Revisiting the Idea of ‘Violence’ as Means of Achieving Political Ends

            The murder of senior journalist and activist, Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on September 05, 2017 created a great debate in the minds of many liberals and even among the so called neutrals.     It’s not an isolated incident, as we all know, and it is one, in a series of such bizarre incidents that have been occurring since long, but the phenomenon appears more pronouncedly almost since 2013.    The vicious game got the public attention with the killing of Narendra Dabholkar on August 20, 2013 followed by the assassination of Govind Pansare on February 16, 2015 and M.M. Kalburgi on August 30, 2015.  Communists, rationalists, liberals and many people left of the centre – are victims.  There is uproar.  There is a confluence of thought and action.   The dominant theme is “You may kill a person, but not an idea.”   In the meanwhile, the BJP and RSS also joined the debate on the killing of its cadre in Kerala.  The recurrent theme in Indian political dialogue now is ‘violence’.  Both sides are conducting competitive protest rallies.  They demand all the people to join the issue, and any neutrality might be a reason to be labelled as an enemy or an incompetent. 

            Dante said:  “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”      Is neutrality such a dangerous position?    Are we necessarily to join this nauseating duality?   Did not the wise men all through the history take to silence, contemplation and time to relocate their responses as a reflexion in tranquillity when two opposing and dominant groups pose wrong questions as morally urgent ones, compelling others to take sides?   Whether this “within or without” – a choice less dichotomy?    Neutrality does not always mean running away from moral choices, and in fact there was always a case for positive neutrality.

The present times present before many of us some apparently moral questions, but by unveiling the mask it might be found that the case is somewhere beyond.   All sides to the dispute dominating the debate have their hands stained in blood.    Both are shouting down their opponents though.   The choice of the present is not just a choice of ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.    We are in a dilemmatic duality of extremes as documented by Dickens’s opening lines in “A Tale of Two Cities”.    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness , it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we are all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.

            The left is crying ‘foul’.  The right is claiming `right’.  It’s the time to reflect on the very idea of ‘violence’ as a means of achieving the political ends.    Violence is a remnant of our archaic instinct, and readily finds its space either in our individual or group behaviour.     In the colonial State, and as well in post-colonial nation-states it is expressed as an apparatus of State or authority.  It is proactive and retroactive in its manifestations, and on most occasions as spontaneous response to a fact situation.  It is not that we can immediately analyse and resolve all forms of violence.   But the need of the hour is to reflect on political violence, and the stand of various political parties or their ideologies on the ‘means and ends’.   The basic ethical question in any social dialogue has always been: Whether ends justify the means, or ends and means need to be negotiated on equal terms.  Let’s examine these basic tenets of the ideology of each moral claimant to the present dispute. 

In the Theses on Feuerbach, Marx comes out with the eleventh thesis that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”.     In fact, by the time Marx made this thesis, he thought that a lot of the physical or mental phenomenon of the world is revealed.   But as the unfolding of historical events informs us the very understanding of the noumenon and phenomenon world was at its initial stages.   Interpretation has not yet begun.  Marxism can only be understood as one of such few attempts in interpreting the revealing world.    It was a time when people across the globe started meeting, and even now, there is a lot left out to be understood in the world, leave about interpreting it.    The idea of nation-state and nationalism, studies of religion and its influence on human beings, regional aspirations and their relations with global orders, the question of man-woman relations, the stress within family, the language movements, caste questions, human psychology – both individual or group etc., cannot be said to have received any reasonable understanding or interpretation by that time of this thesis.   The effect of these factors on the international workers’ movements is now felt by all.   Unfortunately, this thesis has advanced the idea of action and activism, right at the movement and right at the instance, and thus has also conquered the space of the contemplative activity.     Most of the Marx’s disciples viewed the very process of thinking as “inaction” or ‘ineffective’.  This idea has influenced sufficiently not only Marxists but a good number of other branches of intellectual activity.

Marx in a 1848 newspaper article is said to have written: “There is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror!” [per Stephen Hicks Ph.D., Philosopher at dated 18.02.2013].    The last paragraph of the Manifesto of the Communist Party says: “The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling class tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”  Adam Schaff [in a Journal Article “Marxist Theory on Revolutions and Violence” in journal of the History of Ideas Vol.34, No.2 April – June, 1973 pp. 263 – 270, Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, presented at the Conference of the International Society for the History of Ideas held at the Temple University Sugar Loaf Conference House, June 16, 1972] quoting the above statement of Marx and Engels in the Manifesto contend that:

“This by now classic formulation includes two statements:

  1. that the existing social and political system is to be changed by a revolution;
  2. that the social revolution is to be identified with an overthrow of that existing social system by violence.”

The later requirements of revolutionary politics prosecuted by the Marxists, Leninists, Maoists in various countries, including India, have blurred the subtle boundaries of these philosophical considerations devolving into elimination of individual class enemies.  In India the concept further descended to the most problematic concepts of killing a person in the name of even an ‘informer’, where the prosecutor, judge and the jailor merges into one. The world has witnessed enough of its ugly shades in the statecraft of communist countries in USSR, East Europe, and China and in many more so called New Democracies.  Sometimes inevitability, sometime historical or ideological necessity, sometimes the nature of dialectics, and even an urgent tactical line of action justifies violence, against both the enemy class and an individual.

