National Situation

Gandhi contra Gandhi --by Murzban Jal

Published on Thursday, 22 June 2017 05:30
Written by Radical Socialist

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If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted.


FyodorDostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.


The lessons of today’s terrorism is that it God exists, then everything is permittedincluding blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations.


Slavoj Žižek, ‘Defenders of the Faith’.






Introduction: Moksa as Fascist Permissiveness


The question of reading Gandhi in the period of triumphant fascism in India is an extremely interesting affair. While the dominant liberal reading of Gandhi approaches Gandhi from the anti-fascist vantage point, there is another reading that places Gandhi as not merely a conservative democrat (as Christophe Jaffrelot classifies him), but as Slavoj Žižek says a “social fascist”. So who was Gandhi and how does one understand him today when his own ideas of morality in the Hindu dharmic form have been realized in Indian fascism?

Was Gandhi a democrat or a social fascist?  Is there some deep meaning in reading the text of Gandhi? How should one read Gandhi? Should one read him as a great freedom fighter, a Romantic anti-capitalist and an igniter of the Indian masses, even a kind of Hegelian who synthesized the diverse political movements into a single current? And why did Gandhi have to experiment with not only a feudal socialist kind of political economy, but also with a strange form of libidinal economy as if he was suffering from what Theodor Adorno once called “syphilisophobia” where “sex and sexual disease become identical”?[1] Was this syphilisophobia, the fear of getting infected with syphilis, the driving factor in understanding Gandhi?

If however gender in Gandhi has to be located within this matrix of the unconscious—Gandhi wanting to become a woman—there is another matrix in Gandhi: that of dharma that so gripped his imagination. Yet the historian would know that Gandhi was not personally bothered about dharma. What he was personally interested in was moksa.  Dharma was for the plebeians, basically the subaltern Dalitbahujan people that he so disdain called “Harijan”. The argument between Gandhi and Ambedkar was about caste (along with gender and modernity), but it was also about the debate between humanism (which Ambedkar advocated) and the phantasmagoria of the superman (which was Gandhi’s secret fantasy). The “Mahatma” was of course this phantasmagorical superman. The superman has necessarily to go beyond good and evil. Maybe Gandhi could never succeed in this endeavor, but as the Mahatma he was a supersession of good and evil. The Mahatma had achieved Moksa, while we the plebeians of India (Gandhi’s Harijans) had to live by the code of caste dharma.  

It is in this context that we say that beyond good and evil is not a theme that was invented by Friedrich Nietzsche. It is the fulcrum of Brahmanical-Hindu philosophy. Take the above quote of Dostoevsky from his Brothers Karamazov that says that “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted”. This form of “being permitted” is not a form of “possibility”, but a form of permissiveness. For Dostoevsky, the absence of God would lead to anarchist nihilism, almost a form of violent permissiveness. But for Brahmanical-Hinduism, the gods themselves are subservient to the Brahman superman. In this case Dostoevsky’s formula is written as: “gods do exist, and they being the servants of the Brahmans, thus everything is permitted for (at least for the Brahmans)”. For Brahmanism, nothing is possible for the masses, but for the one who has reached the status of Moksa everything is permissible.

            Moksa was the theme that haunted Gandhi through his life. Yet it was a Moksa that was different from the one that his assassin Nathuram Godse was obsessed with. In Event  Žižek talks of this idea (though strictly speaking incorrectly seen through the Buddhist lens of Nirvana). According to Žižek, Nirvana “retains inner peace and Gelassenheit (self-surrender)” works as “capitalism’s perfect ideological supplement” where “one can fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity”.[2] Not only can one have mental sanity in a brutal imperialist world dominated by the Military Arms Complex. One can in this state of dharmic enlightenment become a “perfect cold killing machine”[3].



