice continues to date as the Congress party, now in opposition and staring at its imminent demise, desperately seek to turn the fortunes and mount a credible campaign to give a tough fight to the ruling BJP.

How Congress has deified Gandhi and elevated his stature to use it as a shield to ward off political crises

To this end, Congress leaders this year—on the occasion of the 75th year of India’s independence—ran a campaign on how the Gandhi-led Quit India movement laid the foundation for the country’s freedom from over two centuries of tyrannical British rule. The objective, of course, was not to celebrate India completing 75 years as an independent nation but an opportunity for the Congress party to once again lean on the alleged achievements of Gandhi and use them as a springboard to launch a political campaign ahead of the general elections slated to take place in 2024.

Every time Congress faces tough political headwinds or existential crises like it is facing today, it relies on Gandhi to extricate itself from its predicament and stage a comeback. The reliance on Gandhi stems from the fact that over decades, Congress has consciously elevated him as a leader beyond reproach, someone whose actions are beyond the realm of criticism. His contribution to India’s independence is exaggerated to such an extent that even a reasonable examination of his decisions elicits a sharp reaction from the Congress leaders of the day, who vehemently oppose a contrarian viewpoint that weakens their deification of Gandhi.

This approach entails glorifying the Quit India movement launched by Gandhi and the Congress on 8 August 1942, a crusade that the Congress leaders like to project as the one that ushered the country into Independence. Any objective assessment of the movement, let alone criticism, instantly results in vehement objection from the Congress party, which proceeds to label it politically motivated and thereby undermine its possible stinging inferences. 

While Congress dismisses non-left ideologues’ objective assessment of Gandhi, it sweeps under the rug his criticism from their ideological compatriots

For instance, Congress and Gandhi loyalists have routinely dismissed scholars and historians as propagandists who have criticised Gandhi and raised questions about his decision-making, especially those coming from their ideological opponents, chiefly the Hindu-centric ideologues. Any well-meaning criticism and dispassionate scrutiny of Gandhi’s decisions from the non-left political observers has attracted fierce pushback from Congress and other political parties, which spare no time in branding such attempts as politically motivated without objectively evaluating the criticism. 

Many independent historians have opined that Gandhi’s reckless decision to abruptly call off the Non-cooperation movement in 1919 and the Civil Disobedience movement in 1930 had grave implications, including delaying the country’s independence by decades. But relevant questions and opinions on such subjects have only resulted in drawing the ire of the Congress party, which dismisses such sincere attempts as political propaganda aimed at smearing Gandhi. 

Even Jawaharlal Nehru, the foremost leader of the Left intelligentsia, of course after Gandhi, had been reportedly miffed with the latter for his rash decision to withdraw the Civil Disobedience movement, just when it was gathering steam and turning into a countrywide agitation. But Nehru, according to some historical accounts, stood with Gandhi because the latter favoured him and his support became a crucial lever to wrench control of the party, whose members were increasingly becoming disillusioned with Nehru’s policies and vision of independent India. 

Similarly, criticism of Gandhi and his Quit India movement, including by their own ideological compatriots such as BR Ambedkar, Periyar, and others, who are often selectively cited and expediently idolised by the Left to discredit their ideological rivals, had been meticulously kept under wraps, for it would strip the veneer that the Congress and its cheerleaders had so thoroughly used to conceal Gandhi’s mistakes and blunders. Be it BR Ambedkar or Periyar, both had vehemently criticised Gandhi, but the Congress and the Left have conveniently chosen to turn a blind eye to it, selectively citing the opinions of these ideologues when it is politically and ideologically favourable to them. 

Once a “star speaker” of Congress, Periyar Ramasamy was a staunch Gandhi critic

Periyar EV Ramasamy, one of the stalwarts of the Left, was a staunch critic of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Periyar, once a “star speaker” for Congress, opposed Gandhi vigorously and fervently criticised his idea of India. From once being a devotee of Gandhi, the schisms between the two ultimately turned him into a strident Gandhi critic. In his last speech made in 1973, Periyar said, “These are our five principles—the annihilation of God, the annihilation of religion, the annihilation of Gandhi, the annihilation of Congress and annihilation of Brahmins…Before we could annihilate Gandhi, the Brahmins did the task for us.”

Periyar, a contentious leader whose brand of politics involved harbouring deep hatred for the Brahmins and the North Indians, was so disenchanted by the Congress party and Gandhi that he observed 15 August 1947, the day India gained Independence as a “black day”. Even before India’s Independence, Periyar fiercely opposed Gandhi and movements launched by him. In the years to follow, Periyar’s revulsion for Gandhi only intensified.

In 1957 while calling for the burning of Gandhi’s pictures, Periyar said, “We were cheated by Gandhi. Our land (the Tamil land) has been ­enslaved to the Northerners and Brahmins by Gandhi. It is because of Gandhi that people lost all great qualities they had…(and) it is now impossible to live without being ­immoral, dishonest, deceitful and traitorous.”

