November 8th, 2010

Obama’s Gandhi

Commenter “expat” points us to this article about Obama’s constant references to and reverence for Gandhi, expressed during his Indian visit, and the fact that this isn’t exactly reassuring to the present-day Indian government and business leaders.

Obama is many things, but one of them is what I would call “amateur historian.” His knowledge of so much of history (including Gandhi) is superficial liberal boilerpate. The reality is more complex (might I say “more nuanced”?):

Gandhi’s vision of a village-dominated economy was shunted aside during his lifetime as rural romanticism, and his call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power.

If anything, India’s rise as a global power seems likely to distance it even further from Gandhi.

Of course, it’s mainly this global business context in which Obama’s visit occurs. Obama’s near-constant references to Gandhi are beginning to wear on even the Indians—or maybe especially the Indians, who after all are probably most familiar with Gandhi’s flaws:

“The impression on the Indian side is every time you meet him, 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.

Did I say “Gandhi’s flaws?” Yes, I did.

Talking this way about Gandhi is tricky, because he is so universally admired. But history is history, and Gandhi’s is hardly all sweetness and light. Obama does not appear to be familiar with the Gandhi facts outlined here and here.

They make for sobering reading, indeed. There are so many nuggets of information there that I hardly know which ones to excerpt, but this will have to do:

All great visionaries are extremists, and Gandhi was no exception. By the sheer force of his personality he managed to hold together a movement against the British that ended up with a measure of success in terms of winning Indian independence. But that initial success was followed by the unleashing of internal forces of violence of such an extreme nature that they dwarfed any outrages the British had committed in India. When partition (which Gandhi had opposed) occurred, the country was already on the brink of a turmoil that erupted into a series of massacres which killed at least a million or more, although the true figures will never be known. Gandhi’s methods were utterly powerless against the violence between Moslem and Hindu, as opposed to his relative success against the British colonial authorities.

Gandhi was not only extremist, he was utterly consistent as well. I was shocked to learn that what he had earlier recommended for the Jews in the face of Hitler, he also applied to his own people on partition: that they surrender themselves to death. In this article by Dr. Koenraad Elst, a Belgian scholar on India, the author discusses a number of mistakes he feels Gandhi made. Elst writes:

Gandhi refused to see the realities of human nature; of Islamic doctrine with its ambition of domination; of the modern mentality with its resentment of autocratic impositions; of people’s daily needs making them willing to collaborate with the rulers in exchange for career and business opportunities; of the nationalism of the Hindus who would oppose the partition of their Motherland tooth and nail; of the nature of the Pakistani state as intrinsically anti-India and anti-Hindu.

In most of these cases, Gandhi’s mistake was not his pacifism per se…The Khilafat pogroms revealed one of the real problems with his pacifism: all while riding a high horse and imposing strict conformity with the pacifist principle, he indirectly provoked far more violence than was in his power to control. Other leaders of the freedom movement, such as Annie Besant and Lala Lajpat Rai, had warned him that he was playing with fire, but he preferred to obey his suprarational “inner voice”.

The fundamental problem with Gandhi’s pacifism, not in the initial stages but when he had become the world-famous leader of India’s freedom movement (1920-47), was his increasing extremism. All sense of proportion had vanished when he advocated non-violence not as a technique of moral pressure by a weaker on a stronger party, but as a form of masochistic surrender…

During his prayer meeting on 1 May 1947, he prepared the Hindus and Sikhs for the anticipated massacres of their kind in the upcoming state of Pakistan with these words: “I would tell the Hindus to face death cheerfully if the Muslims are out to kill them. I would be a real sinner if after being stabbed I wished in my last moment that my son should seek revenge. I must die without rancour. You may turn round and ask whether all Hindus and all Sikhs should die. Yes, I would say. Such martyrdom will not be in vain.” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol.LXXXVII, p.394-5) It is left unexplained what purpose would be served by this senseless and avoidable surrender to murder.