Religions or religious philosophies also never rejected violence, and in fact, good number of wars, and executions of human beings were conducted without remorse in the name of God or religion or faith.    Hands of all religions are blood-stained.  Wars in the name of Jesus, in the name of Allah, in the name of Vishnu or Shiva!    Buddhists are no exception as we have seen in the past or even in the recent past.    In feudalism and in capitalism, violence is not a matter of abhorrence; rather it is venerated as a value, of heroism of a great masculine ethic.   Every religion claims that it is meant for peace and prosperity of the human beings in this physical world and the way of ultimate liberation from the ordeal of life on earth.    But the experience of human beings over thousands of years has always been that many wars were conducted and millions of people died in the name of religion.   In an Article titled “Religion, Violence, Crime and Mass Suicide” [© 2017 Vexen Crabtree, Current Edition:2009 Aug 31, Last Modified:2017 Jan 14, Originally Published 2008 Sep 28,, Parent Page: Religion and Morals] the author quotes public opinion (in USA) where in the perception of US public the most violent religions were said to be Islam [64%], Christianity [9%] and Hinduism [4 %].   According to the author three factors lead believers into uncivil behaviour – (1) The irrationality of belief, (2) the legitimization given to actions by beliefs in higher authorities, without the teaching of any critical and sceptical way of judging between claims as to what those higher authorities would want, and for some people voices in their heads are all that are required as long as they believe in god(s) which have authority to speak for them, and (3) an otherworldly idealism and fixation with the corruptness, evilness or immorality of this world which often pushes groups into extreme isolation where they cease to consider outsiders to be worthwhile human beings.    

In a paper titled “Religion and Violence: Social Process in Comparative Perspective”, prepared for the Handbook for the Sociology of Religion, Michele Dillon, Editor, John R. Hall [available online as 569_ jhallreligionviolence11_01.pdf] while considering the commonly prevalent public opinion that ‘religion is often held up as a vessel of peace, both inner and social’, in the post-September 11, 2001 scenario, however notes that ‘A moment’s reflection attests that religion and violence are often woven together in history’s tapestries’. He concludes saying: “Even when violence is ‘internal’ to religion, it is subject to the same forces that operate more widely – competition, social control, rebellion, and revolution. And religiously infused violence is often externally connected to broader social conflicts.  Precisely because of religion’s capacity to mark socially sacred, social struggles that become sacralised continue to implicate religion in violence, and in ways that make the violence much more intractable. To severe this connection between religion and violence is an important yet utopian goal that will depend on promoting peace with justice. More modestly, sociological studies of religion should develop reflexive knowledge that can help alter the channels and trajectories of violence, and thus, mitigate its tragic effects. These are both tasks worth our intellectual energies and our social commitment.”

In India – violence or the elimination of the ‘other’ is not abhorrent to any ideological group, either to the left or to the right. There is not even a great debate over it before Gandhi’s forceful argument for non-violence.   It appears that the concept of ‘non-violence’ was accepted by the Indian society in general and the political leadership in particular during the freedom movement out of certain political and practical consideration, temporarily during the aura of Mahatma, and all the parties slowly relapsed into their old practices of violence.   As the charisma of Mahatma faded, the inclination towards invoking violence seems to take the path of ascendancy.   Some Hindutva scholars have long started questioning the very understanding and interpretation of the sloka containing the great statement of inspiration to Gandhi “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” as ‘half-truth’.  The website article at relies on the full text of the sloka from Santi Parva of Mahabharata: Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah I  Dharn himsa tadhaiva ca  II  [Non-violence is the ultimate dharma, so too is violence in service of dharma], and argue that violence in service of dharma is an equally great prescription.  Even presuming that the religious diktat allows or even mandates violence in certain situations, can we still rely upon only on these archaic prescriptions available in all religious texts in some form or the other, at this stage of human advancement and civilization to justify violence?  

In fact both the right and the left even today concede that violence is heroism and non-violence is timidity and cowardliness.   All hues of the left and the right, in principle, accept ‘violence’ as a necessary evil at the least, and from time to time, one or the other excelled in its execution.    The international experience of communism, whether it is in USSR, or in East Europe or in China, testifies for violence as the weapon and also as statecraft.   “Class-enemy”, “agent of a class enemy”, “informer”, and “State violence” etc., – a wide range of states and situations, justify the killing of the “other”.   It is not just the ‘States’ in existence, and even the ‘State’ in the womb – all variations of extreme left and right groups etc., justify violence and base their course of action primarily on violence.    What kind of democracy we can foresee in such future ‘State’ is an enigmatic question.

    Until the emergence of Gandhi on the world scenario of political struggles, ‘killing’ the opponent for any reason is justified on the historical necessity, or as a reaction to an action, or as a moral value to defend the right of an ideological group. .   It is this element which was seriously challenged by Gandhi.   For him, ‘non-violence’ is not a strategy.  ‘Non-violence’ and ‘truth’ are two inseparable expressions of the one and the only Supreme Reality.    Without ‘non-violence’, ‘truth’ cannot exist, and without ‘truth’, ‘non-violence’ also cannot survive.  Truth and non-violence are the secular version of the God to him.   The genuineness of his ‘non-violence’ was subjected to critical analysis.  But there is no disjuncture in his conceptualization of non-violence, as tried to be made out by some critics.   

