Unravelling the Mahatma
by Radha Rajan on 15 Jul 2009 3 Comments

Gandhi’s failure to reach out to Hindu Princes and Maharajas
Had Gandhi made half the effort to reach out to Aurobindo and Savarkar, Ambedkar and Subhash Bose, to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha as he made to the British and to Muslims, Khilafat Committee and the Muslim League, had Gandhi consistently sought the advice and blessings of Hindu religious leaders in his political and social mission instead of allowing Christian missionaries and foreigners to influence his personal and political philosophy, had Gandhi approached Hindu maharajas and princes and made common cause with them, as much as he went out of his way to make common cause with Muslims ignoring in the process, the political interests of the scheduled castes,  perhaps all sections of the Hindu community could have been organized in a powerful show of strength and solidarity which would not only have checked the unchallenged growth of the Muslim League but would also have made the British government exceedingly nervous and cautious about implementing their diabolic agenda at the time of transfer of power.

Tilak, Aurobindo and Savarkar represented the intellectual might of the Hindus, as Madanlal Dhingra, Bhagat Singh and Bose represented the spirit and dharma of the kshatriya while Babasaheb Ambedkar represented the political and social aspirations of the culturally deprived and politically disempowered sections of Hindu society.

Our religious leaders, sanyasis and mathathipathis are embodiments not only of our dharma but also of the strength of our civilisational continuum, while our maharajas and princes ruling over territories which seemingly remained outside the direct administrative pale of the Raj, were an important segment constituting Hindu state power as well as our civilisational continuum in their role as the traditional guardians and ultimate protectors of dharma. Had Gandhi’s intent been to forge alliances with different segments of Hindu society, he would have seen the wisdom of talking to Hindu rulers whose support could have been harnessed effectively to give shape to the nature of polity that would have come into place after the Raj retreated.

Instead, as we shall see, both Gandhi and Nehru failed to understand that which Aurobindo saw very clearly, that these Hindu rulers were as much victims of Islamic conquest and imperial Britain as were all sections of this nation. Gandhi therefore rejected with towering arrogance the overtures of the Deccan Princes, the Maharajas of Kapurtala and Rewa, antagonised the Maharajas of Rajkot, Travancore, Mysore and Jammu and Kashmir so much so that in 1947, when the country was teetering on the brink of total anarchy, the Indian states refused to enter the Constituent Assembly and in the ensuing uncertain state of the nascent nation, Hindu rulers were in no position to offer a buffer to the country against the machinations of the Muslim Nawabs and Nizams. Gandhi, for his part, had the matchless ability to mobilize ordinary people to participate in his passive resistance campaigns; we can only rue Gandhi’s colossal failure as a leader to take along with him all these leaders and their vast following with their diverse strengths and abilities.

We have established so far that neither Gandhi nor Gandhi’s INC had set political independence as the objective of their movement which is erroneously referred to as the freedom movement. They had set for themselves and for the nation, until 1942, only the goal of increased participation in governance in some form, as a deserving and faithful jewel in the British crown.

We have to remind ourselves yet again of Aurobindo’s scathing indictment of the so called leaders of the INC that they had arrogated to themselves the right to speak for all Indians. In these circumstances neither Gandhi nor the INC had made any conscious effort to work out the modalities and the nitty-gritty of who would rule India after the British and how.

As early as 1909 when Gandhi wrote the Hind Swaraj, Gandhi spoke and wrote bitterly against the Nationalists and Indian rulers and indicated that he was not in favour of the British quitting India if this meant that rulership would revert to maharajas and princes or if it meant that the Nationalists who were votaries of armed resistance would rule over India. Gandhi instead expressed his preference for anarchy and chaos, which he equated with God. 

Lest we forget, Gandhi’s intense animosity for the nationalists and for the Indian maharajas and princes was his subjective preference, and yet he hogtied the entire nation with his personal opinions which were in some part unjustified, and which for the greater part bordered on the fetish. We are forced to come to the conclusion that it was probably Gandhi’s English ‘liberal’ education in London and the pervasive presence of foreigners in his life which influenced his attitude towards Hindu kings and rulers.

Western liberal education of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was greatly influenced by the political trends in republicanism, charter of rights and democracy and the concurrent waning power of European monarchies and the power of the Church.  It was fashionable in those times in Europe to be anti-monarchy and anti-orthodoxy and Gandhi subscribed to the fashion. The INC, instigated by Gandhi triggered unrest in 1938 in Mysore, Rajkot, Jaipur and Travancore; there was unrest in Talcher and Dhenkanal too.

In all these small kingdoms Gandhi precipitated a crisis either in the name of civil liberties or temple entry for harijans. Needless to say the Congress meddled only in those states ruled by Hindu princes and kings. The Congress passed the Haripura resolution in 1938 with the clause of self-imposed restriction on direct interference in the Indian States; much like Pakistan’s ‘moral support’ for jihadis in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress limited itself to moral support for the people in Indian States aspiring for civil liberties. 