Even when the killing had started, Gandhi refused to take pity on the Hindu victims, much less to point fingers at the Pakistani aggressors. More importantly for the principle of non-violence, he failed to offer them a non-violent technique of countering and dissuading the murderers. Instead, he told the Hindu refugees from Pakistan to go back and die. On 6 August 1947, Gandhiji commented to Congress workers on the incipient communal conflagration in Lahore thus: “I am grieved to learn that people are running away from the West Punjab and I am told that Lahore is being evacuated by the non-Muslims. I must say that this is what it should not be. If you think Lahore is dead or is dying, do not run away from it, but die with what you think is the dying Lahore…”

I cannot read that excerpt without feeling a literal shiver of dread and horror. I cannot see that “Die with the dying Lahore” is a sentiment to emulate.

44 Responses to “Obama’s Gandhi”

  1. Occam's Beard Says:

    Re Obama’s wearing a path to the Gandhi well, I used to see this phenomenon in the oral exams of the weaker grad students: they’d become familiar with some concept, and try to use it as a response to any and all questions, anxiously brandishing it as a talisman in the forlorn hope that it would help them skate through a difficult time.

    Seriously, does Buraq know anything he didn’t pick up from comic books, movies, or a crash briefing by his handlers? There’s no depth to the man intellectually, not even enough to work in another resident of the subcontinent (e.g., Mother Theresa, never mind assorted historical figures).

  2. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Hardly zero’s fault. Gandhi the Magnificent, the moral superior of us all, is all that’s taught in jr. hi. and it’s never taught any other way elsewhere.
    Thing is, Gandhi has to be perfect, his extremism and murderous, masochistic advice to surrender blacked out so he can remain as a figure with which to reproach those who toil with real issues in the real world.
    You’ll note he, as the crusading priest in Doonesbury once said, “couldn’t get away for the mass arrests”. Killed by a fake sympathizer, not by the forces of evil at the sharp end of what he promoted.

  3. Severely Ltd. Says:

    This post increased my knowledge of Ghandi by a large factor, despite Ben Kingley’s interminable effort years ago.
    Obama’s infatuation with Ghandi fits hand in glove with his seeming disdain for Britain.
    Apropos of very little here, but interesting if, like me, you’re a P.G.Wodehouse fan; Indians are probably the most fanatical Wodehousians, which is saying something when you note the average level of enthusiasm in his readers.

  4. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    How apropos…two great frauds: Obama and Ghandi.

    Ghandi was/is nothing more than a neo-fascist with a loose fitting uniform. If he were in a real nasty dictatorship. like Stalin, Hitler, and (somewhat) Mussolini ran, he’d be the active ingredient in a soap bar before you could say “Clean the dhoti, please”.

    Finding himself in the (then) British Empire was the luckiest thing that happened to him.

    Such is un-gratitude…makes for survival, though.

  5. Artfldgr Says:

    Read Mitrokhen on Ghandi and his family…

    Indira Gandhi ended up in the back pocket of the soviets…

    You dont have to just read mitrokhen… Soviet, or rather EX soviet people have written memoirs and you can read stuff there…

    “The Hand of Moscow”Leonid Shebarshin

    Leonid Mlechin’s Foreign Intelligence Service – Special File, has a lot on organized crime in india as well.

    The East is a Delicate Business by Sopriakov makes for three other sources as to the BS over there…

    India was one big open place as far as state agencies were concerned. Russia dominated, and the only opposition they had was from other foreign agencies.

    the tale of american biological weapons in vietnam came from india…

    1955, June – The first official visit of the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru to the USSR. Indira Ghandy (chairman of the female organization of party INK at that time) accompanied Nehru.

    Most of indias weapons are chinese or russian…

  6. Curtis Says:

    Dr. Koenraad Elst also defines the depth of the ocean from which Obama sprang.

