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Gandhi and Arun Gandhi
Gandhi's view on the bomb as undemocratic:
"Not to return violence by violence but neutralise it by withholding one's
hand and, at the same time, refusing to submit to the [aggressor's] demand
[backed by force] is the only civilised way of going on in the world. Any
other course can only lead to a race for armaments, interspersed by periods
of peace which is by necessity and brought about by exhaustion, when
preparations will be going on for violence of a superior order. Peace
through superior violence inevitably leads to the atom bomb and all that it
stands for. It is the completest negation of non-violence and of democracy
which is not possible without the former."
I think this makes a lot of sense. The bomb has always been developed and
used under a veil of secrecy. Things done in secret are usually bad, as
Gandhi rightly pointed out, elsewhere.
Further, and more importantly, the actual use of a bomb is quite
undemocratic. Only a few key persons take the final decision. No
referendum is taken on such things. Point awarded to the Mahatma, as
Now for the views of Arun Gandhi (San Jose Mercury News, 17th May).
[My quick comment first: I think we need the views on the nature of
violence to be repeatedly discussed and highlighted. That is why it is
vital to seek out the jingoistic rhetoric of senators in the USA who claim
that the USA is "not yet adequately defended," and contest such views.
Only, I wish that Arun Gandhi would crusade strongly against ALL nuclear
weapons, and all such jingoism...
I see the world in terms of equality of power and wealth 250 years ago
(even though it was equality at a much lower level), and gross inequality
today. I cannot accept any situation in which a handful of nations gain
permanent supremacy both in economic and power terms, over India. I would
rather we have just one nuclear weapon which we resolve never to use, and
use it only for one purpose: to compel all other nations to bring down
their arsenals to zero. ]
India's defiance: At what price?
As nuclear testing shocks the world, Gandhi's grandson explores the moral
consequences. Last week, India shocked the world by exploding five nuclear
devices underneath the Rajasthan desert. That led Pakistan to announce
plans for testing a nuclear device this week, and it set off a storm of
international protests, threats and sanctions against India. Thus the
nation whose ``father,'' Mahatma Gandhi, is an international symbol for
non-violence joined the world's most exclusive club: the nuclear powers.
Gandhi's grandson, Arun, is founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for
Nonviolence in Memphis. Mercury News Perspective Editor Minal Hajratwala
spoke with him about the meaning and morality of the week's events. This
is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Q How would Gandhiji have felt about India's decision to explode five
nuclear devices this week?
A He would be very distressed, as he would be very distressed by
everything else that is happening in India.
The government of India had abandoned his philosophy way back before
independence, and he was very unhappy with the trend that he saw India
taking from that point onward. He would have been just as unhappy with
this as with all the other decisions India took.
He wanted the government to adopt non-violence as a way of life and show
the world that non-violence can be applied in all circumstances. He didn't
want partition (of India and Pakistan); he was willing to wait and gain
independence for a united country. He felt Hindus and Muslims could live
together in peace. He didn't want all this Western materialism to creep
into India. He felt we could live simpler and more moral and meaningful
lives. India totally rejected all of that.
Q What's your view of the testing?
A I am also distressed by it. I think it's a shameful thing, something to
be ashamed of and not be proud of.
But I don't think that we need to look at it just from this one
perspective of India behaving immorally. The whole problem is that we have
created this kind of psychosis. The United States and the Soviet Union
during the Cold War period created this Frankenstein monster, and now they
are not able to control it.
This is what grandfather had said: Violence only leads to more violence.
We won't be able to control it until we destroy ourselves. Creating
weapons of destruction will destroy our souls, our humanity and us
physically even. That is true for everybody.
Q What's the alternative?
A The alternative is for the people to wake up and realize that all of
these things are things that the politicians use to control and exploit
us, that we don't need any of this, that we're going to take our destiny
in our own hands.
Q Do you sympathize with the mood among Indians, both in India and here,
of pride and almost euphoria? There's a sense that India is taking its
destiny into its own hands by standing up to the world.
A Not at all. I don't think there's anything to celebrate. Anybody
achieving the power to destroy somebody else's life eventually destroys
his own life, his own soul. I don't see anything to be proud of in
developing weapons of destruction, whether it's a gun or an atom bomb.
Q Indian officials say nuclear capability is necessary to deter aggression
from neighboring China and Pakistan. Aren't those threats real?
