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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."
Last year, when Anu Ghandy -- activist-academic turned member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the only woman to have served on the party's Politburo -- passed away, Jyoti Punwani had written movingly in the TOI about Memories of a Naxalite Friend:
In Marxist study circles, 'declassing oneself' is quite a buzzword. From Mumbai's Leftists, only Anu and her husband Kobad, both lovers of the good life, actually did so. ..
...Kobad's family home had been a sprawling Worli Sea Face flat; he was a Doon School product. Anu's lawyer-father may have left his family estate in Coorg to defend communists in court in the '50s, but she had never seen deprivation. Despite her own rough life, neither did Anu make us feel guilty for our bourgeois luxuries nor did she patronise us.
The recent arrest of the husband of that friend -- Maoist leader Kobad Ghandy, a member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist Politburo -- has created quite a sensation, only because of his affluent background: son of a Khoja-Parsi senior finance executive in Glaxo, who grew up in a large, rambling sea-facing house in Worli in Bombay, who studied in Doon School, St Xavier's College Bombay and went to London to study Chartered Accountancy. Writing in the Hindustan Times, Jypoti Punwani says this is The Kobad Ghandy I knew:
Kobad Ghandy was among the three who signed as witnesses at my marriage. His family’s ice cream was served there, much to the distaste of older guests who frowned at the strawberry chunks in a dessert supposed to be smooth and synthetic.
Kentucky’s — a name straight from ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ — was one of the two companies to introduce fresh fruit ice cream in Mumbai; its strawberries were sourced from Mahabaleshwar, where the Ghandys owned a hotel.
Fresh strawberry was the flavour that rewarded us at the end of our study circle afternoons in the vast, empty expanse of Kobad’s sea-facing flat. And scrambled eggs with sausages was the breakfast Kobad served before sitting down to explain Marx’s confounded ‘Wage, Labour, Capital’.
Aloke Banerjee reminds those too young to know otherwise, on the New Face of Naxalism in Mail Today:
What was the London- educated son of an ice- cream magnate doing in the top echelons of the Communist Party of India ( Maoist)? Indeed, a look at the leadership of the Naxalite movement today does make Ghandy appear a little out of place.
But that is not how the revolution began. Many of Ghandy’s comrades in the 1970s — the time he joined the stillnascent uprising — were intellectuals born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
In the same newspaper, Ajoy Bose recounts, Why I became disillusioned with the revolution: "I soon realised that while violence as a concept was acceptable and even attractive, it was a horrendous brutish thing in reality"
The Hindustan Times points out:
The man touted to be one of the biggest Maoist catch in recent times, 63-year-old Kobad Ghandy used to write for economic journals and prominent newspapers using a pseudonym, Arvind.
Sheela Bhatt adds in rediff:
Someone who sympathises with him is livid that a television news channel compared him on Tuesday night to Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder Mohammad Sayeed
"It is ridiculous," this individual said, "TV is helping whitewash the State's violence. There is no comparison between the two. The Maoist movement is against State violence. TV anchors, who do not believe in anything but provocative news, are defending the State's unconstitutional acts. Are they not supporting violence themselves?"
Across India Kobad Ghandy's many supporters and friends are watching the situation closely in the hope that he will not end up the next Binayak Sen. Will he?
Are you saying you are not killing but helping people to live?
Yes. But we are defined by the prime minister as the deadliest virus... (laughs)
Why do you think so?
We have a clear-cut definition of development. We think the society is in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state and there is a need to democratise it.
The first step is to distribute land to the tiller. So our fight is against land grab and exploitation of the poor, especially focusing on rural India.
And a comprehensive profile that quotes Asghar Ali Engineer:
Mr Engineer remembers how they used to meet at the convocation hall of Bombay University once a week at six pm after office hours.
"He was a thorough gentleman and was very strong in his convictions even then. He regarded the ruling Congress party as a clever bourgeois and capitalist party."
Also See: Outlook Archives