THE INDIAN NATIONAL SCENE TODAY
PROF. M. VENKATARANGAIYA
At this time, when the nation is busy celebrating Gandhiji’s birth centenary, it will be most appropriate to survey the present day national scene as it has developed during the twenty-one years after his martyrdom in the cause of communal harmony and national integration and find out which of his teachings have been accepted and which rejected by the people. This is the best way of celebrating the centenary.
On one point there is complete unanimity among all sections of the people. All recognise that it was under his leadership that the country carried on the struggle for political freedom and whatever success we achieved in it was due in the main to the new orientation which he gave to the struggle by bringing in the masses–the peasants and workers–to participate in it. Even those who hesitate to attribute the final withdrawal of the British to the power of non-violence which formed the basis of the struggle under his leadership agree that he is entitled to be regarded as “the Father of the Nation” and that we should be grateful to him for all that he did to instill in us the love of freedom to which we have been strangers for nearly a thousand years. He created in us a spirit of courage and fearlessness which has transformed the character of the whole nation and gave to it a new life and a new pathway to further progress. We all accept that he was the real creator of our political freedom and that this creation was his greatest achievement.
To him political freedom was not an end in itself. It was only a means for the emergence of a better type of individual and for a better ordering of society. In his speeches and writings, and much more through the personal example which he set and which received world-wide admiration, he gave us an idea of what an ideal human being should be. He gave the name Satyagrahi to the ideal man and in his personal life he demonstrated what a real Satyagrahi is. To hold fast to truth like Harischandra and Prahlada; to walk in the path of non-violence under all circumstances and in all that one thinks, talks and does; to adopt a positively loving attitude towards all; to observe scrupulously the ideals of Brahmacharya, non-stealing and non-possession in the sense of not keeping in one’s possession wealth over and above what would be sufficient to satisfy one’s essential needs; to do manual work to earn one’s livelihood which he called bread-labour; and to religiously adhere to the principle of Swadeshi in every sphere of life–economic, political, social and spiritual–these he regarded as the attributes of a Satyagrahi. His life was modelled on them and it was in conformity with them that he gave training to the inmates of his Ashrams-Sabarmati and Sevagram. If people continue to respect him today it is because he exemplified in his life what a true Satyagrahi is. He was not merely the preacher of a noble ideal–many can do this–but also one who shaped his daily conduct in strict conformity with it. It is in this that his uniqueness lies.
Gandhiji not only wanted every one to become a Satyagrahi but also wanted to reconstruct society on the basis of Satyagraha of truth and non-violence. A society of Satyagrahis was the ideal society according to him and it was in this direction that he wanted Indian society to march steadfastly after the attainment of freedom. In such a society all men and women would be equals. There would be no class of the privileged. Women, instead of being exploited as they have been for ages, would be accorded the same treatment as men and would participate in public life in the same way as men do. Untouchability would disappear. There would be no place for caste hierarchy. All would be free. A Satyagraha social order would be an order free from all kinds of exploitation.
This is the ideal of democracy, of socialism and of communism which we regard as progressive movements as distinguished from fascism which stands for elite rule of some kind or other. There is nothing in Gandhiji’s concept of an ideal social order to which any radical or even a revolutionary can take objection. The truth is that he is in the front rank of revolutionaries. Like all of them he was keen on bringing about fundamental changes in the existing order. He was not a worshipper of the status quo or mere tradition. It is a mistake to look at him as a reactionary, a revivalist or a traditionalist. He was keen on creating a casteless, classless society.
He however differed from all other revolutionaries in of respect of the means to be adopted for bringing about the needed change in society. To him means were no less important than ends and non-violence was the one and the only means which he wanted all people to adopt for bringing about change. He was emphatic on this point. On one occasion he observed: “However much I may sympathise with and admire their worthy motives, I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes. There is, therefore, really no meeting ground between the school of violence and myself.” On another occasion he said: “The means may be likened to a seed and the end to a tree, and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.” From this he drew the conclusion that a revolution which is achieved through violence perpetuates violence even after the revolution is over. The history of all modern revolutions–the French, the Russian and the Chinese–illustrates this. It is no wonder that the whole world has acclaimed Gandhiji as the “apostle of non-violence”. Strict adherence to non-violence is at the heart of Gandhiji’s teachings. Everything else is subsidiary to this.