Whether the experiment of the Mahatma is just a onetime phenomenon, possible of realization only in the persistent hands of Mahatma or his likes, or is it a phenomenon establishing itself as a dominant discourse in many other struggles of the people in opposing the evil State is now put to severe test.  Can we recreate an argument for absolute non-violence, now and immediately?     Violence may happen on several situations – as natural element in the animal world, or a spontaneous reaction to a situation, but the issue is how we could rein in these forces of violence and how far we can journey in the direction of peaceful resolution of contradictions.  As we travel from the caves and transcend tribal instincts, as we get civilized, we need to reduce the proportion of violence progressively.   We may find that violence is available in nature, but it is an avoidable or reducible animal or tribal instinct.    As we slowly advance in the process of civilization, we go on controlling or reducing many such remnants of animal instincts within us.  We can consciously make a choice in favour of nonviolence with all its conceptual difficulties, and strive towards organizing the human societies on that basis. 

            Coming back to the present, the murder of four activists, leftists, or those who are somewhere around the left of the Centre, who earned the ire of the religious bigots for things they have done or not done has virtually shaken all the thinking persons.  Violence in the Marxist ruled states, or in those places where the Maoist cadres claim to be conducting revolutionary practices also needs to be subjected to intellectual scrutiny seriously without any hypocrisy or duality.    All of us are saddened, including those liberals, who have nothing to do with the Left or the Right.    Gandhians, and all types of peace lovers are agitated.   Until and unless, we commit ourselves to the civilization project of humanity, national and international brotherhood and peaceful co-existence, and to the goals of collective development based on peace and prosperity of all, this blame game goes on, and we are always forced to take sides in this moral crisis.       Until and unless we unshackle ourselves from these adamantine chains, and ask both these parties, the right and the left, to stop this danse macabre, and exercise our moral indignation against both to bring back to the centrality of the virtues of non-violence and truth, we cannot justify the unique freedom struggle of this nation and the messages of the Mahatma.

            Engaging all the social partners in a meaningful and purposive dialogue is sine qua non of this civilization project.  We cannot afford to allow this fragmentation of the society.   It is the moral duty of the persons with wisdom to stop and contemplate a while on what is going on, and not to allow the things to drift away according the wishes of the dominant forces of time.  The present stage of human evolution demands considered choices and primacy of the will, to understand and respond to the currents.  All political parties and individuals may have to spell out their stand on the utility of, and the invoking violence, as a method of conducting politics.    ‘Violence’ is not a virtue, nor represents any value of ‘heroism’.   It’s the weapon you hold and its advanced technology, on many occasions that decide the result of the war, and not the logical strength of your argument or theory per se.   ‘Violence’ is an archaic ethic which the modern societies can no more afford to accept or to tolerate.  It’s in fact cowardice.  It’s is misanthropic.  “Non-violence” does not need any scriptural justification, it’s justified on its own, and in terms of the larger goals of the civilization.   

Dr. A. Raghu Kumar, Advocate
Flat No. 401, Shashank Residency,
Tarnaka, Hyderabad

Marx@200 – Neither the beginning, nor the end

Marx and Marxism remain to be the eternal hope of oppressed classes the world over!  Marx’s theories evoke extreme reflections, from pure and uncritical love at one end, to equally uncritical hatred at another end, with mixed reactions from various other shades of thinking.  It’s quite natural of any thinker who stands for revolutionary changes.  Marx, for me, stands for the state of human thought process at a particular stage in its history, a necessary and compelling intervention at a particular point of time, in the milieu of a particular factual matrix.  He interrupted the discourse of ideas, and introduced a permanent wedge in the idealistic-contemplative philosophies, and it was a powerful disjuncture! He created an inevitable presence in all the future intellectual discourse and peoples’ actions.  A compelling presence in all the later human discourse as‘pre-Marx’ and ‘post-Marx’ diction and usage!

But he is neither the beginning, nor the end of a process. Several of his predecessors, the so called ridiculed ‘utopian socialists’ such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen et al, and even the so called liberal or capitalist theoreticians such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Ricardolaid a road for understanding the idea of ‘value’ of a ‘produce’.  In this process, we can’t even ignore the great contribution of anarchist, like Bakunin and others. Marx can definitely be credited with a very serious effort on his part to steer through the way from the fog of mere idealistic pretensions, by attempting to introduce forcefully certain scientific methods of his time in social studies. He didn’t, by any stretch of imagination, abruptly emerge beyond context, and beyond time-space matrix. But his disciples have created a mystique image of him in their anxiety to universalize him for all times, and for all contexts.  In fact, such process of universalizing Marx, and for that matter any human being, is unscientific, and anti-Marxian.

Maybe, he is one of the greatest visionaries this world had ever produced, and a great mind which had trodden some hitherto un-trodden paths. Maybe, he can be further considered as one who had re-erected the upended project of philosophy on its feet.  He may also be credited with the greatness of introducing the rigor of scientific methods in social sciences in general, and political economy in particular, and as the one who offered course correction to the dream project of many of his predecessors of realizing an egalitarian society.  But all this he could achieve is not out of any vacuum, but on the basis of the received wisdom of his time.  His dedication to research is unparalleled.  His efforts to understand the ‘value’ of a produce in terms of the labour-time invested into it, is also radical.  But his concepts on the accumulation of surplus value on the side of the capitalist only as a result of exploitation of labour or labour-time, as a factum within a system, may not satisfy the further enquiry.  As Rammanohar Lohia, one of the greatest contributors to the Indian thought of socialism, pointed out in his essay, “Economics after Marx”, the development of capitalist societies need also to be understood as a construction on the blood and sweat of colonial workers.  The surplus of capitalist, in a capitalist system, is not the result of pure internal, inter-systemic exploitation of labour time by the capitalist.  Such construction is one of the reasons for the absence any revolutionary action, or if any, only brief in time, on the part of the working class of advanced capitalist societies.  A reading of U.S trade union history explains this abundantly.  With some exceptions, the trade union histories of many developed countries vouchsafe for it.

