Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Freedom, fraternity & order and the moral motive

M.N. Roy stands tall among the ideologues and activists of the struggle as one who engaged with the questions that Gandhi’s political actions in pursuit of his vision of independence evoked. Roy’s own views continue to generate debate.
Some political scientists find fault with M.N. Roy’s recorded insights and opinions on the times and the leader. Others have defended his objectivity in suggesting that even a ‘Mahatma’ could make mistakes—and did make mistakes. Some have questioned Roy’s own role during those heady years. One contention is that both the views and the record of this patriot call for clearer understanding. For this, it is useful to revisit what M.N. Roy said, and what has been said about him.

Gandhi faced two defeats at the All India Congress Committee in a short span of time. At the AICC’s Ahmedabad session, he lost to the Swarajists on the issue of Council entry. The second defeat came when a much younger man, Subhash Chandra Bose, defeated Gandhi’s nominee for the Congress presidentship. Roy wrote of the Council issue incident in an article— ‘Mr Gandhi’s swan song’—dealing with how Pandit Motilal Nehru and Deshbandhu C. R. Das succeeded in setting aside Gandhi’s call for compulsory spinning and boycott of law courts, legislative councils, government schools, titles and mill-made cloth.
When the Swarajists opposed Gandhi’s proposals at the Ahmedabad session, it was the first time that Gandhi’s word had been questioned on an issue of national importance. It was in his province and seat of authority that the gauntlet was thrown at Gandhi himself, as he had declared that if his programme was rejected he would retire from politics and devote himself to social reform. […]

It was a dramatic moment: Mahatma Gandhi, the idol of the Indian people, defied by the opposition within Congress ranks. It fell to Pandit Motial Nehru to state the case for the Swarajists. “We decline to make a fetish of the spinning wheel or to subscribe to the doctrine that only through that wheel can we obtain ‘swaraj,’ ” he said. “Discipline is desirable, but it is not discipline for the majority to expel the minority. We are unable to forget our manhood and our self-respect and to say that we are willing to submit to Gandhi’s orders. The Congress is as much ourselves’ as our opponents’, and we will return with greater majority to sweep away those who stand for this resolution.” With these words, Pandit Motilal and Deshbandhu left the hall, taking with them 55 Swarajists. […]

For the Congress presidential election, Gandhi’s nominee was Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya. He was to lose to Subhash Chandra Bose. Gandhi and his disciples brought a charge of indiscipline against Bose. One fails to understand what act of indiscipline Bose had committed, except that he contested the poll against Gandhi’s candidate. Immediately after the election, Gandhi’s tormented soul did make him acknowledge “Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat.” Afterwards, Gandhi saw to it that Bose did not function effectively as the Congress President, and Bose was forced to resign. Gandhi himself drafted the resolution banning Bose from holding any executive office in the Congress for three years. He, however, claimed that he loved Subhash as a son, but his love which was as soft as a rose could also be harder than flint. But for the immoral political practice Gandhi and his followers adopted in throwing out Bose from the Congress, things might have been different, in that Gandhi might not have remained the absolute leader for a long time. […]

When Roy addressed the Radical Democratic Party in December 1942, hardly any Indian thought Hitler’s Axis powers would be defeated, and that the British would be left with no option but to leave the colonies after the war. “The right to self-determination has been promised to India, with the greater assertion of British democracy on the situation. There is no reason to believe that the right will be withheld by any external agency or political formation after the post-war period.” Roy exhorted his colleagues to prepare for the economic and political reconstruction of independent India. He brought out two documents: ‘People’s plan for reconstruction of independent India’, and ‘A draft Constitution for free India’. Then he predicted that in spite of the pact between Hitler and Soviet Russia, the latter would be drawn into the war. Most historians across the world now accept that but for Stalin joining the Allies, Hitler might not have been defeated.

Roy’s most important prediction was that the parliamentary form of democracy would breed corruption. His lecture to the University Institute in Calcutta on February 5, 1950 warned of this. […] In another lecture on January 30, 1947, also at Calcutta, Roy had said: “When political power is concentrated in the hands of a small community, you may have a façade of parliamentary democracy, but for all political purposes it will be a dictatorship, even if it may be paternal and benevolent.”
To make democracy effective power must always remain invested in the people—not periodically, but from day to day. Atomised individuals are powerless for all practical purposes. Roy advanced the idea of a new social order based on direct participation of the people through people’s committees and gram sabhas. Its culture would be based on universal dissemination of knowledge and have minimum control and maximum scope for scientific and creative activities. Being founded on reason and science, the new society will necessarily be planned. But it will be planning with the freedom of the individual as its crux. The new society will be democratic, political, economic, as well as cultural. These ideas remind one of Gandhi’s ideas. […]

