Thursday, September 05, 2013

Church and the Mahatma: How Gandhi was reviled by missionaries

Jomo Kenyatta had a sharp tongue and a sharper mind, both of which he used to devastating effect while lashing out at the 'civilising' West. The White man's fictional burden of taming the savage East and enlightening the 'Dark Continent' was no more than a convenient cover to hide his role as the master of the subjugated races.

Colonialism and Empire-building were inspired as much by a sense of racial superiority as driven by greed; it was a complex social, political and economic enterprise facilitated in no small measure by Christian missionaries who helped deracinate the indigenous people -- the 'heathens' -- and convert them into loyal subjects of an alien Emperor.

As in India, so in the African colonies were people uprooted from their ancient cultural moorings in preparation for their political suppression and economic deprivation. They were accorded the 'privilege' of embracing a strange faith and genuflecting at the altar of Christ in exchange of what they possessed and held dear till then: Their land, their language, their rites and rituals, and their religion. By the time the natives realised that all this was no more than a con job to disinherit them and enrich their foreign rulers, they had invariably lost most, if not all, of what once belonged to them.

Jomo Kenyatta, not given to niceties and asphyxiating political correctness, put it succinctly: "When the missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray'. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible!"

At a gathering of Christian missionaries a couple of years ago soon after the evangelist-provoked violence at Kandhamal in Odisha, I made bold to recall Jomo Kenyatta's famous comment which fetched a fusillade of denial and denunciation. I was accused of trying to divert attention from the depredations of 'rapacious' and 'murderous' Hindu mobs which have brought a 'bad name' to the land of Mahatma Gandhi, the "apostle of peace" as one of them described him. That's a Christian description, I protested, to which the response was: How else would you describe him? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a crafty politician who made a fetish of non-violence; so call him a 'man of peace' if you must, but don't describe him as a follower of Jesus, as were the 12 apostles of Christ, which he definitely wasn't.

In any event, the Mahatma the Church now holds up to shame those who object to proselytisation and conversion through allurement and deceit, the harvesting of the souls of the poor and the vulnerable, was mercilessly denigrated and lampooned in his lifetime by Christian missionaries in keeping with their loyalty to the Empire. Charles Freer Andrews was an exception and his association with Gandhi did not exactly make him welcome in mission residences.

Many years ago, while researching the Goa Inquisition, I had chanced upon material about the attitude of Christian missionaries towards Gandhi. Those notes resurfaced while I was clearing out the accumulated, fraying papers in my study; they make for interesting reading, especially when Gandhi is being touted by Christian missionaries as an 'Apostle of Peace', one of their own, in an effort to silence their critics.
Yet, there was a time when missionaries loathed Gandhi and held him in contempt, and not all who did so were of foreign origin.

For Christian missionaries, Gandhi was an "extraordinary casuist"... Unless stopped, his views would become a "dangerous phenomenon of present day politics in India"... His teachings can lead to "chaos and anarchy only"... His politics will lead to "mischievous consequences". 

These words have been taken from history. From cold print. From journals published by Christian missionaries. Journals that still exist as evidence of missionaries willingly allowing themselves to be used as instruments of British rule in India. And the target of their ire is Mahatma Gandhi, whom the Church now describes as an "apostle of peace" because it suits its social, political and cultural agenda.

Gandhi's arrival on the scene had greatly charged the nationalist movement and expanded the spread and scope of the struggle against British colonial rule. Gandhi's philosophy of peaceful resistance to colonial rule had found expression in the non-cooperation agitation. This in turn set alarm bells ringing - the colonial establishment, including the Church, was quick to realise Gandhi's potential. It retaliated in full force, using its arsenal, including missionaries and their publications.

In September 1919, the Christian Missionary Review fired the first salvo. A year later, the Christian Missionary Review dropped all niceties and described Gandhi as an "extraordinary casuist", an "unscrupulous and irresponsible demagogue" responsible for the disturbances in Punjab the previous year. Urging India's colonial masters to "adequately" deal with Gandhi's "egotistical mysticism," the Christian Missionary Review said that unless putdown, Gandhi and his nationalism would emerge as "one of the dangerous phenomena of present day politics in India."

In fact, the murderous attitude of the British in Punjab and the terrible fallout of the Rowlatt Act, found ample support among the missionaries. Bishop Henry Whitehead not only supported the Act but went on to denigrate the nationalist agitation against the Act as a "striking illustration of the incapacity of a large section of Indian politicians to face facts and realities, or to understand the first principles of civilised government." We all know of the action of the "civilised Government" so ardently backed by the missionaries - the massacre at Jallianwala Bag.

