Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ravana mode of development – III

Gandhi distinguished between swaraj as self-government and swaraj as self-rule (the quest for self-improvement and command over one’s own passions). He realized that conjoining the two concepts of swaraj is the basis of being truly civilized. In the absence of such rule over the self, Gandhi insisted, we will not be in a position to fully develop the positive values that have emerged from modernity like civil liberty, equality, religious toleration, human rights, etc. He insisted that rule of all without rule of self is deceptive. Thus, the mind emerges as the key faculty in Gandhi’s political philosophy - the locus of control was internal, not external.

Gandhi emphasizes moral and individual change as the precursor to social and economic change and believed that private morality had public consequences. He considered as futile the modern quest of trying to make institutions so perfect that they would obviate the need for the individual to be good.  Post-Independence India is a continuing illustration of that truth. Morality cannot be imposed from outside but has to be the result of self-effort. (For any trouble, a time-tested way to avoid any responsibility is to say that it was a ‘systemic failure’. The underlying theme of the whole book The Black Box Society can be this observation by Gandhi.) He had seen the disquieting signs before Independence itself.

He had received lots of letters from freedom fighters asking for posts in Independent India. On May 22, 1947, Gandhi said, "The Congress was fast becoming an organization of selfish power-seekers and job-hunters. Instead of remaining the servants of the public, the Congressmen had now become its lords and masters. The Congress was torn by petty intrigues and group rivalries." Soon after Independence, Gandhi received a letter from a friend in Telugu country saying that the local Congress leaders were indulging in corruption and people now think that colonial rule was better. It confirmed Gandhi's fears that swaraj as self-government without swaraj as self-rule may not have good results.

Gandhi felt that the political and the spiritual could be harmonized. Many maintained that a spiritual person should not dabble in  politics and economics which were thought to be dominated by ‘I win - you lose’-type zero-sum games devoid of moral principles. But Gandhi disagreed and said that a truly spiritual person had to be engaged with society – he could not be indifferent to the social ills that he sees around him. If he is indeed an indifferent spectator of these ills and prefers to pursue his spiritual quest in isolation, then there is something wrong with his concept of spirituality. (A discussion about this issue can be found in Gandhi's Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony by Anthony Parel). He said in 1920:
If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.
Thus Gandhi practiced moral politics in an arena where it was thought to be impractical. He succeeded to a significant extent not only in maintaining his own values but also in pulling up the moral standards of his followers. Patel acknowledges his restraining influence (as quoted in Patel: A Life). Patel had to deal with a functionary in a princely state named Virawala who indulged in a lot of intrigue. When a worker likened Virawala to a witch or a demoness, Patel said ‘If I had not met Bapu, I might have ended up like Virawala.' In Gandhi's time, khadi was a symbol of humility and simplicity but after his death, it gradually became a symbol of arrogance and power.

In The Good Boatman, Rajmohan Gandh writes about a Russian novelist who told him about the decisive difference between Lenin and Gandhi - Lenin dismissed as inconsequential the murder of two political opponents while Gandhi stopped a nationwide movement when some of the Raj's policemen were killed at Chauri Chaura. This had to do with Gandhi's conviction about the unavoidable link between means and ends - fair means lead to fair ends. He was convinced that avoiding responsibility by merely saying 'stuff happens' would eventually lead to a less desirable end-point. After Gandhi was removed from the field, politics gradually degenerated into its usual mode of intrigues and zero-sum games. Ashis Nandy writes about Gandhi's idea of moral accountability in Bonfire of Creeds: is possible to argue that all accountability is odious, that ideas are important in themselves and independent of the personal lives of their proponents. But Gandhi was always skeptical of the modern claim that perfect institutions would one day eliminate the social need for individual morality. He therefore believed that accountability should be demanded at least from those whose theories of social intervention demand sacrifices and accountability of others.
It didn't take long for Gandh's fears that the British will be copied to materialise. In response to riots in the Punjab in Feb-Mar 1947, the interim government at the centre, two of its most prominent members being Nehru and Patel (the latter being Home Minister) imposed press censorship. Gandhi wrote to Nehru asking for some details saying that he only knew ‘what is allowed to appear in the Press which I thoroughly distrust'. He expressed  unhappiness about what he called the “hush hush policy” and wrote, ‘It is amazing how the country is adopting almost every measure which it criticized during the British administration. Of course, I know the reason behind it. It makes no appeal to me.’

In Hind Swaraj, responding to the opinion that the English Parliament is worthy of emulation, Gandhi had several criticisms of its functioning.  He said that when important matters are being discussed, ‘its members have been seen to stretch themselves and to doze’. The ‘so-called dicipline’ of members makes them vote along party lines and if a member votes according to his thinking, ‘he is considered a renegade’. The PM is ‘more concerned about his power’ and on ‘securing the success of his party’.  PMs ‘certainly bribe people with honours’. All these practices have been copied diligently and bettered in legislatures across the country.

