Gandhi and the Authority – An Examination in Anarchist Tradition

Dr. A. Raghu Kumar

avadhanamraghukumar@gmail.com

On 15 August 1947, when the crowds were swarming into New Delhi from all sides, and Nehru was about to deliver one of the finest speeches on such a great dawn, reminding the people of India of the culmination of ‘the tryst with destiny’ long years ago the people of India had made, “The first uncertain sputtering of a candle had appeared in the windows of the house on Beliaghata Road just after 2 a.m., an hour ahead of Gandhi’s usual rising time.  The glorious day when his people would savor at last their freedom should have been an apotheosis for Gandhi, the culmination of a life of struggle, the final triumph of a movement which had stirred the admiration of the world.  It was anything but that.  There was no joy in the heart of the man in Hydari House.  The victory for which Gandhi had sacrificed so much had the taste of ashes, and his triumph was indelibly tainted by the prospects of a coming tragedy.  … ‘I am groping,’ he had written to a friend the evening before. ‘Have I led the country astray?’[1]   How do we understand this person who refuses to rejoice in his own offspring?  What binds him or refuses to bind him to any particular pleasure?   

All interpretations of India are ultimately autobiographical”, says Ashis Nandy.[2]  In understanding Gandhi, and his philosophy, his struggles within and without India, the trajectory of his life, and the culmination of his nonviolence in the assassin’s bullet is not just autobiographical or biographical of Gandhi; it has, in fact, become an inalienable part of Indian history.   There are several readings of Gandhi, at several layers, including a facet which explains him as unconventional, atypical and always relating himself with an authority disobligingly.  From the first biography of Gandhi written by Joseph J. Doke, a Christian missionary in South Africa in 1909[3], there are several incisive readings and roving inquiries into his life from various angles and philosophical standpoints. 

Some such important readings include Romain Rolland’s Mahatma Gandhi[4], Erikson’s Gandhi’s Truth[5], Pannalal Dasgupta’s Revolutionary Gandhi[6],  Manu Gandhi’s memoir[7]Bapu – My Mother, Louis Fischer’s[8] The Life of Mahatma Gandhi,  Robert Payne’s[9] The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, and  Ashis Nandy’s[10] The Intimate Enemy.   The list is not exhaustive, but indicative of exploring unknown depths of this presumably spiritual maverick. Any one, at the initial reading of his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, would arrive at an idea of Gandhi as primarily a law-abiding citizen.  His family legacies, his loyalties to the British rule time and again, and his ambivalences even till the early phases of the Second World War lead us to such derivatives.  But Gandhi also makes a parallel contra-reading.   All his life was a continuous and long struggle against ‘authority’ – authority of every kind!  All his understanding of religious texts such as Bhagavad Gita, caste or class, swaraj, modernity, freedom, liberation of the individual or society, rights and duties, the concept of Truth and God, nonviolence, brahmacharya, health, food, community living etc., defied the reasoning of known epistemology.  To cite one, he said once: ‘Freedom is often to be found inside a prison’s walls, even on a gallows; never in council chambers, courts and class rooms.[11]  Was Gandhi an anarchist or iconoclast internally, while externally offering a different posture?

In the list of anarchists at wikipedia.org we find the name of Gandhi as one standing with the insignia of “anarchist” along with Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, William Godwin, Emma Goldman, Tolstoy and Bhagat Singh etc.  Gerald Runkle[12] writes: “The essence of anarchism is individual liberty. … Anarchism thus opposes authority in all its forms; government rule, social constraint, religious domination and moral compulsion.’ … ‘The anarchist, as Proudhon proclaimed, accepts no master, recognizes no sovereign’.  The idea that Gandhi was an anarchist has always been contested by most of his adherents.  But his life provides for humongous evidence of his strained relationship with every ‘authority’ from childhood to his last breath, an inalienable ingredient in anarchist thought.  Another problematic area in this description has always been the conceptual connotations of the very word – ‘anarchism’.  The historical experience of the West with anarchism has been awfully brimming with the overtones of violence.  However, even in anarchic tradition of the West there are certain subaltern layers of non-violence.   

George Woodcock[13] considered ‘anarchism’ as a doctrine which poses a criticism of the existing society and strives to change it.  “All anarchists deny authority; many of them fight against it.  But by no means, all who deny authority and fight against it can reasonably be called anarchists.  Historically, anarchism is a doctrine which poses a criticism of existing society; a view of a desirable future society; and a means of passing from one to the other.”  But there are some basic features common to many, if not all, anarchists: refusal to establish systems, naturalism, deeply moralistic tendencies, anti-historicism, apolitical or anti-political approaches, direct and individualistic action, rejection of or suspicious outlook towards all forms of government or authority etc.      

But the difficulty now revolves also around understanding ‘authority’.   The idea of ‘authority’ has undergone a great change.   ‘Authority’ manifests in different incarnations in the course of a modern man’s life, not just in ‘the King’ or ‘the priest’ as in the pastoral societies. We may locate him in a parent, a teacher, an employer, a policeman, a judge, a leader, a guru, a caste-head etc.   Consequently we have as many counter-shades of antonyms also.  Many a time, we may not challenge the authority; we may just escape its sovereignty.  The escape, sometimes, may also be in the form of art, literature, spirituality or in an appeal to the something unknown higher.  We need to negotiate with the ‘authority’, mostly unavailingly.  Gandhi’s theory and activity were constructed, undoubtedly, mostly around moralistic or spiritual normative.  