In the days just preceding August 8, in 1942, when Gandhi issued the ‘Quit India’ call, Gandhi roused the country to feverish pitch in eager expectation of immediate political independence. From Gandhi’s talks and writings people believed that Gandhi had only to demand that the British quit India and independence would be handed to Indians the next instant.

In one such dramatic letter which Gandhi wrote to an unnamed Muslim, Gandhi told him that he would be quite happy to have the British government hand over full power and the reins of the government to the Muslim League, and all territories including the territories of the Indian States ruled by kings and princes!

With reference to your letter giving me the purport of your conversation today with the Quaid-e-Azam, I wish to say in as clear language as possible that when in a Harijan article I reproduced Maulana Azad’s published offer to the Muslim League I meant it to be a serious offer in every sense of the term. Let me explain it again for your edification. Provided the Muslim League co-operated fully with the Congress demand for immediate independence without the slightest reservation, subject, of course, to the proviso that independent India will permit the operations of the Allied armies in order to check Axis aggression and thus to help both China and Russia, the Congress will have no objection to the British Government transferring all the powers it today exercises to the Muslim League on behalf of the whole of India, including the so-called Indian India.[1] And the Congress will not only not obstruct any Government that the Muslim League may form on behalf of the people, but will even join the Government in running the machinery of the free State. This is meant in all seriousness and sincerity. Naturally I cannot give all the implications of the offer and its far-reaching consequences in a hurried reply to your note. You are at liberty to show this to Quaid-e-Azam and to any person who is interested in the question of immediate independence for India and of a free India.

Gandhiji’s offer in the letter was taken serious exception to by C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar who called it a “very astute and menacing move” and used it as an occasion for taking “his gloves off and definitely and publicly to arouse the States to a sense of impending danger” ((The Transfer of Power, p. 759). He resigned from the Viceroy’s Executive Council ostensibly on this issue.[

During the extremely turbulent years 1946-47 when everything was in a state of flux and no one could predict accurately how and when transfer of power would happen if indeed it would happen at all, several Hindu rulers and maharajas met Gandhi to probe his mind about what would be the fate of their kingdoms and provinces in the new dispensation. Among those who met Gandhi were the Deccan Princes and the Maharaja of Kapurthala

To them, like to all other princes and kings who met him, Gandhi had only one thing to say – become servants of your people. Etymologically the word may derive from ‘serve’ but the noun had acquired pejorative connotations and Gandhi, just as he had advised Morarji Desai to use the military to do only sanitation work, was now exhorting Kings to become servants. It is a Gandhian legacy that we still retain ‘civil servant’ and ‘government servant’ in our vocabulary. 


Only a few years ago the Princes felt that they could not be safe except under the Paramountcy of the British Crown. It seemed to have dawned on most of them that that was not the correct attitude. This was but natural, for they were after all sons of the soil. He had said openly on another occasion that the people of the States were slaves of slaves which the Princes were. They exercised their authority within their own principalities, so long as they were in the good books of the British Government. They were made or unmade at the pleasure of the British Crown. The Princes who had eyes opened to that vital fact were desirous of India’s independence equally with the people of India. If then they felt that need, they did not want a union of the States but each State had first to form a union with its own people. Their people were the real power on whom they were to depend for their status. It became trusteeship if they became servants of their own people. If they took that attitude, they needed no terms with the Congress or with any other organization. The immediate need was an understanding with their own people. He made bold to take up that attitude, though his might be a lonely voice. In his opinion, the Princes, as servants and trustees of their people, were worthy of their hire.[3]      

The Deccan Princes may have been ‘slaves’ of the British government, but they were not lacking in political acumen. Predicting correctly that there would be no relief to them even in independent India, and realizing the benefits of collective strength, the Deccan Princes, like the Princes of the Malabar had begun to think of constituting themselves into unions and federations. While the Sapru Committee Proposals welcomed the move and considered it sympathetically, Gandhi had the Nehruvian approach to the rulers and after telling them bluntly that he suspected the British government’s role in the idea, he advised them to ‘hasten slowly’ and first achieve union with their own people.

While the Muslim League and the Muslim Nawabs and Nizams were united in a common objective, Gandhi and Nehru (read the Congress) continued to alienate the Hindu rulers and Gandhi’s speech at the AICC on August 8, 1942, only served to heighten their suspicion and distrust of Gandhi, Nehru and the INC.

