Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gandhi: Sixty two years after his assassination

January 30, 1948 - 2010

Mohandas Gandhi, the middle class British educated Indian lawyer was transformed into a principled strategic non-violent activist in South Africa at the end of the 19th century struggling against racist laws and policies of the colonial authorities. The most important theoretical result of the South African campaign was the development of Satyagraha. Gandhi announced on September 11, 1906 in his newspaper Indian Opinion a contest to submit names to describe this movement. The final name was the fusion of two words as explained by Gandhi: “Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force…the Force which is born of Truth and love or nonviolence.”

Although Gandhi described himself as a socialist he rejected Marx’s theory of the class struggle as inherently violent and offered a profound critique stating: “The socialists and communists say, they can do nothing to bring about economic equality today. They will just carry on propaganda in its favor and to that end they believe in generating and accentuating hatred. They say, when they get control over the state, they will enforce equality. Under my plan the state will be there to carry out the will of the people, not to dictate to them or force them to do its will.”

Gandhi’s revolutionary movement stands dramatically in opposition to the other revolutionary movements of the 20th century Communism and Fascism born in violence and sustained by levels of brutality and wholesale slaughter never seen before in human history that still leave wreckage today. What of the inheritors of Satyagraha? They have been and continue to be a force for good in the world. Martin Luther King Jr. in the American South fought segregation and deep seated racial hatred exercising Satyagraha as did Benigno and Cory Aquino in the Philippines, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, the Dalai Lama in Tibet, the monks in Burma, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas in Cuba today and many more are continuing Mohandas Gandhi’s legacy.

Gandhi despite his successful revolution and the establishment of the largest democracy on the planet was felled, after repeated assassination attempts they gunned the old man down as he went to worship. They murdered him because they did not believe that India could survive with Gandhi promoting Satyagraha. Gopal Godse, a co-conspirator and brother of the assassin Nathuram Godse, argued as late as February 2000 in a Time magazine interview that: “In politics you cannot follow nonviolence. You cannot follow honesty. Every moment you have to give a lie. Every moment you have to take a bullet in hand and kill someone.”

The choice is clear on one side the force which is born of truth and love or on the other the force that is born of lies and hatred. Satyagraha saved India and Pakistan from a genocidal civil war, and Gandhi’s death at the hands of Hindu radicals led to Indians rejecting the assassins toxic approach to exercising force. The ends justifying the means which was espoused by Niccolo Machiavelli in the 15th Century in his political treatise The Prince dealt with using amoral means to achieve "moral" ends such as destroying your adversary utilizing violence and lies. Gandhi took the opposite approach, his autobiography was subtitled "my experiments with truth" and he sought to convert the enemy into a friend using truth and nonviolence to reject injustice and oppression stating that, “real non-cooperation is non-cooperation with evil and not with the evil doer.”

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