Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Damaging Effect on Post-Independence India

This article was written by a high school student for an assignment. The assignment required the student to present an opposing view to normally held ideas/beliefs. This student is of Indian origin and is an accomplished artist of classical Indian music and dance. This student is well grounded in her/his understanding of Indian values, culture and history. I am emphasizing all these just to tell you that this student took this topic as a challenge and so - please treat this as an academic exercise. This is a lengthy article. You can jump to the end to read the abstract. But don't jump to conclusions that this student is a Gandhi hater :-) Her/his parents are still recovering from the shock!

Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Damaging Effect on Post-Independence India


The image of Mohandas K. Gandhi seems to epitomize the idea of India in modern culture. When many people think of India, one of the first images that pops into their heads is Gandhi’s frail, weakened body. Due to his role in the Indian struggle for independence, he has become an influence for many other leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. However, while Gandhi helped to obtain Indian freedom, he also unintentionally damaged India through his goals and ideals, including his strong ties to Hinduism, his political philosophies, and his attempts at reforming the caste system.

Nationalism, Ties to Hinduism, and their Consequences:

Gandhi strongly encouraged nationalism and faith in the Indian nation, which in turn encouraged Hinduism. Many of the words and ideas he used were Indian or came from Hinduism, a religion strongly tied to India. This is exemplified in his fight against the British. As a devout Hindu, he allowed his religious beliefs to embed themselves the way he portrayed the fight against the British. For example, his idea of a “satyagraha”, which he used as a term for the fight against Great Britain, was taken from Hinduism. Through the use of this phrase, he indirectly promoted Hinduism. Also, the phrase “Jai Hind” was coined and heavily used by Gandhi’s followers (Guha 26). This term essentially means “Hail India”; however, the word Hind is a shortened form of Hindustan, which means “Land of the Hindus” (India). In using this phrase, he and his supporters entertained the idea of India as a Hindu land. Thus, he simultaneously promoted Indian nationalism and Hinduism. His strong Hindu background was also seen in his associations with other organizations. For example, he was associated with a group called RSS, a union of young, Hindu men who entertained the idea that Hinduism was the only morally correct religion (Guha 34). Thus, his encouragement and emphasis on Hinduism caused many of the problems that plagued India well into the post-independence era.

Gandhi’s advocacy of Hinduism was counterproductive in the long run because of the stagnant nature of religion. Many religions’ ideas and imageries have been the same since their respective foundings. For example, temples in India date back as far as the 9 century; the idols seen in these temples are nearly identical to the statues being created today. Many of the practices have also remained the same; for example, Hindu texts state that it is not Satvic (pure, in accordance with the “reality” described by Sanathana Dharma) to eat food that is not fresh. The intent of this rule appears to be the prevention of sickness as a result of eating stale or rotten food. However, the invention of refrigerators and other preservation techniques has made it possible to store food in a safe and healthy manner. However, many orthodox Hindus still refuse to eat food that is not satvic. This stagnancy, which can be seen in all religions, shows that it is impractical to found a governing body based on religious tenets.

Politically, Hinduism is ineffective because of its indifference towards the outside world. Hinduism breeds an indirect form of indifference through it’s concepts of Karma and Dharma. The idea of Karma says that every action an individual engages in will have its resulting consequences (positive or negative). Based on this idea, Hindus have no desire to correct the wrong-doings of others. The idea of Dharma states that each person has their own duty or purpose in life, and must fulfill this. These two policies breed indifference to external events. For example, if someone is taking advantage of another person at their place of employment, a Hindu will not take any kind of action to stop this because of the laws of Karma and Dharma. Based on Karma, he feels that the harasser will get his punishment eventually, whether this occurs instantly or in another life; based on Dharma, he does not feel that it is his duty to correct the actions of others. Thus, as a result of the ideas of Karma and Dharma, Hindus have a lack of ability to control their world. This is demonstrated in the novel Mr. Sampath by R.K. Narayanan. The protagonist of this book typifies Hindu’s indifference; in many situations, he lets people take advantage of him at his own expense. The entire novel is illustrated by one quote: “Life and all the world is passing by- why bother about anything (Naipaul 12)?”Politically, this mentality is not applicable because of its internal nature. In religion or spirituality, where much of the action is internal, this philosophy is effective in creating peace within the mind. However, in politics, this philosophy is not effective because everything is externalized and based on others. If you simply let things go as they please in the external world, success is sparing. After his death, Gandhi’s ideas continued to influence Indian politics. Thus, Gandhi’s ties to the Hindu beliefs of Karma and Dharma had damaging effects on India.

