A revolution, by definition, is complete when one comes back to where one had originally started! For this, one has to complete a full circle. In many ways, Gandhi’s whole life was a return to and a re- discovery of the timeless truths of the Indian spiritual tradition. His quest reminds us of T.S. Eliot’s memorable lines:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Gandhi’s true legacy is however not so much about a revolution as it is about the evolution of an ordinary man to an extraordinary stature as a human being.
His book, My Experiments With Truth, is a brave revelation of the utterly human frailties of his life. He admitted that many of his own experiments were, in fact, failed experiments. It is not so important for us that Gandhi failed many times as it is that he tried so hard. He inspires the world not so much by his successes as he does by the extraordinariness of his efforts. His life confirms to us that just as a human being cannot forget the divinity inside him, so too the divine cannot do without the human that struggles to manifest his divinity. Here is a look at the anatomy of a revolution that never was. In the scorching summer of 2011, winds of change merely morphed to April dust squalls in New Delhi. Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna, held forth on a fast-unto-death and seemed to have ‘fast-tracked’ the demand for legislation to remove corruption.
Individual and institutionalised corruption had long begun to appear like dirty underwear that hung on the corridors of power and prestige in India. Predictably, a mercurial media begun to dish out evocative audio-visual narrative on a nation bent on strip tease. ‘Wait!’ said a former Vice-Chancellor (pun intended) in his all-knowing voice, ‘it will all blow over.’ It did and how?
Anna seemed a queer cocktail of Mao and the Tao — an Indian synthesis of the soldier and the sage. He himself admitted that one cannot be a pure Gandhi in this day and age. The leadership model he advocated for his movement was a hybrid of Gandhiji and Shivaji — a mass appealing recipe of truth and tact. He dished out a half-baked vision of a country that would be ‘80 per cent free of corruption’ if he had his way. He lost the groundswell of support as dramatically as he had drummed it up. Anna stumbled because he had never quite achieved the mastery over the emotional forces that he had unleashed. Anna was exhausted by a strategic overreach. His insistence on passing of one Bill met with scant success in the labyrinth of our lawmakers. His supporters, hitherto fed on a feast of the spectacular, lost their staying power.
The movement meandered on as the symbolic cap changed the caption from ‘I am Anna’ to ‘I am Arvind’ and then onto ‘I am Aam Aadmi’. Arvind Kejriwal, Anna’s unofficial successor, put another feather on the cap by engaging in the politics of naming and shaming. Very soon the cap may be gone; perhaps the feather will still remain!
In contrast, almost a century back, the source of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement was based on his unswerving commitment to a core purpose. He said that truth was his goal and non-violence was the way to achieve that goal. Everything else, even his demand for political independence of his country was subservient to truth and non-violence. His relentless quest for mastery over himself helped him deal with the setbacks he encountered. There was a self-reflecting, self-correcting core in Gandhi’s movement. This was the secret of his dynamism. Gandhi wrote:
“I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as the heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”
When charismatic leaders such as Nehru spoke, the masses marvelled; when Gandhi spoke they simply marched. Nehru describes in his own words how Gandhi’s spiritual source created a successful and bloodless revolution:
“It seemed as though a spring has been released. As we saw the abounding enthusiasm of the people and the way salt-making was spreading like a prairie fire, we felt a little abashed and ashamed for having questioned the efficacy of this method when it was first proposed by Gandhiji. And we marvelled at the amazing knack of the man to impress the multitude and make it act in an organised way.”
Gandhi was the source — Anna is a re-source! A source is generative like the seed of a tree. You can create a forest of a million trees from that one seed. Yet this will still not exhaust the generative power of that seed. A resource is like a branch of a tree. If you chop off that branch from its source, the branch will not be able to re-generate itself. Anna’s obsession was not with a purpose but with a singular goal. Anna’s work was to rustle up a national reform around enactment of a law. Gandhi’s was evolution of national character around truth and non-violence — the two values that are the very source of what it means to be human. Where Anna stumbled on obstacles to his movement, Gandhi saw perpetual possibilities around the same obstacles.
Gandhi’s vision was from the purity of timeless principles, while Anna’s was a myopic focus on a time-bound legal procedure. Anna’s movement however reminded us that Gandhi, even though he is anachronistic in many ways, is still alive and marching in the 21st century. Gandhi was truly a source of illumined leadership. He was like a blazing torch of fire. You can light a million candles from that single point source of light without diminishing the luminosity of that original one!
Prof. Debashis Chatterjee is Director, IIMK