November 11, 2005

High Thinking

The Telegraph, 11.11.2005

Ramachandra Guha makes a disguised pro tanto distinction between Mao Zedong and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (“Helmsman and boatman”, Oct 15). He is right in observing that Gandhi’s unflinching adherence to ahimsa set him apart from other thinkers of his time and after. Chairman Mao, on the other hand, believed that the gun yielded political power, and did not hesitate to use it on his own people. But Mao and Gandhi have left strikingly similar legacies. And both have been quietly forgotten in their countries. Today’s China does not belong to Mao but to Deng Xiaoping. Similarly, today’s India is largely Nehru’s, not Gandhi’s. Hardliners in the Chinese Communist Party, and staunch Gandhian social activists who remain at the fringes of mainstream politics, both harp on the good old days under their helmsman. While Gandhi had a formidable rival, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who managed to spoil his dream of a united India, Mao too had Chiang Kai-Shek, who took control of Taiwan and kept it independent of the mainland.

As Guha mentions, both Gandhi and Mao were advocates of social equality. Gandhi forced his own orthodox wife to clean latrines, and Mao, during the Cultural Revolution in China, enforced mass deportation of intellectuals to countryside communes. The crucial difference between the two is that while Gandhi never tried to transform dissent into submission, Mao did. Perhaps that explains the fundamental structural differences between contemporary Indian and Chinese society.

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