‘Mahatma frighteningly unrealistic on non-violence’
Shemin Joy, NEW DELHI, Oct 29, 2016, DHNS
Gandhi could not overthrow British, says Tharoor in book
Evaluating the appeal of Gandhism in the book An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, Tharoor believes that Gandhism ‘flounders’ when right and wrong are less clear-cut and cited Gandhi’s inability in preventing partition.
Mahatma Gandhi sounds “frighteningly unrealistic” on non-violence and it is “difficult to find many major instances of its effectiveness” in present times, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor writes in his new book.
Tharoor says it is increasingly argued that Gandhi could “embarrass” the British but “not overthrow them” and the colonisers realised their game was up when the Indian soldiers who were fighting with them rebelled during the World War.
“They could jail an old man and allow him to fast, but they could not indefinitely suppress an armed rebellion that had 320 million people behind it. Gandhi won the moral case, the ‘soft power’ battle, in today’s parlance, but even without military victory, the rebels and mutineers in uniform won the ‘hard-power’ war,” he writes.
Evaluating the appeal of Gandhism in the book An Era of Darkness: The British
Empire in India, Tharoor believes that Gandhism “flounders” when right and wrong are less clear-cut and cited Gandhi’s inability in preventing partition. In more complex situations, “it cannot and, more to the point does not work as well”.
Describing Gandhi’s view that the “willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny” as frighteningly unrealistic, he says, “for many smarting under injustice across the world, that would sound like a prescription for sainthood or for impotence. Mute suffering is all very well as a moral principle but it has rarely brought about meaningful change.”
Though it attracted luminaries like Martin Luther King and Nobel Peace Prizes for self-declared Gandhians, he said non-violence has offered no solutions to people who fell prey to the might.
A slew of countries got freedom only after violent struggles, he reminds.
He argues that non-violence could work only against opponents vulnerable to a loss of moral authority and governments capable of being shamed into conceding defeat. The British were “susceptible to such shaming”.
“But in Mahatma Gandhi’s own day, non-violence could have done nothing for the Jews of Hitler’s Germany, who disappeared unprotestingly into gas chambers far from the flashbulbs of a war-obsessed press. It is ironically to the credit of the British Raj that it faced an opponent like Mahatma Gandhi and allowed him to succeed,” Tharoor writes.
He quotes Nelson Mandela, who admired Gandhi, to buttress his point, saying the South African icon “explicitly disavowed non-violence as useless in his struggle against the ruthless apartheid regime”.
However, Tharoor says if Gandhism has had its limitations exposed in the years after his assassination, there is no denying Gandhi’s greatness as he destroyed the credibility of colonialism by opposing principle to force.