The Idiom of Saintly Politics

and the Mass Movements in India

W.H. Morris-Jones, a leading scholar of South Asian Studies, has identified three distinctive idioms or languages of Indian Politics which he has termed as modern, traditional and saintly. The modern idiom can be noticed in the languages of the constitution and of the law courts and the higher administration, the traditional idiom is the language of the villages, of the castes and of the tribes and communities whereas the idiom of saintly politics refers to the politics of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave.

Gandhi has been complemented by the Western observers as a saint among politicians and a politician among saints. Nobody on earth could ever miss the saintly character of his life and works. His assassination by an Indian further elevated his status in the eyes of the world to nearly that of Jesus Christ. Lord Mountbatten is reported to have said that Gandhi in his death even served the cause of India. His sudden assassination has calmed down the communal fervour which spread like wild fire across the country and in course of time both the communities have learnt to live peacefully with high ideals of fraternity. Bhave was the saint who moved from place to place asking for land donation for the landless masses.

In the context of on-going competitive politics in India saintly politics has a clearly discernible pattern which is in vogue from the period of Gandhi’s struggle against the British. The essence of saintly politics centres on certain values. It implies simple living on the part of the leader and self-sacrifice on the part of the followers. It imparts the lessons of unity and fraternity. It appeals to the best self of the human beings, overlooking the call of baser human instincts and what ultimately it aims to follow is the change of hearts. It emphasises on the efficacy of the peaceful methods and eschewing violence in all its forms even at cost of one’s own life and lives of his or her kinsfolk.

Gandhi’s innovative methods of boycott and agitations drew huge crowds; men, women and children who became his followers. Anybody who came to know him was instantly drawn towards him and to his ideals. His saintly politics had a spiritual side involving a sense of otherworldliness. It is not based on reason but on intuition otherwise known as “inner voice” and on scriptural injunctions. The saintly politics aims at reforming the political system not through exercise of power but remaining at a respectable distance from the functionaries exercising power. When communal violence spread in northern India leading to a severe carnage of both Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi’s concerns for the minority community is well known. He used to console the Hindus, members of the majority community, by saying that victory goes to the victims. However, all his efforts were of no avail and mad struggle for power among the leaders led to partition of the country, much against the desire of Gandhi. Gandhi was totally disillusioned before he fell to the assassin’s bullet.

The sphere of operation of the saintly politics in Gandhi’s time was a country predominantly inhabited by the Hindus with a deep-rooted ancient culture unified by a legal and administrative system built by the British. Gandhi’s ideal state was Ram Rajya, which implied a system of government in which even a single complaint of an ordinary citizen could send the queen to exile. Never the less, the legacies of the British system of parliamentary government and the struggle for political power continued unabated in the post-independence period in the midst of high incidence of poverty and illiteracy among the masses. The chief merit of the Indian political system is its steadfast adherence to democracy in the midst of several political crises.

After independence, Vinoba started out on his extraordinary and unprecedented in recorded history, the Bhoodan (Land-Gift) Movement. Over a period of twenty years, Vinoba walked through the length and breadth of India persuading land-owners and land-lords to give their poor and downtrodden neighbours a total of 4 million acres (16,000 km2) of land. The movement passed through several stages in regard to both momentum and allied programmes. In October 1951, Vinoba was led to demand 50 million acres (200,000 km2) of land for the landless from the whole of India by 1957. Thus a personal initiative assumed the form of a mass movement, reminding the people of Gandhi’s mass movements. This was indeed a very remarkable achievement for a constructive work movement. The enthusiasm for the movement lasted till 1957 and thereafter it began to wane. Jayaprakash Narayan, a renowned Marxist, and a Socialist, and one of the fore-most leaders in politics, before and after India’s Independence, came to be more and more intimately associated with the movement and realized that it was a superb endeavour to bring about revolution in human relations founded on the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. Ultimately Jayaprakash devoted his entire life to the construction of a Sarvodaya society.

With the active involvement of the students he started his movement in Bihar in 1974 to cleanse the system and make the people realise the true benefits of democracy. He gave a call for total revolution in a non-violent way. His movement led to formation of the Janata Party which wrested power from the Congress in 1977.However, the much needed political stability remained a haunting illusion. The disintegration of the Janata Party gave rise to politics of fragmentation without the presence of a strong and influential national party. The electoral scene of the country was characterised by National Parties confining themselves to their regional bases and regional parties proliferating in different parts of the country, the result being formation of a weak Central Government with a multiplicity of parties joining hands together to manage the affairs of the nation.

The idiom of saintly politics finds its expression once again in the campaign started by Swami Ramdev and the multitude of his followers to end corruption and maintain transparency of the system. When Anna Hazare started his movement against the prevailing form of “Kleptocracy” and introduction of Jan Lokpal Bill on April 5, 2011, Swami Ramdev started his tirade against corruption. He has been demanding repatriation of black money from Swiss and other foreign banks. He has been organising the masses moving from place to place and as yoga guru and a religious leader he has a great influence on his followers

The efforts are not directed at sharing power but at cleansing the system, though the leaders may have preference to a party or a leader as Gandhi did. Gandhian methods and techniques worked out a broad unity among the masses in the entire sub-continent which was later foiled by personal ambition of leaders, much to the disappointment of the Mahatma. At present, the mass upsurge initiated by a saint aims at touching the heart of the people and restoring the democratic values in all spheres of public life. It is an attempt to stir the conscience of the nation in which the people at present stand divided on multiple lines.

The Aam Admi Party has the legacy of the crusade against corruption. Its recent electoral performance in Delhi baffled the major parties of the country and the people elsewhere are inclined to view the development a new beginning. At this historic moment, the expanding middle class and the masses have joined hands together for devising a system which would be free from corruption. Nevertheless, the question that it raises is “Can the campaign completely curb the burgeoning vested interest groups and unite the people?” The long struggle for freedom by the Indian National Congress left a powerful legacy of one-dominant-party system in the post-independence period. However, in the present political scenario it is impossible to imagine the re-emergence of a single party that could form a government and assure stability. The next choice is government by coalitions which may once again vitiate the political climate and kill the fresh enthusiasm for a new political culture.


More by :  Prof. R. N. Mishra

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