When a generation recollects it’s past, assesses the contribution of a great thought of earlier periods, the memories can’t be restricted to just writing an elegy.   By eulogizing Marx, by positioning him and his thought as transcendental, by elevating his theories beyond questioning, by ridiculing the questions that continue to haunt the human mind about the correctness of some of his propositions, by quoting him out of context for every challenge that had come in the way of later human endeavour does not do good even to Marx.  If, in our enthusiasm to be called as a better Marxist, project him as impeccable-eternal truth for all situations and for all times, for all regions and for all momentous challenges, universal and transcendental, by projecting him as ‘supreme being’ and thus deifying, we may temporarily secure some young and uninitiated minds to our side.  But, then, we are rendering the greatest harm to the further development of socialist thought.  We have also to see more and more Arthur Koestlers, Louis Fischers writing different elegies – The God that Failed?

We can’t fail to see that the systems established by, and in the name of Marx, in Russia, East Europe, and China have turned out to be the centres for violation of all human rights.  My intellect can’t be satiated by terming the rights as bourgeoisie rights.  The fall of empire after empire during 1980s and 1990s is still fresh in my memory.  As the young man growing through those days, while reading Marxism on one side, and “The God That Failed” on the other side, the unfolding events have shaken my faith in all theories.  Blaming capitalist propaganda or conspiracy for its fall appeared to me unconvincingly bad then, and now.  There must be internally something within the main text that had caused the degradation.  The element of violence, the roots of undemocratic approaches, the ideas of secrecy, the intellectual impetuosity, the condemnation of all opponents – is within, and not without.  The external environment might have contributed to quicken the process, but it can’t be accorded the status of primacy.  Some Marxists argue that there is nothing wrong in the basic theory, but incorrectness crept in Marxist praxis because of its later practitioners.  But this also doesn’t quench my intellectual thirst.  This is one of the oldest explanations given by every religion – “My basic texts – the Books, are always correct, and for any defect in its translation into action the blame is attributable to its interpreters and practitioners.”

Marx@200 does not only offer an opportunity to praise Marx, but also for deep reflections on its inadequacies and failures, its limits and extent.  It is the time to reflect upon as to why it could not convince many countries and regions.  Marx also cannot escape from his responsibility, for all that was realized in his name, and in the name of those who claim to have understood him better than the other lesser mortals.  The suffocating citizens of the erstwhile USSR, the German Wall, the cries of Poland workers for bread and butter, the Tiananmen Square etc., all ring through my memories.  These are inescapable parts of the Marxist history of action, a fact which cannot be ignored or brushed aside lightly as mere aberration.    The sources for these atrocious deviations are not just external.

Another question that troubled me always has been – do we have answers for all the momentous challenges that came in the way of human advancement in Marx writings?  Post-Marx economies, the two World Wars, the developing and underdeveloped nations and regions, the anti-colonial struggles of India, Africa etc., the post-modernism, the consumer-oriented economic order, the globalization, the environmental degradation out of developmental models of both the capitalists and the communists, the big industries, the unbridled exploitation of nature for satisfying the human greed, the advances of science culminating in the atom bomb, the researches into biotechnologies, the advent of information technology, the artificial intelligence (AI), the robots, the loss of working hands etc., challenge the very human existence on earth.  But Marxists try to quote one or the other sentence from Marx to answer every challenge – a typical method followed by all priests of all world religions!

In my humble endeavors I found some solutions in Gandhi or in Nehru or in M.N. Roy or in Lohia or in Ambedkar.  There are some remedies in Buddha or Jesus or in Hinduism, or in Islam.   There are some explanations in the simple life of a tribal living in harmony with the nature or in the Asiatic or African lives of yester years.   I have, of late, found more answers in Gandhi.Man’s quest doesn’t end with satisfying economic needs, or social equality.  The dream of spiritual realization is not an abandoned project by human beings, despite of Marx’s powerful intervention or even that of many positive sciences.  The need of internal peace continues to haunt the human beings even after he or she reaches the peaks of materialist achievements.  No one’s single thought is a final statement on human affairs.   The ‘Gurus’ are the victims of their own disciples.  They are preventing the gurus from realizing their follies by constructing fortified structures around them.    Marx needs to be rescued from Marxists in order to be placed in a historical context, and I hope with all sincerity at my command that it doesn’t in any way reduce his greatness.  By appreciating inadequacies of a thought it grows further.  Marx had examined the conditions of working class at a particular stage of human history, made some great insights into the problem of value of a produce, and the accumulation of ‘surplus value’, and anticipated in his own dialectical-materialistic historical process an intensification of class antagonisms, consolidation of classes into the Capitalist and the Proletariat, and the eventful revolutionary change in ordering the society under the vanguard of the socially advanced class – the Proletariat, which would end all the class contradictions.  In the skillful and creative hands of Lenin and Mao, it saw its realization.  But that is not the end of the history and the last man.  Even the fall of communist States all over the world is not the end of history.   It is neither the beginning nor the end; it is a continuum, where the wheel of history is imposing its inexorable laws, where the human nature accepts the challenges of history from time to time, irrespective of victories and defeats.  The human endeavor for more equal, and more and more egalitarian social order is a relentless and ongoing process, and the solutions demand more and more innovative thinking and action from many, and more.  We have to locate Marx in this process as one of the important stages of our collective thought, neither as the beginning, nor as the end statement or an epilogue or a curtain call.

