7. Gandhian non-violence

 

         One point where the BJP seems to be decidedly un-Gandhian is defence policy.  Whereas Gandhi had advocated a strictly non-violent strategy including an unarmed defence against the impending Japanese invasion, the BJP advocates a strong defence capability including weapons of mass destruction.  Yet, even here the BJP is more Gandhian than one would expect.

 

         The famous quotation of Mahatma Gandhi on Hindu cowards and Muslim bullies deserves to be read in full: "There is no doubt in my mind that in the majority of quarrels the Hindus come out second best.  But my own experience confirms the opinion that the Mussalman as a rule is a bully, and the Hindu as a rule is a coward.  I have noticed this in railway trains, on public roads, and in the quar­rels which I had the privilege of settling.  Need the Hindu blame the Mussalman for his cowardice?  Where there are cowards, there will always be bullies.  They say that in Saharan­pur the Mussal­mans looted houses, broke open safes and, in one case, a Hindu woman's modesty was outraged.  Whose fault was this?  Mussalmans can offer no defence for the execrable conduct, it is true.  But I, as a Hindu, am more ashamed of Hindu cowardice than I am angry at the Mussalman bullying.  Why did not the owners of the houses looted die in the attempt to defend their possessions?  Where were the relatives of the outraged sister at the time of the outrage?  Have they no account to render of themselves?  My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected.  Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice."[1]

 

         Gandhi declares that the owners of the looted houses ought to have chosen to "die in the attempt to defend their possessions".  But why should the lawful owner die, in punishment of what crime?  If anyone has to die at all, would it not be more fair, more just, to let the aggressor die rather than his victim?  Justice does not figure in Gandhi's calculus of non-violence at all.  People should innocently die as some kind of moral gesture rather than inflict a just punishment on the aggressor: a morbid kind of personal asceticism eclipses any socially responsible concern for public justice.  Or does Gandhi mean that people should expose themselves to the risk of dying by fighting the aggressor rather than flee?  While Gandhi did make many morbid and ridiculous statements about the virtue of getting killed (e.g. about the cows willingly offering themselves to the tiger until the tiger gets tired of beef and turns vegetarian), here he says: "I prefer violence to cowardice."  Gandhi is ashamed that Hindus failed to put up an effective self-defence, and wants them to do better next time.

 

         Here, for once, Gandhi seems to link up with a whole tradition of mature think­ers who have taken a propor­tionalist view of the acceptability of violence: in cases where force can reasonably be expected to make the difference (not when the situation is hopeless, as poin­ted out by Thomas Aquinas in his theory of "just war"), it is lawful to use force to ward off aggression.  In its own view of itself, the RSS has precisely taken up the challenge formulated here by Gandhi: "Need the Hindu blame the Mussalman for his own cowardice?"  Gandhi calls on Hindus not to be cowards in the face of Muslim bullies.  In response, the RSS claims it builds martial qualities and equips its workers with the strength to face bullies.  There is nothing un-Gandhian about RSS martial arts practice.  Even the Shiv Sena, the Mumbai Mafia which organized the defence of the Hindus when the Muslims were starting a pogrom in January 1993 could claim to have done Gandhi's bidding (and then overdone it a bit; but Gandhi too used to overdo things).

 

         But then there is the other, unrealistic face of Gandhi, the morbid face of "when slapped, turn the other cheek".  Even in this extremist view of non-violence, the RSS is often a follower of Gandhi.  During the Khalistani separatist struggle in Panjab (1981-93), hundreds of RSS and BJP men were killed by the Khalistanis, yet this did not provoke a single act of retalia­tion.  When in ca. 1990, and again in 1996, Communist militants started killing RSS men in Kerala, the RSS was very slow to react in kind.  The Islamic bomb attacks on Sangh centres in Chennai and elsewhere, the murders of BJP politicians in UP, Mumbai and elsewhere, they all have not provoked any counter-attacks.  Anti-Hindu governments in Bihar and West Bengal have achieved some success in preventing the growth of sizable RSS chapters by means of ruthless intimidation and violence, all without having to fear any RSS retaliation. 

 

         The RSS often celebrates its "martyrs", which it calls "shahid", unmindful of the fact that this is a strictly Islamic term.[2]  The word shahid is related to shahada ("witnessing", viz. to the two truth claims of the Islamic creed: there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet), and means "a witness [to the Islamic faith]", i.e. one who has fallen during Islam's war against the unbelievers.  To use this term for an unbeliever killed by the believers is an insult to both sides.  Honouring those who died for the cause is fine, but the thing to note is that the RSS never honours those who killed for the cause.  Muslims at least honour the kafir-killer (ghazi) along with the martyr (shahid), but the Sangh follows Gandhi in choosing to extol dying rather than killing for the cause. 

