Saturday, Oct 01, 2022

A goal they cannot disrupt

Autonomy as the writers portray....


At all times,persons who fight for a cause are impatient to see the cause prevail. That impatience in a sense testifies to their commitment — that is the one thing they want,that their cause be realised; that it be realised here and now. But every change takes time — the deeper the change we want to affect,the longer it will take. For a long while,it seems as if all the effort that is being put in is having no effect at all. But,as Vinoba says,“The work that appears unsuccessful,after all only appears unsuccessful. The first few strikes for breaking a stone do seem to be useless and ineffective. But they do have their effect.”

Working with Ramnath Goenka taught us that just as setbacks would fall upon us from absolutely unanticipated quarters,help would arrive from quarters just as unexpected. Ramnathji has constructed a building which even to us seems to be in violation of a slew of regulations. Mrs Gandhi has moved to take possession of it in retaliation for what we are doing in the paper. I get a call. The person says that he used to be an officer in the land and development office,though several years ago. He asks us to locate a circular that was issued fifteen years earlier and has since been forgotten. “That will help you,” he says over the phone. But can’t you help us get it? No,I don’t have access to it,he says. But go to X in Chandni Chowk. He has been collecting circulars for years. That is all he does. He may have it. Gurumurthy and Kohli Sahib,who used to manage the press,rush to the person. Lo and behold! In that man’s piles and piles of papers,the circular turns up…

“I have won,” Ramnathji shouts — though the circular deals only with a trifling detail,he insists he has won. “But how? How?” we want to know. “I now have an inch to put my toe,” Ramnathji answers.

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That was a vital thing we learnt from him: When you seem to have lost everything,look for a toehold; when you think you have won a great victory,look deep inside it for the tiniest virus you are sure to find in it,that,if left alive,will fell you in time…

“Every good movement,” Gandhiji writes in Young India,“passes through five stages: indifference,ridicule,abuse,repression,and respect. We had indifference for a few months. Then the viceroy graciously laughed at it. Abuse,including misrepresentation,has been the order of the day. The provincial governors and the anti-non-cooperation press have heaped as much abuse upon the movement as they have been able to. Now comes repression,at present yet in its fairly mild form. Every movement that survives repression,mild or severe,invariably commands respect which is another name for success. This repression,if we are true,may be treated as a sure sign of the approaching victory. But,if we are true,we shall neither be cowed down nor angrily retaliate and be violent. Violence is suicide. Let us recognise that power dies hard,and that it is but natural for the government to make a final effort for life even though it be through repression. Complete self-restraint at the present critical moment is the speediest way to success.”

We have to substitute just a word or two,and Gandhiji’s forecast applies to the issues we take up: for instance,the sequence applies not just to issues that we take vis a vis governments; it applies equally to issues we take up in regard to any and all figures of authority — the controllers of a church or a cult,the controllers of political parties… Similarly,it isn’t just violence that is suicide. Exaggeration is. Untruth is — Gandhiji would,of course,see both exaggeration and violence as aspects of untruth.


Hence,patience. And perseverance. If our cause is just,we will be vindicated by time — either the correctives we have prescribed will be adopted or the consequences of not adopting those correctives will befall the organisation and its controllers. If we have been wrong all along,and our forecasts and warnings do not come true,the sequence will teach us humility.


A lesson in that last paragraph. For all too often,we get discouraged because we define “success” too narrowly. We champion a cause; we make a demand. If that cause does not prevail,if that demand is not conceded,we think the campaign or movement has failed. The traducers certainly proclaim as much. But recall the example of Champaran that was cited in the previous part of this series. The matter would have ended at once had the British constituted the committee they eventually had to. By not conceding the request,the British proved the point.

More than anything else,a movement,a campaign,succeeds by inducing the rulers and controllers to bare their fangs,so to say. By proclaiming the Emergency,by throwing the whole of the opposition in jail,Mrs Indira Gandhi proved the point conclusively — to an extent that no amount of reasoning by even a saintly person like JP could have done. Similarly,consider absolutely any organisation today in which authority flows from top downwards — an elected religious body,say the SGPC; a non-elected religious mutt; a trade union; a family business; a political party. A member makes a simple request: we should find out how the money that is collected is spent; we should find out why so few are joining our organisation these days; we should find out why our market share is falling… It is a simple request. The result of the inquiry can be vital to the continued survival of the organisation. But to the controllers and mathadheeshes,it looms as a challenge,and affront. To them,the request for an inquiry is not about strengthening the organisation in the future. It is a witch-hunt,a ploy to fix responsibility for the way the organisation has been run under their aegis. “How can the organisation run if such insolence is allowed to stand?’ they reason. So,they come down on the person who asked for the study — “Indiscipline”,“disloyalty”,“He is just being clever. His aim is something else”. When they move to squash the proposal by invoking such pejoratives,they prove that they know that what they have been doing will not withstand inquiry and discourse. When they move to crush or banish the one who made the request,they prove that they want not discipline but servility. 


