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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 41, October 2, 2010

The Great Betrayal

Wednesday 6 October 2010, by Nikhil Chakravartty

FROM N.C.’S WRITINGS

[(October 2 this year marks Mahatma Gandhi’s one hundred and fortyfirst birth anniversary. On this occasion we are reproducing N.C.’s following editorial that appeared in Mainstream (October 5, 1968) and publishing a few relevant articles.)]

Indraprastha Bhawan has become a symbol—and not merely because lathi-happy policemen were let loose on meek, unarmed and law-abiding clerks and officials, including many women. Police excesses have not been unknown in the years of freedom; it is also true that these excesses have largely been directed against working people in both urban and rural areas. The Delhi incidents of September 19, along with those at Pathankot and Bikaner, are significant because they seem to mark a decisive repudiation by our rulers of the legacy of Gandhiji, whose birth centenary they profess to celebrate during the next twelve months beginning from this week.

Not the legacy of non-violence or truth, for neither of these concepts had any real appeal for the Mahatma’s khadi-clad followers even while he was in our midst. What has been publicly discarded now is the basic humanity on which Gandhiji assiduously sought to build his dreams of future India. The inhumanity involved in the wanton and unprovoked violence against “loyal” employees was such that those who would not join the token strike refused to enter their offices for four days. By sheer brutality the authorities had successfully turned them into rebels.

But if the ruler’s betrayal of Mahatma Gandhi was clear, equally evident was the fact that the most submissive could at times be turned into fierce passive resisters by the use of violence against them. The fact that middle-class employees stood in silent protest in front of their offices for four days provides a ray of hope in the encircling gloom, vindicating the Mahatma.

During the course of the Centenary Year a great deal of lip-service will be offered to the ideals for which Gandhiji stood, not only by the men and women who can claim some kind of association with him but by many others to whom also the name of Bapu is a convenient veil to cover many misdeeds against the common people whom Gandhiji sought to serve all his life. But all this hypocrisy and humbug cannot hide the stark fact that the millions whose condition Gandhiji wanted improved vastly in the Swaraj of his conception continue to be exploited as before, that the nation’s wealth which he wanted distributed equitably among the people of the villages continues to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a handful of industrialists, businessmen and landlords.

Gandhiji said: “According to me the economic constitution of India….should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words, everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realised only if the means of production of the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. These ….should not be made a vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others”. The condition of the economic structure of India today is thus the most massive piece of evidence of the betrayal of the Mahatma by the very persons who grew up in his shadow and claim to be his disciples. While rejecting the government employees’ demand for need-based minimum wage on the basis of norms accepted over a decade ago, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi pointed to the fact that a huge segment of our population earns only 75 paise per head per day. Some time before his death Dr Rammanohar Lohia had pointed out that in fact a sizeable section of the country’s population lives on less than 25 paise per head per day. The fact is that poverty on this scale persists in this country entirely because of our rulers’ subservience to Big Business houses and the rural rich. It does not suit the Congress rulers to analyse in public the extent of increase in the concentration of wealth in a few hands as a direct result of their own failure to take bold measures to prevent it.

Gandhiji’s anxiety that socio-economic changes of a radical kind should be brought about by non-violent means, has been conveniently interpreted by his followers, to whom the people trustingly entrusted power, to mean preservation of the status quo and adding to the already acute imbalances. The betrayal of the Mahatma is not a sudden development: it began when the Congress party, while mouthing socialist slogans, played upon caste and communal feelings to secure votes and power; it assumed uglier proportions when in order to enjoy comfortable living and remain in office, Congressmen worked out not-so-secret alliances with vested interests of all kinds and used their power and prestige to confer special favours on these interests.

Under the rule of persons professing to be Gandhians, not only has monopoly capital become more powerful as shown by the meagre reports already available, but black money derived from tax evasion has been increasingly active, distorting the national economy and black-marketing in essential commodities has been increasing at an alarming rate. The legitimate demand for fairer wages has invariably been met with the argument that prices would go up; but there has not been the least effort over the years to control the prices of even essential commodities. Even where half-hearted attempts at control were made, the authorities have resiled at the first opportunity, as in the case of sugar.

The vast difference between the free India that the Mahatma envisaged and the free India in which we live today cannot be better illustrated than by recalling what Gandhhiji said about New Delhi several years before 1947: “Take this white elephant which is called New Delhi. Crores have been spent upon it. Suppose that the future Government comes to the conclusion that seeing that we have this white elephant it ought to be turned to some use…. I contend that these buildings are in conflict with the best interests of the nation. They do not represent the millions of India…. If the National Government comes to the conclusion that the place is unnecessary, no matter what interests are concerned, they will be dispossessed, and they will be dispossessed, I may tell you, without any compensation, because, if you want the Government to pay compensation it will have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and that would be impossible.”

But what has really happened after the advent of the National Government in which the Mahatma had such faith? The white elephant has become much more unwieldy than ever before, and the crores that the British spent on building the Capital pale into insignificance compared to the vast sums that free India’s government has spent on its enlargement and embellishment. The contrast between the dreary lives of the rural millions and the air-conditioned comfort of the rulers and agents of Big Business in New Delhi is today more glaring than in the dark days of British Raj.

The rulers of India forgot the most vital lesson taught by Gandhiji, namely, that continuous, living contact with the masses alone can enable them to think and act right. Gandhiji was ever fearful of the consequences of a handful of individuals getting power into their hands in the name of the masses; his fears have proved true. He wielded no power of the kind our rulers possess today, yet he derived a power greater than theirs from the masses. Our rulers are every year getting more and more isolated from the masses; in fact, they are today fearful of the masses and depend on the police and the armed forces as also on the money power of the few to keep themselves in office. Power held and exercised in these circumstances can only corrupt, and it has inevitably corrupted the entire administration. By voluntarily inheriting the bureaucratic structure left by the British without change, and by allowing the bureaucracy to wield more powers, India’s rulers have placed the masses at the mercy of a soulless machine whose sole purpose is to keep itself going.

The India Gandhiji wanted cannot be attained unless the whole basis of the socio-economic order is changed drastically. It will remain a dream so long as the people cannot effectively participate in nation-building and share the fruits of national growth. Gandhiji’s hope has proved vain chiefly because the present power structure does not permit dedicated and honest individuals using the state machinery for the furtherance of the interests of the masses.

But the mass awakening which was the Mahatma’s biggest contribution to new India continuous to grow. If those in power do not respond quickly and convincingly, if drastic steps are not taken to curb the power of the rich, the masses will finally be driven by suffering to try to attain the goal of real economic Swaraj pushing aside those who with impunity use the name of Gandhiji and at the same time strengthen the exploiters in the country. That nemesis will surely overtake them for having betrayed the behests of the man who moved millions to make this country free.

(Mainstream, October 5, 1968)

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