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Use Gandhi to undermine Gandhi!

October 20, 2003 11:12 IST

Take a look at this sentence that I found in a report: '[The Morse Committee] found that specific issues were there in 'the preliminary environmental information produced by the MS University of Baroda in 1983 after its six month benchmark study.' (page 278)'

Sort of innocuous, right? What it's trying to convey is that the Morse Committee -- what that is, in a minute -- found worthwhile information in the University's study. The whole thrust of the report, in this case as well as in others, is to make you wonder: why, if the Morse Committee found such information, does it go on to be so critical? Isn't this logically inconsistent (a phrase this report actually uses to describe the Morse Committee)?

Back to all that soon.

In 1991, the World Bank-appointed Morse Committee (so-called because of the man who headed it, Bradford Morse) conducted a detailed review of the Sardar Sarovar dam project on the Narmada river, then being funded by the World Bank. The Committee's report, usually called the Morse Report or the Independent Review, was greatly critical of every aspect of the project, including environmental issues. It famously recommended that the World Bank take a 'step back' from it. In March 1993, the Bank actually stopped funding Sardar Sarovar.

Still, the Morse Report remained a vital weapon for the dam's critics. There may be no more comprehensive report on the way Indian authorities approached Sardar Sarovar, and in fact it is a commentary on their attitude towards development in general. Given that it was written on behalf of the funders of the project, not its critics, it had a definite credibility. For these reasons, one of the authorities -- the government of Gujarat -- felt it had to issue a response to Morse, answering the criticisms in the Report and chipping away at that credibility. It did just that in a 1993 book called Comment on the Report of the Independent Review Mission on Sardar Sarovar Project. (I'll call it the Comment here).

It is in the Comment that I found the sentence above. It took a quote from page 278 in the Morse Report, and uses it to make the point I touched on earlier: that if Morse found these 'specific issues,' even commented on them, why the criticism? How credible can a Report be that is like this? What logical inconsistency! Anyone who reads the Comment will, understandably, have just this reaction. Which was the Comment's intent?

But the Comment's authors seemed to have assumed its readers would not also read Morse. Not a good assumption to make. Because if you open to page 278 in Morse and go to the sentence the Comment quotes, you find that it reads like this:

Although there are a few studies or parts of studies in progress that deal with some of the specific issues, we found very little organized information apart from the preliminary environmental information produced by the MS University of Baroda in 1983 after its six month benchmark study. [Emphasis mine, and those emphasised words do not appear in the Comment].

Morse is saying, there were these preliminary studies and that's good. Why has there been no followup in the years since? The authorities have no answer to that question, because they never cared to do such followup. They never considered that a possible answer would be to get down to doing the followup. So the authorities -- the Gujarat government in this case -- were desperate to discredit Morse any way they could, to insinuate that the Report is filled with inconsistencies and illogic and just plain lies.

That's precisely what the Comment does.

And to do that, the Gujarat government chose here to extract one part of a long sentence, leave out the explicit criticism, and use that part to make the case it wants to make: that Morse is being irresponsible and unfair. Use the Morse Report itself to undermine the Morse Report! What an idea!

Believe me, this is just one of a great number of such examples in the Comment.

People ask why there is so much criticism of Sardar Sarovar. To a large extent, it comes from the kind of thing I've told you about here. Read the Comment, then read the Morse Report, and like me, you will wonder what this project is all about. You will wonder: if the authorities must resort to such deviousness, how will the project ever deliver what it promises?

Not that such deviousness is solely the preserve of dam-builders.

On October 2nd, newspapers carried an ad issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting. You know why. 'Grateful Nation Pays Homage to the Father of the Nation on his 134th Birth Anniversary,' it said, below a portrait. Yes, it was our official tribute, the annual ritual, to the man we call Mahatma.

The ad also carried this quote from Gandhi: 'I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.'

If you know anything about Gandhi, and regardless of what you think of him and his ideas, you will probably have done a double take on reading that. Gandhi, you're thinking, the 'apostle of non-violence' to the world -- and the same Gandhi wrote of resorting to arms?

Indeed he did. And to a government and an ideology that has tired of this non-violence stuff, yet knows well that Gandhi, for better or worse, is too iconic a figure to be easily denigrated -- to such a government and ideology, these lines Gandhi himself wrote must have come like manna from heaven. Use Gandhi himself to undermine Gandhi's own message! What an idea!

Not that there's anything wrong with standing up to defend our honour, or in despising cowardliness. Not that we should all automatically swallow Gandhi's lessons on non-violence, just because he is an icon to millions. No, it's just that the ministry of I&B, like the people who wrote the Comment above, seem to have assumed that we who read their ad would not have read Gandhi's writings. Not a good assumption to make. If you find Young India of August 11, 1920, you will find in it an article by Gandhi called 'The Doctrine of the Sword.' This is the article in which Gandhi wrote the sentence the ministry quotes. (Actually, you don't need to find Young India. I have appended the article in full below).

And when you locate that sentence, you find that it and the sentence immediately after read like this:

I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. [Emphasis mine, and those emphasised words do not appear in the ad].

Somehow I don't think it was lack of space that caused the ministry to omit that second sentence in their ad.

