Saturday, 3 November 2012

Implausible Indian- Feisal Devji on Gandhi.

 South Africa. It's a kinda spooky place. First you have a Xhosa leader who thinks the way to win power for his people is to kill all their cattle coz that will bring dead warriors back to life. Next, you have a smart guy like Smuts throwing his lot in with boorish illiterate Boers who had no conception of the extent of British power, or their ruthlessness. Finally you have people like the Chinese leader, Leung Quinn,, who managed to get 50,000 of his people deported, and Gandhi, who thought the Pass Law was a good idea.
Smuts smartened up quite quickly, the Xhosas produced politicians of the caliber of Sistulu and Mandela. Leung Quin disappears from history but I imagine lived to see Sun Yat Sen's revolution.

Gandhi alone remains to so fascinate academics as to cause them to write mischievous nonsense.

Born, not  in South Africa, but Zanzibar, Prof Feisal Devji- who believes Gandhi created a new type of sovereignty based not on violent conquest but the abject victim-hood of those effortlessly vanquished after a merely masochistic display of non-violence- has this to say in Tehelka-

'what Mahatma Gandhi objected to about the colonial order in India was the very thing he disliked in Britain’s liberal society. For, in some ways, the colonial state was even more liberal than its metropolitan cousin, since it could, with far greater certitude, assert its impartiality with regard to the varying interests of a subject population. And so, it was not simply its lack of representative government to which Gandhi objected, but more importantly, the colonial state’s role as a third party. His targets were law and order, ostensibly the most attractive part of British rule in India. The peace brought about within such an order, argued the Mahatma, was illusory because it also produced the violence against which order had to be maintained.

In other words, Devji is telling us, Gandhi wanted the Brits to leave because they were stopping Indians killing each other. But by stopping the Indians from turning each other into kebabs the British just made them want to do it all the more. And that's really bad. It's like Smuts saying Indians all have to give their fingerprints and carry Passes and pay handsomely for that privilege.  I mean, actually carrying a Pass is a very good thing but it's wrong of Smuts to force us to do it because that's like totally insulting because we do too  WANT to carry passes- it's just Gandhi hasn't yet explained to us why Passes are so wonderful. 

Gandhi explained all this with reference to the stereotyped, if sometimes violent, rivalry between Hindus and Muslims, seen as the two great political interests in British India. Nationalists had often claimed that conflict between these communities was fostered by a colonial policy of divide and rule, and while the Mahatma agreed with this theory in principle, he did not view religious violence among Hindus and Muslims as the consequence of any deliberate planning by the British. Instead, he argued that the colonial state’s neutrality made religious conflict possible, its autonomy permitting Hindus and Muslims to define themselves as equally autonomous interests. And it was because the State stood as a third party between these interests that it was able to mediate between them, thus actively preventing any direct dealing among the Hindus and Muslims. In this way, the colonial state served not as a perversion of its liberal alternative, but rather as its secret truth.

What is Devji saying here? The State is neutral if it does not take sides in a quarrel between two groups. But, surely, if it takes sides then it becomes the main party to the dispute. Hitler did not take sides with the Anti Semites to kill Jews. He killed Jews. That was the policy of his Reich.
The Colonial State did take sides in various disputes between communities. It persecuted some people and protected some others. But this was in accordance with the Laws it enacted. To speak of the Colonial State as a perversion of 'its liberal alternative' is to utter an oxymoron. A Colonial State may have Liberal Institutions and the Rule of Law but it is not a Liberal State unless it has representative Government. But if it has that, it isn't Colonial in any sense of the word. This business of  saying things like 'the Nazi State was the Secret Truth of its Liberal alternative'- is simply paranoid gesture politics at its silliest. 
The Colonial State did not impede Hindus and Muslims working directly with each other. The direction in which the Administration was going in the Twenties and early Thirties was precisely the opposite. Sidney Webb delivers full adult franchise with strong minority protection to Ceylon in 1931. Only after that protection was disabled did Ceylon spiral into chaos. In India, Reading and Irwin were more cautious than Webb but, nevertheless, that was the direction in which things were moving.

Because they didn’t have to deal directly with one another, Hindus and Muslims could press their claims by enlisting the State’s support against each other, giving rise to a manipulative politics of solicitation in which loyalty was offered in exchange for rewards designed to discomfit the rival community.