    “In India, as in the West, confusion reigns in the form of superficial relativism, that is the assumption that contradictory truth claims can be equally valid. In India, they call it secularism; in the West, it goes by the name of multiculturalism, but either way it amounts to crass superficiality and a refusal to evaluate competing ideologies and religions in accordance with facts and logic.”

    Excerpt from “A brief interview of Elst in The Pioneer.”

    Perhaps what Ghandi and Obama have in common is their denial of “Islamic doctrine with its ambition of domination.” (from the linked article)

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Artfldgr: Indira Gandhi was a Nehru, not a Gandhi.

  8. Bob From Virginia Says:

    We all had Obama pegged wrong, he is really using the Presidency to jump start his career in stand-up comedy.

    Anything less is hard to believe.

  9. Gringo Says:

    Neo, you beat me to the Nehru/Gandhi correction.

    Another perspective on Gandhi is that he is but a grain of sand in the history of India. Much passed before Gandhi, and much passed after Gandhi. His influence after Independence was minimal.

    Those who focus on Gandhi when discussing India show how little they know about India.

    A little tidbit I remember from reading Gandhi’s autobiography four decades ago. As a student, he found that Euclid’s Elements was of great assistance in teaching him how to think, and how to construct arguments in a logical manner. So if any students ever ask, “What good is geometry for?,” you can tell them that geometry helped Gandhi in learning how to think. Geometry helped in Gahdhi’s subsequent training as a barrister [attorney] and in his planning the nonviolent campaigns for Indian independence.

  10. Dennis Says:

    After having Read D”Sousa’s “Roots of Obama’s Rage”, then reading several rebukes of his thesis (that Obama is grinding an anticolonial axe), then reports like this from the Indian trip make me wonder what’s going on.

    Could it be that Gandhi is an exemplar for Obama, of a particular kind of principled exemplar whose dark subtext is to accept martyrdom for himself and others for the sake of these principles? Or is he blithely blundering on with shallow knowledge? Does he himself this shallow or is his whole posse this shallow? Aren’t there ambassadors and embassy personnel who could have filled him in on contemporary Indian culture, complete with appropriate historical resonances? Why couldn’t they have prepped their trip properly? Or is it that all that matters for Obama, that Gandhi is for him, the face of India’s anticolonial repulse?

  11. ziontruth Says:

    Gandhi on the one side, the Muslims on the other remind me to be thankful for the Torah.

    The Muslims can be considered proud inheritors of the Mode of Antiquity, exemplified most by Assyria, which was: Cruelty for the sake of cruelty. Gandhi represents the diametric opposite, pacifism, which holds: No cruelty ever, not even in the face of monsters.

    Yet though diametrically opposites, the latter type enables the former, by refusing to do anything about the former, if they even acknowledge the former’s reality at all.

    The Torah says: No to cruelty for the sake of cruelty; yes to cruelty when it’s essential for the good to survive. You can revert to your previous, normal behavior after you’re done with the threat. Until then, your obligation is to have mercy to your own, by defending them with whatever it takes, and it needs to be very clear to you that the enemy will display none if they gain the upper hand.

    Heck, the Muslims for one don’t have mercy even on their own.

  12. LTEC Says:

    I think that the reason that people like Gandhi and
    M. L. King and Mandela are so revered is not because they were especially great, but because they could have been so much worse. For all their faults, none of them were advocates for mass murder, unlike other leaders in similar positions.

  13. Baklava Says:


    Indian Student Questions Obama: Why Doesn’t America Consider Pakistan A ‘Terrorist State’?

  14. Trimegistus Says:

    I’m with Dennis. Obama keeps harping on Gandhi because he doesn’t know anything else about India.

  15. expat Says:

    He is this shallow. We all know that Neo admires Churchill, but I’m pretty sure she is well aware of his human failings. She has read far more by and about him than what she was told in Junior High because she has the curiosity to want to know how he ticked. Gandhi is supposed to be one of Obama’s 3 great heroes and Obama is supposed to be an intellectual.

