By Susmita Saha October 2002 Gandhi can be considered the most modern political thinker India has ever had. He imbibed the best from the East and the West and evolved a political philosophy that worked miracles. Today, in a polity steeped in corruption, perhaps there is a need to rediscover Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi has been an integral part of Indian politics. His political philosophy encompasses an assortment of elements stemming from his basic humanistic outlook. Though for him there was no antithesis between spiritual and worldly matters, he embodied certain fundamental beliefs from which he seldom deviated. As he opined in his journal, Harijan: ‘There are eternal principles which admit of no compromise, and one must be prepared to lay down one’s life in the practice of them.’ He adhered to these principles in all walks of his life and even extended them in his attempt to create a resurgence of the nationalistic spirit among Indians. As West Bengal’s Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya points out in his research work titled Evolution of the Political Philosophy of Gandhi: ‘Mahatma Gandhi can be credited for belonging to the most modern type of mass leader.’ In 1919, when Gandhi took up the reins of the Indian National Congress, he imparted a new technique and orientation in spirit to the struggle for liberation. He introduced the concepts of nonviolence and non-cooperation, which not only suited the superior resources of the British Empire but also became the ideal weapons of protest against the Government of India Act (1919) and the Rowlatt Act (1919). Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, however, took a definite form after the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, which compelled him to comment: ‘Cooperation in any shape or form with this satanic government is sinful.’ The spirit of non-cooperation and nonviolence that Gandhi infused in Indian politics is equally relevant in modern times. The violent upheavals, antipathy in addressing major issues and lack of a rational dialogue among parties that characterise the Indian political scene, emphasizes that a dedicated faith in the Gandhian political doctrines have become the need of the hour. As Bhattacharya points out: ‘In ancient political thought there was no philosophy of anarchism. Instead rajadharma (duty of the king) came to supercede all other dharmas, for if the king failed to protect his subjects and ensure peace, all else was considered a futile exercise.’ Political analyst U.N. Ghosal says: ‘The state was regarded in Hinduism as an essential instrument for securing not merely the whole life, but… that the state was within certain limits virtually an end in itself.’ Gandhi, whose political ideology was a harmonious amalgamation of western and eastern thoughts, did not accept this near totalitarian concept of the state. Inspired by western thinkers such as Thoreau, Tolstoy and so on, he declared that power or political authority was not an end in itself. Several critics have expressed that Gandhi regarded power to be ‘one of the means of enabling people to better their conditions in every department of life’. This recognition speaks of his awareness of the reality that is firmly imprinted on his political thought. His political actions were directed towards attaining power which, according to him, should not be concentrated in the hands of a few but disseminated among the masses. This political ideal becomes increasingly significant in the present socio-political scenario, when there is an increasing tendency of power concentration in the hands of the privileged few. Another aspect that is conspicuous in the Hindu political thought and has a significant impact on the psyche of the people is that revolt is one of the recognized rights of individuals and groups. This concept is deeply imprinted in the mass psyche and played a significant role in the isolated uprisings that were a vital part of the Indian freedom struggle. The duty and responsibility of the king is also clearly indicated. A king who did not abide by the dictates of ethics and justice was threatened with dire consequences in hell as well as revolt. In Mahabharata, Bhishma goes to the extent of saying that the king who fails to protect his people should be slain by his subjects like a mad dog. Gandhi’s clarion call for nonviolent revolt against the British is therefore a continuation of the Indian tradition. Interestingly, though Gandhi accepted the traditional injunction to revolt against a corrupt political authority, he also developed the tradition further by introducing satyagraha-a unique means of contradicting authority by avoiding violent manifestation of armed warfare. The Civil Disobedience Movement started by Gandhi in 1930 is another political landmark in Indian history. The massive exploitation of India’s economic and human resources had compelled Gandhi to demand Purna Swaraj (absolute independence) to which the British government had paid no heed. The ultimatum, therefore, was presented in the form of a ‘Eleven Point’ programme to the Viceroy apprising him of the prevalent situation and suggesting its easing, failing which the Civil Disobedience movement would take place. The movement was not merely a violation of the laws imposed by a foreign rule but a mass uprising. The dramatic repercussions of a single act undertaken with the bold recognition of the intolerable grief of the repressed masses is a fundamental proof of Gandhi’s potential as a mass leader. Bhattacharya comments: ‘The nationalist movement in India, prior to Gandhi’s advent, flowed in two streams-the constitutionalist agitation or ‘the politics of mendicancy’ on one side and the underground revolutionary movement, popularly known as terrorism, on the other.’ While these movements had their own roles in national regeneration and political freedom, these could not encompass the bulk of the population in the country. There was no ‘serious politics’ as Lenin had used the term. The Russian revolutionary wrote: ‘Politics begins where the masses are; not where there are thousands, but millions, that is where serious politics begins.’ Thus Gandhi can be rightly attributed the credit for introducing ‘serious politics’ in this country. He also transformed its nature, hitherto confined to the educated classes, to an authentic broad-based mass movement. The historic task that confronted Gandhi’s India was to strive for the complete liquidation of foreign imperialist domination and colonial economic exploitation. In fact, both national liberation and democratic transformation of the society were demands that had to be fulfilled for a better arraignment of the society. But since society itself was divided owing to its different inclinations, Gandhi had to formulate a philosophy that could cater to the mindset of all. Since the major section of the Indian bourgeoisie was dependent on the British for their gains, they kept themselves aloof from the national struggle. Gandhi’s politics, however, was primarily concerned with raising the consciousness of the masses and investing them with political authority to determine their own destiny. Here he struck a new note in Indian politics.
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