Very early in Gandhi’s career, Sir C. Sankaran Nair[14] [1857-1934] [who was the President of the Indian National Congress for 1897 and a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council for 1915] had accused Gandhi of being ‘an anarchist’ in an essay titled ‘Gandhi and Anarchy’.  Anthony J. Parel rejects this claim as unfounded and presents Gandhi’s harmoniously constructed philosophy of modern State in his work.  At the end of Dandi March on 06.04.1930 – Mrs. Sarojini Naidu[15] hailed him as “Law breaker”.  The Right Hon’ble V.S Srinivasa Sastri[16] also described Gandhi as a “philosophical anarch” who could not be swayed by rational arguments.  Gandhi himself described his utopia as ‘enlightened anarchy’ contends Vinit Haksar.[17]

            In fact, Gandhi’s life appears to be a series of such violations of the conventional authority or wisdom.   From childhood, in many of his acts, we find a typical discordant, while apparently being an obedient person.  Erikson[18] cites an anecdote from Gandhi’s early childhood: “… for when his father was not there, he was inclined to usurp strange rights.  He would remove the image of the ruling Prince from its customary stool and put himself in its place, a habit of pretending to be his father’s master …”   Raja Rao[19] quotes another anecdote:‘ … and once it’s said, he even took one of the idols from their sacred seats, and placed himself in the god’s place’.   Gandhi’s decision to go to London to pursue law ended up in the caste elder-men passing a gag order against him: “In the opinion of the caste, your proposal to go to England is not proper.”   Hinduism had long held taboo against travelling beyond sea.  Gandhi said to them that he would nevertheless go.  He replied firmly: “I think the caste should not interfere in the matter”.  Consequently the headmen ostracized Gandhi: “This boy shall be treated as an outcaste from today”. 

There were three Englands, by then, within England – England in England, England in India, and England in South Africa.  England in England is a very sophisticated nation through the Enlightenment awakening of the eighteenth century.  Most of the Indian renaissance is the result of our intellectual contact with this England.   But England as a colonial power was always different.  England in South Africa is no sophisticated State rather it was a State with all prejudices – color, class etc.  This is the specific additional element which enriched Gandhi’s approach towards the England.  His journey from Durban to Pretoria and the incident that occurred at Pietermaritzburg where he was removed from first class compartment on the insistence of a white man is well-known and was a turning point of his life.  It is now in the deep memories of many Indians and even the Westerners thanks to the great film of Richard Samuel Attenborough of 1982.  This is not the last experience to Gandhi of a different England and a different Whiteman.  Fischer[20] raises the question: ‘Why, of all people, did it occur to Gandhi to resist the evil?’ and tries to answer it: ‘… Was it this inherent anti-authoritarianism that made him rebel against the government color line? …  Was it destiny, heritage, luck, the Gita or some other immeasurable quantity?’ 

The white man always relied on some kind of slavery.  With the demise of European feudalism, conditions became increasingly unfavorable to the institution of slavery; maintaining slaves was expensive, and a growing population increased the availability of cheap labour, making slavery economically less favourable.  When the slavery was found economically and morally indefensible, the England had adopted innovative methods.  One such was the ‘indentured labour’ intelligently introduced in South Africa, in the guise of contractual freedom of the labourers.  During 1890-1 some 150,000 Indian emigrants were settled in South Africa, most of them having taken up their residence in Natal.  “Semi-barbarous Asiatics” was the description of Indians of South Africa in the statute books.  Though by religion they were different formulations, the White racial arrogance put them in the parenthesis of a common nomenclature “coolies”; all Indians were known as “coolies” or “sammis” i.e., “coolie merchants”, “coolie clerks”, “coolie barristers” etc.   It is in this process of understanding the different England in South Africa, unknown to the Indian students in England or USA or Germany, he underwent a transformation in his life and philosophy.  Here he was also introduced to the writings of Tolstoy and John Ruskin. 

Within a week of his arrival he visited the Durban court.   The magistrate asked him to take off his turban which he refused to obey and left the court promptly.  Some newspapers described him as an “unwelcome visitor”.[21]    During the year 1894 the Natal Government sought to impose an annual tax of £25 on the ex-indentured Indians.   Gandhi campaigned against the law, and the struggle which started in 1893 had gone up to the end of 1914.   It is here Gandhi experimented with his method of struggle – ‘means’, i.e., ‘satyagraha’ for the first time in 1907.  

In Transvaal during January 1908 in the agitation against compulsory registration of Indians, Gandhi and his colleagues were once summoned to the court.  The questions and answers in the trial between the Judge Mr. Jordan and Gandhi make an interesting reading: 

Jordan:            The question is, have you registered or not?  If you have not registered this is an end of the case.  If you have any explanation to offer as regards the order I am going to make, that is another story.  There is the law, which has been passed by the Transvaal legislature and sanctioned by the Imperial Government.  All I have to do and all I can do is to administer that law as it stands.

Gandhi:           I do not wish to give any evidence in extenuation and I know that legally I cannot give any evidence at all.

Jordan:            All I have to deal with is legal evidence.  What you want to say, I suppose, is that you do not approve of the law and you conscientiously resisted it.    

Gandhi:           That is perfectly true.

Jordan :           I will take the evidence, if you say you conscientiously object to the law. 

Gandhi asked for the indulgence of the Court for five minutes but Mr. Jordan refused to grant it.  “You have defied the law” he bluntly said.

Gandhi:           Very well, Sir, then I have nothing to say.

Jordan :           Leave the colony within forty eight hours.  That is my order.

Gandhi refused to comply with orders.  So on January 10, 1908, Gandhi and others who attended the court for sentence ‘pleaded guilty’ to the charge of disobeying the order to leave the colony.  The magistrate sentenced Gandhi to two month’s simple imprisonment.  “The role of a political prisoner is far more honorable than that of a lawyer,” he declared.   This was his first prison experience.

