Gandhi and Sarkar: The Interview

On non-violence, rural economy and the Indian independence movement

Gandhi: As I just said, satyagraha is based on uncertainty. It avoids adding to the countless deeds of horror that have been perpetuated in history. Moreover, non-violence, or perhaps, least violence (to be correct philosophically) is not a weapon of the weak. It is a weapon of the strongest and the bravest.

Sarkar: Soul force can do little against the horror of history, or of the tragedy of present-day Kolkata. India is poorer now than ever. India is more in debt, has fought meaningless wars, and the future for the peasant does not look better.

Inayatullah: Gandhijii, Shrii Sarkar may have a point. How would you comment on the following poem by Mark Twain?

There were two “Reigns of Terror,”
if we would but remember it and consider it;
the one wrought murder in hot passion,
the other in heartless cold blood,
the one lasted mere months,
the other lasted a thousand years;
the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons,
the other upon a hundred millions;
but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor terror,
the momentary terror, so to speak.

(From “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”)

Gandhi: That is exactly my point. That is why we must be really revolutionary. What could be more revolutionary than non-violence, truth and love? All three co-exist, they cannot exist independently of each other. The soul force that I experimented with in my life is the type of force that begins the process of ending this silent suffering. It can begin the process of not only bringing individuals to God, to non-violence, but it can create the first-ever non-violent State.

Inayatullah: Please expand your notion of the non-violent State. How is it different from various conceptions of the State – for example, the State as protector of the interests of the landed; or the State as neutral and autonomous, simply responding to the various interest groups that pressure for its attention; or Marx’s contention, that the executive is merely a committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist class; or modern notions of the State which see it as keeping the peace and managing the harsh by-products of the industrial system.

Gandhi: I cannot say exactly what a State would look like of the participants practiced non-violence. You see, I do not have a fully worked-out model of everything as others might. But my goal would reduce the power of the State and develop the moral power of the individual and his and her community associations. I look upon horror at the expansion of the power of the State. Marx was partly right, the State does exploit the poor, but that does not justify a bloody revolution and the establishment of a new group of exploiters. I would like to see an enlightened anarchy. “In such a state, everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbor. In the ideal state, therefore, there is no political power because there is not State.”

Sarkar: Some theories that sound wonderful have nothing to do with the real world. Often in the long run they cause more human suffering. In our world there is a battle between the internal and external, good and evil.

True, we need to increase the morality of individuals, but the resources of particular groups of people with particular interests – whether communal, racial, economic or caste – should not be underestimated.

History is the history of the elite, it is not the history of the common man and woman. But I am very optimistic, I see a new era ahead of us, a new history for those who have been oppressed, for those that have been violated, but it will not be a workers’ paradise, rule of the masses.

Rule of the masses quickly centralizes into rule of the martially-minded. Historically this has led to dynasties; in communist countries, it has led to the suppression of individual rights, with economic advantage going to privileged party members.

Rule of the so-called wise is simply the rule of Brahmins, the rule of those who propagate religious dogmas and use ideologies to limit the intellectual advancement of the masses.

Gandhi: All types of leadership can quickly become perverse, spiritual leadership as well. That is why we need democracy, A “society based on non-violence can only consist of groups settled in villages in which voluntary cooperation is the condition of dignified and peaceful existence”. In a true democracy, “constitutional or democratic government is a distant dream as a living force, an inviolable creed not a mere policy”. More than that, I do not accept the absolute sovereignty of the State – “a real society will come not by acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when abused. In other words, self-rule is to be obtained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority”. The key to democracy is disobedience, but this must be non-violent and civil disobedience.

Sarkar:”Those who instigate others to break rules will always cause bad consequences. Let us take an example. A prominent leader of India’s struggle for independence started a civil disobedience movement against the British to attain the political independence of India. Some people suggest that the aim of this movement was not to break any rules or disobey the law. The aim was to express the truth after dispelling the cimmerian darkness. The aim was to snatch independence from the clutches of the forces of darkness. It was an effort to find the truth… it was satyagraha. However, it makes no difference what name you call a rose flower, it is still a rose. Even if you send an ordinary rice crushing mill to heaven, it’s function is still the same. If people have disregard for the law, there is every possibility that they will follow the path of law-breaking. This very psychology causes people to challenges legal statutes, and the result is never good.

