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       Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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India Terrorism lessons for PM Manmohan Singh from Mahatma Gandhi

Lashkar-e-Qahhar has promised more attacks in the days to come. The G-8 has pledged support for India's fight against terror. The Indian Government meanwhile unleashed a terror of a different kind by banning a few blog sites. All of this raises the question of how should India deal with terrorism. The Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP Leader and former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Pracharark Narendra Modi during his Mumbai visit in the aftermath of last week's commmuter train serial blasts urged the people to follow the path of Mahatma Gandhi in pursuing the truth. He made these remarks as he criticized the ruling congress lead UPA Government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The red herring that Mr. Modi has been to the left of center so called "secularists" his invocation of Gandhi on the occassion is bound to trigger debate. But Mr. Modi's alluding to Mahatma Gandhi brings in a new dimension to the current debate on how India must respond to these terrorist acts. With every passing day media reports have further carried the debate on why Mumbai resilience should no longer be taken for granted. So the question is What would Mahatma Gandhi's response have been ?

It must be rather baffling to hear a right of center blog discuss Gandhi's doctrine given his well known views on non-violence. What would be even more baffling is Offstumped's research and analysis on Gandhi's perspectives on the right course of action or rather the righteous course of action as it would apply to the current issue of terrorism. While Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence is well known, one has to go a step deeper to what inspired Gandhi to go down the path of Ahimsa. Vital insights into this are obtained from GANDHI For 21st Century Edited by
Anand T. Hingorani which had extensive excerpts on the THE TEACHING OF THE GITA by M. K. GANDHI. The book starts with Gandhi recalling how he first started to seriously consider studying the Gita while in England and how THE GITA became his spiritual mother providing him with a moral compass when in doubt. The Gita became for Gandhiji his 'dictionary of daily reference' to which he invariably turned for solace and guidance whenever he found himself confronted by doubts and difficulties, trials and troubles.

The following observations by Gandhi as he reflected on the teachings of the Gita are pivotal in providing a moral compass to how the Indian State and the Indian people must respond to terrorism.

The first crucial observation by Gandhi is that:

'No one has attained his goal without action. Even men like Janaka attained salvation through action. If even I were lazily to cease working, the world would perish. How much more necessary then for the people at large to engage in action ?

Applied to the context of terrorism in India, the resilience of Mumbai in the face of bombings cannot become an excuse for inaction. It is the prime duty of the State to act on behalf of its people and inaction cannot be an option.

The second crucial observation by Gandhi is

Many things which we look upon as non-violent will, perhaps, be considered violent by future generations. To look upon philosophies of the past to obtain direct answers to all the questions that arise from day to day, would not be desirable even if it were possible; for, in that case, there would be nothing like progress or discovery for mankind. Human intelligence would then simply atrophy from disuse. Therefore, questions that arise in each age must be solved by the people of that age through their own effort. Our difficulties at present, such as world wars, must be met by applying the general principles derived from the Gita and similar books, which can be of help only to a limited extent. Real help can come only from our endeavours and struggles.

Applying this to the present context, what Gandhi is advising us is that questions on how to deal with the brand of terrorism that strikes at our very existence today will have to be dealt with through means devised by this generation while drawing upon general principles. So Gandhi is in effect recognizing the need to evolve new doctrines with the passage of time to deal with the problems of the day. For all the Left of Center do nothing pacifists who have spent more time focused on root causes and political correctness, this is an important message - Your philosophy and outlook must evolve with changing times.

So Gandhi is telling us that inaction against terrorism is not an option and also that dont be a hostage to philosophies of the past on how to deal with terrorism, evolve with the time while drawing general lessons from the Gita . So what lesson can Gandhi point us to in the Gita on dealing with terrorism.


desireless action; by renouncing fruits of action; He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result, and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfilment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruit of his action.

The message that Gandhi is giving us from his understanding of the Gita is that if you give up against Terrorism you will fail. So dont give up acting against terrorism. But at the same time he is cautioning that for you to be successful in your fight against terrorism you must act out of a sense of duty and purpose and not out of a desire to kill the terrorists.

Well thats tricky, how does one achieve it ? So is Gandhi telling us not to kill terrorists or is he telling us to fight terrorists with Non Violence. The following observation by Gandhi is crucial in answering this critical question:

Let it be granted, that according to the letter of the Gita, it is possible to say that warfare is consistent with renunciation of fruit.

Very important to note that Gandhi is not ruling out taking up arms to deal with terrorism. If the Indian State were to resort to War against Terrorists through overt or covert means, it will be morally justified. It will be morally justified because the Indian State is only fulfilling its duty to protect itself.

So why then did Gandhi choose Non-Violence in his fight against the British. The below observation clarifies it:

But after 40 years' unremitting endeavour fully to enforce the teaching of the Gita in my own life, I , in all humility, feel that perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect observance of Ahimsa in every shape and form.

Gandhi had a set very high bar for himself in seeking a moral compass for his course of action in the fight against British Imperialism. The conclusion Gandhi came to was that it would not be possible for him to be selfless in that endeavour unless he gave up violence in every shape and form. Infosys Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy on many an occassion refers to Gandhi as the greatest leader ever for having led by example. Gandhi had to motivate the masses to act against the British selflessly. For this he had to achieve a state of selflessness. And the conclusion he came to in his endeavour to become selfless was that without practising non-violence he could not become selfless.

To Gandhi Ahimsa or Non-Violence was not an end in itself, rather it was Anasakta or selfelessness that was the end and Non-Violence was the most desirable means for him to attain it in his day and age.

He who would be Anasakta (selfless) has necessarily to practise non-violence in order to attain the state of selflessness. Ahimsa is, therefore, a necessary preliminary, it is included in Anasakti, it does not go beyond it.

The lesson from Gandhi is that one must act selflessly to succeed in the fight against terrorism. This selflessness must be from a sense of duty to protect rather than a desire to kill. Finally it is morally justifiable according to Gandhi to go to War against terrorism from a sense of duty. That Gandhi did not choose to do so himself in his day and age was because of a high bar he set for himself to lead by example in acting selflessly.

Offstumped Bottomline: So as the Indian State debates its response to terror, it must be purely guided by its primary duty to its citizens and not by any other moral considerations. The State must not take recourse to inaction under the cover of the resilience of its people. More specifically the State when in posession of legitimate intelligence on intentions of terrorist to hurt and kill its citizens must act proactively to pre-empt, such pre-emption is morally consciable for the alternative is willing inaction which is immoral. The state must not rule out going to war against terrorism in fulfilling its duty as long as it does so fully mindful of its consequences and has demonstrated the capacity to accept those consequences with equanimity.



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posted by Yossarin at 3:53 PM  

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