Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Gandhi's Himalayan blunder

On April 6, 1918, Gandhis started the anti-Rowlatt Act agitation. Some White people were attacked in Amritsar. Gandhi did not call off his Satyagraha. On April 11, Brigadier Dyer took charge in Amritsar. On the 13th of April, he massacred hundreds of innocent people in Amritsar. Five days later, Gandhi withdrew Civil Disobedience saying it was a Himalayan miscalculation. A couple of months later the Satyagraha too was cancelled.

This was how he explained his decision-
Almost immediately after the Ahmedabad meeting I went to Nadiad. It was here that I first used the expression 'Himalayan miscalculation' which obtained such a wide currency afterwards. Even at Ahmedabad I had begun to have a dim perception of my mistake. But when I reached Nadiad and saw the actual state of things there and heard reports about a large number of people from Kheda district having been arrested, it suddenly dawned upon me that I had committed a grave error in calling upon the people in the Kheda district and elsewhere to launch upon civil disobedience prematurely, as it now seemed to me. I was addressing a public meeting. My confession brought down upon me no small amount of ridicule. But I have never regretted having made that confession. For I have always held that it is only when one sees one's own mistakes with a convex lens, and does just the reverse in the case of others, that one is able to arrive at a just relative estimate of the two. I further believe that a scrupulous and conscientious observance of this rule is necessary for one who wants to be a Satyagrahi.
So, Gandhi is saying that one must minimize the wrongs committed by the enemy and magnify one's own faults. This means being a Saytyagrahi involves always saying sorry and admitting everything was your own fault.
Let us now see what the Himalayan miscalculation was. Before one can be fit for the practice of civil disobedience one must have rendered a willing and respectful obedience to the state laws.
The laws of India, at that time, required a willing and respectful obedience to the Sedition law. Thus, before practicing civil disobedience a person would first have to show a track record of reporting any instance of seditious behavior. Failure to do so would be the crime of 'misprision'. Had Gandhi actually spent his time reporting any person he came across who was 'by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brought or attempted to bring into hatred or contempt, or excited or attempted to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India?' The answer is, no. He had associated with people whom the Government had thought fit to imprison. He had not rendered a willing and respectful obedience to the state laws. Nor was it likely or feasible that those whom he recruited for satyagraha would have been previously employed in detecting, reporting, or otherwise punishing sedition. Which freedom fighter would have joined Gandhi if all his followers were known to be police spies or unpaid informants of the C.I.D?
For the most part we obey such laws out of fear of the penalty for their breach, and this holds good particularly in respect of such laws as do not involve a moral principal.
Surely, this only applies to laws where there is a strong probability of detection? We do not fear that which is unlikely to happen. Moral principles are irrelevant. Any law may conflict with a particular person's moral principles. It may be that out of empathy we too should consider that law immoral. However, if we are likely to be detected and severely punished for breaking that law, we may well think twice before doing so. 
For instance, an honest, respectable man will not suddenly take to stealing, whether there is a law against stealing or not,
There has to be a law regarding what is or isn't property before there can be a concept of theft. Currently, India has an Intellectual property regime such that if I quote, without acknowledgement, the work of another poet, I would be rightly considered guilty of an offense. This was not always the case. There was a time when poetry was considered a type of aesthetic commons. 
but this very man will not feel any remorse for failure to observe the rule about carrying head-lights on bicycles after dark.
 This is strange. Failure to carry head-lights poses a risk to yourself and others. This is a matter of common sense. Even if there is no law against this, you are still committing a potential tort. You have not discharged a duty of care which would be obvious to any reasonable man in your position.
Indeed it is doubtful whether he would even accept advice kindly about being more careful in this respect.
But, if caught by a policeman and fined by a magistrate, this fellow- who, it seems is not really good and ought not to be respected- will learn the errors of his ways. 
But he would observe any obligatory rule of this kind, if only to escape the inconvenience of facing a prosecution for a breach of the rule.
Because he is a stupid man who does not understand that he poses a risk to himself and others by riding a bike in the darkness without any headlights. 
