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.

No comments:

Post a Comment