“Today if people follow in the footsteps of the past, they will be led to burn buses and trams which they themselves have purchased… they will be led to burn governmental and non-governmental buildings, destroying their own hard earned wealth. When people adopt these methods today, it is because the psychology of the civil disobedience movement of the British time is still working – in other words satyagraha. However, rational people would not describe such methods as satyagraha but as duragraha – a hand-tool to destroy the society.

“Those who hold the communist banner and attack helpless people in the name of revolution, losing sight of human values under the impetus of their confused, irrational philosophy, are goaded by the same type of psychology.

“Nature dislikes disobedience or the act of breaking the law. As long as legal statutes exist, they must be obeyed. If they are found to be harmful or stand in the way of the progress of society, or if they hold back the forward march of humanity like a serpent entwined around the legs of a person, these statutes should be ground into the dust and new laws should be enacted and obeyed. Otherwise, the law of big fish eating little fish will dominate society, and this will harm the interests of both the individual and the collective. The civil disobedience movement has left behind a chaotic imprint on society.”

However, constructive forms of direct action may be highly necessary at times. “When the British were ruling India, India imported salt even though the potential for manufacturing local salt existed in India. The Indian leaders then organized a civil disobedience movement and proceeded to make their own salt, boycotting British made salt. This movement caught the imagination of the people and won their support, thus the Indian people became conscious of British exploitation. This movement brought down the price of salt, an indispensable part of most Indian dishes, and provided employment by building up the local salt industry. It also saved the country from the drainage of wealth which previously went into the coffers of the British salt manufacturers. In addition, it heightened the consciousness of the Indian people and helped polarize the population into the pro and anti-British camps.”

Democracy can only exist when there is education, otherwise candidates buy and sell voters. Goondas go to houses and collect votes. Many of my workers have been brutally killed in Tripura and at Ananda Nagar – neither the Congress Party nor the Communist Party really believe in democracy. Without education, democracy is simply a sham. Marx was very right, the State exists for the rich. “A truly benevolent society will never come into being under the leadership of those who are solely concerned with profit and loss.”

Nonetheless, so far democracy is the best system available to us. With love and inner moral strength perhaps the corruption of the politicians can be checked. “Any government – fascist, imperialist, republican, dictatorial, bureaucratic or democratic – is sure to become tyrannical is there is no moral force to check the capricious activities of the leaders in power.” What is needed is spiritual leadership – we need the create sadvipras: moral, spiritual activists who can guide society.

Gandhi: But the state must be secular. “If I were a dictator, religion and State would be separate. I swear by my religion. But it is my personal affair. The State has nothing to do with it.”

Sarkar: Spirituality and religion are two words that have nothing in common. Spirituality is centered in universal neohumanism, a love for all living beings, a commitment to the rational, and a willingness to see all as part of the fundamental unity of being. Even with moral and spiritual persons providing general policy, the federal structure of government – separating legislative, executive and judicial powers – is a good one. We need, however, to imagine a global governance system, a world government.

Gandhi: Yes, we need idealism. I think we agree that power is everywhere, not just in the State. As much as the history of humanity is the history of suffering, it is also the history of suffering, of resistance. I see history as partly progressive, as moving towards ahimsa (non-violence) – that is my theory of histyr. I either case, it seems we agree on many things.

Sarkar: There is a progressive movement in history, it is an attraction of the Great. But there are also cyclical elements, there rise and fall of collective psychologies. History takes the order of the rule of shudras (laborers), then ksattriyas (the martially minded), then vipras (intellectuals, priests), and then vaeshyas (merchants, financiers). Each stage brings in new ideas and innovations and then over time it stagnates, it mercilessly exploits the others, In the vaeshyan era, exploitation is at its worst. A shudra revolution results and the cycle continues. While we cannot change this structure, we can eliminate the exploitative phases of the cycle, so that we have an upward movement in history But ultimately progress is spiritual; cyclicity is the essence of all non-spiritual forces.
Gandhi: “The moment man awakes to the Spirit within he cannot remain violent. Either he progresses towards ahimsa or rushes to his doom. … If there is no progress, there is inevitable retrogression. No one can remain without the eternal cycle unless it be God Himself.”