Such compliance is not, however, the willing and spontaneous obedience that is required of a Satyagrahi. A Satyagrahi obeys the laws of society intelligently and of his own free will, because he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so.
If he is doing so because he is intelligent, then it isn't the case that he is complying with a sacred duty. Only if he is stupid or not doing what he would otherwise do, could we say that actions are dictated by a duty which he may consider sacred.
It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just and which are unjust and iniquitous.
So Indians must first obey all the British laws, including those which relate to misprision of sedition, before they can judge which British laws are good and which are bad. Had Gandhi himself done this with respect to the Rowlatt Act? True, he had not been arrested, but many of his comrades had. Clearly, the Government thought they were doing something illegal. Did Gandhi refuse to associate with these men? If not, how could he claim to have willingly and respectfully obeyed the spirit and the letter of that 'Black Act'? 
Only then does the right accrue to him of the civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances.
Is Gandhi saying he was not qualified to do 'civil disobedience'? He was not a true satyagrahi because he had not willingly and respectfully upheld the Rowlatt Act? Indeed, by distributing the banned Hind Swaraj, of which he was the author, he was deliberately breaking the law.
My error lay in my failure to observe this necessary limitation. I had called on the people to launch upon civil disobedience before they had thus qualified themselves for it, and this mistake seemed to me Himalayan magnitude.
So Gandhi says he himself had obeyed the act. His mistake was to call on people- many of whom had never heard of it- to take up civil disobedience. But this meant he himself was guilty under that Law! He was worse, not better, than others in this respect!
As soon as I entered the Kheda district, all the old recollections of the Kheda Satyagraha struggle came back to me, and I wondered how I could have failed to perceive what was so obvious.
It was obvious that Gandhi was a seditionist. That is why he had a following. But this was not obvious to Gandhi. 
I realized that before a people could be fit for offering civil disobedience, they should thoroughly understand its deeper implications.
But, clearly, Gandhi himself was not fit for offering civil disobedience. He did not say 'everyone except me must stop this nonsense. I alone should break the law and go to jail.' 
That being so, before re-starting civil disobedience on a mass scale, it would be necessary to create a band of well-tried, pure-hearted volunteers who thoroughly understood the strict conditions of Satyagraha.
But these well-tried and pure-hearted volunteers would have to have a spotless record of willing and respectful obedience to any and every British law- including those dealing with misprision of sedition! 
They could explain these to the people, and by sleepless vigilance keep them on the right path.
So Satyagrahis should go around telling everyone to pay willing and respectful obedience to every and any British law!
With these thoughts filling my mind I reached Bombay, raised a corps of Satyagrahi volunteers through the Satyagraha Sabha there, and with their help commenced the work of educating the people with regard to the meaning and inner significance of Satyagraha. This was principally done by issuing leaflets of an educative character bearing on the subject.
Why did anyone read those leaflets? It was because they wanted the Brits to pack their bags and go. It was only Gandhi's seditious views which made him an important political figure. 
But whilst this work was going on, I could see that it was a difficult task to interest the people in the peaceful side of Satyagraha. The volunteers too failed to enlist themselves in large numbers. Nor did all those who actually enlisted take anything like a regular systematic training, and as the days passed by, the number of fresh recruits began gradually to dwindle instead of to grow. I realized that the progress of the training in civil disobedience was not going to be as rapid as I first expected.
Gandhi would go on repeating the same 'Himalayan blunder'. He'd back something the people supported and declare a Satyagraha. But then, he'd change his mind and cancel it. His hope was that he'd attract genuine adherents for 'the peaceful side of Satyagraha'- i.e. everyone giving each other enemas in between spinning cotton. But nobody- save a few crackpots like himself- was interested in doing so. Still, so long as the Brits remained, Gandhi had salience. Once the Brits left, Gandhi was shot and everybody shed hypocritical tears while breathing a sigh of relief. 

Suppose Gandhi had hit on some way of genuinely improving life for India's poor. Then his Ashrams would have paid for themselves. But khaddar was a money pit, 'Basic Education' was a fraud, and 'naturopathy' was the creed of a quack. Still, Gandhi was able to get a lot of money out of wealthy people of a similar background to himself and he was a useful mascot for the Congress party. They could always rely on him to commit a Himalayan blunder thus absolving themselves of blame for being crap at administering anything.