Dr. A. Raghu Kumar


Dr. A. Raghu Kumar

If God held all truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left hand the persistent striving for truth … and should say, ‘Chose!’,  I should humbly bow before his left hand and say, ‘Father, give me striving.  For pure truth is for thee alone.”  – Gotthold Lessing

While Otto Von Bismarck, the conservative Prussian statesman said: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best”, Albert Einstein, the world’s acclaimed physicist said: “Politics is more difficult than physics”.  The one denies the absolute truth in politics, and the other finds the difficulty of finding even relative truth in politics.  Politics is pursued in the real and living world, not in a sober and silent laboratory, though sometimes the real and living world also can function as an experimental field by some social scientists.  However for many, both intellectuals and the commoners, the idea that truth can be pursued or perceived in politics is a big enigma.  Before Gandhi politics was always considered more as maneuvers with ethics at the end of the spectrum.  Gandhi took politics to high moral firmament.  Post-Gandhi, no Gandhian ever endeavored to continue the experiment for search of truth in politics, in the rigor of Gandhi.  The exigencies and expediencies do not permit a practicing politician for such endeavors.  Many, even among those who claim to be following Gandhi, find ‘means’ labyrinthine and hope to revert back to means, after attaining the ends.  Many idealists failed in this process of choice between means and ends ending up in abdicating the very idealism which inspired them into action.  The great ideal of ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’ stands as the bizarre historical experience in the dilemma of means and ends.  On the occasion of the 150th year celebration of Gandhi’s birth, it is a worth exercise to look unto the truth as conceived by Gandhi, and his means of ascertaining truth.

Gandhi, a saint or politician?In ‘Young India’ 12 May 1920 Gandhi replied to such a question: The accusation was: “Mr. Gandhi has the reputation of a saint but it seems that the politician in him often dominates his decision. …”In his reply Gandhi wrote:“… Now I think that the word ‘saint’ should be ruled out of present life.  It is too sacred a word to be lightly applied to anybody, much less to one like myself who claims only to be a humble searcher after truth, knows his limitations, makes mistakes, never hesitates to admit them when he makes them, and frankly confesses that he, like a scientist, is making experiments about some of ‘the external verities’ of life, but cannot even claim to be a scientist because he can show no tangible proof of scientific accuracy in his methods or such tangible results of his experiments as modern science demands.  … the politician in me has never dominated a single decision of mine, and if I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. …

            … I have been experimenting with myself and my friends by introducing religion into politics.  Let me explain what I mean by religion.  It is not the Hindu religion, which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which, ever purifies.  It is the permanent element in human nature which counts no cost too great in order to find full expression and which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself, known its maker and appreciated the true correspondence between the maker and itself.”[1]

Elsewhere Gandhi said: “The whole gamut of man’s activities today constitutes an indivisible whole.  You cannot divide life, social, economic, political and purely religious, into watertight compartments.  I don’t know of any religion apart from human activity.  It provides moral basis of all other activities, which they would otherwise lack, reducing life to a maze of sound and fury signifying nothing.”[2]  What is good and moral for one department of life must be so to the rest.There cannot be one individual truth, and another collective truth,one private truth and another public truth. The above expressions of Gandhi reflect his understanding on the issues of inter-relationship between religion and politics, and the necessity of reconciling the two areas.  The West in its approach to the modern State has introduced a clear wedge between politics and religion, the King and the Church, through an idea of ‘secularism’.  Though the idea of governance on the basis of secularism, and politics as ‘pure politics’ distanced the State from the issues of religion, ethics and morals, the governments of the West cannot be said to be irreligious, and the statecraft in the West is frequently visited by religious invocations on occasions.  In the Eastern countries religious appeals are always all pervading.  It’s in this background we need to further examine Gandhi’s ideas on politics and religion in terms of his basic postulation – ‘truth’.

            Anthony J. Parel examines Gandhi’s philosophy as an idea of reconstitution of the four aims of life-Purusharthas i.e., dharma (ethics and religion) artha (wealth and power), kama (Pleasure) and moksha (liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth).  ‘Purusharthas’ are one of the foundational concepts of Hindu religion and constitute means of human striving directed towards ‘overcoming fate and karma’ and ‘any of the four canonically recognized aims of the life.’[3]“He (Gandhi) belongs to the group of forward-looking thinkers who want to explore new ways in which the theory of the Purusharthas might be made to work.”[4]Though the religion had been the basic foundation of entire Gandhi’s philosophy, his idea of religion is qualitatively different from conventions and traditions, and his concept of the State is quite modern.  He had whole heartedly embraced the modern idea of nation, albeit a non-violent nation.  In this respect, as in some others, he was definitely modern.[5]But his modernity is an alternate to the known meaning of modernity.  As David Hardiman in his seminal work “Gandhi in his time and ours” argues the difficulty flows from the term ‘modernity’ itself.[6]

