Readers Write In #413: Why Gandhi?

Posted on October 5, 2021


(by G Waugh)

The United States of America dropped two powerful bombs – one at Hiroshima and one at Nagasaki in August 1945. They were the first nuclear bombs in the world to be dropped upon human beings and Japan, as a result was forced to surrender instantly. Newspapers all over the world hailed the victory of the US as the victory of liberalism over Fascism.

A similar incident happened in Berlin. The Soviets surrounded the capital of Nazi Germany and the greatest dictator of the last century shot himself in the head as a quick way to instant death. Soviet newspapers and left-wing journals all over the world celebrated the victory as the rightful victory of socialism over Fascism.

The world it was believed, which had hitherto been corrupted by the disease of Fascism had been set right once again and, as a symbol of victory of civilization over barbarism, the United Nations Organizationwas born in 1945 with the blessings of ‘freedom-loving’ countries. The pestilence of Fascism which was born a couple of decades ago in a small country as Italy that massacred innocent people, stole their possessions, tore their families apart and brought unimaginable economic ruin had finally, to everyone’s relief been completely exterminated. The world as a result, was once again restored to operate on principles of justice, love and freedom from which it had deviated for only a minor unfortunate interval.

This was, if anything the only universally accepted belief of the last century. People who had hitherto been instructed or trained to look at history and their contemporary lives through the prisms of morality and justice felt their beliefs and judgments vindicated at the defeat of Fascism. Everyone believed that the end of Fascism was quite preordained and when it happened finally, the victory achieved by the side that had held the higher moral ground was sufficient proof to validate their long-held convictions.

But can any one of us spot the flaw in this widely shared argument? If the pandemic of Fascism had successfully been eradicated once and for all from the face of the Earth at the end of the Second World War, how come did it revive itself to haunt masses of quite different nationalities in say Sri Lanka, until very recently? How come Fascists of quite different shades loom all over Islamic countries today under banners of militant organizations and continue to present a formidable threat to international peace and stability? Why is the infallible moral compass of the world suddenly nowhere to be found?

To answer this question, a minor rewind of last century’s aforementioned historical events may be necessary. When Fascist Japan was subjected to a nuclear attack by the liberal United States and when the former surrendered, wasn’t it in real terms, a victory for the most developed weapons of the world made by America over lesser ones used by Japan? Going by the same logic, wasn’t Soviet victory over Nazi Germany nothing more than a victory of the former’s superior military tactics and commitment to fight rather than a historically predetermined victory of the Good over the Bad?

While we study the historic clashes of the last century through this angle, why is it difficult to find at least a semblance of the influence of conflicting ideologies that were actually supposed to be driving and dictating them? If the ‘Enlightenment’ values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity inherently bore the potential to vanquish threats arising in the form of Fascism, why was a nuclear bomb needed in the first place, to demonstrate it? Isn’t this supposed to be, according to liberals and Marxists purely a war between ideologies that vie against one another on account of their assumed ‘inherent’ supremacy?

This paradox can be explained away only if one is ready to free himself at least for a while from his straitjacket of ideology. When one allows himself to ponder over this, a little bit of Gandhi might also come in handy. Gandhi’s stress on ‘means over ends’ in our struggle for independence acquires new meaning in this context. Gandhi’s emphasis on non-violence and appeal to the finer instincts of the enemy is not some empty religious gospel when one examines the rock-solid logic underpinning it.

Gandhi believed strongly in the idea of making the enemy see his ‘fault’ and a change of mind that is triggered by a prickling conscience is what he considered essentially as his moral victory. This is why he kept stressing the unquestionable importance of ‘showing the other cheek’. If the enemy is somehow made to realize his folly and is fully convinced of the injustice of his behaviour, he could be, according to Gandhi trusted never to repeat his act again.

This approach borrowed heavily from the religious tenets of Christianity and applied by Gandhi to his political work at a national level, single-handedly lent an undeniable moral legitimacy to his struggle. When the British police employed violent methods to suppress Gandhi’s movement led by hundreds of harmless Satyagrahis peacefully voicing their legitimate demands, international opinion massively tilted in his favour. Millions of foreigners including British commoners were compelled to acknowledge the injustice meted out to hordes of enslaved, hapless Indians.

If the masses in India as well as abroad were made to successfully recognize and accept the fundamental flaw underlying the English argument for their political hegemony over India and other colonial states, Gandhi believed that he had won handsomely. He wanted his struggle to be purely ideological and based on the irrefutable logic of his argument. Only when the masses were fully convinced of the validity of his argument and the moral superiority of his position over that of the enemy, Gandhi believed that a proper struggle for freedom could actually take place. This was why he was bent on winning popular opinion and called for masses on an unprecedented scale to join the freedom struggle. This approach was solely responsible for converting the Indian National Congress from a closed clique of well-meaning, subservient Indians to the British into an aggressive, nationwide movement run by millions of divergent working people.

Even before all of us saw the ideological vacuity of wars and armed struggles, Gandhi’s principles derived from Jesus Christ, Tolstoy and Thoreau helped him define and theorize it. Gandhi’s belief in the primacy of struggles between ideas over those between weapons laid the theoretical foundation for healthy debates and democratic discussions in post-Independence India while strongly attracting the minds of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King in other countries.

Had Gandhi’s method of educating the masses, sensitizing them on the issues of Fascism been carried out on a larger scale all over the world instead of inculcating a dogmatic aversion to it among masses to derive short-term military victories, Fascism would have found it harder to rear its ugly head in today’s world of biological and chemical weapons. The excessive reliance of political movements on disciplining and regimenting their cadre rather than educating and enlightening them on contrarian viewpoints is one of the reasons why mankind is being condemned to face and combat the threat of Fascism at least once in every successive century.