            Gandhi returned to India in January, 1915.  The first exhibition of the rebel in him on Indian soil occurred on 4 February, 1916 at Hindu University Central College (now Benares University).  The ceremonies were attended by illustrious and glittering persons such as the Viceroy, bejeweled maharajas, maharanis and high officials apart from Mrs. Besant and Malaviya.  He spoke in such gathering about the poverty of India, comparing the richly bedecked nobleman with the millions of the Indian poor counterparts.  ‘There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourselves of this jewelry and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India’.  He declared ‘our salvation can only come through the farmer.  Neither the lawyers, not the doctors, nor the rich landlords are going to secure it’.   There was a commotion.   Mrs. Besant repeatedly ordered Gandhi to close his talk.  The Viceroy, the maharajas, the noble officers left the meeting one by one. 

From then on, in all his interventions, whether it was Champaran movement in the cause of indigo farmers (1917), or the stike in the cause of Ahmedabad Textile workers (1918), or the subsequent movement of ‘boycott of foreign goods or cloths’, civil disobedience movements during 1921-22, or at Bardoli (1928) or the Salt March (1930) or the Quit India movement (1942), he was giving the British Authority, the concrete proof that their might, hitherto dreaded and unquestioned, could be challenged by Indians.  Gandhi was arrested on 10 March, 1922 on the charges of sedition for his three articles written for Young India.  The first one appeared in Young India dated 19 September 1921, titled ‘Tampering with Loyalty’.   ‘I have no hesitation in saying that it is sinful for anyone, either soldier or civilian, to serve this government…. Sedition has become the creed of Congress….Non-cooperation, though a religious and strictly moral movement, deliberately aims at the overthrow of the government, and is therefore legally seditious…”   In the second article, ‘A puzzle and its solution’, dated 15 December, 1921, he wrote ‘Lord Reading must understand that non-cooperators are at war with the government.  They have declared rebellion against it…”   The third one ‘Shaking the Manes’ dated 23 February, 1922, opens with the most challenging sentence: ‘How can there be any compromise whilst the British lion continues to shake his gory claws in our faces?’  He further added: ‘No empire intoxicated with the red wine of power and plunder of weaker races has yet lived long in the world.’   ‘The fight that was commenced in 1920 is a fight to finish, whether it lasts one month or one year or many months or many years. …’.    

At the preliminary hearing of the case he was asked to state his profession and he declared it as ‘farmer and weaver’, and as usual pleaded guilty.    ‘The Great Trial’ was held on 18 March, 1922 before Mr. Justice C.N. Broomfield, District and Sessions judge.  After the charge was read out by the Advocate General, the judge asked Gandhi whether he wished to make any statement.  He had a ready written statement.  The statement read: ‘The Advocate General was entirely fair…. It is very true and I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me’.   He concluded saying: ‘I do not ask for mercy.  I do not plead any extenuating act.  I am here, therefore, to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.  The only course open to you, the Judge, is, as I am going to say in my statement, either to resign your post, or inflict on me the severest penalty if you believe that the system and the law you administer are good for the people.  I do not expect that kind of conversion, but by the time I have finished my statement you will perhaps have a glimpse of what is raging within my breast to run this maddest risk that a man can run.’    ‘I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connection had made India more helpless than she ever was before, politically and economically….. I have no doubt that both England and the town-dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity which is perhaps unequalled in history’.   ‘But I hold it an honor to be disaffected towards a government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system’. ‘In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good.’

            Gandhi did not think ‘Swaraj’ in itself as an end.   In his ‘Hind Swaraj’ [1909], written during his return from England, after series of discussions with both the British liberal intellectuals on South African question, and with the freedom fighters of India operating from London with militant means, he had expressed a different idea of ‘Swaraj’.   For him ‘Swaraj’ is a mental state, not physical or political liberation from England.   If, for the sake of independence the Indians want to continue the materialistic aims of the Western Civilization, modes of production and production relations, he found no reason for political independence at the first instance, since this could however be achieved even under the British regime.   In his idea, the Indians had to overcome the slavery and imitation of the West within.  On 2 March, 1930, as a preparatory step to Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi sent a long letter to the Viceroy:

Dear friend,

Before embarking upon Civil Disobedience and taking the risk I have dreaded to take all these years, … Whilst, therefore, I hold the British rule to be a curse, I do not intend harm to a single Englishman or to any legitimate interest he may have in India. … And why do I regard the British rule as a curse? It has impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation and by a ruinous expensive military and civil administration which the country can never afford.

            It has reduced us politically to serfdom.  It has sapped the foundations of our culture.  And by the policy of cruel disarmament, it has degraded us spiritually. …

            The iniquities sampled above are maintained in order to carry on a foreign administration, demonstrably the most expensive in the world.  Take your own salary. It is over 21,000 rupees [about £1,750] per month, besides many other indirect additions… You are getting over 700 rupees a day against India’s average income of less than two annas (two pence) per day.  Thus you are getting much over five thousand time India’s average income.  The British Prime Minister is getting only ninety times Britain’s average income. …

            Nothing but organized non-violence can check the organized violence of the British government.

My ambition is no less than to convert the British people through non-violence…..