What is Devji talking about? The Communal awards? But, that changed nothing on the ground. Is Devji suggesting that the Brits favored the Muslims because they were 'more loyal'? Did the Aga Khan get Tanganika because he was 'loyal'? 
I don't recognize Devji's analysis as applying to India in the Twenties and Thirties. During the War, yes, that was a factor but it existed mainly in the mind of Churchill. 
India was run by bureaucrats who wanted a quiet life. The British did minority protection because that was their job for which they collected tax money in return. They were quite good at minority protection because, in the long run, you secure a quiet life at a cheaper cost by doing 'broken windows theory' type vigilance. 
If the majority got to loot the minority, what would be their incentive to hand over a portion of the loot in taxes? A Colonial State is a 'stationary bandit'. Metic protection is part of that racket.

 And since they had no responsibility for governance, these interests could afford to look upon the outbreak of violence with equanimity, for it was after all the role of the colonial state to impose order. Riots were, therefore, a sign of political luxury as much as anything else, which is to say risks that might be run because the state would always be there to limit their effects and at most return to the status qua ante. 
Were riots a 'political luxury'? No. Not for Gandhi. Riots lost him legitimacy- they forced him to the Conference Table. Kanpur was a disaster for Gandhi and, to his credit, he apologized. Only the Salt March, which was financed by Dalmia, retrieved his reputation, though, of course, it didn't achieve anything.
Riots may have helped the Muslim League after the War but that is a different story- one where Wavell had confessed his inability to do anything more than evacuate the European population.
Of course, the liberal centre could not hold, and eventually the colonial state, buffeted by opposing interests, was forced to relinquish its impartiality. The British had lost legitimacy simply by holding so firmly to it.
What liberal centre is this that 'could not hold'? There could have been a Liberal Center if the Indians, led by Gandhi- or whomever- had co-operated with the British in creating Responsible Govt based on the Rule of Law- but they did no such thing. The British kept legitimacy by being financially solvent and having the political will to fight. After 1945, Britain was bankrupt. Attlee was thinking of releasing kids from School so they could bring in the harvest. 1948 was the worst year for rationing in the U.K.  America was calling the shots and America was so hostile to Britain's Empire in the East that they would have handed Hong Kong over to Chiang Kai Shek if they'd gotten to it first.
Devji's bizarre theory of sovereignty achieved through being masochistically vanquished or pointlessly blowing yourself up- for which he finds support in Gandhi- involves him in a truly mischievous piece of sophistry- viz. the notion that Gandhi wanted India and Pakistan to just duke it out over Kashmir rather than find a diplomatic or U.N solution.

Given the subcontinent’s fate as a site for some of the most destructive proxy wars of modern times, from the anti-Soviet jihad to the War on Terror, who is to say if the Mahatma was not correct in his estimation?

The scary thing about Devji's article is not that the picture of Gandhi that he paints isn't plausible but that a leading academic can believe that military conflict can occur without third party help. India and Pakistan simply didn't have enough bullets to keep a war going for more than a few weeks. Indeed, no two countries can go to war without involving the big powers who have great mounds of military hardware to sell. Perhaps Devji believes the Indians and Pakistanis would have just started hitting each other with lathis when they ran out of bullets, till their lathis broke and they then had to chuck stones at each other. At that point, they might decide to settle their dispute by a wrestling match or bout of fisticuffs or something equally honorable.
Sadly, this is not a reasonable scenario. Armies don't tamely pick up lathis when they run out of bullets for their guns. They demand guns, more guns, better guns, from the political leaders till either the politicians make peace or they are all slaughtered.
Fighting does not clear the air- look at Burma or Sri Lanka or Karachi or any Naxalite afflicted district. Locking up stupid agitators and shooting rioters, on the other hand, is the duty of the State. So is killing actual rebels- like Bagha Jatin- not lawyer politicians, like Gandhi who should simply be locked up from time to time for their own good. If a State does not fulfill this duty, it will cease to exist. General Dyer may not have fully pacified the Punjab with half an hour's worth of Machine gun fire, but, after Jallianwallah Bagh, the specter of the Mutiny was well and truly laid to rest.
Violence may have an ethical dimension in a 'balanced game' symmetrical agon. Non Violence may have an ethical dimension even under unbalanced games. Talking stupid nonsense has no ethical dimension.

