By M.V. Kamath
Jallianwala to Rajghat, Vol. I to Vol. V, by K.K. Mahaley, Mahaley Publication, Rs 1,880.00
There are historians and historians; they come in all shapes and forms. Among historians there are jingoists, romanticists, Marxists and just even plain tellers of tales. And, they seldom have respect for each other. M.N. Roy, a one-time Marxist could not bear to think of K.M. Munshi as a historian. There are many who have scant respect for Romila Thapar. Even R.C. Majumdar has his detractors, let alone lesser lights like Irfan Habib or Servapalli Gopal. D.D. Kosambi is respected, but not necessarily accepted. In this disparate band can now be included K.L. Mahaley, whose five-volume history of India starting from the Jallianwala Bagh massacre to the entombment of the Mahatma'sashes in Rajghat makes for sad and sickening reading.
Mahaley is a certified Gandhi-hater. Such is his hate that not only does he insist on denying Gandhi his ?mahatmaship?, which he is free to do, he even extends his hatred towards the Mahatma'swife, affectionately known as Kasturba, by referring to her as plain Kastur. Now, it is nobody'sargument that the Mahatma (or plain Gandhi, if we accept Mahaley'sapproach) was beyond faults. Leaders?whether it is a Napoleon, a Stalin, a Mao or a Churchill, have erred and erred sometimes grievously. But one presumes they erred in good faith. Nobody errs deliberately. But for Mahaley, Gandhi is the arch villain, a man who ?hypnotised? two generations of Indians with his ?supernatural magic made popular by newspapers owned and managed by his business friends.?
Mahaley damns the major movements inaugurated by the Mahatma as imbued with ?the technique to cause deception, that is the seeming symptom of a mass movement?. Was satyagraha a mass movement? Not at all, says Mahaley. It had ?symptoms?. It was set up through ?the power of funds? with volunteers ?being paid for specific jobs?. The role of Gandhi ?was softening of social conflicts; his leadership of the Congress was an organ of business class interests?. Gandhi ?was innately vile and crafty, and loved misleading the people in the garb of lofty principles?, a man ?without any qualms of conscience?.
Certainly, Gandhi'sinfluence had begun to fade after the tapering off of the Quit India movement and the victory of the Allies in the Second World War. Not many know that Jawaharlal Nehru himself was opposed to the Quit India movement.
One has to read these five volumes to understand to what depths of viciousness a man can go to blacken the name of one who has often been described as the man of the millennium. It is not that Mahaley has not done his reading. He claims to have spent years at the Bombay University Library pouring over records and taking down notes, working over nine hours a day for years to complete his study at a cost of over two lakhs of rupees from his hard-earned pension funds. Mahaley'sdiligence and commitment are admirable.What is deplorable is his assessment of events and his understanding of history. In these departments, he exposes himself to the charge that he is a disreputable bigot.
Let alone Gandhi, Mahaley has no respect for his own countrymen, of whom he says that the chief characteristics are ?apathy and passivity?. He has even less respect for Indian historians. In his view History of Freedom Movement, ?now pervading the primary, high school, collegiate, university curriculums? is nothing but a planned distortion of Indian history? written by men to whom ?sycophancy and opportunism are not necessarily the rare qualities??.
If Mahaley is to be believed, even historians like Tarachand and R.C. Majumdar ?degenerated and began writing bard stories, the bhat katha, when they arrived at the historical point of 1885?. The obvious presumption is that only Mahaley knows how to interpret events. Others are, if not liars, plain sycophants and opportunists, afraid of facing the truth.
Now even a ?true? Gandhian would admit to many mistakes that Gandhi committed during his almost four-decade long political career. It should be possible to face them with a certain amount of objectivity and grace. There is, for example, a school of thought that maintains that Gandhi'sinfluence faded following the collapse of the Gandhi-Jinnah talks. Certainly, Gandhi'sinfluence had begun to fade after the tapering off of the Quit India movement and the victory of the Allies in the Second World War. Not many know that Jawaharlal Nehru himself was opposed to the Quit India movement and had to be persuaded by the Mahatma after several hours of discussion. In some ways, the Mahatma was almost Chanakyan in his pursuit of politics. There was more of the manipulator than of the mahatma in him. But, these matters are open to debate and discussion. Gandhi was functioning in a particular period of time and under certain circumstances that were unique and one has to judge Gandhi against them.
Mahaley has no use for such thoughts. It is clear that the author started with certain pre-conceived notions about Mahatma and has tried to manipulate history to meet his pet hatred and delusions. On reading Mahaley one feels like throwing up.
According to Mahaley even Gandhi'sreligion ?was a constricted ideal? never encompassing the full Hindu pantheon, but being consciously kept within the restrictions of the Vallabhacharya sect of Vaishnavism ?exclusively common among the Banias of Kathiawad or some branches of Maheshwari Marwaris?. Mahaley'scontempt for Gujaratis, Marwaris and the business community in general is revolting.
The five volumes of so-called history are fit for the waste-paper basket where they rightfully belong. And yet, a good case can be made for re-interpreting events in India following Gandhi'sreturn to India from South Africa to the time that he was marginalised by his own colleagues, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. But, that is a task not for the likes of deluded men like Mahaley, but for historians who can stand aside from the crowd and give a dispassionate account of past events. Many who pretend to be historians are much too close to history not even to understand it, let alone interpret it. The Mahatma will continue to live in the hearts and minds of not just his fellow countrymen but of people all over the world for the values he stood for?and died for, his venomous detractors notwithstanding.
(Mahaley Publication, Kandivili, West Mumbai.)