… But if you cannot see your way to deal with these evils and if my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the salt laws…      

This letter is not in any way intended as a threat but is a simple and sacred duty peremptory on a civil resister. …

I remain,         

                                                                                                Your sincere friend

                                                                                                M.K. Gandhi

As 11 March neared, Indians slowly turned to be fervent, sizzling with enthusiasm about the course of events to take place.  Scores of foreign and domestic correspondents were swarming the Sabarmati Ashram.   Thousands surrounded the village and waited.   On 12 March, after regular prayers at Ashram, Gandhi and seventy eight satyagrahis of the Ashram left Sabarmati to Dandi, south of Ahmedabad – famously called the Salt Satyagraha.  Through the winding roads from village, the entourage marched for two hundred and forty two miles in twenty four days.  In the area he travelled, over three hundred village headmen gave up their government posts.   When Gandhi reached the sea of Dandi on 5 April, the caravan had grown into an army of several thousands.  The next morning he picked up some salt left by the waves.  Gandhi had broken the British law which made it punishable crime to possess salt not obtained from the British government monopoly.   His act of walking all through two hundred miles, with several colleague satyagrahis, in public view, and converting the spectacle into convergence of several thousand of Indians in a mela was intended to be an open and published defiance of the mighty Government.   

            What was the effect of this act of defiance?   ‘Every villager on Indian’s long sea coast went to the beach or waded into the sea with a pan to make salt!  It provoked the State with terrible law and order problems.   Pandit Malaviya and other moderate co-operators resigned from the Legislative Assembly.   The police began invoking violence.   But civil resisters did not resist the use of force by the authorities.  People were beaten and bitten in the fingers by constables.  The state had shown its cruelty, and incapacity.   Congress volunteers openly sold contraband salt in cities.   Hundreds were handcuffed or their arms fastened with roes and led off to jail.  The agitation spread far and wide to all corners of the country.  Teachers, professors and students made salt at the sea and inland, and were sent to jail in batches.  A series of arrests, prosecutions and sentencing to jails went on!  About sixty thousand political offenders adorned the prisons by their presence.

“Gandhi did two things in 1930; he made the British people aware that they were cruelly subjugating India, and he gave Indians the conviction that they could, by lifting their heads and straightening their spines, lift the yoke from their shoulders.   After that, it was inevitable that Britain should someday refuse to rule India and that India should someday refuse to be ruled.”[22]   He said he would do his part outside the official world.  According to Gandhi, ‘That government is the best which governs the least.[23]   After Salt Satyagraha and the Second Round Table conference in 1930-31, and his internment from 3 January, 1932 in Yeravda Jail to 8 May 1933, the Poona-Pact, and for another short incarceration from 1 Aug to 23 August, Gandhi was mostly away from freedom struggle concentrating on his ‘constructive program’ which encompassed spinning, challenging untouchability, inter-religious dialogue etc.  Shortly after midnight of 8 August, 1942, Gandhi gave ‘Quit India’ call.   “….Every one of you should, from the very moment, consider himself a free man or woman and even act as if you are free and no longer under the heel of this imperialism…”   

‘In comparison to other groups during anti-British anti-colonial struggles, Gandhi organized the Hindus as Indians, not as Hindus, and granted Hinduism the right to maintain its character as an unorganized, anarchic, open-ended faith.’[24]  He was not just agitating for freedom of his people.  ‘Gandhi was a living antithesis set up against the thesis of the English.’[25]   Most of the counter-players of Gandhi believed in some kind of theories based on masculinity, valor, physical force and the supremacy of the arms.   Gandhi also thought in those terms in his childhood.  Later Gandhi found the folly of it, and ‘used two orderings’, the first one – ‘saintliness’ and the second one – ‘femininity’.   He employed these terms in a kind of qualitative differentiation in degree – ‘femininity’ as superior to masculinity, which in turn is better than cowardice.[26]  Here Gandhi had employed the idea of ‘masculinity’ and ‘violence’ as synonymous with the ‘authority’, and contemplated his fight against both cowardice and authority.  D.R. Nagaraj[27] says: ‘According to Gandhi, fear is the source of violence.  Strictly speaking, his philosophy of violence is nothing but a spiritual analysis of the phenomenon of fear.’    “…..Gandhi’s achievement of awakening Indian people and lending them through an almost bloodless national revolution against foreign rule… was influenced by several of the great libertarian thinkers.  His nonviolent technique was developed largely under the influence of Thoreau as well as of Tolstoy, and he was encouraged in his idea of a country of village communes by an assiduous reading of Kropotkin.”[28] 

In fact, his later experiments on ‘brahmacharya’ at the last phases of his life were constantly directed against this male-female dichotomy and transcending to the higher synthesis of androgyny.  Thus he located the ‘State’ or ‘Authority’ not just in the political form, but in various points such as the religious heads, teachers, conservatives, the so-called revolutionaries and the very ‘kshatriya-hood’ or ‘masculinity’.  It is in this context, Manubehn’s expression – ‘Bapu – My Mother’ needs a further examination in understanding Gandhi.  In fact many women found equality and more freedom in the company of Gandhi, and many more writings of women acquainted with him provide for these reflections.         

