ONLINE BOOKS > GANDHI - His Relevance For Our Times > India Yet Must Show The Way
India Yet Must Show The Way
By A. J. Muste
It seems to me that only a moderate amount of reflection is necessary to drive home the conclusion that opposition to (thorough going non-cooperation with) war and the building of a nonviolent social base are inseparable. A violent society will wage war, it is true. It is also and equally true that a society which wages war will not develop a nonviolent social order. The relation here is not a chronological but a dialectical one. The issue of war and war-preparation cannot be postponed by India, and especially the Gandhians in that country. The issue is as a matter of fact there now. The only logically and morally clear position for a Gandhian, it seems to me, is to say that at the least war must be eschewed and opposed by Gandhians. They must be under no illusion that waging a war, engaging in an arms build-up and arms race, promoting centralized control which this entails, psychologizing the people for waging war, cutting down on education and social services―all this on the one hand―and instilling nonviolence in the people and building a nonviolent social base can be treated as parts of a single spiritual, social and political whole. The ways in which opposition to or non-cooperation with the former may express itself if you are single-mindedly committed to nonviolence may vary greatly, as they do, for example, in the U.S. or the U.K. But, as Vinoba himself has suggested, violence in the nature of the case pushes nonviolence out and the one is in fact the ally or counterpart of the other.
It also follows, however, that the logical and morally clear position for the Gandhian is that the state or the nation and the people should also eschew war and be challenged to disarm, if necessary, unilaterally.
It is said, and correctly enough, that the nation is not ready. Its leaders chose from the beginning to equip it with armed forces. It has depended largely on armed force to back its stand on the Kashmir issue. Like every other nation, it prepares for war and trains its people for war. So how are they going to be prepared for nonviolence? And will India be any more prepared for nonviolence after it has gone through five or ten years of a military build-up to “contain” China? After an arms race? After more actual war on a larger scale perhaps?
Is it likely that any nation will go in first for a period of training in nonviolence and then in a war crisis defend itself nonviolently? Is it not likely that nonviolence will never be adopted unless some nation rises to the intellectual and moral height of making that decision precisely in a crisis when war threatens? Is it not in such circumstances that great decisions are usually made?
At the Anti-Nuclear-Arms Convention held in New Delhi in June 1962, the venerated first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, in the opening address―what in the West is called a “keynote speech”―cited unilateral disarmament as the Gandhian position and specifically challenged India as well as other nations to adopt that policy as probably the only one that would bring about disarmament and peace. He must have known a good deal at that time of the relations with the Chinese which led up to the crisis that developed only four months later. He knew all about Kashmir certainly. With the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister sitting at the long table on the dais with him, he called on India to disarm unilaterally. It was widely reported in the press.
What happened when the crisis erupted? Virtually everybody, including, alas, Dr. Prasad, forgot all about unilateral disarmament or brought up the argument on which all governments, Communist and Christian, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and China and India, in every continent agree. With one accord they testify: “It isn’t practical, especially not now!” Most Gandhians and certainly a great many Western pacifists join the chorus. How does anyone think under such circumstances that unilateral disarmament or peace is ever going to come about?
This rejection or postponement of a unilateral initiative takes place at a time when the nuclear arms race has brought mankind to the brink of disaster and when every conflict threatens to become implicated in the global power-struggle and arms race; at a time when the thought of war should be abhorred and any kind of acquiescence in it or cooperation with it rejected, certainly by all who profess faith in non-violence.
It happens, parenthetically, at a time when, to put it mildly, a very strong case can be made for the proposition that from a cold practical standpoint unilateral disarmament would be the best and safest course for India to take.
It seems agreed that China’s military capability is ten times that of India. How long is it going to take India to close the gap? Vinoba some years ago made the sharp, witty comment about Indian armament: “We possess no bombs, so we think we should at least have a principle.” If it goes in for an arms race, what will that do to the Indian economy? To its culture? Does the world need another demonstration of these things? A substantial military build-up cannot take place without U.S. aid. It is a question whether the U.S. wants to take on the commitments that an alliance would involve when it already has to dispose its forces at so many points throughout the world. If India however, wants to rely on military means, it must ultimately depend on the U.S. nuclear shield. Is that what it wants? Even if it does, that shield may not be at its disposal.