Contextualizing Gandhi: Jesus vs. Judas


So was Gandhi a social fascist, as Žižek, once remarked? Or was Gandhi a subaltern type of Indian Hegelian who literally sublated (the Hegelian term is Aufhebung) the diverse anti-colonial movements, thus synthesizing all the positive aspects of these movements, whilst at the same time negating the retrogressive elements? Or was he a Romantic anti-capitalist who blended both Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky where his Hind Swaraj became an Indian Resurrection and The Brothers Karamazov?  Or was he the Indian Christ, who troubled by the traditional Hindu scribes who made the gods into the fearsome Jehovah, ‘converted’ the wrath of Jehovah into agape, or pure love? And if indeed he was the Indian Jesus, albeit a secularized Jesus, then was Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi, Judas?

If indeed there are a number of Gandhis appearing on the scene of history, there is only one image of the Indian fascist, whether it is the fascism of V.D. Savarkar ot M.S. Golwalkar. Now that the Indian fascists who have declared India to be a “Hindu Rashtra” in public (after declaring it in private, not to forget declaring it in their dreams) have come to power, one asks: “what relevance does Gandhi have to do with this private-public fantasy of the deluded Hindu Rashtra?” There are a number of questions that one may ask along with this main question: “does Gandhi have any relevance today in the era of triumphant fascism?” But probably the most important issue is that after Ambedkar how can Gandhi be possible? So can Gandhism be possible today? And indeed, if Gandhism is possible, then how would Gandhism deal with this triumphant fascism of the Hindu Rashtra?

            After the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a neo-con right-wing party in the 2014 National Elections under the label of “development”, the hydra creature of the BJP’s parent body the Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS) has repeatedly attacked the fundamentals of Indian constitutional democracy. They brought in the frightening phantasmagoria of Muslims eloping with Hindu girls and called it “love jihad”. After declaring imaginary holy war against even more imaginary Islamic jihad, the fronts of the RSS said that Hindu women should produce 4 children. It went up to 5 and now with Praveen Togadia it has gone up to 10. We are counting….

Now they have declared that they will be building a temple of Nathuram Godse (the assassin of Gandhi). In Essentials of Hindutva as also in Hindu Rashtra Darshan, V.R. Savarkar the founder of the doctrine of “Hindutva” or “Hindudom” that ran parallel to feudal Europe’s ideology of Christendom, said that Hindus should militarize themselves. They should form, as the Hindu Rashtra Darshan claims, a “Hindu Militarization Movement”.[4] For him one had to “Hinduize all policies and militarize Hindudom”[5]. According to Savarkar, the very idea of the nation is based on the idea of race and for India it is the Hindu race that forms the contours of what he imagined as “Hindu nationalism”.[6] For him, like the general genre of fascism, it is blood descent that is the essence of a nation.[7]

In the Discovery of India, Nehru, who was exactly the opposite of Savarkar said that caste headed by the Aryanized Brahmans was a great and noble feature of Indian civilization. Recall Gandhi who in 1921 had talked of the “deep debt of gratitude” that Hinduism needed to have for the Brahmans. In this debt rendering scene, the very ideology of Gandhi is seen as being governed by what Walter Benjamin in his Ursprung des deutschenTrauerspielscalled“petrified primeval landscape”[8]. This petrified landscape is seen as what the young Georg Lukács called “charnel-house of long-dead interiorities”.[9] For Gandhi, history is not to be viewed through the Enlightenment inspired project of continuous development, but through what Benjamin calls a “process of inevitable decay”.  Gandhi was master of this decay. But he was also ridden with guilt at not being able to do anything with this decay.

Though tormented with guilt, Gandhi’s ideal was of pure fantasy. One the other hand he was dictated purely by practical reason when he talked of “working for the co-operation and co-ordination of capital and labour”.[10] Gandhi is here a pragmatist, but not of the John Dewey type. Gandhi of course has an ideal, but this ideal is once again a fantasy, in fact a high caste fantasy, who recalls Marx’s feudal socialist who creates despotic measures against the working class and then “stoops to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry”.[11] At this time one will have to point out how a certain section of the Established Left—(meaning the parliamentary left led by the CPI(M)—in India has almost been apologetic of the Congress and its upper caste hegemony.