            Even his concept of sanatinism is contrary to the accepted normative descriptions of it by the orthodox Hindu or the established monasteries of Hindu order.   He ‘moved on the periphery of English society during his three years stay in London, absorbing ideas from a wide range of sources, discovering the wisdom of the East through the eyes of the West.  He associated with socialists, anarchists, radical Christians and feminists.’[29]   Gandhi also drew upon Henry Summer Maine’s Village Communities of the East and West (1881).  As an alternate to centralist systems such as capitalism and communism in which labour was placed as degraded and alienated from the factors of production, these anarchists proposed a decentralized social and economic system.  The idea of organic communities, self-governing and self-sufficient in the necessities of life, free to co-operate and associate with one another on the basis of mutuality had impressed Gandhi’s intellect since then.  We may also appreciate that the type of community living experimented by him in name of various ashrams, away from the State, and living within community, on certain self-defined terms has also been a peculiar feature of certain anarchist groups.  Even Gandhi was said to have visited and be influenced by the Trappist monastery in Durban 1895 in this regard apart from his readings into Ruskin’s Unto This Lost in 1904.  After his Phoenix Settlement (1904-1910), he later established Tolstoy Farm (1910-1913), Sabarmati or Satyagraha Ashram (1915-1933) and Sevagram (1934-1948).  In fact his community experiments in the form of ashrams combined the features of both the East and the West monastic living, while simultaneously converting them into laboratories for his ideas of religion, education, manual labour, self-sustenance and ultimately ‘satyagraha’.           

William Godwin[30] said: Man “must consult his own reason, draw his own conclusions and conscientiously conform himself to his ideas of propriety.”  The ‘inner voice’ of Gandhi resembles this proposition which had constantly driven Gandhi to differ with the established interpretation of conventional ideas, religious texts, political and legal theories generally accepted by the society as most advanced and as containing higher rationality. 

Gandhi was deeply influenced by several philosophers, activists and social theoreticians of both from the West and the East including Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience. But none could permanently stay as ‘guru’ in his mind.  ‘If the Mahatma concludes all this with the remark that “the throne” of guru had “remained vacant” in his life even up to Moksha time,’ Erikson[31] writes, ‘one could be tempted to follow the throne imagery in his life, from the time way back in Porbandar when little Moniya had sat himself in the place of Thakorji’s picture to all the real or symbolic thrones and top jobs he would come close to in one context or another.  It would appear that he never occupied one and yet never bowed to one either.  Any throne, or for that matter any prime ministership, was too sedentary a place for a pilgrimage.’  His actions during his stupendous work in Naukhali dousing the flames of bigotry generated by the partition, and his observance of fast and silence on the day India achieved formal independence makes a compelling reading of an anti-authoritarian and libertarian Gandhi.  

Coming back to our starting point – it’s true that Gandhi was a law-abiding citizen, but when his ‘inner voice contradicts the proposition, he challenges the authority in various forms – from teasing to open challenge.   He contemplates an area of such challenge, and then he chooses his method of challenge within his major frame work of Truth and nonviolence.  He allows sufficient time and scope for his counter-player to withdraw or change it.  Then he openly announces his intention of violating the authority.  He gives even sufficient propaganda for his actions.  Then on a fixed time, date and place, he consciously attempts to violate it.  If the other side attempts to use force, he refuses to surrender to it.  When the counter-player invokes the legal remedies he surrenders to the process voluntarily.  He accepts the charge and demands for maximum sentence.  He does not demand evidence in the sense of an accused in the modern revolutionary practices.  He doesn’t avoid trail or delay it on technicalities.  At the first instance itself he accepts his dereliction, and asks for maximum penalty.  Thus he compels an equally moral and ethical counter-narrative in the conscience of the prosecutor or the State.

            Anhony J. Parel may be more correct in saying that Gandhi was not an anarchist and that his philosophy tends towards harmonious construction of tradition and modernity.  If we examine various concepts of anarchism, and more specifically the revolutionary politics of it which are overwhelmingly violent, and highly individual, they may not be properly fitting into the Gandhian scheme of things.   Yet if we carefully examine his actions – not accepting any specific authority as the final arbiter, constantly questioning the absolute authority within and without, series of acts violating ‘the Law’ or ‘the Authority’ consciously and his volunteering the penalty imposed by the authority without resistance, the communities he established on the lines of many anarchist communities, his fascination to jails, and his idea of the State etc., they border certain terrains of anarchism.   It is an open ended debate and deserves further research.   


[1] Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, © Larry Collins and Pressinter, S.A., 1975, Freedom at Midnight, Tarang Paper Backs (Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd), p.262-3

[2] Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism, Oxford University Press, 1983, p-80

[3] Doke, Joseph J., M.K.Gandhi, An Indian Patriot in South Africa, 1909, Indian Chronicle, London

[4] Romain Rolland’s Mahatma Gandhi: The Man who became One with the Universal Being, Translation from the Frenchby Catherine D. Groth, Publications Division, Govt. of India, 1924, 2004

[5] Erik H. Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth: The Origins of Militant Non-violence, © 1969 W.W. Norton & Company. Inc., New York

[6] Pannalal Dasgupta, Revolutionary Gandhi, Translated from Bengali by K.V. Subrahmonyan, Earthcare Books, Kolkata, 2011

[7] Manu Gandhi, Bapu – My Mother Ahmedabad, Navjivan, 1949

[8] Louis Fischer (1951), The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, HarperCollins, 3rd impression, 2008

[9] Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, Rupa & Co., © 1969, 1997 by Sheila Lalwani Payne

[10] Ashis Nandy, op.cit.