Vinoba on Nonviolence
Vinoba himself has pointed out the dilemma in which reliance on military force would involve India, in an essay recently published in an important book, Democratic Values and the Practice of Citizenship, based on an address he delivered several years ago. “If we decide for violence”, he has said, “we shall have to take either Russia or America as our guru.... It would take us at least fifty years to get any strength from them,” namely, become equal in strength, as the context indicates. “Is that what we want―that in the name of freedom, we should become either a slave or a threat to the peace of the world?” In view of such considerations, embarking on an arms race appears surely far more impractical and risky for India than unilateral disarmament might be.
As for the people not being ready for nonviolence, how do we know if they have no leadership and if the question is not even put to them? In the working session of the Anti-Nuclear-Arms Convention, when Dr Prasad’s unilateral disarmament challenge was referred to, a representative of the Indian Communist Party in the meeting said if any Indian government proposed such a policy, the people would kick it out. I asked a distinguished Indian journalist afterwards whether he agreed. He replied, “Absolutely not. If a few men like Nehru, Prasad, Radhakrishnan, Hussein, Rajagopalachari and J.P. Narayan got together and urged this course on the Indian people, they would meet a positive response from something deep in the souls of the people, as Gandhi did.” Ever since the crisis, I have had informed Indians agree with that estimate. Granted that it is morally better to resist evil than not to resist or not to protect the helpless out of apathy or cowardice. But recklessness is not courage. Waging peace, practising nonviolence (or “nonviolent assistance”, in one of Vinoba’s happy phrases) also requires courage, and admittedly of a higher order. If men can be quickly trained to fight in an emergency, what could not be accomplished if leaders undertook to provide the same resources and the same inspiration for training in nonviolent action?
In one of these earlier addresses, Vinoba called attention to the psychology of military rivalry: “Russia says America has dangerous ideas, so she has to increase her armaments. America says exactly the same thing about Russia.” The governments of India and Pakistan behave in the same way. Vinoba points out: “The image in the mirror is your own image; the sword in its hand is your own sword. And when we grasp our own sword in fear of what we see, the image in the mirror does the same. What we see in front of us is nothing but a reflection of ourselves. If India could find courage to reduce her army to the minimum, it would demonstrate to the world her moral strength.” But he adds: “We are cowards and cowards have no imagination”.
In these earlier addresses, Vinoba was extremely clear and even sharp on the point that “the Lord has so shaped the destiny of India that she must either commit herself wholeheartedly to the path of non- violence or find herself enslaved to those who are adept in violence”. Once he said, “If you believe that it is right to use violent means to achieve good ends, you must recognize that Gandhiji’s murderer also made a great sacrifice. I must tell you plainly that if we as a nation accept the idea that well-meaning people may use violence in order to put their ideas into practice, India will be broken into fragments and will lose all her strength. Violence may appear to solve one problem but another will appear in its place.”
It seems to me extraordinarily interesting that Vinoba should have suggested, when he insisted that India must freely choose one way or the other and should choose Gandhi’s way, that “it may be the Lord removed him from our midst for this very reason, so that it might no longer be the presence of his authority which would dictate the choice”. In another address, he demanded that rather than not even live up to Gandhi’s teaching and example, India should now go beyond them. He speaks of the sun as being pale in its dawning but becoming “dazzlingly brilliant” as the day progresses. “Gandhi's times were the first pale dawn of the sun of satyagraha.”
In the addresses which I am citing, Vinoba did not exclude the possibility and need of rapid and drastic change. On the contrary, he devoted an entire address to stressing the opposite. “People imagine”, he says, “that ahimsa means that we should go to work as cautiously as a man who has a boil or some other injury on his hands and wants to avoid making it ache by any sudden exertion. Let there be no painful, sudden changes we say―and so ahimsa is rendered innocuous”.
Such a conception of ahimsa, he continues, “appears to me to be very dangerous to the cause of non- violence and very convenient for the cause of violence....Therefore, it is not in the interest of non- violence to equate ahimsa with an avoidance of trouble by reducing to the minimum the rate of social change....So I beg of you not to adopt any go-slow methods in nonviolence. Apply them to violence by all means―that is all to the good!” To apply go-slow methods to nonviolence is “to turn ahimsa into a conservative force, a preserver of the status quo. The very conception of ahimsa is in danger.”
