Revisiting Gandhi
R. L. Singal

Gandhi, Gandhism and the Gandhians
by Thomas Weber.
Roli Books, New Delhi.
Pages 361. Rs 395.

Gandhi, Gandhism and the GandhiansThis book by Thomas Weber, a well-known researcher on Mahatma Gandhi’s life, ideas and legacy, consists of 12 papers—four each on Gandhi, Gandhism and Gandhian, already published in different journals. Now, they have been collectively published in the form of this book for those interested in Gandhian lore.

The author revisits Gandhi’s Dandi (salt) March, covering a distance of about 200 miles from Sabarmati Ashram to the seashore of Dandi, from March 12 to April 6, 1930. Gandhi entered a hollow of salt and mud mixture barefooted and brought out a handful of saline mud (not salt crystals), an act of his open defiance of the mighty British Empire. The author also examines Gandhi in the light of modern conflict resolution theory and makes a comparative study of two eminent Gandhians, Vinoba Bave and Jayaprakash Narayan, and discusses effectiveness of the Shanti Sena, which Gandhi thought could non-violently resolve national and international conflicts. He goes on to analyse and explain Gandhi’s views on economics, which, according to the Mahatma, never militates against ethical standards.

Raj Mohan Gandhi, in his admirable foreword to the book, writes: "One reason for remembering Gandhi is the glaring failure of violence to achieve results in places like Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and Sri Lanka. Tried year after year violence has not only failed to obtain the redress asked for, it has obscured rather than highlighted the issue at stake. We are intrigued therefore by Gandhi’s non-violence".

Gandhi’s most potent weapon against injustice and oppression was Satyagraha, which worked through conversion rather than coercion. The driving force of conversion was suffering of the part of Satyagrahi that could melt the heart of the opponent. Gandhi summarised the process in the following words: "I seek to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharp-edged weapon but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him and at last compel recognition from him which recognition would not humiliate him but up uplift him."

In the face of violent invasion, Gandhi asserted non-violent defenders "would offer themselves as fodder for the aggressor’s cannon—the unexpected spectacle of endless rows upon row of men and women simply dying rather than surrendering to the will of an aggressor, must ultimately melt him and his soldiery". This is essence is Gandhism, converting the opponent though self-suffering.

Gandhi’s ideas on economics too are in line with his broader philosophy of suffering and self-denial. He pointed out that someone who claims as his or her own more than the minimum that is really necessary for him, is guilty of theft. He said: "I venture to suggest that it is the fundamental law of nature, without exception that nature produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world".

Gandhi’s thinking on economics thus was based on a spiritual criterion. E.F. Schumacher, whom the author quotes copiously regarding the Mahatma’s economic views, was of the opinion that economics did not stand alone. As with other disciplines, it derived from the meaning and purpose of life. Gandhi claimed that true economics stands for social justice and it promotes the good of all equally, including the weakest, and is dependable for a decent life.

Rajmohan Gandhi in his foreword and Thomas Weber in his papers on Gandhian ethics and philosophy have emphasised that the opponent can be won over by one’s humility, sincere adherence to truth and non-violence, whatever be the challenges. They highlight the failure of violence in resolving conflicts in many countries but they ignore the glaring fact that Gandhi’s non-violence and adherence to truth and his self-effacing humility failed to move M. A. Jinnah and convert him into a friend.

Students of history know that Gandhi’s policies failed to prevent the Partition and all the misery and bloodshed that accompanied it. Jinnah, on the other hand, who stuck to his guns and his two-nation theory, succeeded in realising his goal in spite of his aversion to Gandhi’s non-violence. No admirer of Gandhi has so far explained this painful phenomenon of India’s history. Moreover, no Gandhian has explained to us how we could non-violently counter the tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947 or the Chinese aggression of 1962.