[11] Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, p-50

[12] Gerald Runkle, (1972),  Anarchism Old and New, Delacorte Press / New York, p.3

[13] George Woodcock, Anarchism: A history of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, © 1962 World Publishing, New York, p.9

[14] Anthony J. Parel (2006), Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony, Cambridge, p-56

[15] D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma – Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Publications Division, Govt. of India,  1961, 2018, Vol-3, p-31

[16] Robert Payne, op.cit.p.390

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

[18] Erik H. Erikson, po.cit., p.108

[19] Raja Rao, © 1998, 2004, The Great Indian Way – A life of Mahatma Gandhi, Vision Books, Preface, p.39

[20] Fischer, p.58-59

[21] D.G. Tendulkar, op.cit., Vol-1, p.36

[22] Fischer, p-345

[23] Young India, 2 January 1937

[24] AshisNandy, op.cit., p.26

[25] Roll May, Power and Innocence:  A search for the sources of violence,  New York: Delta, 1972, p-112 as quoted in Ashis Nandy’s op.cit p-49

[26] Ashis Nandy, op.cit., p.53

[27] D.R. Nagaraj: Listening to the Loom – Essays on Literature, Politics and Violence, Ed by Prithvi Datta and Chandra Shobhi,  Permanent Black,   (c) 2012 Girija Nagaraj and Amulya Nagaraj, p-272

[28] Woodcock, p-234

[29] Mark Thomson, Gandhi and His Ashrams (1993), Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, p.18

[30] William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness,  (Third Edition), F.E.L. Priestly, Ed, The University of Toronto Press, 1946, Vol. I, p-168 as quoted in Runkles, op.cit., p.4

[31] Erikson, p.163S

The ‘summer’ of the Right and the ‘fall’ of the Left

 Dr. A. Raghu Kumar

avadhanamraghukumar@gmail.com

In the English literary symbolic tradition ‘summer’ and ‘fall’ represent not only just seasons, but something more.  The ‘summer’ has been symbolized as a child or a woman wearing a crown of corn ears and bearing a sheaf in one hand and a sickle in the other.  The symbolic animal of ‘summer’ is a lion or a dragon.  It is the time of romance and infinite potential.  The color of ‘summer’ is yellow and temperatures move from mild to warm.  If spring is the time of birth, then summer is the time of youth where one moves through the world with godlike ease and comfort [Source: www.symbolism.org   Copyright© 2001 John Frain].  ‘Fall’ is a season where life is a reaped and winding down, middle age and a time to count one’s blessings.  ‘Fall’ represents a time for transformations, both personal and environmental, a season drenched in tradition, and it is the perfect time to reflect and embrace change.  We leave the summer heat behind and blooming flowers are replaced by crisp leaves. Symbolism is etched in the spiritual fabric of ‘fall’.   Many traditions have been passed down and modified over the years.  As you look back into your heritage you may find that ‘fall’ means a lot more than you expected.  What is often been seen as a morbid subject, ‘fall’ has given a positive spin to death.  While passing of time and death of a loved one will cause sadness and mourning, ‘fall’ reminds us that death doesn’t always have to leave us sad [From: lzmarieauthor.com, Source: https://www.thelivingurn.com].

One day one young friend posed a question to me: ‘Sir, I am doing an experiment in the lab for about few months.  But I am not getting the intended result.  The experiment is giving me anxious moments!  What shall I do?’   I casually said: ‘If the inputs and conditions of experiments are correct according to you, you must accept the result as correct and must discard your hypotheses.’   My younger friend stared at me askance and left the scene with a sigh of disbelief, probably finding my answer as incoherent.  But that is how I understood the law of hypothesis and thesis.  If your hypothesis repeatedly fails in a lab, you cannot discard the result as incorrect, but check the correctness of hypotheses.

            Shattered by the electoral verdict of the Indian common man in May 2019, the left is struggling hard to find the answers.  Going into huddle at times and popping out occasionally, they blame the EVMs, the Hindutva forces and the consequent polarization of the electorate.  They even blame the Congress and many other actors in the political play but rarely look into themselves.  Why don’t they examine themselves?  Why don’t they check the facts of the history for a moment?  After all, their thesis was also humanly made!   ‘Communism’, ‘socialism’ and many such projects promise good and wonderful distant lands.  Marx is no doubt a Prometheus or a Moses promising us leading to that El Dorado.  Yes, he said: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point however, is to change it,’ [Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis-XI].  But the fact remains that the history of the philosophy of interpreters did not end by then, and in fact it just began!  

No idea that enters human experience would be obliterated totally without a trace.  ‘Secularism’ is also one such idea which made its entry into political lexicon in many participative democracies.  Marxists have gone a bit further in that direction by constructing their theory and action on the ‘scientific’ foundations of dialectical and materialistic approach to history, a sojourn beyond the mere ‘secularism’.    Here the categories such as ‘idea’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘religions’ are discarded.  They upended Hegel, or they thought so.  But even after its appearance on the world stage for over a century back, ‘dialectical and materialistic’ approach did not displace spirituality or religion from human rationality.  Moreover, the experience of world citizens for the past decade or two would point to its growing phenomenon.  ‘Dialectical materialism’ did not make a serious dent into human nature.   But the thinking that we, the intellectuals, forming the higher layers of the society, got a Midas touch and epiphanous revelation by initiation into Marxism, and that we need to pity the common man for his poverty of thought had gone deep into the Marxist intellectual sections.  They feel they are carrying the burden of saving this poor common folk!   There are several challenges before the Marxists or communists.  One such is ‘religion’.   Religion is not just the ‘sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions’!  It is much more than ‘illusory happiness’ and ‘the opium of the people’!  The ‘abolition’ of religion is no more in sight and on the contrary the scepter of religion started haunting the communist world now with much more vigor and intensity.   In fact, it re-emerged as a powerful contender for its space challenging the so called enlightenment ‘rationality’.

