The concept of trusteeship must be seen in the social background where new classes were emerging, where accumulation, at one pole, was becoming the Moses and Hess replacing the decentralized property of the peasantry and at another pole, socialization of property was being demanded by the expropriated. The emerging social order had the birth pangs of the old. And the old itself had not dissolved completely. In such transitory period the trusteeship was to minimise the pain of the expropriated. As such, Gandhi was not against the private property. Had he been so he would not have tired to re-establish village swaraj based on the old historic pattern where private property of the peasantry existed. He was not against the property of the peasantry having their private means of production. He was, however, definitely against the big, monopolistic property having the tendency to ever enlarge itself at the cost of peasantry and workers. Like Proudhon, therefore, he considered property to be theft and wanted to go back to the days of subsistene economy of peasantry, being close to nature as Rouseau had wished.
The praxis of ahimsa and satyagraha existed in India even in the pre-Gandhian days. The two means of resistance were an intergratd act generally known as passive resistance or, as Gandhi called it the truth-force. He acknowledged the fact that ‘‘in India, the nation at large had generally used passive resistance in all departments of life. We cease to cooperate with our rulers when they displease us’’. He gave an instance of a small principality where ‘‘the villagers were offended by some command issued by the prince. The former immediately began vacating the village. The prince became nervous, apologised to his subjects and withdrew his command’’.
Gandhi’s contribution to this twin methods of resistance was one of coordinating these disjointed and widely scattered acts at national level, channelising it politically and making the people use this power against the British in organized way.
Technically, there is a difference between non-violence and satyagraha. Satyagraha is essentially the realization of truth. This can be achieved either through non-violence or violence. In European society this has been done through violence. In India, however, this has been realized through non-violence. Therefore, non-violence and satyagrah have been an integrated act in India. Passive resistance, as it is called in the English language, has been imbued with certain characteristics. A practitioner has ‘‘to observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth and cultivate fearlessness. But above all it is to secure rights by personal sufferings’’. The method adopted by Indians to fight injustice, has been the subject of debate in context method adopted by Indians to fight injustice, has been the subject of debate in context of their feasibility and superiority vis-a-vis European civilizaion. Gandhi argued in favour of Indian methods and considered them feasible and superior to the methods of violence and others suffering adopted by the Europeans in their quest for justice. The methods, however, adopted by societies to fight injustice in a given period must be seen in the context of their histories and contemporary nature of masses rather than in abstraction or in acts of will. In Indian history, in major span and geographical parts, as argued earlier, violence has rarely been the dominant method of fighting injustice within / without a village either against local caste / economic oppression or against the state-power. The common method, on the contrary, was to leave the villages and settle down somewhere else. Both Marx and Gandhi acknowledge this fact in their writings, as described earlier. One of the reasons for this may be the availability of vast fertile lands, good quality animals, forests and rivers, etc. which provided the villagers an aternative for their livelihood in history, without much labour. Another reason may be the existence of two parallel administrations ; one within a village having multi-graded caste structure and panchayat and another outside a village, at state level consisting of hierarchical, political and administrative personnel with loose chain of command flowing from top to bottom. The existence of two parallel administrations and their low level of interactions between them in which the latter was superior might have helped issues to remain localised preventing them from taking a general social form. In fragmented, decentralized power-structure, where economy was local and subsistence, it might have become difficult for the people to channelise their energy, frustration and anger in an organized way against a distant state-power and the energy and anger might have got dissipated at a local level without much concreate results. This might have been one of the reasons that checked violence as a method of dominant social protest in Indian history. This is however not to deny that there was no individual or social violence at all. This is only to say that violence was not the dominant method of protest. Even at individual level within households the dominant method of protest was not to eat one's meals or not to cooperate in the works assigned to an individual. And in cases of disputes the virdict of panchayat or elders was final. The basis of non-violence, thus as practised and preached by Gandhi, had its historical roots from which Indian society of his time was still linked with.
Apart from history there was equally another important factor which checked Gandhi from adopting and propagating violent method to counter the British state in particular. This factor was technological, economic and military supremacy of the British colonial state of which Gandhi was aware of. He knew that British state cannot be countered with military power at this stage. The Indian peasantry had neither the resources nor the mind-set for this. Even if, somehow, the force would have been generated it would have been difficult for them to match the British. And once crushed, it would have been difficult to bring peasantry out of inertia as they were in at that time. That would have proved counter-productive. For violence at social scale, contrary to individual violence, ‘‘is not a simple act of will, but needs for its realization certain very concrete preliminary conditions, and in particular the implements of violence ; and the more highly developed of these implements will carry the day against primitive ones’’. Indians were placed in such conditions vis-a-vis British state. Therefore, the only alternative method left was to adopt non-violence and non-cooperation that suited the genius of Indian masses of that time. Gandhi’s philosophy reflected pre-capitalist, idealised peasant base. With this base altered irrevocably in the last fifty years with the expansion of capitalism, Gandhi’s philosophy and its cultural manifestations could not sustain for long.
