The picture of the Indian military mind will remain incomplete without acknowledging the nation’s gratitude to the greatest warrior in its contemporary history, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Here was a warrior leader, with a vision of free India, who conceived a shrewd strategy of using peace and non-violence, as the chief weapons, to achieve the objective of liberating Bharta, from the clutches of the most powerful colonial power of the time. Training his weapons of non–violence and non-cooperation at the enemy’s mind, with a view to disinfecting it from its unjust rule, he declared that he loved the English people but abhorred their despicable way of governance. He could throw the British into the shade in argument, in tactics and, the most important of all, to make them feel embarrassed in the cherished field of morality.
He galvanised the Indian public to rally behind him to fight the war of freedom, with the superior non-war weapons of peace, thus rousing the enemy’s conscience and the world opinion in favour of the Indian cause, which ultimately forced the enemy to quit the battlefield. According to a historian, “Gandhi’s mystique consisted of a union of original ideas, with remarkable knack for tactics and the uncanny insight into the mass mind.”
High Moral Standing
According to Hegel, “The great man of the age is one who can put into words the will of his age, tells his age what is the heart and essence if his age, he actualises his age.”1 Gandhi had indeed read the pulse of his age right, had the vision of selecting the best-suited plan of action and was able to realise the dream of his people.
True to the Hindu principle of avatar (Incarnation), “When religion declines and the evil doers are to be destroyed, I shall be born, from time to time,” (Gita), Gandhi came as the divinely inspired leader to inject a spark of nationalism, and the will to fight against foreign oppression and social evils, that had infected the society. His army came from all sections of the society – the majority came from its lower strata.
In his personal code of conduct of high ethics, and the burning passion for universal well-being, he was an incarnation of Rama, which gave him ready acceptability as a leader. His belief in human rights often led him into collision, not only with the British and South Africa but also with the attitude of several Hindus towards the untouchables. He was Chanakya reborn, in evolving a unique strategy of fighting and winning the ultimate victory, without firing a single shot. In forgiveness, he equaled the all-conquering words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – this conciliatory note from Gandhi to those criminals who had stabbed him in South Africa, to dissuade the police from proceeding legally against them, had turned his foes into friends.
Gandhi’s vision of a non-violent India was based on his conviction that such a state could be built as was Ashoka’s dream. (Harijan, May 12, 1946). It was an idealistic, long-term goal – many had raised doubts on its ultimate achievement and practicability.
Non-violence Superior to Violence
Gandhi believed that non-violence was a triumph of the soul-force over the brute-force, and described it as a dynamic condition entailing conscious suffering. Gandhi qualifies his concept of non-violence thus, “I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.” Further, he asserts,.“But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is manlier than punishment.”2
Never before in the history of humankind had one led millions of unarmed, peaceful and non-violent civilian combatants, to fight peacefully against an overpowering military power. Gandhi advocated and effectively employed the superior weapons of resistance with peace and ‘non-cooperation’ against the enemy’s unrighteous ways. Hard to believe that Gandhi’s school of resistance could generate such a moral strength in his teeming unarmed soldiery, who fell with their cracked skulls, but got up and surged forward repeatedly, with wounded bodies, fighting the white terror, “Kill us, but we shall not quit.”
That he could inspire and elevate his followers to such a degree of physical, mental and spiritual strength will remain a wonder of human race for times to come. For the first time in the history of humankind, a warrior, wedded to the cause of attaining political sovereignty, had concurrently declared war on the fronts of religion, social reforms and national integration.
The turning point came on April 13, 1919, when Brigadier General Dyer (British) ordered firing on a peaceful rally in which 1,650 rounds were fired, killing 1,516 peaceful protestors at Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar). Gandhi said, “I love the British people but henceforth, I am the deadliest enemy of the wrong form of government that the British may impose upon India.”
It is erroneous to call Gandhi’s strategy of non-violence as passive or inactive. Gandhi was a strong-willed realist, who adopted a strategy of proactive non-violence against the British, because he had no wherewithal to fight the colonial power. Gandhi’s pragmatic espousal of offensive, where inescapable, was evident from the categorical declaration he made in September 1947, that if there was no other way of securing justice from Pakistan, and if Pakistan persistently refused to see its proven error, war was the only alternative left to India.
