Is Obama's Adulation of Gandhi in India a Diplomatic Blunder?

Obama's Wall (behind his desk) when he was Senator of Illinois
Gandhi is seen below Abraham Lincoln in the lower right corner.
From 'Gandhi's Challenge to India and America', HuffPo 

'“The impression on the Indian side is every time you meet [Barack Obama], he talks about Gandhi,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express, a leading English-language newspaper, adding that the repeated references struck some officials as platitudinous.'

-- 'Obama Involkes Gandhi, Whose Ideal Eludes India',
New York Times, 6 November 2010

The above quote regarding the impression President Obama is making on his first trip to India is slightly humorous, like a political cartoon. Holding up Gandhi as a political and national hero, is just plain bizarre when one considers that Gandhi's ideals are actually somewhat responsible for the partition of India [1] and the current morass between Pakistan and India, and the ongoing turmoil the Kashmir reigon as well. How would the world have fared if the Allies had adopted Gandhi's non-violent strategies in the war against Hitler? Michael Danino addressed these issues in a keynote speech given at Kottayam’s Mahatma Gandhi University January of 2000 [See Link]. He spoke:
'The result of Gandhi’s dogmatic stand on the evil nature of war—a dogma Sri Krishna rebuffs in the Gita—was to be tragic for India. It not only meant an unnecessary postponement of Independence, but it made India’s bloody vivisection unavoidable, even as the Mahatma promised it would happen only “over his dead body” ; it also meant three wars with our neighbour and the continuing war of attrition and terrorism in Kashmir.' 
Danino ended his speach with a quote by Sri Aurobindo, “If one is among the ... seekers of [the] Truth, one has to take sides for the Truth, to stand against the forces that attack it and seek to stifle it. Arjuna wanted not to stand for either side, to refuse any action of hostility even against assailants ; Sri Krishna, who insisted so much on samata, strongly rebuked his attitude and insisted equally on his fighting the adversary. ‘Have samata,’ he said, ‘and seeing clearly the Truth, fight.’ ... It is a spiritual battle inward and outward ; by neutrality and compromise or even passivity one may allow the enemy force to pass and crush down the Truth and its children.” [From Letters on Yoga]

Sri Aurobindo, truly more deserving of the honor of being called India's patriarch, accepted violent force of action as a possibility and often a necessity against oppressers, usurpers or enemies. He was named the most dangerous man in India and thrown in jail for his revolutionary outcries against the tyranny of British rule of India. He was instrumental in liberating India from the British Raj; and serendipitously India's Independence fatefully coincided with Sri Aurobindo's 75th birthday, 15 August 1947.

Obama's certainly knows that Gandhi's philosophy is neither practical nor astute in handling certain global conflicts, including conflicts within the fractured motherland of India. So why try to connect or bond with Indians on the basis of a failed patriarch, responsible for the fracturing of their Motherland?

Like so many heads of state before him, following a well-beaten path of platitudinal diplomacy in India, Obama visited Gandi's ashes, signed the guest book, and paid homage to the failed sentimentality that lies at the roots of India's fractured and weakened state. I do hope some fed-up and knowledgeable contingency of Indians can point Obama in the direction of Sri Aurobindo's more integral and enduring vision on Indian affairs. Perhaps someone will put in his hands a copy of Sri Aurobindo's message to India on 14 August 1947, on the eve of Her Independence. Aurobindo knew that the partition was a backwards solution to achieving harmony and a hindrance to India's future destiny and greatness. He spoke, 'By whatever means, in whatever way, the division must go; unity must and will be achieved, for it is necessary for the greatness of India's future.'

Of course Pakistanis would be outraged if Obama publicly declared an affinity for the philosophies of India's greatest freedom fighter and champion for her un-partitioned glory, especially considering ever more tense situation in Kashmir. But perhaps Indians already feel some outrage that Obama would unwittingly honor Gandhi as their cultural hero, and passivism as their national philosophy, in spite of the real conflicts they face with Pakistan. If the spell cast by of Gandhi is not soon thoroughly broken, Kashmir, the crown jewel of Mother India, will inevitably be amputated from the body of India, as was Pakistan and Bangledesh in 1947. Are Indians going to let this happen? Does Obama think India should let this happen?

Here is a reading list for those who wish to reconsider Gandhi and disturbing impact on India:

* 'Sri Aurobindo's Dismissal of Gandhi and his Nonviolence' by Robert N. Minor, Chapter 4 of Indian Critiques of Gandhi (2003, edited by Howard G. Coward).
* 'Sri Aurobindo and the Gita', Michael Danino's 2000 Speech at at Kottayam’s Mahatma Gandhi University
* 'Gandhi's Mindless Appeasement of Muslims and the Partition' by Radhasyam Bramhachari
* 'The Flip Side of Gandhi's Leadership' by Dr. R. Rudra Narasimham
* Gandhi and the Partition of India by Kamran Shahid, 2005, Oxford University Press.


[1] Below is an excerpt from a review of Kamran Shahid's Gandhi and the Partition of India.
"I believe that Gandhi's role as a political force was overlooked by many historians. Had Gandhi sincerely exercised his absolute moral and political authority, which he held about millions of Indians, the Congress and the Hindus, India might not have tasted the realities of partition."

Shahid reinforces his thought that "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was not just the name of a person. It was a movement, a philosophy, an ideology, a law in itself, which alone represented the nationalism of millions of Hindus." This points to the fact that the separation of Muslims was "a direct reactive measure taken in response to the 20 years of metaphysical and caste dominated leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, which touched its practical and maximum zenith during the Congress's 'one party' rule of India."

An academician to the core, Kamran Shahid says, "I did not write this book as a Pakistani nor as an enemy to India. I wanted to publish whatever my conviction was on the partition." It must be tough to keep one's emotions aloof while writing about one's motherland. However, Shahid has successfully done so.


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