Fighting a Battle Gandhi Style

As a tradition, every October 2 nd , I would always write a little about Gandhi and all
that the man represented to me. I found myself lacking the inspiration this year.
Perhaps it was my work schedule or perhaps it was simply the controversies
emerging around Gandhi, be it his celibacy experiments, endorsement of the caste
system or his view of the original inhabitants of Africa. Heroes tend to disappoint and
therefore make heroes of no one, said a social media commentator on some of
these controversies.

 

In many ways, Gandhi is a testament to the Buddhist saying, “Emptiness is form and
form is emptiness”. His reputation and perception and his very identity has remained
flexible and fluid and I therefore find the defence of Gandhi or the offence against his
actions and words, premised on him being a fixed being. He was anything but that. A
deeply flawed man and yet his perfection lay in his acknowledgement of his
imperfectness. After all and be advised, he did not christen himself a Mahatma, we
did.

 

But I cannot also deny that this imperfect man, through his life, ideas and legacy has
left us with many worthwhile arts of battles and wars. In response to Winston
Churchil referring to him as a half-naked Fakir, Gandhi responded stating that he
was unworthy of being called a fakir, let alone a naked one which is a more difficult
task. In one swift sentence, Gandhi had made caricature of the leader of Britain
which acted as the hallmark of European resistance against Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. In
many such anectdotes from Gandhi’s life- I find useful strategies to combat day to
day situations.

 

While I will not share the specific illustrations of my applications of Gandhi’s
principles successfully to the many small and trivial battles within my family and
profession, both for reasons of privacy and to maintain the pretence of humility, I will
summarise the lesson for my readers.

 

When faced with an insult, a challenge or invitation to a fight, one has two options- a)
operate at the level of the insulter, the challenger or the fighter or b) change the
theatre of war/battle and engage at a level the insulter or the challenger or the fighter
is either unaware of or incapable of becoming aware of. The result often is a victory.
Gandhi’s Dandi march or the little exchange of words with Churchil is a classic
example. A racist bully like Churchill, could not comprehend a man who would not
get angry at his remark and instead responded with satire. Churchill was a bull
fighter. Gandhi refused to be the bull. Thus, no cow slaughter. My understanding of
Gandhian methods for day to day application can be broadly categorised into three
headings, a) Defining the desired result or victory, b) Defining one’s intentions and
motives and c) Defining strategy and approach.

 

But for this the term “victory” itself needs to be redefined in the mind of the Gandhian
fighter. When two people fight for stakes, there are three possibilities around victory
a) Securing of the stakes itself, b) Subduing the opponent even if it means losing the
stakes (a milder version of scorched earth policy) and c) securing the stakes while
subduing the opponent. If victory is understood either as b) or c), then Gandhian
strategy is not for you. But if victory is understood as option a), then Gandhian
strategy is one to consider. In other words, a Gandhian fighter is more a pragmatist
than a romantic at heart. He/She fights for a result and not to indulge the primal
instinct to beat down someone else for the purpose of feeling better.

 

That being said, Gandhian methods also requires careful introspection of motives
and intentions. If one employs passive resistance or peaceful protest, the intention or
motive cannot be that of avoidance. Even avoidance must be strategic. Retreat
today to fight tomorrow. One’s refusal to be the bull cannot be premised on the fear
of being slaughtered. Fear of being slaughtered is akin to fear of the bull fighter and
that fear itself is defeat, even if the slaughter is avoided 1 . Thus, employing a
Gandhian method where the real intention is to avoid confrontation or hardship defeats the purpose of Gandhian strategy. It might aid the cause of self preservation,
but it deals a death blow to the spirit underlining the need to engage in battle.
Gandhian method believes in triumph and not survival alone.

 

Lastly, the strategy and approach employed to pursue victory with courage is equally
important. Today’s protests, be it against Gowri Lankesh’s murder or the numerous
other instances, are spontaneous uprisings, peaceful and well intentioned no doubt,
but lacking in originality and independent thought. Many of them are results of
plagiarism, borrowing without shame, Gandhi’s own means of protest without the
need to improvise or adapt. But while challenges have evolved and character of
injustices has changed, we are still employing methods of Satyagraha employed
approximately half a century ago. Peaceful resistance must evolve to the situation it
confronts. Anything short of it fails.

 

 

When faced with an insult or challenge, always reflect on whether the response you
formulate is instinctive and spontaneous or whether it is rational, well thought and
logical. Delay the response by just a little bit to give yourself the luxury of honing
your response. I often find that the first three or response I initially conceive are
useless, but what follows can be effective. Delaying the response, reflecting on
strategy and evolving the responses fluidly helps. Sometimes, faced with an
unprecedented situation, the best thing to do is to do nothing at all.

 

 

As times change, Gandhian methods must evolve retaining essential values, but
assuming different forms and methods. Emptiness is Form and Form is emptiness
after all. Fasting may not work today, but satire and humour might. Marching through
the streets may not work today, but an onslaught of a hundred thousand letters to
the address of the erring person might just prove to be the wake up call (as the
methods Dr. Ravindranath Shanbhag from Udupi has shown). Gandhian methods,
premised on intellectual laziness and poverty of planning is doomed. The success of
Gandhian method is premised on Intellectual humility. In fact, the word “method” is
wrong, because a method is rigid. Gandhian experiments is more appropriate
because as the assumptions and variables change, the parameters of the
experiment also change. Always remind oneself that one’s approach is a hypothesis
and that hypothesis, by its very nature, is prone to and warrants improvisation.

 

We hear on every 2 nd of October, the cliched question of whether Gandhi and his
values remain relevant in today’s world. As a staunch lover of Gandhian
experiments, I feel lacking integrity when I say that Gandhi and his methods, in their
form and manifestation as documented in history may be irrelevant. Maybe Gandhi,
even as a historical role model has outlived his utility. So call the Gandhian
experiments in battle as something else.

 

But the usefulness of fundamentally altering the theatre of war, acknowledging the
unintelligence inherent in violence, resorting to unconventional strategies to throw
the enemy of their game and to win results without losing the good relations of
people cannot be disputed. To me Gandhi is relevant, but I will not fight to defend his
honour for as a pragmatist and a non romantic, my true allegiance is to his art of
battle and not to him. For through the former, I find myself honouring the latter.

1 The phobias of the world, fear of Muslims, Fear of homosexuals, fear of transgenders, etc., represent the
perpetrator’s fear of who they hate. The refugee haters don’t hate as much as they fear. Its ironical that civilised
nations with armies of might and weaponry find themselves unnerved and rattled by immigrant refugees fleeing
persecution at home.

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