Inayatullah: Gandhijii, although the discussion has moved back and forth between structure (divine or historical laws) and individual, don’t people differ with respect to individual nature? Can you impose your model of non-violence on others?

Gandhi: “That is the main reason why violence is eliminated and a satyagraha gives his opponent the same right of independence and feelings of liberty that he reserves himself, and he will fight by inflicting injuries on his own person.” We are committed to civil disobedience, not criminal disobedience. No grand universal theory of non-violence is implied.

Inayatullah: So non-violence is contextual, essential local. Can we talk of religion now? Although you say you want to separate religion and politics, that has not been your practice.

Gandhi: My religion is that which transcends Hinduism, it is that “which changes one’s very nature, which binds one indissolvably to the truth, and which even purifies. It is the permanent element in human nature which counts no cost as too great in order to find full expression, which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself, known its maker, and appreciated the true correspondence between the maker and itself.” It is as Shrii Sarkar has said: a spiritual humanism, a neohumanism, one inextricably linked to ahimsa.

Inayatullah: But aren’t you both fundamentally influenced by Hinduism? Shrii Sarkar, your history of class cycles emerges from the classic varna (caste) system, you maintain that the cycle will continue forever, though the exploitative period of each ruling elite will be eliminated. And Gandhijii, your ideal economy, although decentralized, non-industrial, and fundamentally basic-needs oriented, still sees varna as the ideal division of labor. Shrii Sarkar, you trace your lineage from Shiva, and although you have certainly rethought much of Tantric cosmology, the notion of struggle, social dialectics, mysticism, and the creation of a “well knit” social order remain central to your work. While you Gandhijii, are through and through a vedantist, a monist.

Gandhi: All what you say is true, but I do not think other Hindu leaders have emphasized non-violence in the way I have. Moreover, other leaders have become gurus, while I remain uncertain of my spirituality, in doubt and constant failing myself. I have also been deeply influenced by the West, in positive and negative ways. True, when asked what I thought of Western civilization, I responded that “it would be a nice idea”, but this exposure has allowed me in some ways to move outside my history, and hopefully become more universal.

Sarkar: Shiva was not a Hindu; he was the father of Tantra. He started a spiritual tradition based o practice. My mission is not to have others believe this or that, but to practice intuitional methods, to go deep within, experience the inner states of being and then attempt to explain this rationality in a language for all to understand. I am in India, as I can be of most service here. My emphasis on Bengal and India has been a project of recovery of sublime spiritual culture. Exploitation is not only an economic matter, it is primary psychological – to powder down minds to create a condition of inferiority. Through my work in Bengali – poetry, philology, songs – we hope to recover what was one of the originating points of civilization. As you know, I speak many languages, who comes to me, I speak their language, but as with the Mahatma, the language we speak is not that of Hinduism, but that of the heart.

Inayatullah: Gandhijii, besides non-violence, you have emphasized the spinning wheel as a defining metaphor for your vision of the good society and as your solution to poverty and development. However, after your death, India did not follow your decentralized model. Instead it sought to join the ranks of the industrially developed world, it attempted planned capitalism. The results have been a massive, often corrupt bureaucracy; a green revolution that has left poor tenants not only landless, but jobless as well; ecological devastation; and a ration between the income of the richest and the poorest that is nearly two thousand to one. Nowadays your model is often talked of as appropriate technology, and throughout the world, there is the Green movement, which in many ways shares your vision, and to some extent Shrii Sarkar’s as well.

Gandhi: Yes, for me the center if an ideal political economy is the village, and the key to revival of the village is the spinning wheel. “In my dream, in my sleep, while eating me it is the symbol of India’s liberty.” Of course, those after me did not follow that path. They believed in the Western development model. It is this model that I have done my best to criticize. I have also learned from socialism. “For me the socialism that India can assimilate is the socialism of the spinning wheel. Indeed, the spinning wheel is as much a necessity of Indian life as air and water. The spinning wheel and the spinning wheel alone will solve, if anything will solve, the problem of the desperate poverty of India.”

