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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 42

Unfinished Revolution

Wednesday 8 October 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


[(The following editorial of N.C. was published in the October 4, 1969 issue of Mainstream marking the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi. It is being reproduced on the occasion of Gandhiji’s one hundred and thirtyninth birth anniversary (October 2, 2008). Several other articles on the Father of the Nation and his relevance today are also being carried in this issue. —Editor)]

The birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi is not an occasion for rejoicing but for sorrow that the people of India are still far from the goal of social and economic equality which he cherished and for which in his own inimitable way he strove all his life. The sorrow is intensified by the fact that despite declaring ourselves a secular democracy—a concept he gave us in clear terms—we have allowed the very forces of reaction which opposed him and finally destroyed him physically to continue to obstruct the onward march of our people.

It is universally recognised that the biggest contribution Gandhiji made to our national life was to teach us the value of mass mobilisation and mass action and to teach the people to shed all fear. The inheritors of his mantle, whatever their specific fields of action, lost sight of the goals and clung to the methods he employed, forgetting that he alone knew how to use them effectively. They failed to comprehend the full significance of his message; and some of them deliberately sought to use his emphasis on non-violence to mislead the masses back into the era of inaction and subservience.

Through the years Gandhi’s message rings out clearly enough: Religion is an irrelevance in the political life of a nation, while it is no doubt an important personal need in the case of the majority. Exploitation of the many by the few must end. The hungry millions are entitled to work and a fair wage. “To them God can only appear as bread and butter.” There has to be a levelling down of the few rich who have cornered the bulk of the nation’s wealth and a levelling up of the semi-starved millions. In the battle between the haves and the have-nots the whole weight of the government should be thrown on the side of the latter.

Land should belong to the people and not to a select few, and shoud be used for the benefit of the masses as a whole. Hindu society should be rid of exploitation based on caste, and the agricultural worker and the landless, who invariably belong to the so-called low castes, should become entitled to the fruits of their labour, to a decent life as the equals of others. The rich should be trustees of the nation’s wealth, but if they failed to behave, the masses should deprive them of their privileged position. His emphasis on ahimsa should not make us lose sight of the radical goals he set for the people.

How far are we from the goal? We have only to look round to see that in the years of freedom the goal has receded rather than come nearer. The capitalist class has grown more powerful than ever before, monopolies have been firmly established, the agricultural worker is yet to gain even a bare livelihood, not to speak of the “decent life” Gandhiji ensivaged, the urban working class continues to be cynically exploited. A new class has indeed grown up in these years which has gained economically as a result of independence, but the vast majority of our people remain more or less where they were when the British quit India.

Despite his martyrdom, communalists are able to organise violence on a big scale, timing such disturbances to coincide with any new trend towards mass action in support of radical economic changes. Harijans continue to be harassed and so also the tribal population. Social and economic equality is nowhere in sight, despite the existence of several parties pledged to this cause.

The centenary should essentially remind us that the revolution which Gandhi began is far from finished, that, in fact, we have permitted a setback to occur. We should remember that the essence of Gandhi does not lie in ahimsa or “trusteeship”, but in his deep concern for the poverty-stricken masses of India. So long as poverty remains anywhere in India, and so long as there are entrenched economic interests and conspicuous affluence among a minority, the revolution remains incomplete.

The revolution cannot be carried forward by the labelled Gandhians or even by a handful of dedicated men to whichever party they may belong; it can only be carried forward to success by mass mobilisation and mass action on basic social and economic issues without allowing communal and other bogeys raised by vested interests to divert attention from the goal. It is precisely here that we, inheritors of the great heritage, have failed miserably to live up to it.

Thus, if any pledge is to be taken by the people of India on the birth centenary of the Mahatma, it is that we, the people, will collectively and unitedly fight the exploiting classes and continue the struggle unrelentingly till the goal of economic equality is reached, that we will not give a chance to communal or other reactionaries to retard our struggle for establishing ourselves as masters in our land.

To fulfil this pledge is not easy: it requires the dedicated service of our genuinely democratic political parties, our trade unions, our intellectuals and our workers in far-flung rural areas. It requires the firm rejection of communal parties and groups, as well as of the parties and groups defending the status quo. We shall achieve the Gandhian goal only if we determinedly remove the many obstructions in the way, ranging from the power of big money to obscurantism. Let this then be our pledge.

(Mainstream, October 4, 1969)

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