A I don't think these days anybody is interested in capturing another
country. That myth of history has passed. If we create good neighborliness
and good relations with other people, we can live in harmony.
We create these myths, we create these enmities, and we become pawns in
the hands of both politicians and business people. We play into their
hands by following them like sheep.
Q Business people? Do you see a profit motive here?
A Violence has become a big industry. Gun manufacturing and all these
other things have to survive somehow, so they have to create these myths
and keep people fighting, so they can produce weapons and sell them. All
this is myth, that we can't live together peacefully.
Everything that we do now is based on the profit motive: People don't
matter, people are dispensable, profit is not. We see it even in this
country. When big corporations start downsizing, their only motive is to
increase their profit. We manufacture all kinds of things that are useless
and worthless; we don't see the moral aspect of it at all.
Q Various nations are cutting off, or threatening to cut off, millions of
dollars in aid to India. What impact will that have on the people of
A It's sad, but it's not unexpected. There's been so much poverty in that
country, and it's only going to increase the poverty. The rich will get
richer because they benefit from this kind of violence, while the poor
will get poorer and the disparity will increase.
Already the disparity is so alarming because they've gone in for high-tech
development, which is causing greater cleavage between the two classes of
Q Are you opposed to India developing a high-tech industry?
A Not totally. What we needed was a balance between small, low-tech
industries which could benefit the poor and less-educated people in the
countryside, and a little of the high-tech thing. If we had done that, we
would have been able to balance the growth more evenly.
But instead we went in for high-tech, intensive growth from the beginning.
We now have pockets of highly developed cities, and you go 100 miles out
of the city and there's absolute poverty and destitution. People from the
villages come and congest the cities because they want survival, and now
we don't know what to do with them.
The people who planned this development were people educated in foreign
countries, with the benefits of foreign education and power. They planned
for their own needs and not for the needs of the common man.
Q Regarding the nuclear tests, what will be the impact on peace and
stability in the region?
A It's going to be very bad, very sad. It's going to create a lot of
unnecessary enmities and put peace back several years. It will destroy all
efforts at living as good neighbors. It's a very retrograde step.
Fundamentalists all over the world have created this kind of an
atmosphere. Whether it's here in the United States, or in India or
Pakistan or any country in the world, it's the fundamentalists who have
created problems and instability by putting fear in the minds of people.
It's ignorance: Fundamentalists are fundamentalists because they are
ignorant of other people, they're self-centered and selfish, and like
politicians they are out to exploit. One exploits through political power,
the other through religious power.
Q The tests appear calculated to strengthen the new nationalist government
in India. What are the implications for the nation's more liberal forces?
A I'm hoping that there'll be better sense prevailing and people will see
that this is all unnecessary, that we need to work for peace and not for
war. I hope that they will wake up and do something.
It's the same as in this country: People are so fed up with politics that
they don't want to exercise their franchise. So the type of government we
get deteriorates, and we end up with exploiters, and that's a sad thing.
Democracy means not that we just exercise our franchise once every four or
five years. It means we have to be active and work to see that bad things
don't happen to us and our country, to our hopes and aspirations.
Q Aren't the nuclear tests just bringing the existing arms race out into
the open, making overt what was covert?
A I don't think so. Any kind of violence, whether it's undertaken quietly
or openly, is despicable. Whatever arguments we make for it now are just
trying to gloss over a bad decision.
Q Some people will say your views are naive. The idea of non-violence is
nice, but is it unrealistic in the face of threats to national security?
A When Edison invented electric bulbs, there were people who said it was
all naive and stupid, that a bulb could never make light. The same thing
with telephones. These things were once considered impossible, but today
they have become part of our lives, and we don't even think of how we have
come to this point.
It's human nature to dismiss everything we don't understand as naive and
impractical. But then it becomes practical. It becomes a way of life, and
nobody thinks about it. Ultimately it's the responsibility of every
individual to decide if they want to change or if they want to flow with
Q What's the most likely scenario for what will happen next?
A We're going to go into an arms race with our neighbors, Pakistan on one
side and China on the other. We're going to develop more weapons; we're
going to spend more and more money on them, at the expense of the poor.
It's not going to help anybody at all.
What happened between the United States and Russia is going to happen.
Eventually somebody will have to break and give up, like Russia had to
break, and now Russia is in a huge mess financially. We'll just have to
see which country breaks first, India or Pakistan or China.