Sarkar: Technology exists in a larger cultural context. Within a Proutist society, wherein there are limits to wealth, to hoarding, and where it is recognized that all ownership rests with the Supreme Consciousness, such that “every property of this universe is the joint ownership of all living beings”, technology can lead to progress, to increased standards of living. True, we need to localize industries, to move them to rural areas, we need to form cooperatives among small farmers, protect them, make sure that they are not corrupted. We need localism, people’s movements. But that is different from an obsession with spinning wheels. With new technologies, under a cooperative social structure, labor can work less, with increased productivity. Working time can be reduced to a few days a week. The rest of the time can be spent in other activities.

Gandhi: With spinning wheels there is a dignity of labor. There is a possibility of self-reliance. With industrialization, there is only a commodification of labor. It is not technology that I am against, but technocracy. It is Western modernity that has robbed us of who we are. This is not only a psychological phenomenon, it has occurred through science and technology. With my spinning wheel, we can resist centralization, urbanization, bureaucratization and technocratization. If the Soviets had used it, they could have resisted “partyization”. Technology is not neutral – it has myths, beliefs and values associated with it, it carries a hidden code.

Sarkar: Growth is also required. India, indeed, the entire planet, has so many resources – intellectual, spiritual, physical – at individual and national levels that can be tapped, so our standard of living can grow. With a renewed sense of culture, we can begin to develop our own technologies, based on local knowledge, local expertise for self-use, and barter with other communities. Through international barter arrangements we can increase the standard of living of all of India. See, the goal of life is not work, it is a mission. We must liberate ourselves from the drudgery of unnecessary work.

Gandhi: Work gives us dignity. It brings us back to ourself. It gives us purpose. It aids in controlling the mind, lest it create mischief.

Sarkar: Look at the peasant in the field, sweating all day and night for a bit of food. We need self-reliance and decentralization, but we must change our notion of wok to mission. Still, the mind does need to be occupied, but most work is merely exploited labor that only helps the vaeshyan class. Women’s work in particular is not valued. We need a culture of coordinated co-operation between women and men, where women’s potential is no longer surpressed.

Inayatullah: How would both of you deal with Third World foreign debt and the problem of increasing poverty?

Sarkar: Poor nations have paid enough; they are now only paying interest rates. We should stop paying. A Proutist government would not pay anymore.

Gandhi: The financial economy must be based on the real economy and not on global speculation. However, in our strategy, our intention would not be to hurt the banks. Our goal is not to cause violence, as when we boycotted British goods, but simply to survive, to develop and regain dignity.

Inayatullah: But didn’t you make some startling comments to Louis Fischer in 1942? I think the conversation went like this:

Gandhi: In the villages the peasants will stop paying taxes. This will give them courage to think that they are capable of independent action. Their next stop will be to seize the land.
Fischer: With violence?
Gandhi: There may be violence. But then again the landlords may cooperate.
Fischer: You are an optimist.
Gandhi: They might cooperate by fleeing.
Fischer: Or they might organize violent resistance.
Gandhi: There may be fifteen days of chaos, but I think, we could soon bring that under control.

Yet you are critical of those who believe force can change socio-economic conditions.

Gandhi: The ends should not be more important than means at times. As I have said many times, “There is no road to self-reliance, self-reliance is the road”. This is true for peace as well.

Inayatullah: But your comments to Fischer are different from your other efforts to gain and through spiritual appeals to landlords. What type of stewardship would there be if landlords are forced to give up their lands?

Gandhi: Yes, there are times when such activities are necessary.

Sarkar: Our enemy is not the capitalists. “The one who exploits the masses is also a person; this must never be lost sight of even for a moment.” Greed is everywhere. And once the land has been redistributed you cannot impose a collective system, any system. The USSR tried to impose collective farming by force. Severe famines were produced with massive civil unrest, many were killed What is needed is the gradual development of a cooperative system. With strong administration , morality, and support of the people, the cooperative system can succeed. Our top priority will be finding employment for surplus labor in underdeveloped regions.

