Social Scientist. v 23, no. 263-65 (April-June 1995) p. 3.


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IRFAN HABIB*

Gandhi and the National Movement^

Professor Patnaik, friends of the SAHMAT organisation, ladies and gentlemen.

I deem it an honour indeed that I should be asked to speak at this function which is part of observance of Safdar Hashmi's martyrdom-anniversary. It was thought by the organisation that the theme should be one worthy of the occasion. And so I was asked to speak on Mahatma Gandhi and the National Movement. It is a very important theme, because it is my belief that in the cause of the National Movement Gandhi occupied a crucially important position. The theme is appropriate, but I'm not an expert on Gandhi. I have read some of his writings, and I have seen secondary material on Gandhi, and I have - as many of us have - met people who knew him, who were his followers or his critics. In any case anyone who is seriously interested in Indian history must be confronted in his own mind with the nature of the National Movement, which could be regarded as the greatest creation of the Indian people to date, and, within the nature of Gandhi's legacy. I agreed to speak on it, despite my limitations, because I thought the time has arrived when certain questions with regard to Gandhiji's role, and with regard to the National Movement and its nature, could be profitably raised.

I should like to begin with the embarassment of my own first encounter with the problem of assessment of Gandhiji in slightly personal terms. My difficulties are not exceptional. They might have been faced by many who came to the communist movement during the last phase of the National Movement. With my parents it was not usual to refer to him as Gandhiji, but only as Mahatmaji;

even to refer to him as Gandhiji was thought of as taking a liberty. It did not mean that my father was not critical of certain positions taken by Gandhiji: but it meant that whatever the criticism it was within a framework in which Gandhiji's total dominance of the National Movement was accepted as a fact, and although one might differ, one must defer to Gandhi's views. From this background, suddenly to come to the references in communist literature -reading R.P. Dutt's India Today - about the 'mascot of the bourgeoisie'^ 'that general of unbroken disasters', 'the Jonah of Revolution', came as a personal shock. One attributed this sense of shock to the petty - bourgeois class psychology to which one belonged, but even this didn't satisfy; and the dissatisfaction with such an assessment of Gandhiji persisted.

Centre for Advanced Study in History, AMU, Aligarh.

Transcript of a lecture revised by the author, the lecture was organised by SAHMAT and

delivered on December 28,1994.

Social Scientist, Vol. 23, Nos. 4-6, April-June 1995



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