Indeed, Ms Marcella Sherwood, speaking on behalf of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society and Rev Canon Guildford, speaking on behalf of the Church Missionary Society, lauded Gen Dyer's brutality, saying it was "justified by its results". The Christian Missionary Review, describing Gen Dyer as a "brave man", said, absurdly though, that his action was "the only means of saving life".Another missonary publication, rather disingenuously named The Young Men of India, heaped praise on Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Lt Governor of Punjab during those terrible days of bloodshed and brutality by a ruthless colonial administration, saying that he was "the strongest and best ruler the country has had in modern times." The Harvest Field, also a missionary journal, was quick to point out that during the nationalist uprising against the Rowlatt Act, Indian Christians were not found "wanting in loyalty to the (British) Government." The International Review of Missions was clear in its pronouncement that the means and methods adopted by the British to put down the uprising in Punjab were neither un-Christian nor a blot on British rule.

It is important that we understand the import of the missionaries' view of the nationalist uprising against the Rowlatt Act, their justification of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, their unrestrained praise for Gen Dyer. Those who saw nothing wrong with drenching the ground of Jallianwala Bagh with the blood of Indian nationalists, those who saw nothing "un-Christian" about the bloodshed, those who found "loyalty to the British" in the cowardice of Indian Christians, could not but have derided Gandhi and his non-violence.

For, Gandhi's unique contribution to India's freedom movement, as also to freedom struggles in oppressed nations across the world, Satyagraha, was considered "un-Christian" by a majority of Protestant missionaries. The Christian Missionary Review describing Gandhi's agenda as dangerous, predicted that it would lead to violence, chaos and anarchy.

This view was seconded by The Young Men of India. Commenting on Gandhi's freedom campaign fashioned around the philosophy of Satyagraha, in March 1920, The Young Men of India wrote: "Though Mr Gandhi may have satisfied his conscience as to its morality, to plain common sense it means playing with fire, with the certainty that if used with masses of Indian people, the fire will become a conflagration?" . The Harvest Field, yet another missionary journal, in its May 1921 issue, put on record its belief that "Mr Gandhi's teachings" would result in "chaos and anarchy only." Gandhi, it said, had brought a "sword to his beloved land." "We have no animus against the man," said the Madras Christian College Magazine in October, 1921 -- the best way to rubbish a person, to inflict the most grievous wound, is to preface the attack with "we have nothing against the man" -- "but we have always regarded the doctrines he has been preaching and the policy he has advocated as pernicious." The Magazine, of course, had a pious purpose behind its attack: to save India from the mischievous consequences that must follow from their (Gandhi's doctrines) adoption." Such concern! Such piety!

But that was not all. The Madras Christian College Magazine went on to offer a homily. All those who want "peace and sobriety of life and progress," it urged, should reject the "sophistry of non-violence". Let us recall these words when the current president of the Congress today pays tribute to Gandhi as an apostle of non-violence.

By 1922, the Madras Christian College Magazine had dropped all pretensions. It declared that there was nothing "positive or constructive" about Gandhi's programme of Satyagraha and that his role till then had been "negative throughout". Gandhi, the Madras Christian College Magazine added with a sweeping flourish, was "an anarchist at heart? prone to mental confusion."

In her book, The Attitude of British Protestant Missionaries Towards Nationalism in India, Elizabeth Susan Alexander, offers an explanation for such vile diatribe against Gandhi as articulated by the missionary publications: "British officials came to accept missionaries as partners in the 'noble' task of shouldering the 'white man's burden.' British officials defended their support of Christian missionaries as being in the interest of their rule, for missionaries were used as instruments of their policies of reform? Missionary activities were seen to have lucrative results for British commercial interests."

Lucrative results now accrue to the Christian West which funds missionaries and evangelists.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Which other democracy has a doormat for PM?

Cornered, bruised and battered, the Prime Minister decided to do an angry old man act in Rajya Sabha on Friday while reading out a banal statement on the ruinous state of the Indian economy. He need not have bothered with reading it out; it may well have been taken as read. India was looking forward to more than a Press Information Bureau handout and the fact that the Prime Minister failed to rise to the occasion is as much a reflection of his towering incompetence as further proof, if at all that is needed, of the huge crisis of leadership that the country faces in these troubled times.

We shall return to what Manmohan Singh said, and did not say, in a while. Before that it would be in order to comment on his mock heroic anger which has so enthused Congress stooges in media, one of whom, an over-rated anchor-turned-editor-in-chief at a media house which has just sacked hundreds of its staff on account of the looming economic crisis, couldn’t stop blabbering and gushing over what he described as the Prime Minister ‘striking back’ at the Opposition. Like much of what he says and writes, this too is an exaggeration whose purpose would be lost on the na├»ve and the ill-informed.