Inayatullah: You think India’s economic problems can be solved.

Sarkar: Actually, easily solved, but it will involve major changes. The present system is irrational and it will not, cannot, last much longer. Not only India’s problems but the world’s problems can be solved.

Inayatullah: It is this type of language that worries laissez-faire bankers and statesman throughout the world. Nations that do not pay their debts become pariahs in the international system. Cooperatives will compete against larger multinationals and take away the commodity labor needed for capitalists. In the last ten years, India has made remarkable strides in increasing its foreign reserves, largely by reducing the power of bureaucracies, investing in telecommunications, doing the manual labor in electronics industry and then slowly mowing up the chain, with Indian multinationals now even doing software design.

Sarkar: That is partly my point. Technology should not be seen as necessary evil. At the same time, there remains an imbalance. Prama, dynamic balance, is needed between different sectors of the economy: the local and world economy; humans and nature; and the different dimensions of ourselves. My program is based on a strong people’s market economy and not a nationalized economy. Government, especially corrupt government, cannot free the economy. I see three levels – a large cooperative economy, and individual local market economy, and a large-industry state-run economy. Still, capitalism is the problem of the day, there is no getting around that.

Inayatullah: You both appear to have contradictions in your though that are not problems for either one of you. Perhaps it is because you are strategists as well as philosophers or perhaps that is the nature of Hinduism. But Gandhijii, let us discuss a man who has written a book that is informed by your vision.

In his marvelous book, Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias, Ashis Nandy tells ut Godse killed you because of your rejection of modernity, not because of your moderate Hinduism. Godse, in his last speech before his death sentence, made a plea “to recognize the dangers [you] placed to growth of the modern state in India [increasingly liberal, individualistic, democratic, export-oriented] and to the conduct of rational, normal politics along the lines Kissinger would have approved of”. (Nandy, 1987, 130)

In another place, he pays glowing tribute to your mission:

“Again, of all the major critics of modernity, Gandhi was one of the few to offer a radical critique of urban-industrialism and modern science.

“And this without opting out of organized politics like a mystic or a saint [as many utopians tend to].

“He would not accept the urban-industrial vision in the name of progress, and he refused to place science outside culture or history. Unlike Marx he did not seek to reform the relationships of modernity he rejected modernity himself. Unlike Mao Zedong, who shared some of his concerns, Gandhi never dreamt of entering a race with the modern West to beat it at its own game; he sensed the exhaustion of this civilization after four hundred years of colonialism. He envisioned a new game drawing upon some very old rules and conventions. And unlike Freud, who while providing a fundamental critique of the western culture in Gandhi’s time, was unaware of the idealization of adulthood, masculinity and normality in his own work, Gandhi was willing to be irresponsible, effeminate, immature and insane.” (158-159)

Gandhi: Those are very kind words, although I do not know about the insane.

Inayatullah: I think he means that as a good critical activist, your behavior confused contemporary notions of rationality. Who, for example, fasts at every juncture to move attention to various issues?

Gandhi: Yes, more than what Nandy is saying I also reject the history of evolution and the idea in Marxism that you can transform society with massive social engineering. In fact it is this theory of progress that has suppressed us.

Sarkar: Nandy points out how we need to recreate the world through critically transforming our traditions This is what I have done with Tantra. From this historical perspective, I imagine us moving into a new world.

It is a world where mysticism is a powerful positive force of the spirit brought to bear on the real world, as part of a new worldview. The technology that we are to develop is not only physical but also psycho-spiritual, though it is not within the current language of technocracy. There are spiritual energies deep in the mind, and the use of microvita – packets of consciousness sometimes nearly mental and sometimes nearly physical – can spread ideas throughout the world. Fields of awareness are now being shared.

In this new world, I do not see a return to the spinning wheel, I see a return to dignity, but it will be a hard-fought one. There is a spiritual sense of a unified humanity; even the most cynical person knows this in his heart. We are approaching a world government based on bioregional federations.