In answering the question which of his teachings we accepted and which we rejected the first place has to be given to his stress on non-violence. We have to ask ourselves whether and to what extent we have accepted strict adherence to non-violence in the process of changing our society on which we have embarked in the post-independence period. It may be theoretically argued that as we adopted democracy as the form of our government and as the democratic process implies adherence to the process of debate and discussion in settling all conflicts and disputes in society we have accepted Gandhiji’s principle of non-violence and there need be no doubt about it. But this is only true in theory. In practice the democratic political process as it is ordinarily understood has been replaced by violent direct action. It is this and not the process of argument and discussion that has become a part of our normal public life. We are living in an atmosphere of widespread violence in our country today. It is through resort to violence that all discontented groups try to achieve their objectives. When any group demands a change in the existing situation it doesn’t care to put forward reasonable arguments in favour of the change, shape public opinion through meetings, conferences or newspapers, negotiate with government through its representatives in the legislatures or make use of any other constitutional means open to it under our system of govemment. It doesn’t even give time to the authorities to consider the question in all its aspects. It assumes that the moment the demand is made the concerned authorities should concede it. If no concession is immediately forthcoming it takes to direct action which invariably results in violence of all kinds. Indiscriminate attacks on railways, buses and other vehicles, setting fire to them, the looting of shops, raids on post offices and railway stations, destruction of public and private property–these have become the order of the day. New forms of violence like Gheraos have come into vogue. Sometimes the violence lasts for days and weeks–and for months also. Citizens are prevented from moving freely in the streets. The hooligans and the rowdies and all the other so-called unsocial elements gain control of the situation and there is a total eclipse of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In recent months not a day has been found to pass without violence of this nature is some part of the country or the other.
It is a matter for extreme regret that violence is resorted to not merely in respect of important issues but also of matters of a trifling character. Discourtesy shown by a bus conductor to a passenger, the refusal of a cinema house or a hotel proprietor to sell tickets at concession rates, unavoidable delay in the arrival of trains, disciplinary action taken against those who resort to malpractices in examination halls, the failure to concede the demand for a holiday or to alter the time-table in a school–all these several other similar issues have resulted in widespread violence a destructive character.
One saddening aspect of all this is the growth of
communal violence. Gandhiji stressed in all his life the importance of
Hindu-Muslim unity. He even became a martyr to it. Unfortunately communal riots
have been on the increase in recent times–the latest of them being those in
Ahmedabad and other towns
the day on which this article was written–only a week before the countrywide
celebration of Gandhiji’s centenary–newspapers reported:
“Curfew was clamped in Digboi town in upper
on the part of the public is invariably accompanied by counter violence on the
part of the police which finds it necessary to resort to lathi charges and
firing to restore law and order. They are not always effective in bringing
peace. In several cases they do not take action promptly, pleading that they
have no instructions from Government. Much more important than this is the
failure of the police to evolve strategy and tactics to deal with large scale
mob violence. The result is that the military whose primary duty is to defend
the country against external attack has to be called in to preserve internal
order. Referring to the incidents in Ahmedabad Sri Morarji Desai said with a
heart full of agony: “The orgy of violence that
Part of this is due to the fact that democracy in our country has become mobocracy. Mobs are made to think that democracy is government by the people and that any mob represents the people and has a right to see that its will is immediately put into effect. Political parties have encouraged them in adopting this attitude. Politics has become the profession of thousands of people today. The class of professional politicians did not exist in our country in the pre-independence days. It emerged after we got our freedom. Most politicians earn their livelihood by keeping up some kind of agitation or other. They rouse all sorts of expectations among the people and tell them that government is solely to blame if their expectations are not fulfilled. This is at the root of the protests and demonstrations on the part of the public which invariably result in violence. Politicians have become demagogues. Gandhiji was aware of a danger like this. That was the main reason why he called upon all his followers in the political field to devote their leisure to constructive work. But which politician cares for constructive work today? It is not so exciting as rabble-rousing and it is not paying at all from the personal standpoint, though it may do immense good to the country.
The growth of violence in the country is also due to
the existence of parties who believe in it. Violence is part of their creed.
They follow in the footsteps of Marx and Lenin and it is their conviction that
no real change in society can be brought about through the process of democracy
and that the existing order should be overthrown by the use of force. To create
chaos in the country is their immediate objective and to achieve this they have
raised a band of volunteers who preach the doctrine of class warfare. Some of
these parties have succeeded in forming coalition government in Kerala and
It is necessary at this stage to refer to one other aspect of the phenomenon of violent direct action which has become a feature of the normal political life in the country. Those who resort to it defend themselves on the ground that their action is the same as Satyagraha which was practised by Gandhiji on various occasions to bring about economic, social and political changes. They call themselves Satyagrahis. They also undertake fasts of various kinds–relay fasts being one of them. They however forget that there is no analogy between Gandhiji’s Satyagraha and their own Satyagraha. Let us see wherein lies the difference between the two.
