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Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit, connection between means and ends, should animate dialogue with farmers

Both need to listen to each other because for them, and all of us, the end is the same — India's peace and prosperity. So both need to choose means that are wise, that are in tune with that end and build mutual trust and respect.

Written by Nanditesh Nilay | Updated: December 31, 2020 9:01:49 am
Farmers sit in protest against the new Farm Bill, at Tikri Border, New Delhi, on December 29, 2020. Express photo by Abhinav Saha.

In February 1922, a violent mob set a police station on fire at Chauri Chaura with 22 policemen trapped inside. The home secretary at that time called it a “rebellion against the Raj” but for Mahatma Gandhi, it was an “index finger” that pointed the way to possible anarchy and he called off the civil disobedience movement. He even went on a fast for five days as self-punishment for the violence. He was experimenting with the means of non-violence, and, for him, means were as necessary as the end. He wrote in Young India: “They say ‘means are after all means’. I would say means are, after all, everything. There is no wall of separation between means and ends.”

As the year winds down with the protracted farmers’ protest and the deadlock looks like continuing into the new year, this is a moment for reflection and concern.

Democracy needs a free and safe space for the expression of ideas but because there is no Gandhian leadership in and around us, the shadow of fear lurks. Although the government so far has shown restraint, visuals of barricades being broken, reports of cellphone towers being damaged, protests in Patna on Tuesday — all of these could erupt any time. We have already seen the tragic suicides of two farmers and any incident can take their peaceful protest into the tunnel of violence. That is why it is extremely important to break the deadlock through dialogue and minimise any chance of violence. That is why the Mahatma is an inspiration — for both sides.

For, his belief that means are as important as the end ensured that he never compromised on the means. Just the opposite seems to be the norm today — we compromise on the means, irrespective of our best intentions. Today, as the market evolves, we are becoming more consumers than citizens. The towering aspirations of consumerism have overshadowed the core values of citizenship.

This adds to our stress and anger when we find that we can’t buy a solution off the shelf or when a solution is easier for those who have higher purchasing power. No wonder, then, that small arguments turn violent. Even on social media, any discourse rapidly disintegrates into words that pour scorn, mock, demean, humiliate or abuse.

Therefore, during the farmers’ protest, remembering Mahatma Gandhi becomes unavoidable. For all the stakeholders. For the government, for those leaders who are representing farmers’ interests, and for the Opposition. Nobody should try to tarnish or belittle the farmers’ concerns by grouping them as farmers from BJP or non-BJP-ruled states. When India celebrated her Independence, the Mahatma chose to fast as he was deeply saddened by the riots in Noakhali. He was the leader who felt the pain of divide and separation, his moral authority made people listen to him. So powerful was his impact that he seemed to seep into the psyche of the common man and woman.

We have forgotten our Mahatma. Remembering him cannot be in mere words but action as well. Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal put it well that most of India’s troubling issues can be addressed if one sticks to the path Gandhi had forged.

The Prime Minister launched the grand Swachh Bharat Mission through the Mahatma’s visionary glasses, the clean-up isn’t merely physical. Skill India and Atmanirbhar Bharat have been inspired by the Mahatma’s spirit of self-reliance but the means must be as paramount as the end — that’s the most important message from the Mahatma that we need to live and think by every day. Swachh Bharat is not just physical, atmanirbharta isn’t just about manufacturing — our children and the weak must feel safe and secure in this country.

That should be at the heart of the negotiations between the protesting farmers and the government. Both need to listen to each other because for them, and all of us, the end is the same — India’s peace and prosperity. So both need to choose means that are wise, that are in tune with that end and build mutual trust and respect. We may not have a Mahatma in our midst today but we surely have his spirit with us as we enter what will, hopefully, be a happy new year.

This article first appeared in the print edition on December 31, 2020, under the title “Mahatma Gandhi’s message at border”. The writer is the author of Being Good and Aaiye Insaan Banaen. He teaches and trains courses on ethics, values and behaviour

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