Friday, January 28, 2005

A Day Of Infamy

India won it's independence from the British using both techniques of soft power like non-cooperation, non-violence and some hard core revolutionary tactics. The British did not give up their empire easily, and left some long-lasting legacies - both good and ill.

a 1947 sketch - R K Laxman

Following the model they had applied in Ireland in 1921, India was partitioned, birthing the as-yet unviable nation-state of Pakistan, a country formed as a theocracy. The division was cruel, causing the forced migration of millions, and many deaths. The dividing line cut through villages, houses and hearts. My own father experienced the horrors of partition. People of his generation look back with nostalgia at the beautous climes of Pakistan's hill-stations and ancient cities. He used to say that he had drunk the milk of two mothers, and never held a grudge against Pakistan.

Not everyone was so kind. The numerous wars and conflicts began as early as late 1947, when India and Pakistan had their first stand-off over Kashmir. The larger story of the egos of Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, first Prime Ministers of the two nascent countries is a tale worth the telling, yet the one man who stood between the two, towering over history like a colossus, a gentle, kind soul, paid a price far greater than the two politicians.

Mahatma Gandhi, the Apostle of non-violence faced an ignominous end on 30th January, 1948, when he was shot by a nationalist radical, part of a murky conspiracy whose roots may never be fully explored. Gandhi, who explored his own faults and failings like few others have done in awas a conciliatory force in the partisan politics of the time. Times have changed, and India is a powerful, globalized, urbanized nuclear power. Not many care much for the ideals of Gandhi, and less for the effects of soft power. A powerful, moving piece on the assassination of someone who could have gone on to define Indian identity is in the Times Of India
For India's midnight children, those born in a freshly-partitioned and free Hindustan, Gandhi and Nehru represented the two facets of adolescent, post-colonial pride. The tension between the Mahatma's anarchic vision of a self-sufficient India and the armature of a sovereign state that Jawaharlal was fabricating feverishly...
While India gave birth to Mohandas, it was the vengeful idea of a majoritarian 'Indian nation' that killed him. Let's reclaim once again those precious two minutes on January 30 every year to remind ourselves of the wayward ways of righteous nationalism.

Some highlights from his rich and varied life:

A photo-quilt on Gandhi

> His struggle for civil rights in South Africa from 1893 for 20 years. Influenced by Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, he began a policy of passive resistance and non-cooperation with the authorities. He termed this 'Satyagraha', from the Sanskrit words for truth and fairness. During the Boer War, Gandhi organized an ambulance corps for the British army and commanded a Red Cross unit.

> He campaigned for Home Rule in India, again with a policy of organized non-cooperation, particularly from 1920. He stressed economic independence, and small industry, emphasizing that the village was the ideal functional unit of society. In 1921, he was given complete executive authority for the freedom movement by the organizing body, the Indian National Congress. He ended the movement, when people resorted to violence, confessing that they had not understood him.

> He returned to politics and the freedom movement in 1930, leading the campaign to refuse to pay taxes like the 'salt tax', leading a mammoth march to the Arabian Sea where he symbolically made salt by evaporating sea-water. He later represented the Congress in a conference in London.

> He applied his convictions to reforming the social injustices inherent in Indian society, campaigning ceaselessly for the underprivileged, formally resigning from political activities in 1934. The British granted Home Rule in 1935, but he was asked to approve it. He allowed himself to re-enter politics in 1939, providing the final push until independence was achieved in 1947.

Some of his quotes:

"I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could."

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."

"I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers."

"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

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