As I wrote the earlier post declaring my intent to study Gandhi's life and death, contending that it is indeed a very 'Indian' life and death, I presumed that Gandhi mattered. It may seem too obvious a statement, but it is not the 'Father of the Nation' stature that we need to be talking about. In fact, this, and the vast cottage industry that sprung up on Gandhi iconography, can be seen in direct contrast to what the man stood for and what he wanted to achieve. We may celebrate Independent India as the great achievement of Gandhi, but there are reasons to consider this to be his great failure, though his legacy lived on.
It was a great mystery to everyone how India became democratic from the start. Most people were dismissive about Nehru's plans to offer everyone a vote even before that happened in the United States, and predicted chaos. Political Scientists, accustomed to the vaunted correlation between per capita income and democracy, could never fit it into their theories, and commentators, from time to time, predicted immediate collapse of the state. Over the years though, as the Indian Republic survived and become stronger, the pundits swung to the other extreme opinion - taking Indian democracy for granted and claiming it to be irreversible! Even the rise of a Hindu Nationalist party, which the Founders always saw as the gravest danger for the Republic, is not seen with alarm, as the diversity itself - which an earlier generation of commentators thought to be the greatest hurdle to democracy - is now seen as a bulwark for plurality and openness.
This has no precedence, anywhere in the world. A poor, illiterate country, going through the democratic elections year after year, and going strong after 68 years. In the meantime, it has gone through everything imaginable - several wars, acts of terrorism, economic chaos, separatist movements, religious strife - and yet, the only short-lived experimentation with authoritarianism, played out in the authoritarian-friendly days of the middle-70s, were immediately, severely, but peacefully, crushed. One could now come up with a theory of Indians having a democratic genetic structure (some might already have), or the less charitable may see its roots in the quarrelsome nature of the Indians. However, this democratic tradition can only be explained by the way India achieved its independence, which is different from most other countries and in direct contrast with many European political theories, and can be attributed to The Gandhi Method.
One has to remember that Gandhi did not start the Indian Nationalist movement, but joined it in the middle of the Great War. He came with some track record - success of his non-violent methods in South Africa was known by then - but his impact was immediate. Nehrus poetic phrase - And then Gandhi came - seemed almost real in terms of the impact he had on Indian polity almost immediately after his arrived.
To understand this impact and the lingering legacy of Gandhi, it may be worth summarising the Nationalist politics of India at the time of Gandhi's arrival. With some generalisation, but not distortion of truth, one could say that the mainstream politics of nationalism in India, in the years preceding and during the Great War, revolved around the debates of two groups of leaders, one group seeking equal opportunities in jobs for Indians and the other group trying to go slightly further and arguing for greater home rule within the British Commonwealth. Outside the mainstream, however, there were regional activism, a revolutionary undercurrent in Bengal, various peasant and labour agitations, which confronted the English rulers and their agents in India, more violently than even the radical Nationalist leaders would like.
Gandhi, in many a ways, emerged as a radical politician who engaged in dialogues when there was an opportunity, a man of the people who brought the grievances of the street to the meeting rooms of the rich. He flung open the gates of Indian politics to those peasants and labourers following whom he dressed and spoke. His politics, not dependent on a Citizen Elite but everyone, changed the dynamic of political action of the country. This is a crucial departure from any theory of political action - the man on the street is unlikely to be politically disciplined and focused - but Gandhi made this work in India. His boycott of English goods, not a new one, was brought to bear upon the Commercial interests because of the massive participation. His identification of common man's causes, like salt, changed the focus of political action. The impact of this strategy, despite a large body of Gandhi literature, is insufficiently studied. In the immediate context of his politics, unleashing the political action of the Indian villages, numerous, largely outside British control and hitherto outside political movements, Gandhi changed the political equation of the country. That the English had to pack up and leave eventually may have various reasons, but this had created a different model of political action in India - and its legacy would live on in Indian democracy.
The other crucial aspect of Gandhi's method is non-violence, which is indeed famous. But the point of non-violence is not lack of violence itself, which requires great courage, but the rejection of the method of the powerful. Gandhi, indeed, famously said that if India had swords, he would have advocated lifting it. But the deeper message of non-violence is that the oppressed must not mimic the methods and ideas of the oppressor, but create a new way and meet him at a different ground. These methods would not work without the multitude, but Gandhi had them. However, on the other hand, the politics of violence can only work with a Citizen Elite in the lead, like in so many other countries. This had implications in the Indian Freedom movement, where various extremist factions and Communist Party largely viewed Gandhi as a collaborator, but this - employment of a tool-kit of the oppressed - became an inextricable part of the Indian political fabric.
So, my argument goes, Gandhi was not just fighting for independence, he was laying the ground, may be unknowingly, for democracy and republicanism. Political theorists may fail to see how a state that had to be led by a Citizen Elite can remain democratic without being rich. But, Gandhi already created a freedom movement with broad participation and leadership, using methods which anyone can use (violence needs weapons, and therefore, money). Structurally, India was already a Republic before it became independent.
This does not mean that Indias democracy would have happened without the actions of its post-independence leaders and of succeeding generations, or it should be taken for granted now. One of the key problems of post-independence India was its overt dependence on Citizen Elite, a class of leaders that will run the country, something that Nehru, above all, learned from the Soviet experience. But, many of the issues India faces today, lack of broad-based prosperity, bureaucracy and corruption at all levels, come from the dependence on this narrow elite. In this, Gandhi was a success and a failure at the same time, as the battles he launched, one of creating an India of the People, still rages on many years after his death.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.