The other challenge before the Marxist praxis is ‘nationalism’, ‘an ideology and movement characterized by the promotion of the interests of a particular nation, especially with the aim of gaining over its homeland’ [the definition of nationalism is taken from https://en.m.wikipedia.org>wiki].  From the eighteenth century onwards it has grown as a countervailing power and a road-block against onward march of forming universal homogenous groups such as ‘class.’    It is true that its radical variants, either on the Left or on the Right had problematic patterns.  But the two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century questioned the universal human rationality beyond return.  The freedom struggles of peoples of many nations from the mid of 19th century and through the Indian freedom struggle created serious questions of universalism.  The crumbling Soviet Bloc of late 1980s fortified the idea of ‘nationalist’ demands.  Even those politics that are considered fairly evolved in the democratic process viz., of the British, or the France, or most of the Europe or the US could not grow beyond ‘nationalism’ as the current history demonstrates.  Whenever the ‘nationalist’ demanded space, universal narratives suffered badly.  How do we redefine the appeal for ‘working men of all countries unite!’?  How far-cry is it now in the given socio-political reality?  ‘The specter of communism’ stopped haunting the Europe long back, now counter-narratives are in fact haunting Communism!  Though the world had seen its threatening shades in the Hitler’s Germany, nationalism continues to appeal to the people.  

Globalization’ could be understood more as a missed opportunity for the Left’s universal claims.  Before globalization could settle down, it was challenged powerfully by regional aspirations.  Regional aspirations forcibly entered the space at all international fora, challenging the possible emergence of a universal human being.  Contrary to claims of universality, the emerging trend is protecting the regional aspirations – the local.  With regionalism also emerged the idea of social relativism – cultural, religious etc.   ‘Glocalization’ joined the social science dictionary without much ado. The Left in fact actively defended the regional rights!

Relocating ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’, even within the Indian roots, is not so an easy task.  Even when, as utopians and dreamers, we endeavour to paint an image of these egalitarian ideas, the internal contradictions are enormous.  By conceding the probability of resolving even these contradictions by a higher ideal, the first requirement is that – all these different shades of the Left should be ready to accede some of their territory for others.  Given the experience of the Marxist faith in the supremacy of their theory and practice, the future remains uncertain.  Primarily, every shade, within the left of the centre, has to come out of the illusion that their ‘Guru’ and their ‘Book’ is only absolutely correct.   Each must be ready to admit the insufficiency of each theory and the merit of others.  It becomes a very big challenge to the Marxists, and in fact to a greater degree, even to Socialists. There must also be material contingency even for such tactical reconciliation.  Who is ready for this allowance for others?

Being an ostrich of ‘class construction’, the Left ignored the suffocation of the ‘second sex’ for a longtime.  The feminist movement however could make some sense to the Left.  But in India, the problem of ‘caste’ has become a greater challenge.  As usual the Indian Left refused to take into cognizance the problem of ‘caste’ in India for a longtime.   When it started understanding its significance and tried some allowance to the Ambedkarite narratives in its construction, though not internally convinced, the social dialectics underwent some more twists.   Even though Lohia was initially a critic of the Marxist ‘socialism’ and made great foundational contribution to the localized understanding of it, and during later part of his political career, even wished to work along with Communists and the Ambedkarites, there is no evidence to argue that Lohia’s arguments on caste or socialism or history were ever considered seriously by ‘the other side’.   Lohia, a brilliant and a rare original scholar, died as a disappointed soul with the Left’s indifference.  And in the meanwhile, the social forces are undergoing a process of advancement and nationalism is overtaking the space.  The Left lagged in this process a generation behind.  After all, the history cannot stagnate in theory!

Indian communists fought a relatively easier fight, though not a friendly one, with Congress.  Most of the higher layers of the Congress obliquely recognized communists as progressive thinkers, except when it comes to dealing with those militant sections of it.  Congress in itself had, and continues to have, sufficient left-wing sympathizers.  But the post-2000 narratives are not that easy.  The left demolished the relatively ‘centrist’ political ideologies like Congress etc., over a period of time, but couldn’t occupy the space so evicted by them.  Science doesn’t permit the existence of vacuum in the nature for longer periods, and some matter always waits for occupying the space.   The space created by the Left and the Janata Pariwar, dismantling the ‘centrist’ positions, without a scheme or means of occupying the same, in the meanwhile, has now been successfully occupied by the Right.  Now the struggle would not be as easy as it was during the Congress heyday.

Dear Left, what next?  Since my younger days when I read Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, certain doubts always were lingering in me.  Marx said: ‘The question whether objective truth can be attained by human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question.  It is in practice that man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking.  The dispute over the reality or unreality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question’ (Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis-II).       ‘Social life is essentially practical.  All mysteries which lead theory astray into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of his practice,’ [Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis-VIII].   ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point however, is to change it,’ [Theses on Feuerbach,  Thesis-XI].  We may find the stress on ‘practice’ or ‘change’ in these narratives.  Post-Marx, not only Marxists, almost all the political philosophies went in a mad rush for practice.

Even when reading ‘The Communist Manifesto’ I was swarmed by doubts and incredulities.  Its doors were opened with a big-bang – ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’  I have been baffling with understanding this proposition for over decades.  As a broad categorization, the evolutionary changes of societies may be said to have certain generalizations.  But a universal declaration of this nature could not go well within me.  ‘The middle classes’ that have become a significant political force in the mid-20th century does not fit into the descriptions.   See the projection – ‘… entire sections of the ruling classes are, by the advance of industry, precipitated into the proletariat, or at least threatened in their conditions of existence. …’ ‘Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class.’  But post-Marxist history defied Marxist logic.  In nation after nation, the proletariat happily compromised with the bourgeoisie power structures.   In some advanced industrial countries, they even refused to recognize the international character of the working class.   ‘What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.’  The history of American trade union movement makes a different reading; the ‘grave-diggers’ have actually turned out to be the guardians of the capitalist fort!    The continuous migration of faith even among the Indian communists from industrial workforce to agrarian labourers to tribal’s deep lands also points its finger to the crisis in theory.  