In Hind Swaraj (1909) Gandhi attacked the common view that progress of a civilization could be judged in terms of the sophistication of machines, technology and weapons, and the standards of material comfort enjoyed by a society.  Such yardsticks ignored issues of morality and religious ethics.[7]In later years, Gandhi accepted that in practical terms it was not possible to totally deny many attributes of modern civilization such as railways, hospitals, law courts, industries and forms of government such as Parliament.  He said in 1926: ‘there is much we can profitably assimilate from the West. … My resistance to Western civilization is really a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asiatics are fit only to copy everything that comes from the West.[8]The charge that Gandhi was anachronic was questioned by Parel, when he specifically draws out attention to the Guajarati word Praja invoked by Gandhi for nation, in his Hind Swaraj.  In contrast to religious and ethnic nationalism of the type put forth by Muhammad Ali Jinnahof Indian Muslim League in his ‘two nation theory’, or by M. S. Golwalkar of RSS in ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’ and ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, Gandhi’s was a ‘civic nationalism’[9]  i.e., a political community animated by the principles of civic nationalism.While Jinnah uses the religion for division, and the Golwalkar uses the same to fortify his idea of ‘akhandbharat’, a kind of forced unity.   Gandhi argued that India was not a nation but a civilization.  He argued: “I have never heard it said that there are as many nations as there are religions on earth.  If there are, it would follow that a man changes his nationality when he changes his faith.  Thus (according to this logic), the English, Egyptians, Americans, Japanese etc., are not nations, but Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists are different nations no matter where born.  I am afraid, the logic (on which the argument is being defended) is very weak in maintaining that nations are or should be divided according to their religions.”[10]           Thus Gandhi was not anachronic and in fact more progressive and inclusive but with different language not familiar to the Western mind.  Hind Swaraj can be considered as the first comprehensive political statement of Gandhi. 

            “To understand Gandhi’s activity,” says Romain Rolland[11]  “it should be realized that his doctrine is like a huge edifice composed of two different floors or grades.  Below is the solid groundwork, the basic foundation of religion.  On this vast and unshakable foundation is based the political and social campaign.”  He continues to say: “In other words, Gandhi is religious by nature, and his doctrine is essentially religious.  He is a political leader by necessity, because other leaders disappear, and the force of circumstances obliges him to pilot the ship through storm and give practical expression to his doctrine.”[12]

            Gandhi described his utopia as ‘enlightened anarchy’ contends VinitHaksar.[13] Sir C. Sankaran Nair (1857-1934) President of the Indian National Congress for 1897 and member of Viceroy’s Executive accused Gandhi of being an anarchist in his book “Gandhi and Anarchy” (1922).There is one frequently quoted statement of Gandhi according to which State “represents violence in a concentrated and organized form”[14] which is used to fortify the idea that Gandhi was in fact an anarchist.  RaghavanIyer also saw a conflict in Gandhi’s demands of truth and non-violence and that of the State.[15]Bikhu Parekh holds that Gandhi was unhappy with not just the modern State, but the State as such’.[16]But Parel differs with this ideaand says:  ‘The State according to Gandhi is an institution necessary for the realization of the values of artha.’[17]The fact is that he did defend the State, the constitutional State, a “parliamentary swaraj” and his State “will be centralized enough to provide for internal order and external security, and coercive enough to meet all its constitutional obligations.”[18]What he rejected in Hind Swaraj and elsewhere is only the absolutist and aggressive model of the State, and the modern notion of “national interest” as the supreme rule of state conduct.  However, he recognizes the ethical supremacyand the primacy of the moral law (dharma) over the State law.

            Means and Ends:   If liberation is the end, it can have only liberating means.  Since his days in South Africa he was in search of a method or technique of resistance which would suit his path of truth.  The technique must be in consonance with the fundamental moral principles which guide our other parts of life.  In his philosophy, life is an integral act, and we cannot have one truth and one method for individual liberation and a different truth and method for social liberation.  His approach was variously called as passive resistance, civil disobedience, non-co-operation etc.  But Gandhi was not convinced of any expression, and he ultimately had chosen the word ‘satyagraha’ which means the pursuit of truth and steadfastness therein.The idea of Gandhi’s Satyagraha is ‘a method in startling opposition to that of our European revolutionaries’, saidRomain Rolland.[19]The Western mind is trained to think of social change only in terms of conflict or contradiction of class interests and force to resolve the conflict, and the idea of appealing to the good conscience of the opponent, though sufficiently Christian, in practice of politics it was rarely invoked. 

            ‘Means’or ‘the principle of purity of means’ is the essence of Gandhi’s social action.  He holds that ends and means are convertible terms.  Ends are only the end results of the means used.  If the latter deviate from the moral law, the end, whatever its outward appearance, will not be the one desired and worked for.  If a person is responsible for the ends he keeps before himself, he is equally responsible for the means he uses.“They say means are after all means.  I would say means are after all everything.”[20]Gandhi’s truth is integral, highly experimental and ever evolving, not static and defined forever.  From his childhood till his death his life was a series of experiments in realization of that truth, sometimes rescinding his own earlier idea of truth.  In his initial days Gandhi believed that God is Truth. But he had to change his mind for he later found that Truth was God.  In other words the ‘Supreme Reality’ is Truth, not God.  Truth has to be discovered and established through Truth itself.  “SatyamevaJayate” or “Truth alone Triumphs” is one of the oldest sayings in India.

However, Gandhi never claimed that he had, once and for all, discovered the ‘ultimate truth’ or ‘was seeking such a thing’. “The little fleeting glimpses, therefore, that I have been able to have of truth hardly convey an idea of the indescribable lustre of Truth, a million times more intense than that of the sun we daily see with our eyes.  In fact what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence.”[21]PannalalDasgupta, the erstwhile leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party realized that Gandhi was indeed a revolutionary extraordinary.  While distinguishing scientific truth and Gandhi’s Truth Pannalal says[22]: “The scientific outlook precludes a subjective approach.  The vision of a poet or an artist is essentially subjective.  If we analyze the scientific temperament of Gandhiji by this standard, we will see how single-minded was his pursuit and practice of objectivity”.

