Mahatma Gandhi is universally recognized as the glorious symbol of “Truth” and “Non-violence”. Is there any place for Gandhiji’s most powerful weapon, Non-Violence , in the Age of Terror? Discuss.

Topic- General Studies Paper-1; Modern Indian history, The Freedom Struggle 

  • Gandhiji sought to provide a different way to fight the British Rule-namely through Non–Violent Satyagraha. He felt that the growing generations will not be satisfied with Petitions, and Satyagraha would be the only way to stop Terrorism.
  • According to Gandhiji, ‘Means determine Ends’.He felt that unleashing violence was like letting a genie out of a bottle; once released, it was not easy to put back.
  • Revolutionaries who had learnt to settle matters using violence frequently found it hard to adapt to more peaceful means after a change of power has occurred. It was also a less democratic method.
  • Violence tended to be the method preferred by small and secretive cells who could ignore the need for mass mobilization in their political strategy. It only involved males,  with women , elderly and children having marginal roles. On the other hand, almost anyone could, by contrast, participate in Non-violent Protest. This Method encouraged Dialogue and Negotiation and did not alienate potential allies. This was far more effective force for building a Democracy.
  • Following this strategy of non-violence, Gandhiji set about organizing and leading a series of Satyagrahas in India from 1917 onwards in a way that attracted many erstwhile Radicals. Many became convinced and principled advocates of  Non-Violence.
  • He also built a mass base through what he called his ‘Constructive Programme’. It was a painstaking activity in which his followers worked at the local level, helping people in their everyday needs. In this way they gained the sympathy of the masses.
  • Despite this the tradition of  Revolutionary Nationalism survived. During the Non Cooperation  Movement of 1920-22, many revolutionaries participated in the Non-violent Campaign with enthusiasm, but once Gandhiji withdrew Civil Disobedience in 1922, they disillusioned with his leadership, reasserted with their earlier methods of targeting the British.
  • Gandhiji was left appealing to the British to make concessions to the mainstream Congress so as to marginalise the Revolutionaries. He argues at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931, that if the British did not change their attitude towards the Non-violent Congress, what he called ‘Terrorism’ would come to the fore. He noted the distrust that British had of the Congress. Although the British made certain concessions to the Congress, it was done in a grudging and half-hearted way; and the Revolutionaries were not marginalized in a way that Gandhiji had hoped. Many of them participated in the 1942 Quit India Movement, making it the most violent of Gandhiji’s major protests.
  • In the end we may say that the Indian Nationalist Movement combined both Non-violent and Violent Streams and together they worked in an uneasy symbiosis to eventually remove British Rule in 1947. By itself Revolutionary Nationalism could not have achieved this, Mass Non-violence organized by Gandhiji provided an essential element in the undermining of Imperial Rule of 3 decades.
  • The lesson from this is that Political violence associated with small secret groups is unlikely to undermine the power of a strong state such as India under both British and Independent Rule. For any profound change Mass Non-violent Mobilisation and Protest is generally essential. It requires long years of patient organization in constructive work that gains mass sympathy for a cause- the protest comes only as a culmination. This was the Gandhian Response to Political Violence.
  • Today we are in a very different political world. Terrorist Organisation are International in their reach, as we saw in Mumbai 2008 attacks. Non-violence is one country can hardly prevent such attacks. We don’t know how Gandhiji might have reacted to such a situation. However, he was always inventive in his responses- coming up with inspired new strategies in ever shifting situations. Pakistan too had its own great leaders in Non-violence- Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his influence is by no means dead today. Malala Yousafzai  of Pakistan, the youngest Noble Prize Laureate is an activist for female education and human rights advocacy. Her advocacy has grown into an International movement.
  • Powerful and enduring Non-violent Movements in both India and Pakistan with a feeling of fraternity between both would almost certainly go a long way in stopping Terrorism. At present, however, we are a long way from achieving any such outcome

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