Politicians speak with great confidence about complex social issues and easily speak about some ’one size fits all’ policy. For eg., they will say that the 'Gujarat model' of development will be replicated across India. This was a complete contrast to Gandhi for whom truth was situational not universal and depended on a particular context including the attitudes and motivations of the contending parties. He would also have rejected the economists’ penchant for thinking that only appealing to reason by providing lots of data is enough to convince people. Economists have what somebody called ‘the completeness of limited men’. The authors of Postmodern Gandhi and other essays write:
Gandhi is clear that mind without heart, reason without emotion, cannot be persuasive. In this Gandhi’s position accords with the recent revival of Spinoza’s view of the mind-body relationship…The neurologist-philosopher Antonio Damasio has argued in his recent book, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain, that Decartes was wrong that feeling is the enemy of reason, and that Spinoza was right to believe that feeling was thought’s ‘indispensable accomplice’. Gandhi, in effect, critiques…[the] conception of deliberation by insisting that rationality without feeling cannot yield knowledge, truth, or the public good.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ravana mode of development – II

Gandhi had seen signs of militarization in India and was worried that an arms race between India and Pakistan would divert resources from areas like education, which is of course what happened. He said that India had accepted his remedy only because a violent alternative was not visible. In these days of guided missiles and misguided rulers, his observation in Nov 1947 is still relevant: 'Our statesmen have for over two generations declaimed against the heavy expenditure on armaments under the British regime, but now that freedom from political serfdom has come, our military expenditure has increased and still threatens to increase and of this we are proud! There is not a voice raised against it in our legislative chambers.'

A basic justification that was given for colonialism was the civilizing mission of superior-matured men of West over inferior-childish men of East. Gandhi rejected the idea of viewing West's masculinity as matured, aggressive and civilized as against East's masculinity as childish, passive and barbarous.  (As discussed by Ashis Nandy in  The Intimate Enemy.) The authors of Postmodern Gandhi and other essays say, ‘Gandhi turned the moral table on the English definition of courage by suggesting that aggression was the path to mastery of those without self-control, non-violent resistance the path of those with self-control.’

But people still seem eager to adopt the western definition of courage marked by aggressive self assertion. This can be seen in various debates one sees on TV where participants think that admitting an error is a sign of weakness and muscular responses are seen as being desirable. The responses will sound as if they are saying 'Mistakes were made but not by me'. In Great Soul, a book that shows many of Gandhi's compromises, inconsistencies and objectionable statements, still comments on his contrast with present-day politicians:
Seldom does he give in to the politician's usual temptation to blithely sweep away any sense of letdown, to proclaim victory at every juncture. This unsatisfied Gandhi, the one who doesn't know how to pretend, is the one who still makes a claim on Indian social conscience, such as it is. 
In Nationalism (a book that would be banned as 'anti-national' if it was published in these days of manufactured nationalism), Tagore criticized the ‘fierce self idolatry of nation worship’. Tagore was surprised why Gandhi took to nationalism while it, according to Tagore, negates other benefits of modernity such as freedom, equality etc. But Gandhi’s nationalism was not exclusive, it was “intense internationalism”. When I heard about the SC making it compulsory to stand in theatres for the national anthem, the first thought that occurred to me was a statement by Gandhi during his trial for sedition in 1922, 'Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law.'

Gandhi's nationalism was very different from Hitler's nationalism. By using one word to describe such a wide spectrum of sentiments, a lot of confusion is created. If you wield a stick and tell a person to say 'I love you' and you really think the person loves you, you have to be quite naive. As Ramachandra Guha writes, 'Speaking of 18th century England, Samuel Johnson famously said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In 21st century India, it seems to be the first refuge of the incompetent and malevolent.'

In Nationalism, Tagore said that if India tried to copy Western countries (he was talking specifically about political nationalism) without taking into account its own history, ‘it will be as absurd as if Switzerland had staked her existence in her ambition to build up a navy powerful enough to compete with that of England’. I saw an instance of such imitative modernity in Bonfire of Creeds by Ashis Nandy. Apparently, the Bhilai steel plant, located at a place where the winter temperature rarely falls below 55 deg. F, has a roof modeled on a Russian prototype which is designed to withstand heavy snowfall.  Such blind mimicry will be given some fancy name like ‘technology transfer’.

The latest in this spree of copying is the bullet train project which has no relevance to the overwhelming majority of the population. It reminds me of an episode in Yes, Prime Minister where there is a proposal to buy the expensive Trident missile. The bullet train is India's version of something at Harrods:
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Don't you believe that Great Britain should have the best? 
Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident - it's lovely, it's elegant, it's beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Ch√Ęteau Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say? 
Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don't need it.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.
In The Good Boatman, Joshua Oldfield, who had shared a room with Gandhi during his college days in London, discusses about Gandhi not following the habit of other Indian students. He says, 'I have always felt since that the Indians coming to England have to face the same great testing examination. If they fail, they prove that they have commonplace minds and they drop into the ordinary run of English diet, English habits, and general mediocrity.' You don't have to go to England now to see that.  Macaulay’s aim, set out in his infamous “Minute on Indian Education”  - to create 'a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect' - is still operational.

You can see this Western mode of living in many cities - the way of dress (suit and tie in the middle of an Indian summer), in the foods they prefer (pizza or burgers), the language they speak (Hi dude - or 'bro'-, cool hairdo!), the antics during various sporting events like the IPL...(somebody called these people 'Resident Non-Indians'). My physiotherapist said that his daughter (in kindergarten) had been told by her teacher to speak in English at home! Sujit once told me with great excitement, 'Tonight is El Classico!'. Uh, what's that? It turned out to be a football match between  two European clubs which was apparently followed avidly in his college. Ashis Nandy writes in The Intimate Enemy, '...once the British rulers and the exposed sections of Indians internalized the colonial role definitions….the battle for the minds of men was to a great extent won by the Raj.'

I keep hearing foreigners say that India has become more confident. It seems to mean that India has become better at copying. What is copied is the worst of the West, not its best like respect for institutions, defence of free speech etc. On a visit to London in 1931, for a conference on determining India’s political future, Gandhi was asked by a British journalist what he thought of Western civilization. “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied. I heard a modern spin on this incident. An Indian intellectual said that if Gandhi was alive today and was asked what he thought of Indian civilization, he would reply, “I think it would be a good idea.” As it says in The Mahabharata, 'Alas, having defeated our enemies, we have ourselves been defeated.'