(Repost of original blog entry of same title of date March 28, 2016 with due edits)…
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‘Gandhi Kanakku’ in colloquial Thamizh translates to ‘Gandhi’s Account(ing)’ or ‘Gandhi’s calculation’ literally.
The origin of the dubious phrase remained vague. In Tamil Nadu, it was figure of speech widely in usage wherever accounts would not tally proper or when there was something fishy preventing closure (of matters). Bad debts/losses that could not be made good or ‘write-offs’ were referred to as ‘Gandhi Kanakku.’ A loan never returned. A hope lost. That was Gandhi Kanakku.
Why Gandhi. This kept playing at the back of my mind. Where was the connection and what was the logic. How could one attribute something as ominous as ‘Gandhi Kanakku’ to the Father of our nation who led us through the independence struggle with his non-violent Satyagraha.
This intriguing post cleared the air for me with respect to Gandhi Kanakku. How much of this is irrefutable fact is debatable. What follows is my good guess work with little evidence (sort of):
V O Chidambaram Pillai (aka VOC) was the first Indian to float a Swadeshi shipping corporation contesting the British which earned him the title ‘Kappottiya Thamizhan’ (the Tamil who floated a shipping vessel) in the year 1908. A lawyer by profession from Tuticorin (Thoothukudi, Tamil Nad), he was sentenced to hard labour in prison for a whopping 40 years during India’s freedom struggle movement. He was with Indian National Congress but was influenced by Bala Gangadhar Tilak and others (who Gandhi could have termed extremists) and fell out with the party on his release (granted early in 1912 before Gandhi’s return to India for good from South Africa).
When Pillai was behind the bars, his law practice licence was suspended by the British government. In the prison he was yoked to work the oil mills manually in the place of a pair of oxen, which made the Tamil poet-patriot Subramanya Bharathi shed tears of blood by way of verses,
‘Thanneer vitto valarthom sarvesa! Ippayirai kanneeral kaathom, karuga tiruvulamo?’
(Did we raise this crop with water? No, Oh Lord, we nurtured it with tears! Can you let it wither?)
VOC ‘s health suffered, and family with it, which could have made him enter a plea bargain with the British (guess). Pillai’s legal licence was restored but he was barred from practising in Tuticorin. The shipping company had been liquidated in his absence from the scene, incurring huge losses.
V O Chidambaram Pillai and Subramanya Bharathi, the stalwarts of India’s Independence struggle in Tamil Nadu, hardly find a respectable mention in Indian history text books.
South Africa had a sizable Tamil presence, with Tamils having migrated to the continent as labourers chiefly who progressed to one of leading and successful (Indian) communities with whom Gandhi was well acquainted during his lengthy and remarkable residence there, when he represented Indians as legal counsel. The South African Tamil contribution is significant in the African nation’s struggle against Apartheid after Gandhi left for India.
Gandhi could not have made (personal) use of the donations given by South African Tamils meant for VOC’s family who were direly in need of help (the financial assistance amounting to some 5,000 INR, a fortune in 1914), but it is possible he could have held the funds and used the same for Cngress after (V O) Chidambaram Pillai withdrew from the (Congress) party. A chief reason could have been that Pillai was a Swadeshi like Tilak, Bharathi and Bhagat Singh.
Thus the account that must have been settled by Gandhi on his return to India from South Africa with V O Chidambaram Pillai was allegedly never settled. Hence the colloquial phrase that audaciously persists from the 1910s to 2010s – for over a century. Over course of time, the common man lost track of the origin of the word-phrase. No explicable rhyme or reason persisted. Nevertheless the idiom survived in the parlance of spoken language.
Let us take the case of Vijay Mallya We can say his bank loan repayment is now, Gandhi Kanakku. An other global Gandhi Kanakku: Lehman Brothers. What say Gandhi-bhakts?! ‘Gandhi Kanakku’ is like a local legend in Tamil Nad.
If indeed Gandhi had denied the legitimate and timely help to Pillai, then it must be viewed a grave crime. Pillai braved what no other Indian could dream at the dawn of the twentieth century. He spearheaded a bold and trendsetting Swadeshi movement in the south, sailing the first ever Indian merchant vessel, challenging the British. But Gandhi’s supposed treatment of Pillai is hardly surprising given his stern views on Bhagat Singh.
Did Gandhi dare to call the British ‘terrorists’ after the Jallianwalah Bagh? This is the flip side of Gandhi just like he remained indifferent to the interests of the South African natives who were ‘kafirs’ to him for a very long period of time (up until a little while before he set sailing for India).
Having read of his South African sojourn (‘Gandhi before India’ by Ramachandra Guha) I still hold Gandhi largely responsible for the state of affairs India is in today. Indecisiveness. Dilly-dallying. Complacency. That sums up Gandhi for some of us. Doubtlessly Gandhi was Mahatma, the Great Soul, with his endless patience, perseverance and his non-violent preaching all of which have more relevance in today’s world than ever before. At the same time, it might have been highly arrogant on his part discounting others’ ways and means of spirit and honest-sincere-selfless efforts as ‘extremist,’ overestimating his own false and fake ‘decorum’ with the British that was neither necessary nor helpful. An uprising could have easily dislodged the British from India, long before 1947.
Could Gandhi-Nehru have bet Subhash Chandra Bose to gaining independence for India by sheer strategy? The duo legitimized the British colonization-occupation thence. They gave the Angrez a face-saving honorable exit that Bose would not have. Win-win for both Gandhi-Nehru and the British.
Meanwhile we continue to refer to unaccounted money as ‘Gandhi kanakku’ in Tamil Nadu. Lately the 2G scam (starting with Bofors ) and others have joined the list. Remarkably all the involved parties are Gandhis (sic) (originally Ghandys these) !
Should Gandhi’s philosophy be applicable today, then the Indian State must be disbanding our armed forces and surrendering without terms to Pakistan and China to wait for them to relent in their own sweet time. In other words, Gandhi’s ideology should make us ‘sitting ducks’ direct in the line of fire. This is the ground reality Mr. Guha. Is Gandhi beyond reproach???