Elsewhere in the same article, Gandhi also writes: 'I want [India] to practice non-violence being conscious of her strength and power.' And: 'If India takes up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory. Then India will cease to be the pride of my heart.' And: 'Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute.'

Somehow I don't think it was lack of space that caused the ministry to ignore those sentences either.

In the article, Gandhi explains his use of non-violence as a powerful political tool, as the ultimate expression of moral strength. You are welcome to disagree with Gandhi, but that was clearly his point.

What then must one think when a ministry, a government, extracts one sentence that, taken in isolation, makes quite the opposite point? About the same thing one thinks when a government leaves out vital words from Morse to make quite the opposite point to what Morse intended.

That if you trust such governments, you do so at your own great risk.

Young India, 11-8-1920

VOL 21: 1 JULY, 1920 - 21 NOVEMBER, 1920

The Doctrine of the Sword: MK Gandhi

In this age of the rule of brute force, it is almost impossible for anyone to believe that anyone else could possibly reject the law of the final supremacy of brute force. And so I receive anonymous letters advising me that I must not interfere with the progress of non-co-operation even though popular violence may break out. Others come to me and assuming that secretly I must be plotting violence, inquire when the happy moment for declaring open violence will arrive. They assure me that the English will never yield to anything but violence secret or open. Yet others, I am informed, believe that I am the most rascally person living in India because I never give out my real intention and that they have not a shadow of a doubt that I believe in violence just as much as most people do.

Such being the hold that the doctrine of the sword has on the majority of mankind, and as success of non-co-operation depends principally on absence of violence during its pendency and as my views in this matter affect the conduct of a large number of people, I am anxious to state them as clearly as possible.

I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence. Hence it was that I took part in the Boer War, the so-called Zulu rebellion and the late War. Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness only when proceed from a helpless creature.

A mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her. I, therefore, appreciate the sentiment of those who cry out for the condign punishment of General Dyer and his like. They would tear him to pieces if they could. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature. Only I want to use India's and my strength for a better purpose.

Let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. An average Zulu is any way more than a match for an average Englishman in bodily capacity. But he flees from an English boy, because he fears the boys revolver or those who will use it for him. He fears death and is nerveless in spite of his burly figure. We in India may in a moment realize that one hundred thousand Englishmen need not frighten three hundred million human beings. A definite forgiveness would therefore mean a definite recognition of our strength. With enlightened forgiveness must come a mighty wave of strength in us, which would make it impossible for a Dyer and a Frank Johnson to heap affront upon Indias devoted head. It matters little to me that for the moment I do not drive my point home. We feel too downtrodden not to be angry and revengeful. But I must not refrain from saying that India can gain more by waiving the right of punishment. We have better work to do, a better mission to deliver to the world.

I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist. The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well. Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law to the strength of the spirit.

I have therefore ventured to place before India the ancient law of self-sacrifice. For satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-co-operation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering. The rishis, who discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence, were greater geniuses than Newton. They were themselves greater warriors than Wellington. Having themselves known the use of arms, they realized their uselessness and taught a weary world that its salvation lay not through violence but through non-violence.

Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means the putting of ones soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for that empires fall or its regeneration.

And so I am not pleading for India to practise non-violence because it is weak. I want her to practise non-violence being conscious of her strength and power. No training in arms is required for realization of her strength. We seem to need it because we seem to think that we are but a lump of flesh. I want India to recognize that she has a soul that cannot perish and that can rise triumphant above every physical weak-ness and defy the physical combination of whole world. What is the meaning of Rama, a mere human being, with his host of monkeys, pitting himself against the insolent strength of ten-headed Ravana surrounded in supposed safety by the raging waters on all sides of Lanka? Does it not mean the conquest of physical might by spiritual strength? However, being a practical man, I do not wait till India recognizes the practicability of the spiritual life in the political world. India considers herself to be powerless and paralysed before the machineguns, the tanks and the aeroplanes of the English. And she takes up non-co-operation out of her weakness. It must still serve the same purpose, namely, bring her delivery from the crushing weight of British injustice if a sufficient number of people practise it.

I isolate this non-co-operation from Sinn Feinism, for, it is so conceived as to be incapable of being offered side by side with violence. But I invite even the school of violence to give this peaceful non-co-operation a trial. It will not fail through its inherent weakness. It may fail because of poverty of response. Then will be the time for real danger. The high-souled men, who are unable to suffer national humiliation any longer, will want to vent their wrath. They will take to violence. So far as I know, they must perish without delivering themselves or their country from the wrong. If India takes up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory. Then India will cease to be pride of my heart. I am wedded to India because I owe my all to her. I believe absolutely that she has a mission for the world. She is not to copy Europe blindly. India's acceptance of the doctrine of the sword will be the hour of my trial. I hope I shall not be found wanting. My religion has no geographical Limits. If I have a living faith in it, it will transcend my love for India herself. My life is dedicated to service of India through the religion of non-violence which I believe to be the root of Hinduism. Meanwhile I urge those who distrust me, not to disturb the even working of the struggle that has just commenced, by inciting to violence in the belief that I want violence. I detest secrecy as a sin. Let them give non-violent non-co-operation a trial and they will find that I had no mental reservation whatsoever.

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Dilip D'Souza