THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II : BRINGING CHANGE - A FUTURE PERSPECTIVE ON CREATIVE HEALTH NONVIOLENT ACTION
( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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Appendix 4 - My Search For Political Relevance And Gandhiji By Marie Tobin

In my early year, I was very much struck with Gandhijiís saying, that politics is religion, and religion without politics is a sham. Being very much religious, and at the same time affected by the situation of massive poverty in our country, this saying went deep into my heart. As the years unfolded before me, and I grew in my experience of "real life" situations in our country, I was irresistably drawn to explore these for myself. As I did this, the saying of Gandhiji became increasingly clear to me. To be religious is to be deeply committed to people, and to be committed to people is politics. Further, politics is not a native "being good" to people, but rather a search for the root causes of their problems, and struggling with them to remove these causes.

Gandhiji did precisely this: ignoring the many positions of power open to him, he returned again and again to the people (the masses of the rural poor) and came up with the most innovative strategies for political struggle, at the centre of which were always "the people". His experience with the people led him to some basic principles : a firm reliance on the "inner voice", which is operative in every individual and which is sharpened through self-understanding and a commitment to truth; fearlessness in the face of opposition, bron out of commitment to truth; freedom from power manipulations even to the extent of seeming obstinate and authoritarian. And finally, the democratic base is the "common people". Gandhijiís conception of a free India was a union of semiautonomous self-reliant villages with their panchayats, with the state supplementing the more general functions. He was strongly opposed to state centralisation, and recommended that after Independence, the Congress disband itself and take up service functions within the community. This suggestion, along with his plea for a united country was rejected out of hand, by the very persons who claimed him as leader, and Gandhiji was a broken man. He beycotted the inaugural session of Indian Independence on August 15, 1947, and chose rather to be in rural Bengal, where he anticipated a blood bath following on the partition of India.

When I embarked on my search for political relevance, I was disappointed at not finding a dynamic and relevant interpretation of Gandhijiís political philosophy in action. I did not primarily visit his many ashrams, but rather went to the villages of rural Bihar, relying on my own "inner voice" to set the direction. I do not regret this, because the individual equation with the rural situation experienced in the lives of the people, is the beginning of oneís truth vis-a-vis the Indian reality. Initially I encountered and participated in efforts by individuals and groups to raise the rural consciousness. We explained the existing reality with the people, analysed the causes of their poverty, and linked these to informal adult literacy and simple self-care techniques in health. Through this, the people were organised to solve their local problem, and we hoped that in this way they would become politically conscious and be able to participate intelligently in the political process. The end result intended, seemed always to elude us, though much good was achieved through building awareness and promoting peopleís organisation. Agricultural wages were raised, literacy was improved, and a certain rational approach to illness was initiated. A further experience of mine, in trying to build local self-reliance through peopleís co-operatives, using the Government integrated Rural Development Programme -- IRDP was also an illusion. The complexity of the IRDP programme and the institutionalised corruption in and around these services defeated the very capacity of the poor to cope. Rather, they were made more dependent on the Government, and the several intermediary agents.

It was at this juncture that I was convinced that a total renewal of the present structure of society is needed. A renewal which places the people firmly in control of the political process, and where the people are at the centre, of all development activity. This would require that the people themselves struggle against the present oppression and injustice without compromise, and at the same time create a society free of its current evils: alcoholism, casteism, violence, illiteracy, womenís exploitation, selfishness, greed, class differences, communalism and so on. South-Central Bihar, comprising the districts of Patna, Nalanda, Gaya, Bhojpur, Rohatas and Aurangabad have over the past 15 years seen such peasant revolts. These revolts have been mainly due to the activity of the Marxist-Leninist (ML) groups who have displayed great courage and commitment in these struggles. They have also been able to instill in the people fearlessness and a sense of dignity in confronting the organised power big landlords. But somehow, the blood shed, has been out of proportion to the gains achieved for the rural poor. Also, the people are being increasingly trapped in a circle of violence, with the state and landlords on the one side, and with the infighting and splintering of caste groups among their own ranks, on the other. There has been another type of revolt too within this area, especially in Bodh Gaua, where non-violent techniques have been used.

Starting with the Jayaprakesh Narayan (JP) movement in 1972, bands of students from all over India deserted their college studies, and chose to involve concretely in the lives of the people. They were fired by JPís call for total revolution: social, political, economic, cultural and religious.

They chose Bodh Gaya where there are massive religious trusts (Maths) and where the poor are badly exploited. They committed themselves to struggle with the people against the Maths for possession of the lands they tilled, but the produce of which filled the coffers of others. Starting with a process of conscientization and an attack on the evils in society particularly alcoholism, they gradually organised the people to fight for their rights. The techniques used were, a demand for the implementation of the land ceiling act while forcefully occupying these lands, dharnas, gheraos, long morchas and so on. There were casualties like the murder of colleagues and village people, and other injuries sustained in police and landlord encounters, but these casualties were considered proportionate to the cause. Within a period of 15 to 20 years over 20,000 acres of land were distributed to the landless and the struggle is still on. The next phase is to consolidate these gains and to build a healthy village community through social and cultural reform. JP is considered to be the present day interpretation of Gandhijiís political philosophy, and this philosophy continues to develop through people rubbing shoulders with people from other disciplines, including Marxism.

Personally, I am drawn to an amalgam of the clearsightedness of Marx vis-a-vis society as provided by his social-political analysis, and his stress on organisation; and the political sagacity of a Gandhiji who could stir the soul of a nation and mobilise all that is best in itís spiritual and cultural heritages, for total revolution. It is in persons that we discover this amalgam, and a companion of mine is a good example. Confused and disappointed with his Marxist experience, he retreated to deal with himself and was brought to the Bhagwad Gita, which by the way, was a key inspiration for Gandhiji. Being from a traditional Hindu backgroud, he re-assessed important figures of the great Hindu epics: the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Shorn of their mythological build ip, these figures spoke to him of another kind of valour : that connected with traditions and beliefs of the people. The straight message of the Gita to do ones duty without seeking for the fruits, brought him release from his own compulsions. He came to appreciate the strategies of Gandhiji, and spent a year at the Gandhi Institute in Delhi, savouring a new path: not wholly Gandhian, not wholly Marx. He is back in the field, and we work together in the Lok Samiti, also an organisation drawing itís inspiration from Jayaprakash Narayan. We work in villages, somewhat on the lines of the Bodh Gaya group and we have close links with the youth there. The fields of Bihar are ripe for revolution, but as always committed persons are few. Yet, we are hopeful that the youth will once again come forward from different backgrounds, and emerge with an amalgam, that will make possible a revolution which in itís essence, is true to Gandhiji.

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