Epistemology in abstraction, without ontological base, as part of academic pleasure has no social acceptance. Therefore, repeated exhortations to follow Gandhi and to prove his relevance falls on deaf ears. Post-modernists, executive trainees of multinational companies, deconstructionists, environmen-talists all find, in Gandhi sustenance of their arguments. For example, to environmentalists any act of peasantry, like bund-making to store rain water for irrigation, arising out of their socio-agricultural requirements are perceived as Gandhian. To multinational trainee executives Gandhi was simple, plain-speaking, punctual and good manager of time. And to deconstructionists, Gandhi was a fellow compatriot fighting to deconstruct the society of his time for reestablishing Ramrajya. However, these diverse, dissatisfied professionals in their zest for searching alternatives to the contemporary systems in which they operate have turned Gandhi upside down. The trainee executives forget that in Ramrajya there is no scope for multinational companies and therefore, their very existence shall come to an end. Moreover, Gandhi’s characteristics so liked by them were conscious imitation of the traditional peasants who were uprooted by capitalism now represented by the MNCs. The environmentalists, similarly, fail to take into account the fact that it was Gandhi who consciously learnt to be peasant. The peasantry have been existing independent of Gandhi. Their indigenous rural work, using local resources and technology have been an integral part of their existence for centuries which has nothing to do with Gandhian. Frugal life, inalienable work culture, closer bond with nature, etc., are part of traditional peasant life which is endowed with low productivity and consequently with material scarcity. In such social milieu calling a peasant Gandhian by the environmentalists shall turn Gandhi in his grave. For the deconstructionists constructing an oceanic circle of such traditional villages with precapitalist peasant base shall be like rewriting Greek mythology.
Gandhi’s relevance laid in the traditional peasant base. With the base no longer remaining he shrunk to a historical figure to be romanticised from a distance with insignificant social application. And his ‘followers’, like Kabir-panthis, have been reduced to a sect playing the role of bards.
Notes and References
1.One of the brilliant analyses of Gandhi is
by Partha Chatterjee (Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World : A Derivative Discourse, Oxford, Delhi, 1996). Others like Bhikhu Parekh, Thomas Pantham, Ashis Nandy, Zudith Brown, Raghavan lyer, etc., have provided interesting epistemological constructs ; but their arguments on the contemporary relevance of Gandhi are inadequate. They fail to take into account the changing ontological base of Gandhian philosophy.
2.Marx quotes an official report of the British
House of Commons which concurs with this theme and with which he himself agreed. See K Marx and F Engels. On Colonialism, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978, pp. 39-40.
3.See Yogendra Singh, Modernisation of Indian Tradition. Thompson Press, Delhi, 1973.
4.For the economic role of upper caste Hindus and Muslims at village level, see Dharma Kumar (ed.) The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol.II, 1757, 1970, Cambridge University Press, 1984, p. 39.
5.Quoted in Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, Oxford University Press New Delhi, 1986, p. 363.
6.In the Hind Swaraj (Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1990, p. 87.) Gandhi wrties, ‘‘we hold the civilization that you support to be reverse of civilization. We consider our civilization to be far superior to yours.’’
7.See D D Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History, Popular Book Depot, Bombay, 1956, p. 326.
8.For the role of market forces in rural India. See Sanjay Subrahmanyam (ed.) Merchants, Markets and the State in Early Modern India, Delhi, 1990, Chaps. VII, VIII.
9.M K Gandhi, Village Industries, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1990, p. 26.
10.Abbe J A Dubois, quoted in M K Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, op. cit., pp. 95-96.
11.The social evils like sati, pardah, etc., were prevalent mainly among the women of upper castes. Intermediary, lower castes women were generally free from such deeds. See M N Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1966.
12.M K Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, op. cit., p. 78.
13.M G Gandhi, Bread Labour : The Gospel of Works, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1984, p.6.
14.Quoted in M K Gandhi, Trusteeship, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1990, p. 4.
15.Ibid, pp. 7-27.
16.J J Rousseau, The Social Contract, Penguin, 1988.
17.M K Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, op. cit., p. 74.
19.Ibid., p. 75.
20.For the importance of ascetic austerity in public life, see F. Engels, The Peasant War in Germary, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp. 63-64.
21.F Engles, quoted in Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, p. 50.