When they succeed in squashing the ones who were asking for something just,the controllers and rulers come to believe that their modus operandi has been clever,even brilliant; that this is the way to deal with these trouble-makers: the ailment therefore remains uncorrected,it swells. On the other side,as the controllers,having “successfully crushed the trouble-makers,” deploy the same heavy-hand against more and more persons,they invite the consequences that the few original “dissenters” could never have brought about. Had the issue not been joined,had the crisis not erupted,people at large would not have come to know the real character of the rulers and controllers. The sequence unveils what reasoning could not have. The very “success” they celebrate prepares the way for eventual failure: the controllers seek to divide the “dissenters” by proffering a post or two to some of them; they “succeed” as some of them jump at the posts; but all that has happened is that the controllers have further debased norms,they have further corroded the character of the organisation,they have made accepting lollipops even more customary; the opportunists jump to their side today,but they will jump with equal alacrity to their rival tomorrow when he offers them the next allurement.

The real insulator

Often a writer is lucky enough to see his work have consequences,sometimes even under the most forbidding circumstances. As Solzhenitsyn said,and showed by his life and pen,a shout in the mountains has been known to start an avalanche. Often he works reposing faith in what Ram Swarup called “the seed value of ideas” — one never knows,he would counsel,which idea may take root in whose mind and be thus carried forward. Sometimes the writer testifies to the state of affairs not by what he is able to do to his society or state,but by what is done by them to him:

… Unko sholon ke rajaz apna pata to denge…Door kitni hai abhi subhe,bata to denge…

But every goal,howsoever noble,makes us dependent on others,and,therefore,as the Gita teaches,vulnerable. It also unsteadies the hand,and thereby makes us less effective.

Gandhiji’s copious writings and speeches,even more than Gandhiji’s life,translates this general teaching into a series of operational rules. Two of them will illustrate the point.


A young man writes to Gandhiji. You are my idol. I want to serve the country. I am prepared to sacrifice everything. Please guide me… Gandhiji responds in his typical way. Who am I to guide? There is God to guide both of us… But as one who has traversed this path,and as one who is older than you,allow me to offer you one thing I have learnt from experience. I have seen many young men and women sacrifice their assets; I have seen them sacrifice their families; I have known them to sacrifice even their lives in service of our country and in the end be consumed by bitterness for want of response. Hence,before you set out on this road,remember that to “serve” is to “make sacred”; remember,that what one has to sacrifice is one’s ego…

To insulate ourselves from being “in the end consumed by bitterness for want of response”: We can see how very vital this is by noticing how bitter many exceptionally dedicated persons become after years of exemplary toil.


The second operational device springs up the moment we reflect on Gandhiji’s oft quoted responses to the heckling,“You say you are a man of religion,then why are you in politics?” In part,he says,because there is “no department of life which can be divorced from religion”; in part “because politics touchs the vital being of India almost at every point”; in part because “politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out,no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.” The first response concerns what politics needs. The second,what the country needs. It is the third that concerns us at the moment. Having to associate with all sorts of persons; having to see himself being punished,traduced,sent to jail,thwarted by persons who were infinitely tinier than him; having to confront the fact that very,very few were responding to his calls — for instance,his call to surrender official titles and honours; having several of the movements he launched peter out or go astray; having to see that instead of his lifelong ambition to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity,the communities were killing each other off; having in the end to see the country being partitioned; having in the end to see that no one was prepared to tread the path which he so fervently counseled for India,namely to bring into being,and live an alternate to Western civilisation — what could provide a richer laboratory for discerning himself than the snake,for observing the working of his mind,for observing whether he had finally mastered his ego?

It is this fact — that in the ultimate analysis he had made all his activity a means for inner growth — that insulated him from the disappointing net results of his labours. As the quest was inner growth,“failure” was as useful,in many ways even more useful,than what others would see as “success”.


Once we attain that sort of detachment; once we execute that reversal of view; once the specific issue we take up is a device for something beyond the reach of others,then all we have to do is to just keep at it. To just keep doing what his biographer,Martin Gilbert,tells us Churchill asked his military commanders to do: “Continue to pester,nag and bite.”

It may well be the case that we are not able to carry the issue through on our own. But the rulers and controllers will make a mistake! The movement against the Emergency had more or less fizzled out. But then Sanjay began his sterilisation drive… Mrs Gandhi called the elections… Three of us had written mere letters. We knew that within two-three days,the matter would be over. But then they banned Jaswant Singh’s book,and expelled him…


The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha

First published on: 19-09-2009 at 02:39:45 am
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