Gandhi and Sarkar: Introduction to the Interview

Previously published in Global Times (Copenhagen Denmark), 1998 (3).

By Sohail Inayatullah, Ph.D.

Mahatma Gandhi and Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar are products of Indian cosmology and among the most significant thinkers to emerge from South Asia. Gandhi is well known for his non-violent philosophy and tactics but also for his championing of local economics. Given the dangers of globalism today, Gandhi’s relevance continues to increase.

Sarkar is less well known. The controversial founder of the spiritual movement Ananda Marga and the socio-economic theory PROUT, Sarkar is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest thinkers. (Inayatullah, 1990) Sarkar provides a new map of self, society, economy and polity that articulates concerns for the future at least seven generations ahead. Sarkar , it appears, will be among those thinkers who create new discourses, and whose relevance will continue to increase into the far future.

Earlier in this century, even as they worked to transform the Indian episteme, and while Sarkar’s life overlapped with Gandhi’s for nearly 27 years, they did not meet. Sarkar was in his late 20s when Gandhi died on January 30, 1948. But even if they did meet, it is not at all certain what they would have said.

Sarkar did not begin his social writings on PROUT (his theory of history, political economy and governance) until the late 1950s, and they are not from the same vedantic tradition as Gandhi’s. Rather, as a relative of Subash Chandra Bose, he was influenced from a different direction – Tantra. Sarkar dedicated his first book, wherein he articulated his political economy, to Bose. In one discourse, titled “The Man and the Ideology”, Sarkar reminds us that various ambitious Congress Party leaders exploited the differences between the two men. Still, “the expression of their personal animosity and the serpentine noos of so-called Ahimsa were among the main reasons why Bose had to leave the country”. (Sarkar, 1987, 22)

Defending Bose as one who passionately longed for the independence of India, Sarkar reminds us that “the Second World War was a war between two imperialist and expansionist forces”, for “neither the Axis or Allied powers were of the holy copper vessel and basil leaves that bathed in the water of the Ganges”. (23)

While Sarkar rarely mentions leaders and writers in his works, he does mention Gandhi as well as Marx. In both cases, he writes that he has profound respect for them as individuals, but that their ideologies are fundamentally “defective” in the real world. For Sarkar, the Independence leaders did not have any revolutionary zeal, nor any “clear cut constructive political strategy or socio-economic program”. (21)

While we will let Gandhi respond to this critique later, Sarkar adds that “while it is undeniable that Mahatma Gandhi awakened mass consciousness, he did not channelize this awakened mass consciousness along the path of (economic) struggle”. (21) From Sarkar’s view, if Gandhi had done so, true independence could have been possible – that is, sustained economic self-reliance.

In an earlier article on social justice, while concurring that violence begets violence, and that attacking individual capitalists does not change the structure of society or the seeds of desire in other’s mind, still Sarkar argues that Gandhi’s moral appeals will not succeed.

“[Although his] ideas and ethics are of a high order, the soil of the world is too harsh for such pious appeals to collect their vital juice so easily for sustenance.” (Sarkar, 1983, 38) And furthermore:

“What is human appeal, or passive resistance? In fact this also is nothing but the application of a special type of force for creating circumstantial pressure. This we can call an application of intellectuo-moral force. By this a person agrees voluntarily to proceed on the path of goodness, without taking recourse to any crude force, frown or law of bloodshed.”

What is this circumstantial pressure?

“A force whereby the individual or collective mind vibrates to the thrills of benevolent waves, is it not? Is it not the attempt to touch the part of the human mind which is most tender and most vulnerable to human appeal, or passive resistance? Hence only those who are imaginative and whose minds have quite a fund of softness are amenable to passive resistance or human appeal. This kind of appeal does not carry much weight with the frigid mind. To make such minds as these responsive, it is, and shall always be, necessary to hit them extremely hard, or else one may have to wait ad infinitum in the fond hope of finding the delicate chord of the lyre in the secret recess of some implacable mind, to respond to such an honest supplication. By that time the carcasses of those helpless, tormented people, for the mitigation of whose troubles the appeal is meant, will have been pulverized into dust.” (38-39)

And in direct reference to Gandhi:

“No matter how highly rated Gandhism and similar movements rate human magnanimity, or how sage-like its expounders be, petty self-seeking people will not accept this policy as a matter of course. The foot sores of the trotter will fail to move their flinty minds. Gandhism is the paragon in the paradise of imagination but in the world of reality it is but a bizarre self-righteousness.” (39)

This is not to say that Sarkar advocates political violence, rather, as with Gandhi, he has a rather sophisticated theory on peace and violence. But we must here come to Gandhi’s defense. As Mark Juergensmeyer reminds us, “Gandhi was a fighter. Whatever else one might say about him – that he was a saint, a clever politician, or simply an irascible little man – one must say this: he liked a good fight.” (Juergensmeyer, 1984, 1) As Gandhi said, “Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would choose violence”. (1)

But even as a fighter, soul force and non-violence were central to his worldview, while for Sarkar, non-violence is simply one of many characteristics of his cosmology. Certainly, as we will explore, Gandhi comes out stronger against direct violence than Sarkar. But Sarkar is much more aware of structural violence and the need to create “sattvic” peace (positive peace), a peace based on constant struggle. For Sarkar, absence of struggle is simply “tamasic” peace (negative peace). Gandhi is much more concerned with the means/ends question. “If we take care of the means, sooner or later we are bound to reach the ends.” Moreover, his soul force, or truth force, is based on uncertainty: “If I am wrong, only I suffer. In violence others suffer too.”

But let us not interfere with this conversation between the two. I will now interview these two leaders. Of course, this interview process is outside conventional space-time parameters.

The Interview

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