Saturday, 17 October 2009

Without Fear -- Glaring Mistake?

On my flight from Bangalore to Delhi I finished reading the auto-biography of Gandhi and immediately picked up "Without Fear" -- a biography of Bhagat Singh by Kuldip Nayar. Apart from recounting the life stories of Bhagat Singh and his companions, the author tends to glorify the revolutionaries' role and importance, rather than let the readers form their own opinion.

One part of the book just seems plain wrong.

In page 64, when the author is recounting the details of the plans being set by the revolutionaries to bomb the legislative assembly, showcasing Bhagat Singh's frustrations, he writes:

... Bhagat Singh too was tired of violence being associated with them. Gandhi's description of them as 'irresponsible young men' irritated him.

Had Gandhi ever tried to sit around an evening fire with a peasant and tried to gauge what he thought? Had he spent a single evening in the company of a factory labourer and shared his views with him? The revolutionaries knew what the masses thought.

The two questions above, related to Gandhi, are posed rhetorically and are intended to make the reader believe that Gandhi didn't know the problems of peasants or the factory worker. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Gandhi led successful Satyagrahs in Champaran and Kheda (for the rights of peasants), and the mill workers' strike in Ahmedabad (for the rights of factory laborers). In all these three places Gandhi was amongst the people, trying to understand them, helping them. The author also doesn't substantiate his statement that "The revolutionaries knew what the masses thought."

Deeply disappointed.

Update: I stand corrected. The two questions posed are actually derived from Bhagat Singh's article "The Philosophy of the Bomb" under the section "DO THE MASSES BELIEVE IN NON-VIOLENCE". Reproduced below to give the complete context.

Gandhi has extended his tour limit to where a motorcar can take him, the practice of staying only with the richest people in the places visited, of spending most of his time on being complimented by his devotees in private and public, and of granting Darshan now and then to the illiterate masses whom he claims to understand so well, disqualifies him from claiming to know the mind of the masses.

No man can claim to know a people's mind by seeing them from the public platform and giving them Darshan and Updesh. He can at the most claim to have told the masses what he thinks about things. Has Gandhi, during recent years, mixed in the social life of the masses? Has he sat with the peasant round the evening fire and tried to know what he thinks? Has he passed a single evening in the company of a factory labourer and shared with him his vows? We have, and therefore we claim to know what the masses think.

We assure Gandhi that the average Indian, like the average human being, understands little of the fine theological niceties about Ahimsa and Loving one's enemy. The way of the world is like this. You have a friend: you love him, sometimes so much that you even die for him. You have an enemy: you shun him, you fight against him and, if possible, kill him.

As the section heading says, Bhagat Singh is trying to emphasize that the masses understand the means taken by the revolutionaries better than non-violence.

So yes, the questions related to Gandhi were thoughts of Bhagat Singh, but better context could have been provided by the author. I absolve the author of trying to mislead the reader, but still am skeptical of the charges made against Gandhi by Bhagat Singh.