Gandhi preferred direct dealings even of a violent kind to the protracted, if sometimes intermittent and low-grade, conflicts that were the special gift of mediation. So he would have liked to see a real war between India and Pakistan, because it might make possible an equally real resolution of their dispute by honourable means. And let us remember that the wars India and Pakistan have conducted represent perhaps their most honourable dealings with one another. For unlike Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in India, to say nothing of the excessive and unregulated violence that marks internecine conflict in both countries, their wars have always been engagements of the most civilised kind, textbook exercises conducted outside civilian areas for the most part and replete with instances of camaraderie and honour among the opposing armies. And in this perverse way they might well represent the greatest step towards non-violence that either nation has ever taken.

Sadly, Devji's rosy tinted view of honorable soldiers speaking with clipped accents and all being terribly terribly honorable to each other is far from the truth. During peace-time this may be how the German and the British officer corps behaved to each other- as in Powell & Presburger's Colonel Blimp- but once hostilities heated up, both sides were quite happy gassing each other and playing every type of dirty on each other. The Kaiser was a soldier- the Honorary Colonel of a crack British Regiment. That didn't prevent the cry 'Hang the Kaiser!' from rising from the Officer's Mess. 
Wars aren't a good thing. Nor are periodic communal riots. They don't clear the air. Mediation is a good thing. Sending crackpot agitators to jail from time to time is a good thing. Not selling guns to poor countries like India and Pakistan is a good thing.
British 'Rule of Law' was, at least potentially, a good thing. The Brits needed the Indians to co-operate with them to establish a properly functioning Civil Society. Gandhi, for some reason, decided that co-operation was wrong though it was also a good idea to himself sabotage the Indian Non- Cooperation  Movement, so as to hinder an advance towards Responsible Govt and postpone the inevitable alternative-viz. irresponsible Government- a little while longer..
If Devji is right, Gandhi was a maniac who thought Violence something good in itself. The truth is less sensational. Back then, all middle aged men were convinced that the younger generation were totally effeminate and probably all getting Gay with each other and reading Oscar Wilde and like their Moms have totally spoiled them and have you seen those new skinny jeans?- don't tell me anyone who can dance in those things has any testicles left end of the day. Basically, what we need is another War- teach the lads a bit of discipline, put some backbone in 'em as opposed to them just boning each others backsides they way they do at those fancy Colleges which charge an arm and a leg and in any case, believe me, I could easily bench press 300 pounds and sure, I mean at a pinch, to repopulate the earth, I could definitely do my share- say a dozen twenty something hotties every week as a baseline- because my message is essentially one of Peace and Non Violence and every man under 50 being shipped off to the military coz they are all benders anyway.

Turning to Devji's central thesis- viz. a once and for all war is better than prolonged intermittent conflict- what does History say? In the case of India and Pakistan, the evidence is unambiguous. Both sides stepped back from conflict in '48 and both sides benefited by that decision. But for it, there would have been no Indus Water treaty- by which a casus belli involving an existential threat to Pakistan was resolved equitably. Unfortunately, Begum Fatima Jinnah attacked Ayub Khan for selling out to India on that issue and so the scene was set for '65 during which the Indians really felt miffed coz they didn't got those nice shiny American tanks like wot the Paks did and so they sulked and sulked and then started some mischief up in Bangladesh. After '71 the revanchist Pakistani Army under pressure on the Afghan front developed a counter-strategy which paid very handsome dividends and enabled it to take a hegemonic role without even pretending to deliver on Socio-Economic Goals in the manner which Ayub had done.

The reason India and Pakistan did not have a big war- like the Iran Iraq war (which, contra Devji did not clear the air between the two countries)- was because  d'uh look at the map- wot are u stoopid? Indo-Pak conflict is not 'a balanced game'- so it can't have the property Devji valorizes- viz. being a cathartic agon. True, if Pak as an American client, had developed into the Israel of the region- but, d'uh, it  couldn't coz Israel didn't trust the Pakis not to pass on military technology to their own Arab enemies- so we're back to square one. The Pak army played the hand they were dealt and enriched themselves in a manner unimaginable to their Indian opposite numbers. Oddly, this might increase Indian fighting morale and handicap the Pakistanis because they literally have more to lose.
Still, credit where credit is due, the Indian Govt has never been 'Gandhian'. They aint stupid or evil or at least not more evil and stupid than they they need to be. So mediation and interessement and pi jaw problematisation we shall always have with us- Terrorism is a small price to pay for keeping the show on the road a little longer. Give Civil Society a chance, people. Anyway, what is the alternative?
Devji, post-modern fuckwit that he is, tells us Al Qaeda type imbecility is identical with Gandhian silliness-  Al-Qaeda, he argues, uses the “abstract and vicarious emotion that characterizes the actions of pacifists or human rights campaigners.” In other words, violent jihadists act less out of a sense of personal victimhood than “out of pity for the plight of others.” And they try to foster a sense of universality by framing their struggle as one of justice and equality.

