Republished from Thinking Matters
When people talk of great spiritual leaders, Gandhi and Jesus are often mentioned in the same breath. Jesus was a great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Western civilization. Gandhi was a great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Eastern civilization—particularly in India.
Christians have long disagreed. Jesus was not merely a man, and Gandhi was not really a great man. Indeed, when you consider the state of India—where Hinduism and Islam have made it home to one third of the world’s poor, where until recently over half of its citizens lived below the poverty line, and where many of its citizens are considered so unclean that their mere touch can contaminate a member of a higher caste—it would be surprising if a Hindu man from this place were not as depraved and inhumane as his religion.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal confirms that Gandhi was not the saint Westerners have assumed. This image arose largely because of his “martyrdom”, followed by Martin Luther King Jr’s ignorant adoption of him as a role model—and fueled by the fact that Gandhi prohibited journalists from publishing anything about him that he had not first extensively vetted and edited.
The article goes into some detail, listing many of Gandhi’s morally questionable actions and attitudes. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s a sampling:
- Although credited with leading India to independence from Britain, Gandhi actually undermined this effort. Between 1900 and 1922, he suspended his civil disobedience at least three times, even though more than 15,000 supporters were in jail for the cause. (When Britain finally did withdraw from India, it was largely motivated by their anti-imperialist Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and the fact that Britain was nearly bankrupt from the war.)
- Gandhi was dangerously politically incompetent. He advised the Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, and wrote a letter to Hitler starting with the words “My friend”. He also advised the Jews of Palestine to “rely on the goodwill of the Arabs”. Fortunately for their existence, the Jews ignored him.
- As well as calling Hitler his friend, Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931. Gandhi praised Mussolini’s “service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people.”
- Gandhi was outstandingly racist, describing “the raw Kaffir” as someone “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness,” and saying of white Afrikaaners, “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.”
- He was also a hypocrite on many levels. He prevented his son marrying a Muslim despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity. He denounced lawyers, railways and parliamentary politics, yet he was a professional lawyer who constantly used railways to get to meetings to argue that India deserved its own parliament. And although he is known for his hunger strikes, his official position was that these were “the worst form of coercion, which militates against the fundamental principles of non-violence” (in which he believed).
- His views on nakedness and sexual chastity were also belied by his depraved behavior: when he was in his 70s he encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his ‘spiritual quest’, he began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women also.
- Despite being thought of as a peaceful man, he was vicious and callous. “There will be no tears but only joy if tomorrow I get the news that all three of you were killed,” he once told some of his workers. To a Hindu he once said, “I do not mind if each and every one of the 500 families in your area is done to death.” And he forced Manu, his niece (remember the “nightly cuddles”), to walk through a jungle known for harboring rapists—just so she could retrieve a pumice stone he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, he “cackled” with laughter and said: “If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy.”
- In 1908 he left his wife for a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,” he wrote to Kallenbach. “The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.” Gandhi nicknamed himself “Upper House” and Kallenbach “Lower House.” The two pledged “more love, and yet more love—such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.”
That’s enough to prove the point. Like Mother Theresa, Gandhi was not a great spiritual leader and humanitarian. He was a cynical and morally corrupt person, just like the rest of us—only given more opportunity to reveal his true nature because of the position and culture he lived in.