The search for new time - Ahimsa in an age of permanent war
Gandhi with mill workers in Darwen, Lancashire, 1931
Gandhi’s name for communalism was ‘irreligion’, and he believed these versions of utilitarian religiosity to be perversions of faith and harbingers of disintegration. Gandhi’s instincts on this score were correct: it was not possible to establish a stable polity in India based on a ‘national’ religion. The attempt to enforce a civic religion – the ‘nationalisation of religion’ as it were, could ignite a colossal legitimation crisis for the Indian state. This has been borne out by the history of partition and its aftermath.
On ahimsa too, Gandhi was reluctant to provide a theory: ‘to write a treatise on the science of ahimsa is beyond my powers... Let anyone who can systematise ahimsa into a science do so, if indeed it lends itself to such treatment.’ (10) His approach to non-violence was not tactical or ideological, but metaphysical. One scholar describes it thus: ‘Being a manifestation of Brahman, every living being was divine. Taking life was therefore sacrilegious and a form of deicide.” (11) It was his sense of being at one with all Indians - indeed, all humanity - that lay at the root of Gandhi’s charisma. (12) There was never such a thing as Gandhian ideology – nor is it proper to call anyone a Gandhian.
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