 

         Is this, then, a plea for more violence?  Should the RSS start to live up to its mediatic image of "the world's largest private militia"?  Should it drop its stick-fighting gymnastics and move on to more realistic training with AK-47s?  That is the plea which I sometimes hear from younger Hindutva activists.  Frustrated by the leadership's appeasement policies, they want action, they want to "teach them a lesson" (i.e. to the Muslims).  It has been done before: during Partition, Sangh workers were quite active in taking revenge on Muslims inside India (as eyewitnesses have told me), doing some bullying of their own, though I am not aware of similar martial RSS feats in the territory allotted to Pakistan.[3]  At any rate, the use of force seems to be the only alternative they can imagine for the confused and weak-kneed policies of the present leadership.

 

         Now that Hindus have practically disappeared from Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the future most Hindu-Muslim killing will take place in India, where Hindus are in a good position to kill a great many Muslims.  Of course, the time is near when the quality of Muslim armament will catch up with its already large quantity (to divulge a police public-secret tabooed in secularist publications on riots), and Muslim "revenge" operations of the Mumbai explosions (12 March 1993) type can become a routine affair.  Still, in the next few decades the non-Muslim army and police will remain a decisive factor blocking the way to a definitive defeat of Hindus by Muslims in India, though they may remain unable (mostly because their hands are tied by politicians) to stamp out anti-Hindu and anti-Indian terrorism and armed separatism.  Given this configuration of forces, I certainly take the possibility into account that Hindu militant groups may develop, which will try to settle newly arising communal confrontations by means of "direct action", probably starting with the Kashmir-type situation which is developing in the northeast.  I think it is in Hindu society's interest to avert such a development by means of ideological warfare. 

 

         If Hindus want to win the life-and-death struggle with Islam, they will have to do it in a Hindu, not in an Islamic way.  Some Hindutva activists quote with approving bluster Veer Savarkar's dictum that for every Hindu woman dishonoured by Muslims, a Muslim woman (if not a dozen Muslim women) should be given the same treatment; and that such retaliation would quickly teach the Muslims to behave.  I am told that to this view of Savarkar's, Swami Karpatri, that genuine Hindu fundamentalist if ever there was one, has replied that defending Hinduism against Islam makes little sense if it means interiorizing Islamic attitudes: "When a dog has bitten you, does it mean that you have to bite back?"  Perhaps giving tit for that creates a good feeling at the time of the act, but a movement which wants to be the vanguard of Hindu civilization has to aim higher than that.

 

         The Hindu value of ahimsa, so prominently praised as the "highest dharma" in the Mahabharata, is not the same thing as passive masochism, whatever Gandhi may have read into it.  Even so, ahimsa does imply a restraint on the use of violence.  Force is sometimes necessary, as Krishna explains to Arjuna, but it should not be resorted to lightly.  Indeed, Krishna and the Pandavas exhaust all possibilities of compromise before they resolve to do battle.  The use of force may not be altogether avoidable in the face of multiple aggression against India and Hinduism, but to rely on force as a matter of long-term strategy to save India from its enemies would be contrary to Hindu ethics.  It would also be very unwise.

 

         Partly due to Gandhi's lingering influence, Hindus tend to overreact to the shiver in their own eye, all while justifying or at least ignoring the beam in their enemy's eye.  The mass killing of Hindus in East Bengal in 1971 and the constant petty terrorizing of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh to chase them out have not moved Hindus in India to retaliate in any way; they never even talk about it.  By contrast, a single murder by a Hindu, that of Gandhi himself, was enough to throw the Hindutva movement off course for decades.  There is no dearth of Hindu soft-brains who feel guilty for the Ayodhya demolition, and who preach that Hindus should make amends for it.  A large-scale killing or forcible expulsion of Muslims will expose Hindu society to the ferocious indignation of the Muslim as well as the non-Muslim world, and experience shows that the Hindus have no stomach for that.  So, apart from being bad publicity, any major act of violence may also help to paralyze a Hindu revival. 

 

            Leaving apart the influence of Gandhism, there are also honourable and purely Hindu reasons for feeling uncomfortable with violent victories, viz. when violence was a wasteful and unnecessary method resorted to out of being too lazy to try more subtle ways.  As we shall demonstrate in the last chapters, there is an excellent alternative.  Gandhi's ahimsa failed because he did not wage the ideological struggle (except to some extent against the British, with whom he also succeeded to an extent).  He could have thrown the Muslim League on the defensive if he had exposed the Islamic ideology behind the League's separatism.  He refused to do that, and if the Sangh continues to follow in his footsteps on this issue, it will meet the same defeat.  Whether by Gandhian appeasement or occasional bursts of jihad-type violence, the Sangh is bound to lose the struggle against Islam.  Its only chance lies in the ideological struggle, the royal highway to Ram Rajya.    

 


 

           [1]  "Hindu-Muslim Tension: Its Cause and Cure", Young India, 29/5/1924; reproduced in M.K. Gandhi: The Hindu-Muslim Unity, p.35-36.

           [2]  Unlike the day-to-day politicians in the BJP, the more clerical Sangh spokesmen in the VHP do use proper Hindi, like hutatma or atmabalidan instead of shahid.  Though terminology is not important in itself, it is a good indicator of the speaker's level of understanding.

           [3]  I assume that if the RSS had accomplished anything during the Hindu flight from Pakistan, it would have devoted a publication to celebrating its heroes and martyrs there.

 

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