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Duragraha, not Satyagraha

Anna Hazare's latest threat of an indefinite fast from August 16 to protest against the government's draft of the lokpal bill has reminded many of Mahatma Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha. Alok Bajpai writes.

india Updated: Aug 01, 2011 07:52 IST
Alok Bajpai

Anna Hazare's latest threat of an indefinite fast from August 16 to protest against the government's draft of the lokpal bill has reminded many of Mahatma Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha. It is not my purpose to devalue the need for stronger anti-corruption law, but only to suggest some points from a historical perspective to understand the need for many of today's popular movements appropriating their efforts as 'Gandhian'.

Gandhi's activities were never fragmented in their approach and style. Satyagraha was an important component of his actions but it was not the only act. For pursuing his politics, he made interacting relationships and engagements with various streams of public life and politics. The only exception in this regard was when faced with communal and casteist politics to which he never gave any legitimacy. Hazare's movement, on the other hand, is not only non-political in its content but it is also trying to belittle the parliamentary democratic system.

What proponents of mass movements like Hazare are doing is hurtling towards a political catastrophe. Gandhi wrote in 1934: "Everyone cannot use surgical instruments. Many may use them if there is an expert behind them directing their use. I claim to be a Satyagraha expert in the making. I need to be for more careful than the expert surgeon who is a complete master of his science. I am still a humble searcher." The main purpose of this caution was to distance the movement from petty power-seekers and self-righteous elements.

Gandhi was a great mass movement strategist who also knew the negative aspects of such movements. In a speech in 1916, he said: "For social service, as for any other service on the face of the earth, there is one condition indispensable, viz, proper qualifications on the part of those who want to render that service. The question to be asked is whether most of us who are already engaged in this kind of service and those who aspire to render that service, possess the necessary qualifications; because you will agree with me that servants, if they can mend matters, can also spoil matters, and in trying to do service, however well-intentioned that service might be, if they are not qualified for that service, they will be rendering not service but disservice."

To differentiate between a genuine satyagrahi and a stubborn action-mode enthusiast, he coined the term 'Duragraha' or 'A-Satyagraha' (anything but Satyagraha). When Gandhi launched Satyagraha, many tried to copy it. Gandhi rebuked such instances in the strongest terms. When some employees of a market in Bombay launched a peculiar kind of Satyagraha — lying down on the ground to block the market's entrance and bearing placards that read, 'You may as well tread on the stomachs of the poor and get in' — for the enhancement of their salaries, Gandhi responded: "I do not see any Satyagraha in what you have done. Satyagraha is not a weapon which can be used to exact what you want by force… It cannot be justice pure and simple that you may get through the means you have employed. How can a hunger strike prove the justice of your demands?"

Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha is a synthesis of 'method of action' and 'method of enquiry'. Both work simultaneously and, in the process, affect the course of action according to this dialectical method. A satyagrahi, by instinct, functions in a dialogic, open mindset. He tries his best to combat the bias of his adversary but also tries to 'un-bias' himself from any ill-judgement. In Duragraha, the element of 'stubborn resistance' and 'fixed prejudgment' is a dominant factor. A duragrahi takes it for granted that what he insists on is the Truth. An element of fanaticism and cynicism is also inherent in his behaviour.

In 1937, Gandhi was convinced of the historical value of parliamentary democracy. "In making room for a parliamentary programme, we are advancing a step further in the direction of non-violence… Truth and non-violence are both the means and the end, and given the type of men, the legislatives can be the means of achieving the concrete pursuit of truth and non-violence. If they cannot be that, it will be our fault and not theirs. If we have a real hold on the masses, the legislatures are bound to be that and nothing less," wrote the satyagrahi.

Alok Bajpai is a fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.