True, the structure of oppression remains, but the wheel is moving. There may be a world depression, and in that pause, the possibility of progressive forces to create a new world is great. That is why I remain optimistic. We are at the end of the capitalist system, and it is this end that we should rejoice in. “Now humanity is at the threshold of a new era, and so many epoch-making events, so many annals of history are to be create by the humans of today. [We should be] ready to shoulder that responsibility for ages to come.”

Gandhi: I too am convinced the future is bright. Truth and non-violence will persevere.

Inayatullah: Any last comments?

Gandhi: The strategies I used to mobilize people were easier when we had a clear enemy like the British, it is more difficult now, The problems are everywhere, We must begin with ourselves. We must live in a simple manner.

Sarkar: My strategies are manifold. Teaching meditation through Ananda Marga; social service through Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team; developing a partnership society through the Women’s Welfare Division; challenging local and regional exploitation through regional socioeconomic movements and worker’s and student’s federations; offering a new theory of political economy through PROUT; revitalizing Bengali music and language through Prabhat Samgiita [songs of a new dawn], Varna Vijinana [Science of Letters], Varna Vicitra Variety of Letters] and Shabda Caynika [Encyclopaedia] – and, most important, creating a devotional vibration in the world, a softness a fearless love.

Gandhi: It is love with non-violent social activism that can and will change the world.

Sarkar: “Soon the day will come when the moralists of the world are united in their activities, well-organized and courageous. That long-awaited day is now not too distant and with its advent, the dawn of a glorious new era of progressive socialism will be just around the corner – human society will take its first deep breath of fresh air.”

Gandhi: I am just sorry I could not have lived to help in these efforts. We were so caught up in the independence struggle, there was so much left undone.

Inayatullah: An understandable lament, Gandhijii. But the cost has been, as Shrii Sarkar knows very well, the continuation of colonialism. Economic transformation and cultural upliftment must go with political independence, otherwise the result is a meaningless sovereignty. But let us leave this discussion for another interview Thanks so much for your time!

Selected references

Avadhutika Anandamitra (Ed.), The Thoughts of P.R. Sarkar, Kolkata, Ananda Marga Publications, 1981.
Louis Fischer, Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World. New York, American Library, 1954,
Mahatma, Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi. Edited by Louis Fischer, New York, Random House, 1962.
Sohail Inayatullah, Understanding Sarkar. Phd Dissertation, University of Hawaii, 1990.
Shiva Nand Jha, A Critical Study of Gandhian Economic Thought. Agra, Laksmi Narain Agarwal, 1955.
Mark Juegensmeyer, Fighting with Gandhi. San Francisco, Harper and Row, 1984.
Ashis Nandy, Tradition, Tyranny and Utopias, Delhi, Osford University Press, 1987.
Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, PROUT in a Nutshell, Vol. 14 & 16, Kolkata, Ananda Marga Pubilications, 1987.
Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, Universal Humanism: Selected Social Writings of P.R. Sarkar. Compiled by Tim Anderson and Gary Coyle, Sydney, Proutist Publications, 1983.

While Dr. Sohail Inayatullah never met Gandhijii, he did meet Shrii Sarkar in 1989. This essay is part of a series of books on Sarkar. No offense is intended by this essay to students and devotees of Gandhijii or Shrii Sarkar.
Inayatullah is Professor at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taiwan, Adjunct Professor, Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, Macquarie University, and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast. He co-teaches a one week residential course in Futures Thinking and Strategy Development at the Mt Eliza Centre for Executive Education. In 1999, he was Unesco Chair at the Centre for European Studies, University of Trier and Tamkang Chair, Tamkang University. From 2000-2011 he was the editor of the Journal of Futures Studies. He received his doctorate from the University of Hawaii in 1990. In March 2011, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy from Universiti Sains Malaysia.  He is recipient of one of four 2010 laurel awards for all-time best futurists, as voted by the Shaping Tomorrow Foresight Network.

This is an expanded version of the original article published in Global Times
(Copenhagen Denmark), 1998 (3).

Copyright The author 1998-2012

The introduction to the interview

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