Change!  Everything flows!  You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you!   Heraclitus!   Change!  Practice!  These mantras dominated all the other theories also.  But the Newton’s laws of force also point towards the inherent nature of ‘inertia’ in the phenomenal world.   Change and practice are not so easy terms to be accommodated without challenge.  In an individual or in a system of thought, a continuous urge for action may not be so healthy.    Not only misplaced stress on action and even the fatigue of meaningless action take over the individuals and the societies!  Except for barren adherents, doubts inundate the thinking and experiencing mind. 

Understanding the failure is as important as celebrating the success.   I have not started writing this as response to Ramachandra Guha’s ‘Does the Indian Left have a future?’ [22.06.2019 The Telegraph].  I started this contemplative course after about two weeks or so of the people’s decisive mandate and after going through the analyses of various intellectuals, right and left.   Some celebrated the forward march of the Right through wonderful paeans, and some others scribbled elegies for the Left.  Guha writes: ‘If the Left in India hopes or wishes to rise up from the ashes, then the first thing it must do is to become more Indian.  In 1920, shortly before the Communist Party of India was established, the Mumbai Marxist, S.A. Dange wrote a pamphlet exalting Lenin over Gandhi.  Ever since, Indian Communists have found their heroes in a country other than India’.  He further said: ‘The problem with these foreigners is not just that they were foreigners.  They were also totalitarians’.  There were references to the indigenous socialist tradition, and personalities like Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Rammanohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narain etc.   ‘In the wake of the Lok Sabha elections, there is talk of the need to “unify” the different communist parties, and bring them under one platform,’ Guha hopes.    The need to move from the position of Communist to Democratic Socialist is contemplated, with a hope that it would be ‘a modest first step’ towards a renewal. 

Doubt’ is the foundation of all the growth narratives.  If we have no doubts, even while failures are glaring at us, and we repeatedly re-affirm our faith in the theory and blame only the practicing individuals for all failures, secure ‘The Book’ beyond criticism, it is Ahankara.   Ahankara refuses the need for reflexive processes.   Who needs homilies, more so, in the category of persons who firmly believe that they attained the highest realization?  Can an Advaitin be convinced about some errors is his thinking?  It equally applies to Marxists.  A person or community or institution which entertains a doubt about the correctness of a practice or theory may venture for introspection.   However, if a strong adherent had a strong faith that his theory can never go wrong, it is the end of it.   It accepts no criticism or suggestion.   Marxists all over the world suffer from this intellectual arrogance.  History did not teach them anything.   The historical experience of USSR, or of the most of the East Europe or China never caused any such need for introspection in the Left.  Instead there are more confirmations, re-assurances and re-affirmations of faith in the Book.

Where is the possibility of rethinking?    Any system, of theory or practice, has to have either ‘an internal critic’ or hear ‘the external critic’.  When we refuse the hearing for both, where is the way out?  Does the Left need a piece of advise?          A group of people who think they had formulated their theory on the basis of historical experience, refuse further inputs of the same historical experience.  The left has developed quite a defensive mechanism; if they succeed they claim success to their effort.  If they fall, they attribute it to somebody else.  Capitalism fails them.  Consumerism fails them.  Globalization fails them.  Congress fails them in India.  Any other person except ‘I’!  

The idea of reconciling various contradictory theories has always been the intellectual persuasion.  Reconciling Marx and Gandhi, Gandhi and Ambedkar, Marx and Ambedkar, and Lohia and Ambedkar etc., are some of these wishful contemplative exercises doing the rounds in the academic world.    For the cadre-level followers, and the commoners, these endeavors may not offer much difficulty.  But for those who think they are experts of those theories and consider themselves as serious disciples of their Gurus, it is a tough challenge.  The probability of success of these endeavors is also very much suspect.  The hitherto history of the idea has not offered any such reasonable success.  Though temporarily they appear to have reconciled, in the absence of synthesis arising out of historical experience, they repel with greater vigour and vengeance at times.  It is better for each idea to work out its own path at its own cost, succeed or perish or learn lessons.

            We may at times, in our Indian context, refer to Jayaprakash Narain’s post-emergency political experiment.  But the nuances of it need to be examined with higher rigor.   The taboo of ‘political untouchability’ of the Right (Jan Sangh) had been successfully lifted by that experiment.  It also demonstrated another lesson of history i.e., for dismantling Congress, the immediate Frankenstein Monster, many shades of the left refused to cognize the waiting Right, for an opportunity to come out of the miasma of the patricide.  The space created by the eviction of the Congress has been successfully occupied by the Right, leaving the Left fretting and fuming!

            The question whether it is the end of the road for the left can definitely be answered in negative.  Nothing ends anything.  But, certainly there are some ringing warning bells, indicating that the time is ticking away.  The left needs to understand or re-appreciate the role of ‘religion’ or ‘spiritual pursuits of man’, ‘nationalism’, ‘regionalism’ and ‘cultural relativity’ along with ‘caste’ – the specific Indian problem.  Historical experience shall be the guiding factor, but not the theory alone.  A morning message posted by a friend read like this: ‘You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending!’      

But time is merciless; it moves on.  As Omar Khayyam, philosophically said: 

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit       

            Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

            Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

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 www.stephenhicks.org 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, http://www.humanreligions.info/vioolence_and_crime.html, 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  http://www.sankritimagazine.com 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
Email: avadhanamraghukumar@gmail.com

THE POETICS OF STATUES

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
  • avadhanamraghukumar@gmail.com