By Anuj Godhani
Gandhism, the modus operandi of M.K. Gandhi, is a social-political-philosophical doctrine that emerged during India’s struggle for independence. Its influence in the world by virtue of notions of truth, non-violence, celibacy and simplicity is indescribable; and has been incorporated by several individuals, organisations, and activists.
Yet, the enquiries of the coming generations have deciphered several ideas from Gandhism. These ideas concern the understanding of Gandhism in the scenarios of social issues and self-development.
Non-cooperation brings disorder in the society and economy: something governments do not want on their plates and that’s why it was effective on colonisers. Trade and wealth opportunities invited British Raj to India. But the chaos from non-cooperation made it unfeasible for the government to carry on with its operations.
Violence could help suppress the voices, but it couldn’t defeat the strong willpower of the people. Thus, the recipe of non-violent resistance and non-cooperation facilitated the return ticket of invaders. A similar concept was incorporated by Nelson Mandela, and it showed results.
A Tool for Activism
On gaining popularity, non-cooperation has become a fundamental tool of activists. The many successful attempts have created a delusion that perhaps non-cooperation is the best alternative to get demands fulfilled. The approach has become redundant. People have failed to differentiate non-cooperation from passive violence.
Anna Hazare’s movements, the hunger strikes and civil resistance, forced the then UPA government to effort on Lokpal bill; but, as the issue cooled down, the bill lost its muscle. The methods that once overpowered British Raj, now lack the same strength.
The Difference between then and Now
The purpose of the fight makes the difference. Gandhi did not suddenly come up with the idea of non-cooperation. In South Africa, he observed that Britain would lose interest in colonisation if its industries fail. Non-cooperation creates hindrance in business and makes it expensive for the colonisers to carry on with their operations. Activists, on the other hand, do not want to overthrow the government. Their purpose is to get the demands fulfilled. Then how could non-cooperation help in the latter case?
Ramachandra Guha in his book Gandhi Before India, 2013, mentions that Gandhi initially believed in cooperating with the British government to get the problems solved. After constant diplomatic failures, he observed that British crown would not negotiate for the welfare of Indians. Only then did he opt for non-violent resistance.
Therefore, it wasn’t the sudden jump to Satyagraha that led to British defeat. Rather, it was the trial and error method of starting with the soundest cooperative techniques and then changing it as per the behaviour of the other side.
Abstinence and the Self
When it came to self-development, Gandhi showcased examples of overcoming bad habits and strengthening the self. Gandhi was known for his abstinent measures. Deeply influenced by Tolstoy, who in his essay The First Step, 1892 wrote, “No good life is thinkable without abstinence…abstinence is a man’s liberation from lust.” Gandhi encountered that his sexual desires came in the way of devoting completely to the society.
Gandhi’s guru, Raychandbhai, a Jain sage, believed that sexual activity involves passion which is injurious to the soul. It is in the pursuit of non-violence that Gandhi then took the vow of Brahmacharya. Total abstinence has long been a popular method to overcome the weak areas of an individual. It is used to treat alcoholics and drug addicts. However, there also comes vulnerability to become prey to weakness again. For example, if a long-term sober individual starts drinking, he becomes highly susceptible to become an alcoholic again.
While abstinence from material objects like alcohol is still achievable, the problem lies when a person wants to overcome intangible iniquities like pride and procrastination. It’s impractical to assume that total abstinence is achievable in these cases. Wouldn’t true liberation be the ability to not fall into traps and have the ability to recover?
Gandhi’s ideology has been influenced by Tolstoy, Hindu texts, and Jainism. Truth and nonviolence are eternal, considering peace is the goal. Proponents of non-cooperation, Satyagraha, and hunger strike argue that such methods draw government and media attention and prompt people to participate. While this argument holds true, such measures aren’t civilised. Gandhi chose diplomatic and cooperative steps before the alternative. Some believe diplomacy is sluggish and provides no outcome, but if the world had lost faith in diplomacy, world war would have never ended.
The doubt isn’t if Gandhi’s methods are fundamentally correct. It is whether they are outdated. It is also that the world has misunderstood his methods.
The writings on Gandhi have focused on ‘what.’ Instead ‘how’ would be apt to appreciate his ideology. Gandhi beginning from his self-flaws chose to gradually eradicate them.
Eradication of self-flaws requires an understanding of the self. After figuring out the behaviour pattern of the self, trial and error is what Gandhi followed. With regard to societal issues, Gandhi chose civilised or more acceptable methods before jumping on to harsh resistance. Only after understanding the response and behaviour of the other side, tough methods were used. There is no single answer to solving all problems. Each and every problem needs to be studied before jumping on to actions. The world of activists and revolts need to understand the line between non-cooperation and passive violence. To replicate Gandhism, one should understand the methodology to reach the definitive action, and not base their understanding on abstract ideas of Gandhigiri.
Anuj Godhani is head of the student research cell, at Symbiosis School of Economics, Symbiosis International University.