From the Princes I ask with all respect due to them a very small thing. I am a well-wisher of the Princes. I was born in a State. My grandfather refused to salute with his right hand any Prince other than his own. But he did not say to the Prince, as I feel he ought to have said, that even his own master could not compel him, his minister, to act against his conscience. I have eaten the Princes’ salt and I would not be false to it. As a faithful servant, it is my duty to warn the Princes that if they will act while I am still alive, the Princes may come to occupy an honourable place in free India. In Jawaharlal’s scheme of free India, no privileges or the privileged classes have a place. Jawaharlal considers all property to be State-owned. He wants planned economy. He wants to reconstruct India according to plan. He likes to fly; I do not. I have kept a place for the Princes and the zamindars in India that I envisage. I would ask the Princes in all humility to enjoy through renunciation. The Princes may renounce ownership over their properties and become their trustees in the true sense of the term. I visualize God in the assemblage of people. The Princes may say to their people: ‘You are the owners and masters of the State and we are your servants.’ I would ask the Princes to become servants of the people and render to them an account of their own services. The Empire too bestows power on the Princes, but they should prefer to derive power from their own people; and if they want to indulge in some innocent pleasures, they may seek to do so as servants of the people. I do not want the Princes to live as paupers. But I would ask them: ‘Do you want to remain slaves for all time? Why should you, instead of paying homage to a foreign power, not accept the sovereignty of your own people?’[4]       

There was no longer even a polite pretence that the Congress was a democratic organization. It was either Gandhi or Nehru who unilaterally decided all policies. Gandhi may have used the phrases “While I am still alive”, “In Jawaharlal’s scheme of free India”, “Jawaharlal considers” very naturally but it was an ominous portent of more dangerous things to come.  

Consistent with his dislike for the rule of Hindu maharajas, Gandhi forced himself and the INC into the Vaikkom movement in 1924 and transformed a vibrant people’s movement for temple entry into a Satyagraha campaign against the ruler of Travancore. Gandhi set up a Satyagraha ashram in Vaikkom and congressmen of all religious hues descended there, including CF Andrews.

Not surprisingly Pujya Narayana Guru was unhappy with Gandhi for veering the temple entry movement away from the Hindus and away from the course and control of the Ezhava community and making it into a Congress Party Satyagraha campaign. Pujya Narayana Guru, being the wise religious person that he was with sound political understanding, however did not make his displeasure with Gandhi public, nor did he undermine Gandhi’s leadership with his displeasure. Not only did Gandhi antagonize Pujya Narayana Guru by forcing the INC into the movement, he also antagonized the Travancore Maharaja who was the first servant of the temple and whose inherited responsibility it was to protect the customs and traditions of the temple, even if the customs and traditions were contrary to the times.

In short, Gandhi put all major sections of the Hindu community on the defensive with his bulldozing social reform methods. Let us have no doubts on the score, Gandhi’s intent to force social changes was alien to Hindu tradition which had other ways of doing it while Indians may be bamboozled into believing that his methods which included fasting, self-suffering and non-violence, were essentially Indian or Hindu in character.   

Gandhi who was the declared leader of the INC which was perceived as a political instrument, dabbled simultaneously in the arenas of social reform and politics, and thus simultaneously antagonized important social, political and religious institutions with disastrous consequences. After Gandhi-led INC’s Satyagraha campaigns against them, Hindu Indian rulers would have had little reason to trust Gandhi or the INC.

On the question of paramountcy after transfer of power, Gandhi asked the princes and kings of Indian States to talk to Jawaharlal Nehru and entrusted the task of choosing 93 representatives of the Indian states to the constituent assembly to the Muslim Nawab of Bhopal and Jawaharlal Nehru. Even in this moment of acute anxiety for the Hindu rulers, Gandhi did not have the vision to see an opportunity to reach out to them in solidarity and support; he saw in the meeting only a great opportunity to deliver what he considered was a well-deserved homily. It is striking that while he referred them to Nehru, he did not think he had to consult Rajaji or Patel who were more qualified intellectually to deal with this extremely complex and sensitive issue or that instead of the Muslim Nawab of Bhopal he could have requested a Hindu ruler to undertake the task.


1] ‘Indian India’ as distinct from British India referred to territories ruled by Indian Hindu Maharajas and Princes and Muslim Nawabs and Nizams.
2] Letter to a Muslim, August 8, 1942, The Hindu, 20-8-1942, CWMG Vol. 83, pp 186-187
3] Speech at Meeting of Deccan Princes, Poona, July 28, 1946, Harijan, 4-8-1946, and The Hindu, 1-8-1946, CWMG Vol. 91, pp 369-70; Extracted from Pyarelal’s “Deccan Chiefs in Conference”. The meeting was held in the Servants of India Society’s Library Hall. Among those present were the Rajas of Aundh, Phaltan, Bhor, Miraj (Senior), Jamkhandi and Kurundwad (Senior), Appasaheb Pant and Satawalekar from Aundh, Kore, Sathe and Thomre from Sangli, the Dewan of Bhor and representatives from Budhgaon and Ramdrug. N. C. Kelkar and Shankerrao Deo were also present on the occasion by special invitation.
4] Speech at the AICC Meeting, Bombay, August 8, 1942, CWMG Vol. 83, page 198-199


Excerpted from
Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and his freedom struggle
Radha Rajan
New Age Publishers (P) Ltd., Delhi, 2009
Price: Rs 495/-
ISBN 81- 7819 - 068- 0
The book may be ordered from the publishers at
or at 011-2649 3326/ 27/ 28

The author is editor, www.vigilonline.com

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top