    As to your other points: I can’t believe Obama would sacrifice himself for anything. I also can’t believe the State Dept has an easy time telling Obama anything; he is so brillliant. Finally, anticolonialism may certainly be a reason for Obama’s reverence, but I suspect that the connection of Gandhi to MLK’s nonviolence was part of establishing his street creds in the US. He figured it would work in India too.

    Now he is coming out in support of a permanent seat for India on the Security Council. Bush would have liked this too, but the issue is complicated by a number of other wannabe members, eg, Germany, Japan, Brazil. Pushing for expansion right now will upset a few cans of worms, but, hey, if it gets him a good headline.

  16. Bob T Says:

    This post and comments were quite enlightening!

  17. Sergey Says:

    Gandhi flaws were not entirely his own, most of them were inherited from Tolstoy, whose uncritical admirer he was all his life. But the same flaws of Tolstoy also were not entirely his own, they were in due turn inherited from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Tolstoy’s idol. So deep run the poison of French Enlightenment: its utopian notions of human nature, totally inconsistent with those on which Judeo-Christian civilization is founded. Lots of fallacies of the last two centuries need to be exposed and undone before sanity returns.

  18. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    As has been pointed out, one of the KGB crafted propaganda “memes” that has been the longest lasting, and has done great and permanent damage to the U.S., was injected into the world body politic with the absolutely indispensible help of a supposedly “western” newspaper in India. *

    The KGB came up with the idea of saying that HIV had been a virus that the CIA had been developing, one that was specifically targeted at blacks, that had somehow gotten accidentally released, and the KGB diabolically saw to it that this story was first broken by a Communist dominated newspaper in India ( . Then, the Soviets pointed out that this accusation was coming, not from them, but from a “Western” source, and this meme spread and is still very much current today, as the sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright that Obama and his family spent 20 years listening to prove .

    * Here is an example I found on the web of someone who swallowed this meme, this prime piece of “disinformation,” hook, line, and sinker, and ran with it ( .

  19. Curtis Says:

    Paul Johnson’s book, “Intellectuals” identifies Rousseau as perhaps the most influential and damaging intellectual. He also covers Tolstoy and the name of that chapter is “God’s eldest brother.”

  20. gs Says:

    Off the top of my head after a quick scan of the post:

    1. Per Richard Aubrey, Gandhi did not put himself in front of any murderous mobs.

    2. Gandhi’s “call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power.”

    Heh. Mao’s “call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power.” I mean violence as a tool for internal politics, not (military) violence as a tool of national policy.

    3. “Other leaders of the freedom movement, such as Annie Besant and Lala Lajpat Rai, had warned him that he was playing with fire, but he preferred to obey his suprarational ‘inner voice’.”

    This illustrates why people of faith on the Right, IMHO, should perform the due diligence of formulating their goals and arguments in secular terms.

  21. Curtis Says:

    gs, that task was done and the result was the constitution of the United States. However, the constitution relies on the Declaration of Independence which anchors its reason why in the belief in a creator. That’s about as much as you can secularize scripture and revelation.

    Essentially, what you ask for is fair only if you ask the secularists to drop their assumptions and suppositions. Your’s is the fallacy that one side is fact and science and the other is superstition and specious authority.

    Was Margaret Sanger fact and science?

  22. foxmarks Says:

    One who tempers their Tolstoy and Gandhi with the historical evidence about the corrupt nature of man winds up sounding like a Neocon.

  23. gs Says:

    Curtis Says: Essentially, what you ask for is fair only if you ask the secularists to drop their assumptions and suppositions.

    Ideally everyone will make a good-faith effort to express their assumptions and suppositions.

  24. Artfldgr Says:

    Feroze Gandhi is the other side of nehru..

    (and he is not directly related with mohatma)…


  25. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    I have always thought of Gandhi as basically a whack job, his advice to the Jews on how to react to Hitler, his advice to Hindus on how to react to the murderous assaults by Muslims against them, and reports that he used to have pubescent girls sleep in his bed to demonstrate his “purity” being just a few prime examples.