Gandhi’s non-violence and indifference has created conflict between India and Pakistan. This started with the interaction between Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah saw that Gandhi was leading India towards becoming a predominantly Hindu nation. As a Muslim, Jinnah pushed the idea of a Muslim state (i.e. Pakistan) by forming the Muslim League. Gandhi was strongly against the separation of groups of people, especially people of his country; thus, he was against the splitting of India, which encompassed modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. However, Pakistan (including modern-day Bangladesh) was formed. Gandhi’s fault was promoting India as a Hindu country. While this was not direct, it was made obvious by his constant practice of Hinduism. The Indian nation started to form around Gandhi, as demonstrated by the massive following of his fasts and marches. Jinnah realized that this would lead to Hinduism becoming the religion of India and started to support the idea of an Islamic country. Thus, Gandhi has inadvertently spoiled India through his excessive use of Hinduism.

Promotion of Hinduism led to a Muslim hatred of Gandhi. This is typified in a speech by Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin. He says that his rationale for murdering Gandhi was his “constant and consistent pandering to the Muslims,” “[which] goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to and end immediately (Guha 38).” Because of Gandhi’s ties to Hinduism, the Muslims’ hatred of Gandhi evolved into hatred of Hindus; this initiated a rift between the two groups in India and the areas around it.

Simplicity of Life:

Gandhi tried to rule based on an idea termed Perennial Philosophy, which was made popular by Gottfried Leibniz. Perennial philosophy is essentially a set of underlying truths or realities that exist in tall people. In Hinduism, it is known as Sanathana Dharma (which is probably how the idea was introduced to Gandhi). The basic tenets of Perennial Philosophy are as follows:
  • Reality is beyond physical entities and sensory perception—it is received by the intellect and the spirit.
  • Humans have a 2-sided nature; one side is a physical aspect, which experiences birth and death, while the other side is an intellectual aspect, which is not subject to these physical attributes.
  • All humans can see the other side of reality by utilizing this intellectual aspect.
  • The realization of this other side is the final objective of humans (Loemker 136-139).

Gandhi created his political stance based on these ideas, targeting the perception of this reality; the objective of his ideal government would be to create an environment that was conducive to the opening of the link between man and this reality. However, the basic problem of Gandhi’s idea lies within the above tenets. It says that all humans are able to see the reality; however, this does not imply that the have any kind of desire to do so. The desire to see this reality must come from with in the individual. If the desire for this does not come from within the individual, an attempt at a government based on these philosophies is useless. Also, Gandhi’s idea of government (which is based on Perennial Philosophy) calls for ever-present freedom; this is only effective if the people under this governing body use this freedom to conduct some kind of internal search for the reality. However, there is bound to be at least one individual in this group who abuses the freedom for some kind of personal gain and, in turn, damages the society. Thus, when one person begins to do this, others do the same in order to keep up. This eventually evolves into a chaotic society. Had Gandhi’s ideals been fully expressed in India’s government, the nation would have been in shambles.

Also, through the ideals of Perennial Philospohy (or Sanathana Dharma), Gandhi supported indifference to the outside world. He implied that the metamorphosis of the self is the most important thing and thus, people should not interfere with others. Again, we notice that while this philosophy may work with internal fields, like psychology, spirituality, and religion, it is a rather ineffective philosophy in externalized fields, like economics and politics. Also, as people grow and mature, they have different goals and different perspectives on life. Because of these differences in goals, you can not rule people in different phases of life based on the assumption that they will be internally focused. Thus, you can not rule people based on this because it does not always apply to them.

Gandhi encouraged people to life a simplistic life and did so himself. His house, which was made of mud and had no running water or furniture, cost less than 1 US Dollar. This also goes along with the idea of Perennial Philosophy, that the focus should be internal and not external. This is also seen in a statement made by Mira Behn, one of his followers in 1949:

“Tragedy today is that the educated and moneyed classes are altogether out of touch with…our Mother Earth, and the animal and vegetable population which she sustains…By science and machinery, he (man) may get huge returns for a time, but ultimately will come desolation (Guha 230).”

However, not everyone is capable of living within his simplistic ideals. For example, mothers can not live entirely in simplicity because of the physical and financial needs of their children. Because of their children’s education, they can not live simplistic, internalized lives. As the child begins to get involved with other people at school, the mother is dragged in as well, causing her to discard the simplistic ideal. Hence, simplicity is a difficult ideal to fulfill. Gandhi’s political ideas failed due to a need for a hardly-achievable level of simplicity.

Ignorance of Issues:

Because of Gandhi’s focus on the internal self, India became ignorant of the issues they would face upon becoming a country, including industrialization and technological advancement. The problems related to Gandhi’s minimalist idea of living by self-subsistence are further exemplified in his economic ideas, his educational vision of India, as well as other policies he advocated (or did not advocate). Some of his follies in these areas were resolved by India’s 5-year-plans.