In the first place he always hesitated before launching mass Satyagraha which he differentiated from individual Satyagraha. He realised that it was difficult for the masses of people to observe the principle of non-violence. It requires a good deal of training–the kind of training more or less similar to that to which soldiers in armies are subject. In the absence of such training he felt that mass Satyagraha should be permitted only when it was led by him as in the case of the campaign in South Africa and in several campaigns in India. When in the years 1939-42 several of the Congress called on him to take advantage of the British involvement in war and start a Satyagraha campaign, he hesitated to do so on two grounds. One was that it was not moral for a Satyagrahi to take advantage of the difficulties in which the other party was involved. He stated “We do not want to seek our independence out of Britain’s ruin. This is not the way of non-violence.”
More important than this were the serious doubts he had as to whether a campaign of mass civil disobedience would remain non-violent in character. He referred to his apprehensions in this regard in the following words: “Some correspondents tell me, if I only give the call, there will be an India-wide response, such as has been never made before. And they assure me that that people will remain non-violent. Beyond their assurance, I have no other proof in support of their statement. I have proof in my own possession to the contrary. I cannot identify myself with any civil disobedience unless I am convinced that Congressmen believe in non-violence with all its implications and will follow implicitly the instructions issued from time to time.”
Let us also remember that he did not hesitate to suspend the first non-cooperation movement in February 1922 when he heard of the Chauri Chaura incident in which a violent mob rushed twenty-one police constables into the police station, and set fire to it resulting in the death of all the constables. He did not mind very much the criticism directed against the suspension by stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and C. R. Das. To him non-violence was a principle which should never be discarded. It is therefore ridiculous for those who resort to direct action today to say that they are walking in the footsteps of Gandhiji.
It is also necessary for them to remember that he started Satyagraha only when certain preconditions were fulfilled. He never resorted to it on flimsy grounds or with a light heart. The cause for which it is undertaken should be a just one. Before it is undertaken those who wish to participate in it should try and exhaust the possibilities of all peaceful methods of persuading and bringing pressure on the opponents and make them see the error of their ways and the justice of the cause for which they are prepared to fight non-violently. They should put forward all arguments in favour of the stand taken by them and appeal to the reason and the intellect of their opponents. They should make representations to them and should see, if it is possible, to get the situation remedied by an appeal to the law-courts or to the legislature. It is only after peaceful methods like these are tried and found ineffective and when the alternative before them is either to submit to injustice or getting it removed through some form of violent resistance that they should make use of the technique of Satyagraha. Today those who resort to direct action do not care at all to adopt a procedure like this. They put forward their demand and if it is not immediately conceded they start their action. Moreover they carry on their action in a spirit of defiance and not of humility. They are bent upon coercing and not upon converting their opponents. It is a gross misuse of language to refer to present day direct action as Satyagraha advocated by Gandhiji.
It will not therefore be wrong if we conclude from this brief survey that we rejected Gandhiji’s creed of non-violence. It is not only this particular teaching that we discarded but also many of the other principles which he placed before us. He pleaded for strict adherence to ethical principles in all the political and social work that we undertake. We have departed from this. People enter politics now-a-days with a view primarily to acquire power and to retain it somehow and not with a view to render service to the community. The factious fights and the group rivalries which we find among the parties in power–whether congress, communist or socialist–bear ample evidence to this. Corruption has become widespread. As the Vigilance Commissions at the Centre and in the states have been pointing out, it has taken root among all categories of power-holders–ministers, members of the higher administrative services, party bosses and so on. It was one of the Congress presidents who stated sometime ago that beggars have become millionaires by holding positions of authority. More than half the amount that is allotted for governmental undertakings is misappropriated by those who are put in charge of public funds. We talk the language of socialism but in actual practice we behave like Shylocks. Gandhiji was an ardent advocate of simple living. But in the post-independence period ostentation, luxurious living and wasteful expenditure by individuals on festivities of all kinds have been on the increase. It is this kind of living that makes it impossible for us to create domestic savings for the implementation of our plans and has reduced us to the position of beggars in the international world. In every field of life and work–whether it is village uplift or basic education, or starting labour-incentive industries which can provide mass employment or decentralization of authority–we have departed from the teachings of the Father of the Nation. It will not be far wrong if one says that we have ceased to be his children.
There is considerable truth in the observation of Louis Fischer, the biographer of Gandhiji, a scholar who knew him most intimately. He says: “India has impoverished itself by exporting its finest treasures. It gave birth to Buddha. Now hundreds of millions follow him outside India and only a handful inside. India’s earth and air nurtured Gandhiji. How many Gandhians can be counted in his native country? How much influence do those Gandhians exercise? Is Gandhiji to become the lost Mahatma? Is the prophet to be without honour in his homeland?” Let every Indian search his heart to find an answer to these questions. That will be the best way of celebrating Gandhiji’s centenary.