  26. The Elephant's Child Says:

    I would wager that everything Obama knows about Gandhi he learned from watching the movie,

    Anyone disagree?

  27. Alex Bensky Says:

    He harps on Gandhi because that’s pretty much all he knows about India. Elephant’s Child, he may have some other source than the movie, but then again, he may not. But he thinks “India,” he thinks, “Gandhi,” and that’s pretty much it.

    It is entirely possible that he is the great intellect we are told he is, but where’s the evidence?

    At least he knows that Gandhi had something to do with India. A lot of his historical statements, from the Muslim influence on early America to how “the world” saved Berlin during the airlift, are either incomplete or unfounded.

    If this were Sarah Palin…hell, if this were Bush…his historical illiteracy would be a constant theme in the media. But Obama is a great intellect and besides, suggesting that he isn’t is racism. But it’s beginning to percolate through that he’s bright but not that bright.

  28. anna Says:

    Speaking of Muslim domination…

  29. Ike Jakson Says:


    You know what you are talking about. I got the link to your Post after I had placed the following comment in a Post by another Post of a Blogger Friend.

    “Nothing in America is of any importance to Obama right now; you almost have to admire the guy.

    The Indian trip was planned long ago when he knew that he was running into difficulties at home and he has handled it in great style. Up you America, I am going for the World crown.

    When He returns from his campaign in India take note; he will be quoting Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and perhaps the Dalai Lama too; he will find a connection to suit him with the latter. When He returns He will first consolidate the Indian vote to stave off any challenge from within the Democratic Party for 2012, and that was part of His strategy when the Indian trip was planned. He is a complete fool as a President but that is just a stepping stone to World Glory anyway; the most consummate African Politician ever.

    Real cool, this guy is, yeah real cool.”

    Do visit that if you have time. I would like to visit you again.

  30. southpaw Says:

    It takes an extremist to admire one. I’m not a psychologist, but the admiration might be rooted in a more grandiose vision of himself as an unyielding principled hero, than consequence of historical ignorance.

  31. thomass Says:

    It reminds me of the progressive jabs at Palin over her tea party comment…

    These people tell each other how smart they are all day, but they don’t make the effort to study things in depth…

    I already knew these things about Gandhi btw… and I’m just a guy that works on computers…

  32. jon baker Says:

    I would like to contrast Gahndi’s absolute pacifism with the Biblical Ecclesiastes Chapter 3: ” There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:…. a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,…. a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace…” (New International Version)

  33. Beverly Says:

    It’s comical that “Gandhi” is all Hussein seems to know about India. If Bush did this, he’d have been ridiculed to death by the commentariat.

    IIRC, Gandhi said (after independence) that his method of nonviolent resistance could “only have worked against the British,” because of their admirable sense of fair play.

    So maybe he wasn’t as clueless as all that. Though the moral vanity of urging millions back into Lahore is a truly evil thing. Think of how many died at his urging, needlessly. All so he could cling to his theory — does that ring a bell?

    I also read somewhere that he had several very young girls bathe and massage him in the mornings, supposedly to “test his chastity.” Er, right. Meanwhile, he wasn’t giving his wife her “propers” any more. (Too late at night to look it up: ’tis past bedtime. . . .)

  34. Curtis Says:

    gs, one last comment on objectivity about one’s own beliefs: The concept breaks down with regards to children. Most people who believe in God think that God intended the parents to be the educators with regard to premises and suppositions. Socialists and progressives believe the State should be the educators.

    And there is no rational alternative because a child can’t wait until they are of an age to understand objectivity before they are taught premises and suppositions.

    A family structure provides more freedom for individual choice than the state. One can rebel against family values much easier than against the overwhelming power of the state. This seems to indicate God’s method of using family provides more exercise of free will and thus more humanity than the progressive method.