Gandhi was much more focused on freeing India from British oppression than he was on the growth of India as a nation. As a result, he did very little planning as to how India would function as a nation, especially economically. This was seen in his lack of an economic vision for India. Because of his self-subsistent lifestyle (and his imposition of this on India), he was not focused on making India one of the world’s most prominent nations. This lack of economic desire is seen in his focus on the self-sustaining cottage industries. For example, Gandhi said that he would spend August 15, 1948 (India’s first Independence Day), “doing some constructive work,” mentioning spinning thread (to make his own loin cloth) as his main motive (Guha 20). While the British controlled India, this practice helped India gain a degree of economic independence; however, it was continued after independence was gained, resulting in economic apathy. Gandhi never set any kind of goal or objective for the economy. He failed to encourage the idea or entertain the thought of boosting India’s Gross Domestic Product. Thus, India endured little economic growth until the 1980’s, when the economic liberalization of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi initiated growth (Guha 572-573).

Gandhi was very academically avid, as demonstrated by his study of law in Great Britain. However, Gandhi, in accordance with his idea of self-subsistence, did not try to pass on academic initiative to the Indian people. In his belief that academic accomplishment was not necessary for self-sufficiency, he overlooked a very important aspect of Hinduism. Hinduism states that there are 4 main stages of life: Brahmachari (learner/student), Grihastha (bachelor), Vanaprastha (family man), and Sanyasa (old age). Gandhi’s ideas of autonomy and rural farm life are most closely related to Sanyasa. However, it should be noted that one can not skip or shorten one of the stages, because this will cause it to resurface somewhere else. This is comparable to a grown man acting in a juvenile manner because he had a shortened childhood. By not creating a strong academic base for the new country, he was taking away the rights of people to fully fulfill the Brahmachari stage. Education was certainly present in India during his time; however, it was not at the level it is today: intitially, there were very few prestigious universities, research labs, or academically revered people (i.e. noble laureates) in or from India. This was also an issue in India’s first elections, where only 15% of the people eligible to vote were literate (Guha 143). The lack of educational focus was not combated until founding of the first 5 IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) between 1954 and 1964 (Guha 223).

To some degree, Gandhi indirectly fought off industrialization in India. He was focused on an autonomous, self-subsistent life, which consisted of high levels of simplicity. This was noted by Jawaharlal Nehru when he said, “We have to industrialize India as fast as possible,” during his presidency from 1947 to 1964 (Guha 214). His advocacy of this lifestyle caused a large portion of the Indian society to follow him in living this way. Thus, they were led away from urbanization and were primarily involved in self-contained cottage industries. Also, Gandhi discouraged the people from using British goods, including farming machines, because they created dependency on the British. This is seen in his march to Dandi, where he extracted his own salt from ocean water in order to boycott British salt (and the taxes on it) (Gandhi 314). The rejection of British agricultural machinery led to the use of primitive, less-efficient tools. As a result of the rejection of machinery, they also rejected British farming methods. The denial of these two things continued until the third round of 5-year-plans from 1961 to 1966, which coincides with the Indian Green Revolution (Guha 214). It was only during this time that ideas such as crop rotation, mechanization, and cooperative farming were introduced to Indian farmers. The results of this were seen in 1968, when there was a substantial increase in food production (Guha 442).

Additionally, the consequences of Gandhi’s lack of economic foresight were compounded by the large population. India’s ratio of resources to people is low due to its immense population density. Thus, after India had gained independence, there were not enough resources to sustain the entire population. For example, there was a lack of food, which caused many deaths especially in the lower socio-economic groups (Guha 210). This lack of resources eventually led to the implementation of five-year-plans, which overcame some of the deficiencies associated with Gandhi’s lack of foresight.

Caste System:

Gandhi is well-known for his attempt at reforming the caste system in India. However, there are still repercussions of the system in Indian society today. Some of these could have been avoided if Gandhi had changed the way he addressed the caste heirarchy. While Gandhi spoke against the caste system, he never tried to create any actual reform or clearly-defined progression. He never attempted to facilitate the creation of organizations to help the Dalits (outcastes). When he indirectly gave them some level of freedom (as a result of public response to his speeches), they had no avenues of progressing to a better lifestyle; thus, the continued functioning in the same manner that they did before the gained freedom. Another issue with his reform of the caste system was that he tried to abolish it instead of change it. The caste system is deeply tied into Hinduism and thus, abolishment is nearly impossible. His reform would have been more effective if he had tried to make it more equal instead of destroying it.