Neither does Vinoba reject the idea that shanti-sainiks must on occasion oppose the government and expose its errors. And as for the charge that he will make people discontented with the status quo, with the result that “the present satisfactory”―in the eyes of the defenders of the status quo―“state of affairs will come to an end”, the charge, namely, that he is a revolutionary, he retorts: “I accept this charge: I am certainly out to create discontent”.
It is true that in these addresses he was dealing mainly with the need of social change, especially a peaceful revolution in land ownership, but at times, as we have seen, he was dealing also with the problem of government reliance on military force. In fact, it is precisely in a talk on “Unilateral Disarmament” that he insists on the necessity and possibility of rapid and drastic changes. He refers to the fact that Rajagopalachari, of all people, some years ago insisted that a government could not say to another: “If you act up to a certain level of good conduct, then we will do the same”. A nation’s “stock of goodness cannot be increased in that way. Goodness grows of itself.” On this ground, Rajaji had suggested that the U.S. should disarm unilaterally.
Vinoba aptly comments: “But I wonder very much whether we are fit to give such advice to other countries....How much support can he get from the country to which he belongs? Do we take the position that Pakistan is not our enemy no matter what she does?...Things are getting so dark there that an ordinary lantern is not much use. Do we not need to put much more vigour into our nonviolence and give up our armed forces?”
If we truly want peace, Vinoba continues, and believe in nonviolence, then we must disarm quickly. “This task cannot wait. Our country must go ahead with nonviolence with the utmost speed.”
Can this happen when nonviolence makes headway so slowly? Can the ant overtake the eagle? “My answer is”, Vinoba declares, “that it must happen, and it must happen now, for the time has come”, because violence has run its course. He cites some of the well-known proofs of this and then asks: “How long is it possible for such stupidities in warfare to go on? Violence seems to be all-powerful at present, but in fact it is at the point of death.” The bombs and the guns, he says, will be destroyed by the very workers who made them. The huge technical and political institutions can and will quickly be immobilized and destroyed: “What happens in an earthquake? The bigger the house, the sooner it falls.”
Finally, Vinoba says, when will this change come about? His answer: “When our ways of thought are changed. When a revolution in thought takes place, a new world arises on the ruins of the old.” In one of his simple illuminating figures by which he educates peasants and maybe also the wise of this world, he adds: “When the sun rises, the same people who a few hours previously spread out their sleeping mats, get up and roll them up....So it follows that we have to work for the acceptance of new ideas―and that is exactly what I am doing.”
It is indeed not only a breach of the “thought-barrier” that is needed, as Sir Stephen King-Hall, the British naval strategist, has also suggested. The world needs a revolution in feeling, in sensitivity, in orientation, in the spirit of man. This is an age in which the world of the physicist has become one of virtually infinite possibility. In every field of research the walls are down. In the realm of human relations, however, of politics in the basic sense, no such break-through has occurred. Here the walls press in upon man. The operative phrase is “the politically possible”, which means what is possible within the existing socio-political context, the prevailing frame of thought. It would in fact be more accurate to say, “the outmoded, rapidly vanishing pre-nuclear-age context and frame of thought”. As Einstein stated it definitively a decade and a half ago: “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe”.
Obviously, no nation is in a position to pass on to another nation, no group or individual to pass on to another group or individual, the responsibility for achieving an intellectual and spiritual break-through. Least of all may anyone exonerate himself or his own people.
Having said this, I conclude by saying that I doubt if India, including the Gandhian movement, passed through their definitive crisis or whether they made their definitive decision in the autumn of 1962. The “moment of truth” is yet to come. Men and nations cannot freely choose, conjure up out of thin air, the moment when they reach the fork in the road. It comes, rather, as the ancient saying suggests, “as a thief in the night”. I find myself still looking in humility and hope to India, even in trembling to its government and its Gandhians, to provide leadership in “the break-through to peace” instead of following in the footsteps of those who have not known Gandhi. Not having decided between violence and non- violence is, as Vinoba once said, to be “in a terrible plight”, and he added, “it is in that plight that we find ourselves today”. In another talk, he stated in his characteristically penetrating fashion the challenge which the old associates and followers of Gandhi cannot escape: “Gandhi related every subject to the principle of nonviolence, so that we all carry the brand of nonviolence on our foreheads”. He made it clear that he was speaking both of those who entered government and of those who remained outside. They, any more than the rest of us, can scarcely pass on their responsibility to somebody else.