What would have been the position of the Congress if Bose had been allowed to form the Working Committee and function as the President? Prof Parikh does not refer to the Swarajists’ defiance at the Ahmedabad AICC session. He does not analyse a number of other incidents of national importance.
Among these is the Cripps offer during World War II. This was acceptable to people like Aurobindo Ghosh and M.N Roy. Why did the Congress and its supermen reject it? Perhaps Prof Parikh’s analysis would lead one to conclude that if the Cripps offer had been accepted, India would not have been partitioned, and the post-partition holocaust view would have been avoided. What of negotiations with Mohammad Ali Jinnah? What was it in Jinnah’s demands that the Congress found difficult to accept? How would independent India have suffered if these had been accepted? If they had been accepted, India would not have been partitioned. I refer to these in the hope that Prof Parikh may deal with them in a future edition of his popular book. […]

Roy wrote an editorial in his weekly by way of paying homage to Gandhi. In this he said that communal harmony is not possible in the mediaeval atmosphere of religious orthodoxy and fanaticism. With the view that nationalism is totalitarian and precludes the idea of individual liberty, he felt it was idle to pledge loyalty to the Mahatma’s message unless it meant realisation of its contradictions, and positioning of the moral and humanistic core of its teachings above the cult of nationalism and power politics. Otherwise, the Mahatma wore the crown of martyrdom in vain. […]

Spratt held that it was clear from “Indian conditions” that India was part of the world and involved in this revolution. Yet he felt Roy’s mindfulness of this annoyed “the nationalists, who at bottom, do not think of India as part of the world, but think India is unique, that foreign or western ideas do not apply to the country and presumably, therefore, that it happens to be having a private revolution of its own”. This, he felt, was the nationalists’ way of saying that they preferred to confine the revolution to its nationalist aspect—“whereas Roy says that it is merely a small beginning, hardly worth calling a revolution at all”.

Spratt drew attention to the fact that Roy had been saying this for more than 20 years. He had pointed out in 1924 that after the 1914-1918 War, the export of British capital to India fell, and had dropped to zero by 1923. This and other facts led Roy to infer that in due course a peaceful transfer of political power to Indian hands would take place—not through the magic of ‘soul force’, nor out of the democratic convictions of the British ruling class, but by virtue of a shift of economic power. And it followed that as regards the real problems of the revolution, that the transfer of power would mean nothing. The old order would remain; only the personnel at the top would change. […]

Roy felt that the Congress opposition to the war was not principled opposition but more what betting men call ‘hedging’, a provision against the eventuality of an Axis victory. Roy argued that in view of the unacceptability of fascism, it was obligatory for a sincere opponent of fascism to support the Allied side in the war. Roy himself did so. Spratt was to remark:
Now that everything he predicted has taken place, and the erstwhile incorruptible revolutionaries are cooperating to the limit, it would be only decent if those who condemned his cooperation would admit their error. But perhaps that is too much to expect.

In urging rejection of fascism, Spratt still drew attention to the need to discuss how the fascist argument stood in contradiction to the three desired conditions—peace, collectivism and material well-being—posited as a stable outcome of the world revolution. He pointed to Roy’s assertion that in our time all nationalism is potential fascism, and fascism’s nationalist character contradicts the first condition. The Congress was already working for a fully nationalist policy. “Yet in plain contradiction to all this, it professes Gandhism, and Mahatma Gandhi is still its active leader”. Gandhi had only belatedly “ceased explicitly to defend landlordism and castem” Spratt said.

Roy, highly critical of Gandhism from the start, had never altered his opinion. He had said many penetrating things about it. But Spratt noted that Roy’s approach to Gandhism “seems that of an outsider, an unsympathetic foreigner”. He had failed to make his criticism intelligible to the Indian reader. “He has never tried to get under the skin of the Mahatma or his admirers, to see where that extraordinary power comes from,” Spratt said. […]

Roy’s draft Constitution implied one addition to the three necessary factors for the desired world solution. This was freedom. Max Eastman distinguished three impulses behind the socialist movement: freedom, fraternity and order. Roy pointed out a fourth: the moral motive, the demand for a better order. This was conspicuous in all the socialist movements and their thinkers… The author is a former editor of The Radical Humanist and erstwhile President, PUCL-Delhi; he edits the PUCL Bulletin.

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