In retrospect, while Gandhi may have been a strong spiritual leader, he was not necessarily the best political leader. Much of this stemmed from his Hindu underpinnings. He incurred problems because was the spearhead and the primary leader of the independence movement. His ideas would have been more successful if he had created some kind of organized congress to assist him in his conquest from Indian independence. Thus, some of the focus would have been taken off Gandhi and dispersed among the congress members. This also could have helped lessen the ties to Hinduism which Gandhi initiated as well create a larger target audience because of the broader spectrum of ideas they asserted (religious as well as political, social, and economic). After gaining independence, this group could have then formed the nucleus of the new government. The concept of a group of men fighting for independence could have avoided a lot of problems, i.e. continuation of Hindu indifference and division with Pakistan. In order to prevent the schism between Muslims and Hindus, Gandhi could also have empowered Muslims in different associations. For example, Jinnah said that he left the Indian National Congress (INC) because it was dominated by Hindus. Also, B.R. Ambedkar, a former Dalit, stated that INC had little representation of the lower castes and was dominated by higher castes (Guha 365). Therefore, Gandhi could have remedied the caste system and maintained the unity of Hindus and Muslims by empowering these Muslims and Dalits in the Indian National Congress, a group he was once a member of.

Annotated Bibliography:

Gandhi, Mohandas K. Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Washington D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1948.

Mohandas lead the movement for Indian independence through his methods of nonviolence. Educated in England, he is considered to be quite literate and fluent in the English language. In terms of this work, he is credible because it is an autobiography. However, his views are biased because he does not see the views of others or the long-term impacts of his policies.

Guha, Ramachandra. India After Gandhi. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.

Guha was educated in New Delhi and Calcutta, India. He eventually went on to teach in the Indian Institute of Science, Stanford University, Yale University, and University of California at Berkley. After this, he settled in India and became a full-time writer. Some of his works include Wickets in the East and This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India. He is a credible source due to his credentials. However, he is limited in that he could not see the people’s immediate reaction and state-of-mind during Gandhi’s time.

Loemker, Leroy E.
The Philosophy of Leibniz and the Modern World. Charlotte, North Carolina: Vanderbilt University Press, 1973.

Loemker is the most prolific translator of Leibniz’s works. He was a faculty at Emory University and has had a significant impact on the university. He has also translated works such as Discourse on Metaphysics and New System of the Nature and Communication of Substances. His work is limited because he may not necessarily portray the connotative meaning that Leibniz tried to emphasize.

Naipaul, V.S. India: A Wounded Civilization. New York: Random House, 1976.

Naipaul is a British writer of Indo-Trinidadian descent. He has been knighted and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. His books include An Area of Darkness, A Congo Diary, and A Turn in the South. Due to his credentials, he is a credible source. However, his work is limited because he evaluates things from the perspective of the Western world.

Works Cited:

Gandhi, Mohandas K. Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Washington D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1948.

Guha, Ramachandra. India After Gandhi. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.

Loemker, Leroy E. The Philosophy of Leibniz and the Modern World. Charlotte, North Carolina: Vanderbilt University Press, 1973.

Naipaul, V.S. India: A Wounded Civilization. New York: Random House, 1976.
Works Referenced:

Burki, Shahid Javed. Pakistan: Fifty Years of Nationhood. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999.

Lauder, Hugh & Brown, Phillip & Dillabough, Jo-Anne & Hasley, A.H. Education, Globalization, and Social Change. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006.

Naseem, S.M. The Post-CColonial State and Social Transformation in India and Pakistan. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2002.

Shurmer-Smith, Pamela. India: Globalization and Change. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2000.


Gandhi was one a highly influential and well-known Indian figure. However, while Gandhi helped to obtain Indian freedom, he also damaged India through his goals and ideals, including his ties to Hinduism, political philosophies, and attempts at caste system reform.

Through the terminology he used, Gandhi promoted India as a predominantly or entirely Hindu state. This is seen in the use of phrases like Jai Hind and satyagraha. The idea of advocating any religion as a political philosophy is not good because philosophy is internalized while politics are eternalized. Also, Hinduism specifically is ineffective because of it’s concepts of Karma and Dharma. These breed an indirect form of inaction, which creates a lack of productivity in the external world. The promotion of Hinduism led to the splitting of India and Pakistan and was the root of Gandhi’s assassination.

Gandhi ruled based on Perennial Philosophy, an idea popularized by Leibniz. This theory states that there is an alternate, intellectual reality and that humans must find it. Gandhi’s political ideals revolved around people’s quest for this goal. However, because people are at different stages of life, they have different goals, making Gandhi’s policy ineffective. He encouraged simplicity of life, which was not attainable by all.

Gandhi did not plan how India would function after independence. As a result, India was far behind other nations academically, industrially, and economically at the beginning of the post-independence era.

Gandhi’s well-known attempt at reforming the caste system failed because castes are an integral part of Hinduism. Had he tried to fix (instead of eliminate) the system, he would have been more effective.

Gandhi should have created a party to help him lead India to independence. This would have taken the focus off of him and placed it on others, as not to create a martyr effect.


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