His fight was from a point of strength and not weakness. It requires true moral strength, to resist the temptation of returning a slap with a slap, and instead to offer the other cheek to the assailant. The critics of Gandhi, particularly after he withdrew the non-cooperation movement following the Chauri-Chora incident, must appreciate that after the attack by his followers on police, the non-cooperation movement had lost its high moral ground. For a person who had refused to retaliate even when physically assaulted, Gandhi could not have continued the movement after that. It was only natural for him to condemn violence.
Gandhi symbolised the noblest qualities of a warrior, who fought doggedly, fully armed with his superior weapon of non-violence and won a great victory. When asked as to the source of his strength, he replied that his strength came from his prayer, and that he could do without food for many days but not without prayer even for a single day.
The Sterling Leadership Traits
Leadership is an all-encompassing projection of a leader. Each human being is a unique product, with every one having imbibed one’s peculiar strong and weak points. As a national leader, a number of commendable leadership traits were found in Gandhi, but two innate soldierly attributes for which he stands apart, were: One, his strength of courage lay both in the physical and moral planes. Two, forever he led from the front.
That Gandhi was naturally brave was evident from the fact of his having rendered voluntary services in the Ambulance Corps of the Loyalist Forces, in the Boer and Zulu wars in South Africa, where his exceptional bravery and devotion to duty had earned him the prestigious gold medal for fearlessly picking up and evacuating the wounded in war. His services must have been of an exceptional order to elicit recognition in the alien South Africa, known for its blatant apartheid. Even subsequently, Gandhi displayed many a time incomparable courage in controlling fanatic flare-ups, whether it was at Naokhali or the Dandi March.
His commitment to non-violence was indeed borne from the plank of inner strength and courage. With simplicity and self-discipline to the core, unshakable faith in what he said, and his genius as a popular psychologist, people in teeming hordes felt drawn to follow the example of this great leader, attired in a peasant’s cotton shawl and loin cloth. With his rare flair for ingenuity and uncanny insight into the minds of the masses, he was accepted as a natural leader by his abounding following, which would dare follow him to the inferno.
People followed Gandhi because the leader with a Spartan lifestyle personally led his weaponless armies, in the face of the enemy’s trigger-happy soldiers, undaunted by the illegal and unlimited confinement to jails. It is not easy to control mass frenzy and the mobs resorting to violence against violence. It was the awe, in which the Indian masses held the great leader, that he could check them from turning violent.
In Gandhi, Indians saw a ray of hope to alleviate them from the age-old political and social suffering. The intrinsic nobility of his cause, the grand vision of a free India and the will to sacrifice all for the fulfillment of this dream, despite myriad problems, raised him to the stature of a prophet, and a successful one. It was the grandeur of Gandhi’s dream, which galvanised Indians. For centuries, no one had talked of a liberated and united India. The fantasy of freedom caught every Indian’s aspiration and dream, for which one was prepared to pay any price. After all, he was talking of the Indian nation, which had almost relapsed from the Indian mind.
As the momentum of the Independence Movement gained strength, his dream seemed to be a winning vision, which drew to his following columns even the fence sitters. Soon the common person started perceiving the nation’s vision as tall as the Himalayas and as deep as the ocean. Where the centuries-old resistance and revolts had failed, the crown of ultimate victory to win freedom was to adorn Gandhi’s head.
A point of interest to speculate is whether pure pragmatism influenced his policy of resisting violence by non-violence, or it was his blind conviction that non-violence alone could overcome violence. This has to be viewed in the backdrop of the then obtaining situation, whether in South Africa or in India. He must have had many sleepless nights in crystallising his cause and evolving the strategy of resistance. He must have seriously weighed the pros and cons of the choice of violence against violence, but dedicated to the cause of victory, he saw greater wisdom in opting for the non-violent resistance. It was the strength of this unique strategy of fighting evil with good, which won him, both the instant support of the country’s masses, as also the universal approval.
When Cariappa, the first Indian of post-Independence India, to take over as Chief of Army Staff, sought a clarification from Gandhi, “I can’t do my duty by the country, if I concentrate only on telling troops of non-violence, all the time. Please give me a ‘child’s guide to knowledge’…tell me how I can put this over, i.e. the spirit of non-violence, to the troops, without endangering their sense of duty to train themselves well professionally as soldiers?” Gandhi replied, “You have asked me to tell you in a concrete form how you can put over to the troops the need for non-violence, I am still groping in the dark for the answer. I will find it and give it to you someday.”3 Gandhi was still experimenting with his way of warfighting.
