It is Gandhi Jayanti and I am thinking about a man who, in 1922, at the height of apparent political success, called off the largely peaceful Non-cooperation Movement because of a single incident at Chauri Chaura in which a mob killed several policemen. His driving principle was that a righteous end can never be achieved by immoral means.
Kobad Ghandy, with a very similar sounding family name, is a man I had never heard of till he was arrested as a Naxalite and media web sites started ringing with paeans to his righteousness and charm, albeit with pro forma disclaimers as to his being "misguided" (there are fairly broad laws in India that make it a crime to aid and abet Naxalites, so perhaps the disclaimers were a wise precaution). Evidently this Kobad is an heir of plutocrats, a fellow whom it amused to play the revolutionary. You have perhaps seen the type in college, the rich guy under no pressure to get grades for a living, who endlessly spouts Marxist jargon, knowing all the while that he can always go into Daddy's business any time he wants. Apparently, our Kobad just took the game a step farther and actually became a Naxalite.
Now that may well be an overly unkind and harsh assessment of this individual whom I do not know, but I believe we are all shaped by our life experiences and background--what the Marxists call our class identity--to a greater extent than we would like to believe.
It is possible to understand and respect a man who is driven to fight for his and his family's survival as a last resort, because that is something any of us would instnctively do under similar circumstances. Most of us would probably like to come to the aid of such a person; however we don't go off and expropriate that man's fight and make it our own, firstly because we have lives of our own to live, and struggles to wage. But more fundamentally, there is something disrespectful and wrong in blithely waging a war on behalf of the poor--contrasted with assisting the poor--when one is far from poor oneself and is therefore in an inherently more powerful position. It reduces the original subject from an owner of his life and struggle to an object of some rich guy's fight. It makes no difference that the man may not have been free in the first place--the rich person is, in effect, replacing that man's previous master.
If Ghandy had risen from comparative poverty and earned his own wealth, we might say he has also earned the right to be a partner of the person who has no choice but to fight; but evidently Ghandy is a steretotypical Richie Rich who was born to wealth, and chose to use the freedom his inherited riches bought him to carry out warfare against the state, on behalf of the poor. Such a man must be presumed to be playing a romantic adventure game from his imagination, albeit a deadly one with people's lives.
When played by the rich, the object of this game is rotten at the core. It is highly doubtful that either Kobad Ghandy or many of his evidently privileged cohorts have much of an idea of the life of an average working stiff, worrying about bills, children's education, and so on. Yet people like Ghandy take it upon themselves to wage war against a lawful government elected by the same working stiffs, in the course of which they give themselves permission to rob and murder and terrorize at will. Their avowed ideology is not so much the empowerment of the working stiff as it is to set up their own privileged selves in the vanguard of an elite dictatorship over those working stiffs. When Naxalites and their sympathizers talk of "liberating" the working class, it actually means taking control of the lives of people constituting said class.
Here is an excerpt from an article by Jyoti Punwani that says more than any commentary about the nature of playboy-revolutionaries and their groupies. In an unabashedly uncritical and fawning article, Punwani has this to say:
"Kobad has been a foodie ever since I've known him. After a whole morning wrestling with Lenin's "Imperialism" at some open-air camp outside Mumbai, Kobad would start making lunch, insisting that we learn to wring the necks of chickens, else how would we stand the sight of blood when revolution actually came? This was as much part of our "toughening up" as the laborious hikes up the Western Ghats he took us on."
Isn't it nice to have a choice. Normal people eat what food they can, when they can get it, while the privileged get to be foodies. Actual labourers trudge up and down the Ghats, but Ghandy and his cohorts have time to take laborious hikes. That contrast aside, most people, even many soldiers who kill for a living, I imagine, would be disgusted at the sadism involved in gratuitiously wringing the neck of a chicken, just to get used to the idea of killing. Here is a moral tip for Punwani and Ghandy: People kill when they must, for food, or for self-defence--just ask young Rukhasana Kausar of Jammu who did what she had to do when terrorists attacked her family--but normal people who wish to retain their humanity would be concerned if they find themselves making a habit of killing. Certainly, they wouldn't go around deliberately cultivating the habit of causing hurt, systematically killing off the sense of empathy with life that is inherent in everyone. And normal people who witness such things--or perhaps engaged in them in their youth--don't recall them with gushing fondness.
If the viciousness and moral perversity related so approvingly by Punwani seems appalling, imagine a society run and controlled by people who engage in such actions by choice. People habituated to killing, and maybe even having learned to enjoy it to some extent, aren't going to simply switch off and become empathetic souls just after they come to power. The mass killings by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot et al stand out as examples of this. A humane society requires leaders, and thought-leaders, who have retained consciences that are capable of apprehending the impact of life-and-death decisions on the lives of real people.
Gandhi, unlike this Ghandy, was a man who delved deeply into questions of truth, violence, morality, and the health and sustainability of society. He made many tough and controversial decisions as a leader such as the one to call off Non-Cooperation. They made him very unpopular at the time, but in hindsight, his rigorous insistence on right means was the key to keeping a measure of peace, harmony and order in Indian society after all this time. To the extent he is remembered, he represents the nation's "still, small voice within."
So, let us take a moment from the lionization of Kobad Ghandy and remember Mohandas Gandhi, who insisted that "means are, after all, everything."