Even if Devji is right, this is an argument for just locking up all the bomb chucking idiots, who get worked up over imaginary insults and fabricated grievances, till their madness passes. This is because one can tackle a genuine grievance such that an enemy is placated, but what can one do about imaginary grievances? Shrill Gandhian, or Green, or Gramscian anal slurry, on the other hand, should be treated on a par with UFOology and the theories of David Icke. Don't lock them up till they really run amok but, by all means, do appoint them to Professorships at Ivy League Colleges where their idiocy will do no harm.


Anonymous said...

British pursued divide and rule policy which is why Mahatma Gandhi put stress on not just Hindu Muslim unity but also unity between Rich and Poor.
He put the model of voluntary sacrifice at the core of his philosophy of Satyagraha.
What we see now is vote bank politics based on divide and rule and appeasement of special interest groups.
That is the simple point Dr. Devji makes in his article.
One can criticize anyone for their mistakes. Lenin, Churchill, Mao- all made mistakes but the message to history is based on the principles they followed.
In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi stands out as one of the Greatest human beings of the Twentieth Century.

windwheel said...

I appreciate your comment but I would take issue with you on two points
1) The British did actually rule India. They achieved things. They were able to mobilize Indian resources in an unprecedented way so as to put millions of Indian soldiers on battlefields as far away as Flanders. India's force projection capacity reached a peak under the British which it will never regain.
2) Indians were already divided. Indian troops, Indian capital, Indian compradors, paved the way for the re-unification of India only under tutelage to the British. But, even when the British were saying- 'unite and we'll give you representative government'- Indians could not and did not unite. Why tell lies about it? Okay, when I was young some Indians and Pakistanis believed that the 'elites' had been bought by the Great Powers and that was the only reason we simple people- who genuinely loved each other when we met in East Africa or Gulf or (from the 50's onwards) in U.K or (from 60's onwards) in U.S- had been divided up.
Here in Southall, West London, I saw with my own eyes Muslim men coming with their sons to help build the Gurudwara and Sikhs and Hindus reciprocating to build the Mosque. The tragic thing was these people had been childhood friends and neighbours- 'chaddi buddies' as they say in Southall- and, during the late Seventies or early Eighties, they had the same enemy- viz. the Nazi 'British' National Front- and the same Socialist heroes and ideology.
All that is gone now. Nirankari gurudwaras were attacked, Ahmediyya institutions attacked, then Sikh vs Muslim youth gangs, then just total criminalization because of the pull of drugs.
I remember, people used to send their boys back home for education to keep them out of trouble. Now Punjab is the biggest drug disaster zone! Honestly, at one time I would have accepted Fundamentalism if it kept the young boys away from drugs. But that was even worse- Terrorism just become Crime and Extortion and Prostituting of the younger sisters.
Honestly, if there was a real Gandhian solution to real problems, we would all sacrifice anything for it. But, where is it? Gandhian ideology is good for social climbing- my own family benefited- but how did it benefit the vast mass of Indian people?
In any case, forgive me if I offend your sensibilities on this point, you yourself may be a Great Human Being. Why do you need this crutch of Gandhi? He is dead. Let him go. See things with a perfectly equal eye and you yourself could give us guidance.
Why worship the Saint when you are not less, by your nature, yourself?
Gandhi said 'what is won by the sword can only be kept by the sword'- (okay, this is false. What is won by the sword can be kept by sound Economics- i.e. incentive compatible mechanism design) - but he also said 'what is won by Satyagraha can only be kept with Satyagraha'. But Satyagraha is costly. If it were not so it would not be Satyagraha. So what is the point of gaining things, that too only for a moment, by the most bankruptingly prodigal means possible?