The perceived ‘anger’ of the Prime Minister was not the rage of a wronged man or a slandered politician, it was the impotent rage of a feckless person who, having offered to serve as the doormat of his boss, can’t figure out why nobody holds him in high esteem. Had Manmohan Singh been half the person he would like others to believe he is, he would have raged against Congress president and Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty matriarch Sonia Gandhi and stormed out of office. Instead he has chosen to not only supinely do her bidding that has fetched rack and ruin to the national economy but also demean the office he holds, bringing disrepute to South Block like no other Prime Minister has ever done, not even Chandra Shekhar during the few months he held that post.

A Prime Minister so denuded of honour, integrity and esteem can’t really expect his party colleagues, leave alone those in the Opposition, to treat him with anything except contempt as they do. It is only natural that the Opposition, barring those individuals who are given to supping with Sonia Gandhi in private while denouncing the Congress in public, should treat Manmohan Singh as beneath contempt. To pretend otherwise, as Manmohan Singh does, is to live in denial. He is welcome to do so, but he should not expect respect — that’s an unfair expectation.

As for his ersatz anguish over being called a ‘chor’ — as some MPs are believed to have done while remonstrating against the limitless corruption under his tutelage — he need not play Little Red Riding Hood; much worse has been said by his party and his boss about the Opposition and its leaders. Surely Manmohan Singh has not forgotten Sonia Gandhi’s vicious attack on Atal Bihari Vajpayee in bazaar Hindi spoken in guttural Italian accent. Or her spiteful description of Narendra Modi as “Maut ka Saudagar”. In which democracy does this happen?

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley did not allow despise and loathing to get better of his sense of decency and decorum or else in his sharp repartee he would have gone beyond reminding Manmohan Singh that in no other democracy does a Prime Minister win a confidence vote by buying MPs. But neither decency nor decorum need restrain us from asking Manmohan Singh in which other democracy does a Prime Minister hold office without winning a direct election? In which other democracy does a Prime Minister hold himself unaccountable for the sins of omission and commission committed in his watch? In which other democracy does a Prime Minister preside over scam after scam, scandal after scandal without so much as bothering to even offer to resign? In which other democracy does a Prime Minister shield a Railways Minister hawking top jobs to the highest bidder? In which other democracy does a Prime Minister ask his Law Minister to fix the report of investigators looking into a massive scam? In which other democracy does a Prime Minister willingly mislead Parliament on crucial foreign policy issues that impinge on national security? In which other democracy has a Prime Minister been repeatedly found to be telling less than the truth? In which other democracy does a Prime Minister slyly blame the Opposition for the swindle-and-loot, tax-and-splurge, steal-and-scoot Government he heads?

It is laughable that Manmohan Singh wants the people of India to believe that the Opposition questioning him and his Ministers on dubious deals and stalling Parliament to expose the crimes of the Congress and his amazing silence have led to loss of investor confidence at home and abroad. That’s undiluted bunk. Investors have not lost confidence in India — the country and the people are the same as they were before the waning of trust happened — they have lost confidence in the UPA Government, the Congress which leads this Government, and the Prime Minister who heads the Government.

Surely Manmohan Singh knows better than to expect investors to have faith in a Government whose leading lights are constantly looking for opportunities to feather their own nests? Nor should he expect us to believe that investors are not deterred by his Government’s wasteful ways. The Prime Minister conveniently forgets that imposing retrospective taxes on corporates was not the doing of the Opposition. If licences have been cancelled by the Supreme Court, causing telecom investors to shy away from India, it is not because the Opposition stalled Parliament on the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery, it is because Manmohan Singh did nothing to stop the robbery that took place with his full knowledge. If big ticket reforms have languished, it is not on account of the Opposition but due to the pusillanimity of the Prime Minister. We could either accept these facts or blame the crisis in Syria for our woes.

Meanwhile, the latest financial figures came out last evening, delayed by several hours so that Manmohan Singh could make a last ditch effort to sell the fiction that not all is lost and he shall bravely soldier on to resuscitate a sputtering economy. Growth rate is down to 4.4 per cent, exports are down on a year-to-year basis and food inflation remains frighteningly high. Worse, jobs are disappearing across sectors at an alarming rate. And here we have our Prime Minister blaming everybody except the culprits responsible for this criminal destruction of the economy. That’s understandable, though not condonable, since he is primarily to blame for this wanton destruction. No punishment would be sufficient for him.