For instance Prabhat Patnaik has written that one cannot, as Perry Anderson has done in his The Indian Ideology, classify pre-independence Congress as an upper caste party. For Patnaik the Congress did “try to provide a charter of citizenship transcending religion and caste”.[12] We also hear that that Gandhi had a renunciatory streak which is parallel to the figures of Ho chi Minh, Muzaffar Ahmed and P. Sundarayaya[13], and that the Congress was wedded to anti-colonial nationalism.[14]  The problem with the Established Left is that it allied and yet allies itself to Gandhi’s “Hinduistic” ideology despite leaders like B.T. Randive and E.M.S. Namboodripad muttering angry phrases against Gandhism. This Stalinist left is extremely stubborn in refusing to understand Ambedkar’s radical critique. Its solution is reductionist and nationalist.[15] The entire discourse of culture is totally absent. If culture is absent, so too is the idea of radical history: “If the left is to propose”, so we hear, “an anti-imperialist national agenda, then it must relate itself, however critically, to the anti-imperialist nationalism of the earlier, colonial period.”[16] This sort of politics we call after Gramsci, “historical mysticism” that awaits “a sort of miraculous illumination”.[17]

Despite this rendering there is the other side to Gandhi. It must be heard. It is Etienne Balibar who has said that “Lenin and Gandhi are the two greatest figures among revolutionary theorist-practitioners of the first half of the 20th century”[18] According to such a reading:


Both of them, Lenin as well as Gandhi, in different ways undertook the heroic and at the same time adventurous experiment of putting into practice the long cherished dreams of humanity. They were both rooted deeply in their own nations; and their reforms and their methods were entirely and their reforms and their methods were entirely the result of the destinies of their countries, of the limitations of Russian and Indian conditions, and that at a moment when both nations had arrived at a turning point in their national development. But the political enterprise of both the Russian and the Hindu goes far beyond the narrow boundaries of the national and the temporary. Russia and India were merely to be the subjects of a great and universally valid experiment whose success was to give an example to the world and to spread the new doctrines of the two reformers over the whole earth. Lenin and Gandhi were upheld by the emotion of an ecstatic faith, the faith that their country was called to redeem humanity.[19]               


Despite Ambedkar, Gandhi lives on. According to the logic of reason, Gandhi should have been left to a collective and happy amnesia. It is Ambedkar who should have been the face of Indian modernity, not Gandhi. And just as the ghost of Hamlet’s father was seen hovering around the unhappy nights of Denmark, the ghost of Gandhi is hovering on.

But this new ghost has also Savarkar’s saffron flag draped on his bare chest. This New Gandhi is not with a spinning wheel. He is with the Swastika. He is not bare footed. He wears jackboots. He is not for ahimsa. He swears for revenge, wanting to transform the ideology of riots into the culture of wars. In this sense it is important to re-visit Gandhi once again.


[1]Theodor Adorno, In Search of Wagner (London: Verso, 1981), pp. 93-4

[2]Slavoj Žižek, Event. A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept (London: Melville House, 2014), pp. 58-9.

[3] Ibid., p. 63.

[4] See V.D. Savarkar, Hindu Rashtra Darshan (Poona: Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, nd), pp. 125.

[5] Ibid., p. 127.

[6], Ibid., pp. 9, 14, 46.

[7] V.D. Savarkar, Essentials of Hindutva, pp, 30-33

[8] Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: Verso, 2003).

[9] See Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel (trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1994), p. 64.

[10] M.K. Gandhi, ‘Answers to Zamindars, 25 July, 1934’, in The Penguin Gandhi Reader (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 238.

[11] See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘The Manifesto of the Communist Party’, in Marx. Engels. Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 54.

[12] Prabhat Patnaik, ‘Modern India sans the Impact of Capitalism’, in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVII, No. 36, September 7, 2013, p. 31.

[13] Ibid.,

[14] Ibid., p. 32.

[15] Ibid., p. 35.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans.Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1987), p. 233.

[18] Etienne Balibar, ‘Lenin and Gandhi: A Missed Encounter’, in Radical Philosophy, 172, March/April, 2012. Also see René Fülöp-Miller’s Lenin and Gandhi, trans. F.S. Flint and D.F. Tait (London & New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927).

[19] René Fülöp-Miller,  Lenin and Gandhi, trans. F.S. Flint and D.F. Tait (London& New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927), p. VII.