Erikson says while dealing with the inconsistencies of Gandhi’s truth: “There is nothing more consistent in the views of Gandhi’s critics than the accusation of inconsistency: at one time he is accused of sounding like a socialist, and at another a dreamy conservative; or, again, a pacifist and a frantic militarist ; a nationalist, and a “communalist”; an anarchist and a devotee of tradition: a Western activist, and an Eastern mysticist; a total religionist and yet so liberal that could say he saw God even in the atheist’s atheism.”[23]   Even Judith Brown said: “Although Gandhi’s thinking had an inner coherence, it was not always consistent.  In his view, consistency was not a particular virtue, because he believed that he should primarily be a pilgrim, someone who was seeking truth, but who at no time would ever see the totality of truth.  He was therefore always intellectually and spiritually on the move, learning as he went along, expanding his understanding of truth and being prepared to leave behind visions of truth he came to feel were too narrow.”[24]

Gandhi’s ideas of truth, non-violence, his ideas of economics based on manageable machines, the idea of trusteeship etc., are considered as either impracticable or absolutely quixotic and utopian.  But, the problem is, Gandhi’s views are an organic whole, synthetic, integrating and reforming. “It is easy to find logical inconsistencies in synthetic thought,” said Kripalani,[25]  since, synthesis implies the union of opposites, that would always appear contradictory to formal logic.  Gandhi seeks to synthesis several dialectical opposites viz., the theory and the praxis, the ends and the means, the material and the spiritual, the individual and the collective etc.Gandhi poses several challenges before the present generation and mostly in our frontiers of political life. He places ethical and moral strands of the society more and above the political immediacies. He looks conservative in this area. He searches in the past and in tradition for some solutions.  Is there anything fundamentally wrong in looking towards a nation’s past for the solutions of the problems today?  Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, the British historian says[26]: “No one should ever feel ashamed of turning back to tradition.  Memory of what previous generations have learned is the foundation of all possible progress.  When traditions conflict, they need more care, not less: they should be keenly scrutinized, not casually discarded.” For many, Gandhi is part of our history and thus a tradition.  But a very rare and valuable alternative tradition that unifies the theory and practice by emphasizing truth which deserves revisiting again.

[1]RaghavanIyer, Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.I Clarendon Press.  Oxford, 1986 p.41-45

[2]J.B. Kriplani,Gandhi: His Life and Thought, © Publications Division, Govt. of India, 1970 (2005), P-353

[3]Anthony J Parel, (2006) Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony, Cambridge University Press, p.3-5

[4]ibid, p.13

[5] ibid, p-31

[6]David Hardiman, Gandhi in his time and ours, Permanent Black © 2003, p-66

[7] Ibid, P-68

[8]Unity in variety, Young India, 11 August 1927, CWMG, 39:370

[9]Parel , op. cit., p.31

[10]Harijan,11 November, 1939, CWMG, 70:334-5

[11]Romain Rolland, Mahatma Gandhi, Publications Division, Govt. of India, New Delhi, Translation from the French by Catherine D. Groth, 1924:2004, p.15

[12]ibid, p.15

[13]VinitHaksar, Gandhi and Liberalism, Satyagraha and the conquest of Evil, South Asia Edn, Routhedge, Oxon & New York © 2018, p.224

[14]N.K. Bose, Selections from Gandhi, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1957, p.41

[15]RaghavanIyer, The Moral and Political thought of Mahatma Gandhi, The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, as considered byParel, op.cit., pp.64-65

[16]Parel , op.cit.,p.65

[17] ibid., p.52

[18] Ibid., p-52

[19]Romain Rolland, op.cit.,p-40

[20]J.B. Kriplani., op.cit., p-356

[21]M.K. Gandhi,  The Story of My Experiments with Truth – An Autobiography, NCBA (P) Ltd. London, p.523

[22]PannalalDasgupta, Revolutionary Gandhi, EarthcaseBooks, Kolkata, 2011 (2017) p.-9

[23]Erik H. Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Non-violence, © 1969 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p.396

[24]Judith M. Brown, Introduction Mahatma Gandhi – The Essential Writings, New Edition, OUP, © Editorial material and selection, 2008, p.ix

[25]J.B. Karipalani, Op.cit., p.323

[26]Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Truth – A History, © 1997, Bantam Press, London, p.223