Leadership Rooted in Spirituality
What truly characterises this saint leader is the leadership trait firmly rooted in spirituality. Spirituality entails belief in universal goodwill and sensibility to a common thread running through the entire humankind. It was Gandhi’s Himalayan determination and Ganga-like purity of purpose, which shook the British Empire. Natural faith in the Hindu Dharma had inspired in him the spirit of fighting for the righteous cause, and that tolerating injustice was as much a sin as inflicting it. In his fight for the national cause, Gandhi transformed non-violence into his main weapon to resist injustice and violence. He denounced the ill-gotten motto of the material world, “kill or be killed “, and gave a fresh Sutra (word of wisdom) of ‘live and let live’, which is indeed the ancient Indian maxim. With man’s basic quest for goodness and peace, Gandhi’s message received instant acceptance among not only Indians, but also the world around.
Gandhi’s morality-based rule of the game attracted some ardent followers from among the Europeans and Americans, who joined him in his struggle against their own co-religionists and co-nationalist Colonial rulers. Some who allege that Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence would not have succeeded against another ruler are unmindful of the British oppressive and exploitive colonial reign, which had started drawing the attention of the conscience of its own society (Britons).
Victory without War
When Kautilya preached that the acme of generalship lay in winning victory without firing a shot, he is unlikely to have imagined that a victory against the foreign rule, which had crushed many uprisings and battles over the centuries, would ultimately be won through non-violence. Gandhi’s victory was not only without pulling the trigger, but also by boldly facing the bullets and brutalities of the then most powerful empire in the world – a unique victory in the annals of human history.
Regrettably, it took so long for the Indian conscience to awaken to remove the stigma of foreign rule over the ‘Matribhoomi’, and to re-usher an era of sovereign and united India. Mahtama Gandhi had rightly symbolised India’s love for freedom and its inherent guts to fight to win, and indeed was one of the most amazing paradoxes of history. “Coming generations will scarce believe that such a man, in flesh and blood, lived upon this earth,” said Einstein about Gandhi.4
Kuchh Baat Hai Jo Hasti Mitati Nahin Hamari
The foregoing is not a mean track record, barring the dim period from the eighth to the eighteenth century. May be, the Indian spirit of enterprise was repressed and held in check by the uncustomary restraining circumstances, or may be, the correct recorded account of the native heroes, whose valiant resistance against the adversaries during that time, is not available. The illogical assertion of Churchill that, “India is a geographical term, it is no more a nation than the Equator,” cannot override the eternal reality that the life and spirit of Indian nationhood is as longstanding as the history of man on this Subcontinent. After all, if the Indian civilisation has survived in spite of all odds, there has to be some mettle in its perseverance. It may be apt to quote the words of Iqbal, “Yunano Misro-o-Roma, sub Mit Gaye Jahan Se, Ab Tak Magar Hai Baqi, Namo-Nishan Hamara; Kush Bat hai Ki Hasti, Mitati nahin Hamari, Sadion Raha Hai Dushman, Daure Zaman Hamara (The ancient civilisations of Greece, Egypt and Rome have vanished but there is something why our civilisation has not got destroyed despite all our enemies through the centuries).5
Cultural integrity among Indians of all hues and castes has been a great sustaining power. Further, the intrinsic trait of adaptability was a remarkable asset in its sustenance. For example, the Vedic culture changed to accommodate the dynamics of the Puranic Age, which further adapted to the Buddhist and post-Buddhist times in India. Without compromising the fundamentals, the present day Indian culture is also slowly undergoing progressive adaptability to the modern challenges – A sign of hope to the coming generations.
1. Glimpses of Ancient India by Giriraj Shah, Trishul Publications, p 10-11.
2. Struggle for Freedom, Bhartya Vidya Bhavan, Vol 1, R.C. Majumdar, p 298.
3. Defending India by Jaswant Singh, p 41-42.
4. Randomly Around India by Dr R.L. Bhat, p 243.
5. A Governor’s Musings by Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.K. Sinha, PVSM, p 14.