Debating India

The monotony of re-enactments

Sunday 10 April 2005, by SHARMA*Jyotirmaya

Even a cursory look at the re-enactment of the Dandi March by the Congress in Gujarat would point to the contradictions between the original spirit of the event and its epigonic simulation, says Jyotirmaya Sharma.

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The Hindu Photo Archives
1930... Mahatma Gandhi arriving at Dandi, where he was received by Sarojini Naidu.

AFTER THE call for Purna Swaraj (total independence) at the Lahore Congress in 1930, Gandhi addressed the students of the Gujarat Vidyapeeth and told them that he did not "know what form civil disobedience is to take, but I am desperately in search of an effective formula." As early as February 1930, Gandhi began to write regularly about the Salt Tax in Young India, calling it "the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise."

The Mahatma was clear about one thing: the movement would have nothing to do with any political party. He was determined to start the movement with the inmates of his ashram and those "who have submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit of its method." What was this spirit and method? It was an uncompromising adherence to truth and non-violence.

Having written to the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, on March 2, about his intention to break the salt law, which Gandhi termed as "the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint," he warned people not to lose sight of the moral imperative and the set of values that determined his decision to break "the mournful monotony of compulsory peace" enforced on the poor of the country. In his characteristic forthright manner, Gandhi issued a warning: "If it is only curiosity that moves you to walk this long distance, you better not waste your time and mine."

On March 12, 1930, Gandhi set out at 6.30 a.m. for Dandi. At every step through the march, the Mahatma was conscious of not letting the moral guard being lowered. At Bhagtam, on March 29, Gandhi admonished local workers for ordering milk from Surat in motor lorries and incurring other expenses for the marchers. This was, he said, directly against the professed aim of acting on behalf of the hungry and the unemployed. On another occasion, he dispensed with the services of a man who was made to carry a heavy kitson burner for the purpose of the night journey and called it begar (forced labour).

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2005... Congress president Sonia Gandhi joins partymen in Ahmedabad during the Dandi March re-enactment.

The 241-mile stretch to Dandi was completed on April 5. On April 6, Gandhi bathed in the sea, and at 8.30 a.m. bent down to pick a lump of salt, symbolising the breaking of the salt law. Drinking water was scarce at Dandi and so was food. The Mahatma asked his followers to use water sparingly and fixed a menu of gram, puffed rice, and boiled water with an ounce of ghee and jaggery added to it. But more significantly, he called for "world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might."

Even a cursory look at the re-enactment of the Dandi March by the Congress in Gujarat would point to the contradictions between the original spirit of the event and its epigonic simulation. The fact of Congressmen spending huge amounts of money to organise the march, not to speak of the sight of Congress leaders wearing branded walking shoes during their symbolic participation, is testimony to the wide gulf between the moral salience of the original and the vacuity of the imitation. The most that could be achieved by the re-enactment is the bolstering of the fortunes of the Congress in a State that happens to be a Hindutva stronghold.

On March 27, 1930, Gandhi, writing in Young India during the course of his journey to Dandi, formulated the philosophy of civil disobedience, but also set forth an abiding political philosophy. It needs to be quoted in full for the simple reason of its contemporary relevance in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat: "An evil administration never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good man will, therefore, resist an evil system or administration with his whole soul. Disobedience of the laws of an evil state is, therefore, a duty. Violent disobedience deals with men who can be replaced. It leaves evil itself untouched and often accentuates it. Non-violent, that is civil disobedience is the only and the most successful remedy and is obligatory upon him who would dissociate himself from evil."

The re-enactment, then, has little to do with a purpose that opposes the existence of an evil system or government, though the proximity of one in Gujarat is clear as daylight. But there are individuals like the Gandhian, Narayan Desai, and the adivasi follower of Gandhi, Dashriben, who resist "partaking of evil" by creating an alternative world of their own. They have nothing to do with the `skilful forgery’ or the `synthetic antiquarianism grafted on inescapably contemporary foundations’ of the Congress. For them, the `soul force’ still operates in contrast to `brute force.’

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