  35. Pat Berry Says:

    Amen to that, gs. I did my best to teach my children to think critically, be skeptical of authority, and to decide for themselves what they believe. But a state-run educational system will never do that, because the state does not WANT citizens who challenge authority and think for themselves.

    Certainly there is no chance of that approach to teaching in the U.S. Not while the public schools and the universities are owned and operated by the Left. Outright indoctrination is the only thing you’ll get from those people.

  36. Baklava Says:

    Obama can’t even spell Gandhi.

    See Tammy Bruce’s blog for details and the visitor log that Michelle and Barrack Hussein signed. 🙂

  37. Obama and true Genius « Ike Jakson’s Blog Says:

    […] […]

  38. billm99uk Says:

    I’m with Dennis. Obama keeps harping on Gandhi because he doesn’t know anything else about India.

    A blatant falsehood , Sir! I’m pretty sure he knows about curry. And, umm… elephants and… stuff?

  39. RickZ Says:

    C’mon. Obama knows that people in India speak Indian, so there’s that.

  40. DrZin Says:

    F***ing JIM JONES, he is!

  41. hindu woman Says:

    Why Gandhi’s experiment with Islam failed?

    Needless to say Gandhi’s experiment with Islam failed. The results were disastrous for both Hindus and Muslims. In the first place since the movement understood nothing about the dynamics of Turkish politics and nationalism it was bound to fail – the time of Sultans was over. In 1922 there was violence and Gandhi withdrew his support for the movement. Now let us take a look at the consequences of support to this Islamic movement:-

  42. hindu woman Says:

    The Namdhari sikhs: Pioneers of freedom movement

    ‘No Indian can deny the importance of efforts put in by Sat Guru Ram Singh Ji seventy five years back in achieving freedom for the motherland. Congress merely followed the path shown by him and attained independence.’ – India’s first Prime Minister, 1947.

    Acknowledging Sat Guru Ram Singh Ji’s contribution and achievement in the freedom movement Dr Rajendera Prasad India’s first President wrote:

    ‘ In fact it is a historical truth that the non-co-operation and Swadishi movement started by Sat Guru Ram Singh Ji shook the very foundations of the British rule in India. Guru Ram Singh considered political freedom a part of religion. The principles of boycott and non-co-operation which Mahatma Gandhi introduced so vigorously in our freedom movement were expounded by Guru Ram Singh Ji for the Namdharis.’

  43. hindu woman Says:

    Obama was happy visiting Humayun`s tomb. Who was Humayun?

    Humayun, the son of Babar, was even more degenerate and cruel than his father. After repeated battles, Humayum captured his elder brother Kamran and subjected the latter to brutal torture. A detailed account is left by Humayun’s servant Jauhar and is quoted by Smith (p.20), which says, ” .. (Humayun) had little concerns for his brother’s sufferings .. One of the men was sitting on Kamran’s knees. He was pulled out of the tent and a lancet was thrust into his eyes .. Some lemon juice and salt was put into his eyes .. After sometime he was put on horseback.” One can imagine the cruelty and torture that Humayun was capable of inflicting on others when he subjected to his own brother to such atrocities. Humayun was also a slave to opium habit, engaged in excessive alcohol consumption and a lecherous degenarate when it came to women (Shelat, p.27). He is also known to have married a 14 year old Hamida Begum by force. The cruelties perpetrated by of Akbar’s descendants (Jehangir, Shahjahan, Aurangzeb, etc.) are not entirely different from those of his ancestors. Having brought up in the company and under the guidance of a lineage of drug addicts, drunkards and sadists, it is rather anamalous that Akbar held such a gentle and noble character. Even assuming that he fancied nobility, it is amazing that Akbar let his comtemporaries and Generals, like Peer Mohammad, loot and rape the helpless citizenry that he was ruling! It would however be interesting to observe the incidents in Akbar’s reign and evaluate his character.

  44. Ike Jakson Says:

    You fellows may want to check this out too:

    Bob Mack runs a good Blog and I commend him.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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