Dr BR Ambedkar: The unrelenting critic of MK Gandhi who referred to him as the “Prophet of the Dark Age” over Quit India movement

But Periyar was not the only one who opposed Gandhi. Dr BR Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and one of the most articulate voices of the time, also made scathing observations on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He vociferously opposed Gandhi’s decision to launch the Quit India Movement in 1942, declaring that it was the “patriotic duty of all Indians” to prevent such movements from creating “anarchy and chaos that would unquestionably help powers desiring of subjugating this country’.

On the Quit India Movement, Ambedkar witheringly said, “The Quit India Movement is both irresponsible and insane, showing bankruptcy of statesmanship. Freedom Struggle led by the governing class, from the point of view of the servile class, is selfish and a sham struggle. Gandhi is the prophet of a Dark Age.”

Ambedkar’s criticism of Gandhi did not just stop at the latter’s inclination to organise public movements without having objectives in sight. The first Law Minister of India also talked about how Gandhi’s politics was hollow and noisy. He said, “The politics of Gandhi is hollow and noisy. It is the most dishonest politics in the history of Indian polity. Gandhi was the man responsible for eliminating morality from politics and instead introducing commercialism into Indian politics. Politics has been denuded of its virtue.”

Ambedkar wrote an article titled “Is Gandhi a Mahatma” for a Marathi Magazine Chittra to deconstruct the undue veneration accorded to Gandhi. In the 1,800+ word article, Dr Ambedkar extensively talked about why he had a problem with Gandhi being referred to as Mahatma. He said he was sick of the question ‘Is Gandhi a Mahatma’. Explaining why the question annoyed him, he said, “Firstly, I hate all the Mahatmas and firmly believe that they should be done away with. I am of the opinion that their existence is a curse to the nation in which they are born. The reason why I say so is that they try to perpetuate blind faith in place of intelligence and reason. Secondly, I do not know what exactly people understand by the word Mahatma.”

Dr Ambedkar expressed his confusion why people fussed over Gandhi over the teachings like ‘Satya’ and ‘Ahimsa’ that originally came from Lord Buddha. “Nobody except an ignorant fool or congenital idiot would give credit to Gandhi for originality in this matter. There is nothing new in the pronouncement that ‘Truth and Non-violence’ are necessary for the preservation of human civilisation. There is nothing new that Gandhi has added to the maxim,” he said.

Dr Ambedkar also blamed Gandhi for the hostile relationship between Hindus and Muslims. He said, “Hindu-Moslem hostility is the result of the deceitful action on the part of Gandhiji. This immensely pained me. There is an old saying that benefits the occasion (Bagal mein chhurri Munh mein Ram): ‘God’s name on the lips and dagger under the armpit.’ If such a person can be called a Mahatma, by all means, call Gandhi a Mahatma.”

The Quit India movement and Gandhi also saw opposition from the Muslim League and the Communist Party of India

Besides Periyar and Ambedkar, the Quit India Movement also saw opposition from the Muslim League, the Communist Party of India, and the Hindu Mahasabha, although the motives for each one of them varied profoundly. The Muslim League opposed the movement because they thought without having agreed to the creation of a separate nation for the Muslims, the country’s independence would leave the Muslim minority at the mercy of the Hindu majority.

On the other hand, the Communist Party of India, which today proclaim its allegiance to Gandhi, had also opposed the Quit India movement launched by it. The exchanges of letters between PC Joshi, then general secretary of CPI and Sir Reginald Maxwell, then a home member of the Government of India, revealed that they acted as the lackeys and spies of the British Government. 

Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha’s rationale for not lending their support to the Quit India Movement

Savarkar, one of the top Hindutva voices of the era, also opposed the Quit India movement. But his opposition to Gandhi and the Quit India movement stemmed from the lack of planning and preparedness or any clear sense of strategy before the launch of the programme spanning the entire country and devoted to the liberation of the country from the British crutches. 

Author Vikram Sampath, who authored a two volume-memoir on Savarkar, mentioned in his book ‘Savarkar: A Contested Legacy’, that though the Hindutva ideologue agreed with the ‘Quit India’ slogan if it implied independence in the truest sense, he found its interpretation by Gandhi as being ‘wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory’. He dismissed the movement as a ridiculous jail-seeking programme that was not about ‘Quit India’ but about ‘Split India’. 

The Congress and the Left would seldom acknowledge that Gandhi and his movements were opposed by many leaders, including those belonging to the Congress fold. Instead, they would sweep under the rug the critical remarks made by their leader and continue to harp on opposition from the Hindu Mahasabha and Savarkar to bolster their propaganda efforts to discredit the Hindu organisation and paint the freedom fighter as a British accomplice. 

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Searched termsGandhi Quit India
Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast.

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