Monday, February 27, 2006


Gaurav has an interesting post, where he raises the point that those pro-Gandhians who criticize Bhagat Singh's methods, should take note that Bhagat Singh and his followers went on a non-violent satyagraha in the form of a hunger strike when they were in jail. While this makes a case for saying something about Bhagat Singh's true philosophy, I think it also demonstrates his diplomacy.

I have always believed that methods to fight oppression cannot always be divided into cut and dried shades of white and black, but they have instead to be adapted for the times. I for one, even being a professed pacifist at heart, believe that it is difficult to conform to one universal philosophy that will hold for all time against bigots and rulers. While non-violence is definitely a potent weapon against imperialism and the suppresion of freedom, it cannot always be so. In the last century, we have seen so many examples where non-violence and peaceful methods failed to bring about revolution. The Jews went to the gas chambers in peace. The French went down before the Germans in peace. The British were wiser, and as much as Neville Chamberlain touted the virtues of the facade of 'peace with honour' that he believed he had negotiated with Hitler, it took a Winston Churchill to rouse the nation into rightfully answering a blow with a blow. The British were absolutely right in fighting tooth and nail against the Nazi menace, their carpet bombing tactics of Dresden notwithstanding. It's quite clear many times- peace is simply not the prudent way to go.

From what I know, Bhagat Singh was not only a great patriot, but also a very intelligent and perceptive man. He probably knew for sure when he went to jail, that he and his friends would be hanged, all of them. He wanted to make his message heard by as many people as possible. An armed revolution would definitely have given him enormous public support, but he and his compatriots would almost certainly have been killed in the conflict; in fact, it would have given the British a lucrative chance of killing everyone in an 'encounter' right away. At that point, I believe that what he urged his companions to engage in was the most effective measure, an act that would maximize the potential for making his message known. A hunger strike by its very nature is a war of attrition. It takes its own time and so gradually pervades the mind of the entire country through various information channels. It creates considerable problems for your tormentors, because they cannot kill you outright, and at the same time have to try to suppress the strike. I think that the real virtue of non-violence is that it brings about a protracted conflict which goes on for a long time. Bhagat Singh probably knew this. Gandhiji knew it even better. Bhagat Singh knew that if he and his friends went on a hunger strike, it would give them the most time to rally the psyche of the nation. And it did. A quick attempt at uprising may have led to a quick death. On the other hand, a hunger strike makes people constantly aware of the fact that every moment, there are souls inside a prison who are getting tortured, who are febrile and in a horrible physical and mental state of mind, but who are still not yielding. It creates an ever present atmosphere of harrowing discomfort. And that's precisely what I think Bhagat Singh understood; and that precisely was what I think was Gandhiji's philosophy.

The politics of attrition, that is what I think non-violence was. At that time, it served as a sterling weapon of dissent and helped to get us freedom. I enormously respect Gandhiji, and at the same time agree that he was flawed. But I also think that he was even more of a social thinker than a patriot, and knew exactly what would drive the British to chagrin and at what time. So was Bhagat Singh. That he seemed to adopt Gandhiji's philosophy in jail was not so much a reversal of his belief system as a conscious decision taken after rational thought. When he was out of jail, he thought that armed revolution was the right way to bring us independence. He was anything but a belligerent war monger. Once he was in jail, he knew what the right tactics were, and he never hesitated to use them. I personally don't think that Bhagat Singh was completely polarised against Gandhiji's philosophy. But firstly, as a matter of social and psychological impact, when you are a leader, you cannot appear as if you are in two minds, especially in times of crisis. Sometimes, even if you believe in another philosophy, you have to unilaterally preach one philosophy to pound its principles in people's minds. Secondly, just like most of us, he simply believed more in one principle than another. That he could mould his principles as and when the situation necessitated it if anything shows a remarkable sense of politics, diplomacy, and foresight. And of course, patriotism and bravery. To me, Bhagat Singh and Gandhiji will always be beacons shining from the same lighthouse, disparate as their philosophies may appear.


Anonymous Chetan said...

I look at this issue as the classic means versus ends controversy. For Gandhiji, means were equally or even more important than the ends. So despite knowing that probably continuing with the civil disobedience movement was the best option looking at the ends, he discontinued it after the Chaurichaura incident where 22 policemen were killed.

This incidentally was also the moment when Bhagat Singh who till then admired Gandhi turned against him. He being a pragmatist (and also someone as you point out who chose philosophies/ideologies that suited the situation) thought that Gandhi made a huge mistake then. For Bhagat Singh the ends were far more important while the morally ambigious means could be easily rationalised while focusing on the ends.

Personally in the long run I believe that the means do matter as much as the ends. We revere Trotsky more than Stalin, Martin Luther King more than Malcomm X, Narayanmurthy more than Ambani and Gandhi more than Bhagat Singh.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

You are right; the means do matter as much as the end. But where do we draw the line and judge a man who is using the means to bring about the end, and one who has become obsessed with the means? In the case of Gandhi, it's hard to pass a judgement, because his means definitely did bring us freedom. But that's also what he is criticised for by many; a man who fell in love with his means. Since we don't have access to alternative histories, I think it's always very difficult to think about such events and periods and reach a conclusion. I don't think the last word can ever be said about this.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Kapilmuni said...

And what, if any, is the point of the whole discussion?

Apotheosis is a dangerous game we Indians are very wont to play. We deify our great men and then sacrifice objectivity and facts at their altars.

Gandhi, Shivaji, Ambedkar - they have all met with the same fate. I await the day when we will be secire and confident enough in our present to look objectively at our past.

BTW Ashu, what is this silly word verification thing you force us to do!

1:15 AM  
Blogger Kapilmuni said...

So your President is visiting our country. Any comments?

RYC: Who the hell will want to spam your blog with comments! Get rid of that nuisance dude!

12:22 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home