Ifti n' . i16 A I ii11
Whither Gandhi's India?
Edited and managed by Students at the
University of Michigan
Wednesday, July 10, 1974
News Phone: 764-0552
there oughta be a law
* * *
RECENTLY, BEFORE A MEETING of members of the
press corp in Washington, Gerald Ford once again
demonstrated his remarkable ability to get half-way
through an intelligent thought.
He suggested that Washington bureau reporters
might do well to go back to their home town papers
every couple of years or so for a stint in the old city
room. It would give them a healthy perspective, says
our Veep-by-default, who has now held a. Washington
post for over a quarter of a century without a pause.
A truly revolutionary idea! One that the Red Guard
of China has advocated for years now: that people in
positions of power should be regularly required to trade
places with the powerless.
Only, why stop at Washington Bureau reporters?
Why not board chairmen, attorney generals, military
generals, governors and lieutenant-governors, landlords,
university presidents, and why not even-gasp!-sena-
tors and congressmen?
LEADERS of India's ruling Congress party-
heirs of Gandhi, many of them jailed and
persecuted by the British during India's struggle
for independence - are themselves now the jail-
ers of some 35,000 political prisonrs, held in
conditions as miserable as those reported from
prisons in South Vietnam.
Campaigning for better treatment of these pri-
soners, most of them Maoists dedicated to armed
struggle, are members of the nonviolent Gand-
hian movement. At the root of this paradox lies
the failure of Gandhian nonviolence to alter the
grevious social and economic wrongs in India.
"We are not afraid of death, much less of
torture," one of the first political prisoners
brought to trial told the court. "We know it is a
clas war - it is inevitable."
Convicted of Killing a landlord, Nagahushan
Patnaik, 36, an ex-lawyer and member of the
central committee of India's outlawed Naxalite
party, refused to defend himself or enter a plea
for mercy. Instead, he used his court appear-
ances to condemn the Indian social system. De-
scribing the murder and 'torture of poor peas-
ants by landlords, he declared, "It is inevitable;
they kill us, we kill them.".
"We are not afraid of death,
much less torture," one of the
prisoners told the court. "We
know it is a class war-it is in-
Patnalk's death sentence was commuted last
December, largely because of a campaign sup-
ported by all but right-wing parties, led by a
gray-haired woman with impeccable pacifist cre-
dentials: Malati Chaudhuri, ex-president of the
Congress party in the state of Orissa, and a
leading organizer of the Gandhian "Sarvodaya"
(uplift of all) movement.
WHY SHOULD pacifists defend violent extrem-
ists who have rejected all forms of legal re-
dress; who have smashed statues of Gandhi him-
seld to show their rejection of past tradition?
Malati Chadhuri explains, "We have failed to
confront the burning isues of society. At least
these prisoners have shown themselves capable
Af making the supreme sacrifice, and they have
exposed the character of the state."
She is referring specifically to the failure of
Gandhians to meet the demands of a Communist-
led peasant revolt that began after independence
in 1947 in central India.
The peasants wanted land, which the Congress
party government had failed to redistribute. Lead-
ing Gandhian organizers went into the area of
revolt, and to other regions, and 'ried to con-
vince landlords to peacefully give up some of
their land. The campaign, called "Bhoodan" (gift
of land) is now conceded to have been a failure.
Spring thunder over India
In many ways, this interweaving of Gandhians
and Communists illustrates the increasing poli-
tical agonies of India.
In 1967, disillusioned by the failures of land
reform and the Gandhian campaigns, and fright-
ened by a 1966 famine in Bihar and their increas-
ing poverty, tribal peasants in the Naxalbari
region of West Bengal rose in insurrection. For
a brief time, they controlled their villages, set up
revolutionary committees, and distributed land.
They were defeated by the Indian armed forces.
But their example inspired thousands of members
of India's left-wing Communist party (the orig-
inal party had split in 1965) to break away and
"Malati Chadhuri explains,
'We have failed to confront
the burning issues of society.
At least these prisoners have
shown themselves capable of
making the supreme sacrifice,
and they have exposed the
character of the state'."
form-a new party, the omunist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist). Its members became known
as "Naxalites" after the area of the 1967 revolt.
THE NAXALITES rejected parliamentary gov-
ernment, and called fo rthe formation of a peo-
ple's army and immediate armed insurrection
by the poor peasantry. They declared themselves
fervent followers of the Chinese way to revolu-
tion and of "Mao Tse-tung Thought". In turn,
the Naxalzari uprising and formation of the
new party were hailed by the Chinese as
the harbinger of a new era; a "spring thunder
on the context of the growing conflict between
peasants and landlordsin the countryside and in-
creasing disillusionment among middle-class
youth in the cities, the Naxalites did prove some-
thing of a spark. Other insurrections followed,
and thousands of young people left their homes
to "carry the fight" into the streets and jungles
IN FACT, of -all the revolutionary groups that
burst onto the world scene in the late 1960's -
from the guerrillas of Latin American to the
Black Panthers and Weathermen of the United
States - the Naxalites were the most numerous,
and perhaps the most threatening. American poli-
tical scientists estimated their number at 20,000
and the Indian government depicted "Naxalism"
as the main enemy of the state.
Today, many of those original members are
dead. Thousands more are in jail, yet only a
few have been tried and sentenced. and only a
few hundred more are even awaiting trial, the
rest held under laws that permit "preventive de-
tention" and holding a prisoner indefinitely with-
Thousands of peasants and tribal people, called
Naxalites for attempting to seize land, ar also
in prison. With over 17,000 prisoners in West
Bengal alone, and almost 20,000 in the rest of
the country, India ranks high on the list of
countries, like South Vietnam and Indonesia, in
which imprisonment has been used to disable
Reports from Indian prisoners echo reports
from those countries; beatings, electric shock
torture, rotten food, inadequate water, neglect
of sick and injured prisoners. Last month two
dozen prisoners in Calcutta jails began a hanger
strike, demanding recognition of their status as
political prisoners and the right to a quick and
FOR THE TIME being, imprisonment has prov-
ed an effective tool in breaking the back of the
Naxalite movement. Those members and leaders
who are not in jail are scattered and split ito
"Some have lauded the 'firm-
ness' of a government which
will use armies to keep rail-
roads running. But others see
the collapse of Ghandhian non-
violence as proof that even the
facade of democracy in India
factions. While few have given op their com-
mitment to the party or the cause of revolution,
most now characterize Naxalite strategy or guer-
rilla warfare and the murder, of landlords as
But if the Naxalite effort has reached a dead
end, so too has its opposite extreme, the Gand-
tian movement - for so long a center of In-
lia's moral identity. Efforts to bring change
through peaceful mass actions, such as street
demonstrations and strikes now appear hope-
less. To break the recent railroad strike the gov-
ernment showed it was willing to arrest some
thirty to fifty thousand workers, to fire ten thous-
and from their jobs, and throw nearly- thirty
thousand others out of their government sponsor-
SOME BAVE lauded the "firmness" of a gov-
ernment which will use armies to keep railroads
running. But others see the collapse of Gand-
hian nonviolence as proof that. even the facade
of democracy in India has vanished.
CHERTY. PILATE ..
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