Men construct huge structures, make endowments, inscribe their names on monuments, create memorials, demonstrate their authority with seals imprinted with their images, consecrate statues and there by long for permanence. One such urge of the erstwhile kings, conquerors, military generals had always been reflected in the statues they themselves got erected or when their disciples had done so to prove their allegiance to the authority. There are statues installed by democratic governments too, to celebrate an occasion or remember a person. The Statue of Liberty standing as guard at the entrance of New York Harbor on Liberty Island is a gift from France to commemorate the 100th year of signing of the Declaration of Independence of USA. A symbol of democracy, it’s also a colossal neoclassical structure. But, this well known statue has an inscription on its citadel, a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), “The New Colossus”. Considered as one of the finest pieces of sonnets in English literature, it compares the Statue of Liberty with the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. The Colossus of Rhodes no longer stands. Constructed to celebrate the Rhode’s victory over the Cyprus, it was said to be approximately 70 cubits or 33 meters (108 feet) high, almost the height of the present day Statue of Liberty. Erected by Charles of Lindos in 280 BC, it collapsed during an earth quake of 226 BC. Parts of it are preserved, though never rebuilt; it stands as a big question to the endeavors of men or their ideas of permanency! But my Statue of Liberty, says Lazarus: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek Fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. …” Thus describes Lazarus the Statue of Liberty as the mother of exiles, and as distinguishable from the Colossus of Rhodes. While Colossus of Rhodes stood for ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and for exhibition of power, authority and victory in a war, the Statue of Liberty, says Lazarus, stands for compassion, an inviting Mother of Exiles! “Keep, ancient lands, your storied Pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! “ Yet the question that lingers in the mind of any liberal today is: “Is she now the same Liberty, the personification of liberty as Lazarus so passionately praised? When the inviting golden doors are shut to millions of immigrants and asylum seekers, exiles and destitute in the name of “America first”, the first of the first colonizers, and when walls are erected with the neighboring States, is she the same Lady of Liberty who cried “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” and invited those tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Time has erased the luster of even the claims of Lazarus? Or as history demonstrated time and again – today’s heroes are tomorrow’s tyrants? There are plenty of statues, and they stand higher and higher. The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid stand far taller than the Statue of Liberty. Competitive devotees clamor for taller, stronger, higher idols to consecrate their Gods, Kings and Gurus, owned or appropriated. Now the ancients are also in the race of surpassing all that is tall in the world. Sardar, one of the triumvirate of the freedom struggle with Gandhi and Nehru, standing as the Statue of Unity, a new Colossal, bigger than his mentor in the very land of the mentor, 182 meters high, on the river island constructed by a Multinational Company, with the aid of a much tainted Public Sectors’ money, consuming about Rs.3,000/- crores of a poor and developing India, looking down condescendingly his mentor and all his comrades-in-arms or with inexplicable consternation? Housing within his steel frame reinforced concrete and bronze cladding exhibition, garden and museum, and with all the potential of inviting thousands of tourists, lo! He is he our Sardar! Challenging many, including the Spring Temple Buddha and the Father of the Nation, he occupies now more than two hectares of land, which probably he might not have ever ventured to occupy while alive! There is another statue, which also stood for power and authority, the statue of Egyptian King Ozymandias. The Egyptian King was a villainous pharaoh who enslaved the ancient Hebrews and who Moses led to the Exodus. In the night in which, at midnight, the first born were slain, (Exodus12.29) Pharaoh urged the departure of the Israelites. God used Moses to save His people from Bondage in Egypt for 400 hundred years. P.B. Shelly (1792-1822), in “Ozymandias” reveals the nature and state of statue. “I met a traveler from an antique land Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert … Near them, on the stand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, … And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Ozymandias, the ancient Egyptian King, now known as Ramesses II, regarded as the greatest and the most powerful Egyptian pharaoh, now stands as ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’, conveying the ephemeral nature of human pursuits, with the civilizations themselves disappearing into a whisper. P.B. Shelly and John Keats were contemporaries. Here is a response to Shelly from Keats (1795-1821) in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, describing the Time’s irrelevance to the physical and material, with a suggestion that it is the art that is an anti-dote to this impermanence. The art on the Grecian Urn, a decorative pot from ancient Greece, survives the test of time. Empires, emperors, civilizations and cultures appear, and again disappear traceless into the history but the piece of art remains. “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, …… What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels! What wild ecstasy? …… When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” The earth is limited and as well the life. But the beauty of an art transcends the time and space constraints. A life gets immortalized by art. In one of the best descriptions of a noble person our ancient sage–poet and grammarian, Bhirtrhari, writes: “Keyurani na bhushayanti purusham hara na chandrojjwalah Na snanam na vilepanam na Kusuman naalankrta murdhajah Vaanyeka samalankorati purusham Ya samskrta dharyate Ksheeyante Khalu bushanani Satatam vagbhusanam bhusanam” [Anklets, bracelets, necklaces, bath, smearing of sandal or vibhuti, or wearing flowers and garlands, or well dressed hair – do not add to the value of a true man. Only the words uttered, rendered with culture, adds to the beauty of a noble man. All that glittering ornaments vanish, and what remains is the beauty of the words spoken.] If so, will the statue do? Yet again, Sankara, the Advaitin, says in Bhaja Govindam: “Maa kuru dhana jana yavvana garvam Dahati nimesha kaala sarvam” We remember Sardar as one of the greatest freedom fighters, as the man with absolute integrity, honesty and sincerity – of purpose and action, as the greatest adherent to his leader Gandhi, as the comrade-in-arms with Nehru, and many more freedom fighters, as a satyagrahi of highest order, and as the Iron Man with iron grit to unify the nation and as a man with great humility who spoke less, and did more. He is one of the tallest figures of modern Indian history.

His greatness is within and not without. Hugeness of his statue may not be in furtherance of the ideals of this Great Soul, instead it distances us from him. We want to remember Patel as one along with our Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, as one in that triumvirate – Gandhi, Patel and Nehru – who constituted a formidable force in that anti-colonial struggle. The Indian freedom struggle is, probably, one of the best human struggles for freedom and liberation in the world history! The madness to dislocate Patel within huge fortified structures need not disturb the serious student of freedom struggle of India from appreciating and re-appreciating his contribution to the nation.

  • Dr. A Raghu Kumar
  • Advocate